Grandad sues Hopetoun for £50,000 after bat walk fall

Lord Hopetoun is one of the trustees fighting the legal case
Lord Hopetoun is one of the trustees fighting the legal case
Have your say

A GRANDFATHER has launched a £50,000 legal case after falling down a 6ft ditch after a night-time “bat walk” on a Lothian estate.

John Cowan suffered a broken ankle after walking off the end of the sheer drop – known as the Ha Ha Sunken Wall – along with his five-year-old grandson in the grounds of Hopetoun House in South Queensferry.

The 64-year-old has undergone five operations in a bid to repair his shattered ankle and has now launched the bid for compensation.

Mr Cowan is suing the Hopetoun House Preservation Trust and its trustees, who include Lord Hopetoun, the Marquess of Linlithgow, and Kathleen Dalyell, the wife of former Linlithgow MP Tom Dalyell.

The retired manager with Scottish Water had been with his grandson enjoying a “bat walk” in the grounds as part of a tour group of around 20 people.

Lawyers for Mr Cowan told the Court of Session in Edinburgh that their client was injured while looking for the car park after the tour, and should have been guided there by a ranger because the area was poorly lit.

But trust lawyers contend that Mr Cowan had tried to jump down from Ha Ha Sunken Wall when he was hurt.

Mr Cowan, who lives in Livingston, had visited Hopetoun House, which has a five-star visitor rating from Visit Scotland, on September 5, 2008.

The group were shown round by ranger Peter Stevens, looking for bats by torchlight. After the tour was completed, Mr Cowan set off unescorted at about 9.30pm to take his grandchild home while other visitors gathered in the house’s tea room. He walked round the front of the house, which was well-lit, but then went down the driveway, which was not.

His lawyers told the court that their client stepped off the edge of the Ha Ha Sunken Wall, which was unmarked and not fenced off, and fell along with his grandchild, who was uninjured.

The lawyers argued that the area was “dangerous, especially in the darkness”, and Mr Stevens should have escorted the pair back to the car park.

Mr Cowan managed to crawl to the side of the road and flag down a passing car. He was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, where an X-ray revealed he had suffered a broken right ankle and ruptured ligament. Doctors inserted a plate and screws to the injury, but they later broke and a bone grafting operation was carried out in January 2009.

But Mr Cowan suffered from post-traumatic arthritis and needed an ankle fusion in December 2009. Continuing problems meant a fourth operation was needed in August 2010, and he continues to suffer from loss of mobility, restricted movement, sleep disturbance and problems with walking.

Mr Cowan said he had been forced to give up golf and badminton, and may need more operations in the future.

But trust lawyers told the court that Mr Cowan had “caused, or materially contributed” to the accident due to his own negligence. They argued that he should have used his torch to look for hazards, and that he had told another tour member that he had jumped down from the wall voluntarily.

The Hopetoun House Preservation Trust was contacted for comment but failed to respond. Mr Cowan declined to comment. A further hearing into the case has been set for later this year.