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Activist loses case against Trump golf course over urination photographs

Trump Organisation warned in court its staff are at risk of prosecution for photographing women, even though Rohan Beyts lost privacy case

A sheriff has warned the Trump Organisation that it has put its staff at risk of prosecution after its frivolous complaint to police about a woman urinating near its Aberdeenshire golf course.

Sheriff Donald Corke rejected claims from Rohan Beyts, a retired social worker, that staff at the US presidents resort had breached the UKs data protection laws when they photographed her with their mobile phones as she urinated while on a walk near the course.

But in a highly critical judgment after two half-days of evidence and legal argument in court, Corke told Trump International Golf Club Scotland (TIGCS) that its staff could face prosecution for photographing women if they were urinating out of sight.

The sheriff said Beyts was a credible witness who was entirely within her rights under Scotlands land access laws to be on the course and to relieve herself in a considerate manner. Her distress at being photographed without her knowledge, and then charged, was very real.

Corke rejected claims by Trumps lawyers that his staff had the right to photograph someone if they believed a criminal act was being committed. He upheld Beyts allegations that the staff there had put her and her friend Sue Edwards, another anti-Trump activist, under surveillance.

Beyts had a reasonable expectation of privacy and should not have been photographed, he ruled. I have to emphasise that officious bystanders who photograph females urinating in the countryside put themselves at very real risk of prosecution under both anti-voyeurism and public order legislation, he said.

Corke ruled, however, that Beyts had lost her 3,000 damages action because her lawyer, Mike Dailly, had failed to prove that her distress was based on the companys failure to register under the UKs data protection laws. There was no proof that the images from the surveillance were used by the police as evidence when they charged her.

He awarded 300 costs against Beyts, which will be met from about 3,000 she raised in crowdfunding, to donate to Daillys law firm, Govan Law Centre. Dailly had acted for Beyts for free.

Beyts launched her legal action after the Guardian revealed last year that TIGCS had flouted the Data Protection Act. Despite operating an extensive CCTV camera system and holding records on thousands of customers, its staff and its suppliers, the firm was not registered with the Information Commissioners Office and did not warn visitors that they were under surveillance.

TIGCS blamed that on a clerical error and registered itself with the ICO four months after its employees filmed Beyts relieving herself on their mobile phones.

Speaking after the sheriffs decision, Beyts and Dailly insisted they had won a moral victory and been entirely vindicated because it upheld all her key complaints about the conduct of Trumps staff. I want go back [to the course] and show Im not frightened to walk on the beach. Im not frightened if I get caught short, Beyts said.

Refusing to comment on the sheriffs criticisms of their conduct, TIGCS again attacked Beyts, accusing her of peddling anti-Trump propaganda. Rohan Beyts is a shameless activist with a history of antagonistic behaviour. She came on to our property with a hostile opponent of the project looking for trouble, its statement said.

Beyts and other anti-Trump campaigners believe the surveillance and police complaint against her were driven by the US presidents anger at Scotlands wide-ranging laws on rights of access.

Trump playing at his course in Aberdeenshire. Photograph: Murdo Macleod for the Guardian

A common law right of public access to open land in Scotland, including golf courses and country estates, was encoded by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act of 2003. Beyts and Edwards say their walk that day was part of their ongoing effort to uphold that law. They complain TIGCS has made public access to rights of way as hard as possible.

The main right of way past the resorts clubhouse and on to the beach, used by Beyts and Edwards on 11 April 2016, is blocked by a large gate. Walkers have to squeeze through a narrow gap between a thick steel post and a high boundary hedge to use the right of way, which is not signposted.

Recently released documents show that before Trumps golf course at Menie was opened in 2012, Grampian police, the then regional police force, was already worried about the Trump Organizations stance on access rights.

Police Scotland released excerpts from a document called Future developments co-ordination group impact assessment on the Trump development, which said the 2003 act clearly sets down in statute a presumption in favour of access for walkers, cyclists, horse-riders and canoeists.

Referring to the resorts other name, Trump International Golf Links Scotland, the document stated: TIGLS and their representatives have not yet grasped the implications of the above legislation. Their belief is that the land is private and that they will be able to restrict access unconditionally. This is obviously not the case and this is a potential area of conflict that will need to be managed diplomatically.

Trumps hostility to Scotlands right to roam traditions became clear in June 2008 when he gave evidence at the public planning inquiry that investigated his as-yet unfulfilled plans to build a 1bn hotel, sports and timeshare resort on the estate.

Questioned at the hearing by Dave Morris, the then chief executive of Ramblers Association Scotland, Trump made clear he had not been told about Scotlands land access legislation. The law is the law, Trump said, but added: But if people are coming to play golf and people are sunbathing on the sand dunes it really doesnt work they dont go hand-in-hand.

Police Scotland also released a letter sent in June 2011 to Sarah Malone, the TIGCS executive who reported Beyts to the police last year, warning her that the company would not be allowed to prevent anti-Trump demonstrators from walking across the estate unless they had a court order.

A senior Grampian police officer said the Human Rights Act 1998 guaranteed free expression and freedom of assembly in the UK, unless there was proof of criminal intent. Malone was told the police would facilitate lawful protest.

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