SCOTTISH writer Alexander McCall Smith is suing architects for more than £700,000 claiming they botched plans to modernise his 19th century holiday home in the Highlands.
The best-selling author of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency has taken the contractor to court for failing to properly supervise a quarter-of-a-million pound revamp of an old rural school in scenic Lochaber.
McCall Smith and his wife Elizabeth had hoped a dream home would emerge from the debris of the site, which had been populated by workmen for fifteen months.
But the couple’s vision soon turned to a nightmare after revelations the builders had double billed the millionaire Edinburgh writer for some of the work, lawyers claim.
Investigations also found fixtures and fittings at the isolated Kinlochteacuis School House were left “incomplete” or “defective”, McCall Smith’s law team say.
Legal papers claim the firm contracted to do the work at the Morvern peninsula property, Building Restoration Ltd, received more than £450,000 from the affluent couple.
But the builders ceased trading shortly after leaving the Highland hideaway.
Now the McCall Smith’s are suing Fort William-based firm Kearney Donald Ltd, and partners Brian Kearney and Scott Donald, for £702,000 for failing to properly supervise the building company, who they are said to have recommended.
It is understood the property cost £460,000.
The couple have submitted a number of planning applications to revamp the property, and a boathouse at the site, including a scheme to transform the school house and add a conservatory and garage.
However, a summons lodged by their lawyers at the Court of Session in Edinburgh says the building was left with no opening roof vents.
Heating pipes were also too shallow, and the leaky conservatory was “not fit for purpose”, they claim.
The couple say there are also long-term maintenance problems with roof caps.
And Building Restoration originally agreed a £262,000 contract to modernise the building, but the bill eventually escalated to £455, 255, it is claimed.
The McCall Smith’s, who already own, and live in, a mansion in the leafy Merchiston area of Edinburgh, are also suing Kearney Donald for £5000 each for the “annoyance, anxiety and distress” caused by the affair.
Kearney Donald’s offer to carry out the modernisation of the property and a boathouse at the site was accepted in September 2008.
By January 2009 they had appointed Building Restoration after partner Brian Kearney told the McCall-Smith’s he had dealt with the company before and “they were good”, court papers claim.
Work began the same month and continued until May last year when Building Restoration employees left the site.
But towards the end of the contract a firm called Integr8 Construction, employed by the couple to install a porch, found “defective” work, lawyers claim.
Another architect, Neil Dall, was then employed to do a site inspection in June last year. “Mr Dall identified works which had been paid for but never completed. He identified works that had been double charged by Building Restoration,” said McCall Smith’s legal team.
The couple are now suing Kearney Donald for negligence, claiming they “failed” to fulfil an obligation to administer the contract, lawyers claim. “Key documents” were missing, particularly “records of progress, quality, instructions and cost projections”, they said.
The architects “ought to have carried out a minimum of two site inspections a month with formal meetings being held monthly,” claim the couple. However “no such meetings were held” and the firm “failed to identify defective work”, lawyers claim.
However, during the course of the contract Kearney Donald claim to have carried out 34 site visits.
And lawyers acting for the architects claim the scope of the contract work “increased significantly” during construction. They added: “There were over 160 variations to the contract work. Some of these reflected additional work which were unforeseen in advance of works commencing on site, but the need for which became apparent once opening up works had been carried out.
“Many of these additional items of work were the subject of instructions issued directly by the pursuers (the McCall Smith’s) to Building Restoration.”
And it was only after the firm certified the completion of the works in June 2009 that the couple, who had by then moved in, asked other companies to build the conservatory and heating system, lawyers claim.
Kearney Donald say the action should be dismissed. A spokesman for the firm refused to comment on the case. McCall Smith also declined to comment.
Iain Thornber, who is a member r of the Morvern Community Council, said he had heard there was some sort of battle over remedial works at the house. H
e said: “The property at Kinlochteacuis was the old school for the area. It was just a standard school and school house. It fell out of use as a school in the 1940’s I think. It’s a private house as far as the village is concerned, so nobody goes out there much.
“But I see Alexander McCall-Smith now and again in the distance. He is very unobtrusive and he seems very nice and gets on well with everybody. He fits in very well with the community.”
McCall Smith even opened a drop-in centre in nearby Fort William for people affected by cancer just days after the work was completed.
Brian Murphy, who is a councillor for the area said he had not heard about the legal wrangle. He added: “Kearney Donald is a well known local firm of architects. There’s absolutely nothing shoddy about them.”