AN elderly Scots widow has won a major battle in her war against American tycoon Donald Trump and his plans for a luxury golf resort.
Legal aid chiefs have agreed to review their decision not to fund 86-year-old Molly Forbes’ court challenge to the £750m development in Aberdeenshire.
The refusal of legal aid forced Molly to abandon the court case and led to an order that she would have to pay Trump’s costs, estimated at as much as £50,000.
She was also facing eviction from her chalet on the coast at Menie.
But Molly and her supporters were celebrating today (tues) after the change of heart by the Scottish Legal Aid Board (SLAB) was revealed.
Molly will be protected from the huge costs of the first case and could even re-launch her court battle against Trump if the U-turn is confirmed.
Environment campaigners said the decision would make it easier for ordinary Scots like Molly to get legal aid money to challenge controversial developments.
Trump’s golf course plan, which is backed by Aberdeenshire Council, requires Molly, her son, Michael, who lives next door and other residents, to move.
Molly has consistently refused to sell her home, which she describes as her “pride and joy” and “paradise”.
Last year, she took the billionaire and council to court to try to get planning permission overturned.
But legal aid chiefs refused to fund Molly on the grounds that the costs could have been met by other residents.
A hearing at the Court of Session was scheduled for yesterday to decide what to do about Molly’s massive legal bill. Although Molly did not make the trip herself, supporters including Green MSP Robin Harper were in court.
Lawyers for Molly revealed that the Sheriff Principal of Lothian and Borders, Edward Bowen, had ordered SLAB to fund a judicial review of the initial decision to refuse legal aid.
They added that SLAB itself had decided to review its own decision in the case of Molly.
Her solicitor, Frances McCartney, said outside the court: “On the face of it, the original decision is wrong because there was a flaw in the procedure. The significance for her is that as an assisted person [receiving legal aid] you do not pay expenses.”
She declined to comment on whether Molly would relaunch her original case against Trump, describing it as a “sensitive” issue.
Robin Harper said there was now “every hope” that “this 86-year-old may be spared a huge legal bill that was beyond her means and meant she may have had to sell her house to pay it”.
Ann Stewart, one of Molly’s supporters, said: “I am very glad for Molly. But I am astounded that Aberdeenshire Council are wasting all this money.”
Referring to Trump’s Scottish roots, Ann, from Edinburgh, added: “He should go back to America. His mother would be turning in her grave at what he is doing to Scottish people.”
Ann and other supporters refute Trumps’ claims that the resort will bring a massive employment boost to the north-east.
“He is not going to employ people up there,” she said. “He will bring in cheaper labour from elsewhere. Do we really need another luxury golf course?
“We have 52 already.”
Today’s hearing was told by Molly’s legal team that recent environmental cases in England had effectively imposed an EU law on the domestic courts.
The Aarhus Convention states there should be no prohibitively expensive barrier to justice.
Robin Harper said Molly’s case highlighted a “very important” development. He said: “This gives protection to people of limited means who want to fight local government decisions.”
Molly was not available for comment but in an interview last month she vowed to fight Trump to the bitter end.
“I haven’t got the money to pay costs so he’ll just have to take a penny a week,” she said. “I think he’ll have to wait until after I’m dead until he gets it all.”
She was equally forthright about the refusal of legal aid. She said: “It’s all crooked, it’s just a sham,” she said. “Why should some of those top knobs in Government with their crooked ways of claiming money get legal aid but I can’t?”
A spokesman for SLAB confirmed that Sheriff Principal Bowen “has decided that Mrs Forbes should be granted legal aid for a judicial review against the Board’s decision”.
He added: “Having regard to the costs for the taxpayer, we have therefore offered to re-open the original application for legal aid and we have asked the solicitor to provide further information to allow us to look again at our decision.”
The Trump Organisation has claimed that Molly and her family are being “manipulated” by opponents of the scheme.
A spokeswoman said last month: “It is sad that this type of conduct is encouraged and admired by the gaggle of Central Belt objectors. It is regrettable that an elderly woman has been used to front this frivolous court action.”