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Lessons from the flying vet

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A NUMBER of people took exception to this column yesterday for questioning the way Sark's government is behaving over the vineyard expansion and vandalism issue and felt the tone was unnecessarily hostile.

A NUMBER of people took exception to this column yesterday for questioning the way Sark's government is behaving over the vineyard expansion and vandalism issue and felt the tone was unnecessarily hostile.

After it was written, however, two further threads emerged that supported Opinion's central concern, that evidence was building that challenged Chief Pleas efficacy as a credible body.

The first was the Seigneur's implication that there were no law and order problems until Sark Estate Management arrived. The second was the frankly unbelievable admission from the head of the Agriculture Committee that no concerns had been raised about the vine plantings in case they were 'misconstrued'.

This places SEM in the position of being vandalised, protested about and possibly being legislated against for not only doing nothing wrong but doing something the authorities chose not to say was causing offence.

It is no way for government to operate, any more than it would be right for the States of Guernsey to harass a business here over unspecified – but legal – activities.

SEM's PR may be lacking and its MD's newsletter deeply offensive to many Sarkees but even when the flying vet Maurice Kirk was making life hell for the Guernsey authorities, officialdom had to be seen to be unbiased, even-handed and proportionate – no matter how it might have felt.

Sark is right to fear becoming a 'company town', the same as Guernsey would. It could legislate to prevent any business from abusing a defined, dominant position but it cannot be seen to be waging a retrospective war against a legitimate operation.

This is important for Sark itself. Operations in the name of Chief Pleas are seen as out of step with norms of good governance. It is on the radar of the Ministry of Justice. It has had much coded advice from Lord McNally.

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A senior civil servant has been parachuted in to 'assist' in every possible way yet Sark has refused to tell Guernsey Police how many people are licensed to hold firearms or what weapons they possess.

Everyone is willing Sark to succeed and to remain special.

But it can do so only in the context of a changing world and, to date, it is not helping itself.

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