A councillor who says he has been driven out of his home by criminals has claimed that Scotland risks becoming a “lawless society” as he steps back from politics following a campaign of intimidation that has left him “broken”.
Graeme Campbell, who lives in the South Lanarkshire town of Strathaven – best known for its hot air balloon festival – has been targeted by fire and acid attacks three times in the past three years, the latest one taking place last weekend.
The Scottish Conservative councillor is certain that the attacks were carried out by criminals as a result of work he was doing in his elected role, supporting constituents who have suffered similar acts of intimidation and violence.
“As I walk away from Scottish politics and we start new lives somewhere else, I want people to understand what it actually means when you allow organised crime to run the country,” Campbell said. “This isn’t just happening to us. Is this what Scotland has become? When someone strikes a match you lose control of what happens next. This is happening in west central Scotland every week. Have we become such a lawless society that people don’t care?”
The intimidation began in May 2019, when Campbell’s car was petrol-bombed, and the blaze spread to the house he shared with his wife. In September 2020, two cars outside the property were vandalised with a corrosive substance and a house window was smashed while they slept. And on Saturday 19 June two cars were set on fire in the driveway, with the blaze again spreading to the house and causing extensive damage to the family home.
DCI Martin McGhee said: “The male suspect is believed to have approached the property on foot via Hamilton Road, poured an accelerant onto the vehicles and left via Hamilton Road towards the town centre.
“We believe he may have sustained burn injuries to his arms, body and face as a result of using the accelerant and would ask anyone who has any knowledge of a man who may have suffered from burn injuries in suspicious circumstances since the weekend to please come forward.”
The personal toll has been immense, Campbell said. “I’m an IT guy, I’ve been solving business problems for over 30 years and I went into local politics to give something back to the community I love. But I haven’t slept for the past two years – Fiona and I have been driven out of our home and our lives are being ruined. Nothing could have prepared us for this level of violence and intimidation.”
He added: “People drive past the house and see the fire damage, but behind that hole was our bedroom, every piece of clothing we owned, two-thirds of the house has been destroyed. Last weekend my wife and I were sitting in the front garden watching our house burn down in the only clothes we then owned. If we had done something negligent that’s one thing, but this is being done to us. Both of us are broken.”
Campbell said that, while the first two investigations had been closed down very quickly with no arrests made, he was “taking comfort” from the fact the police were taking this latest incident very seriously. “I want to see the police join the dots and I want to see justice done in this area. Strathaven is such a beautiful town; no one deserves this level of violence and intimidation.”
There have been a spate of deliberate car fires in west central Scotland in recent months. The Guardian is aware of seven incidents around Glasgow and Ayrshire since the start of June, and in May there was a series of attacks on high-profile businessmen, including the former Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell.
CCTV showed a man pouring an accelerant on three vehicles outside Lawwell’s property in Thorntonhall, South Lanarkshire, and the blaze spread to the detached two-storey house. Inquiries are continuing in all cases, and there is no suggestion that they are linked. No arrests have been made.
The Scottish Conservative MSP Russell Findlay, who has been supporting Campbell, said: “There does appear to be an escalation in the use of this tactic of intimidation by those who think the rules don’t apply to them. It is bad enough when criminals use fire against other criminals but to target legitimate people takes it to a new level and suggests an arrogant confidence that they can act with impunity.
“They may set out to intimidate but their actions can kill. We have already seen horrific incidents where entire families were murdered in fire attacks and given their current prevalence it could easily happen again.
“It is deeply concerning that an elected representative in Scotland feels unable to do his job safely because of the threat from organised crime. The criminal justice response must be robust – none of us want to live in a society of mob rule.”