A TORY-led council which paid almost £10 million to two firms in a Caribbean tax haven in a controversial land deal has caused astonishment by attacking the two men who revealed the details of the deal.

Scottish Borders Council (SBC) admitted it had paid £9.6m for Lowood Estate, near Melrose, to two companies based in the Cayman Islands, after former councillor Andrew Farquhar submitted a Freedom of Information (FoI) request. Award-winning retired Scotsman journalist Bill Chisholm then published the FoI details on his Not Just Sheep and Rugby blog.

In a highly unusual development the council then attacked the whistleblowers and defended the use of a tax haven by Lowood’s ultimate owners, the Hamilton family.

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SBC told The National: “As a public authority SBC was required to provide the information requested by Mr Farquhar. Mr Farquhar and Mr Chisholm have now chosen to publicise this information in a way that, in our view, is entirely inappropriate.

“The council believes private individuals should not be subject to this level of scrutiny regarding how they conduct their personal financial and legitimate tax affairs.

They added: “We remain of the view that the robust business case on which the decision to acquire Lowood for economic development purposes was based still stands. The purchase of the site, which is now in public ownership, will provide good long-term value for the taxpayer, creating jobs, new homes and delivering economic benefits.”

Chisholm is livid at the shoot-the-messenger tone of SBC. He told The National: “From the outset, the highly controversial decision by Scottish Borders Council to splash £11m including fees to acquire Lowood country estate has been shrouded in secrecy.

“According to sources within the corridors of power, our councillors received at least one dire warning from a senior official that they must not discuss the deal in public or disclose any information about it.

“Whatever happened to freedom of speech and democracy, not to mention the council’s policy of “openness and transparency”?

“Meanwhile the ‘true’ worth of Lowood, as calculated by our District Valuer (DV), remains strictly confidential despite my best efforts to obtain the figure via Freedom of Information requests. SBC seems to believe withholding the DV’s calculation is in our best interests.

He continued: “Surely council taxpayers have a right to know whether we are getting value for money. But with SBC’s members effectively silenced and gagged there appears to have been little effort by our so-called elected representatives to scrutinise or challenge this massive monetary transaction.

“It is left to members of the public to carp from the side lines or, alternatively, try to find out what has taken place. It may annoy the local authority, but some of us will continue to ask awkward questions.

“I would suggest the council might recover some trust and respect by publicly issuing full details rather than shooting the messengers.”