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Site manager who torched £1.2m St Andrews lodge acquitted after ‘unique and abnormal’ trial

A sheriff said he sympathised with Scott Oswald after hearing heartbreaking evidence.

Scott Oswald set fire to Carron Lodge, St Andrews
Scott Oswald set fire to Carron Lodge, St Andrews

A site manager who burned down a £1.2 million country cottage owned by his employers has been cleared of criminal conduct.

Scott Oswald set fire to the centuries-old Carron Lodge, on the edge of St Andrews, in May 2021.

The C-listed building was owned by his bosses at Perth-based GS Brown, who planned to renovate it in time for the 150th Open Championships.

Mr Oswald, 56, stood trial last week at Perth Sheriff Court accused of wilfully setting fire to the former farmhouse on Strathkinness Low Road.

After what a sheriff described as a “unique and abnormal” week of often heartbreaking evidence, a jury unanimously found him not guilty.

The court heard Mr Oswald is still employed by the firm and supported by managing director Steve Brown, who said his company had undergone a “sea change” in mental health awareness since the incident.


Sheriff William Wood told Mr Oswald: “I have to say this is probably the first trial I have ever conducted where I felt sympathy for the accused after the first two Crown witnesses.

“This trial has been abnormal or unique in that respect.”

Fire crews at the scene of the Carron Lodge fire. Image: DC Thomson

He said: “You seem to have been suffering the most dreadful of low moods back in May 2021.

“I’m sure the knowledge of what you did will live with you for a long time, although you should feel guilt-free as far as that is concerned.”

The sheriff confirmed the court would take no further action, having heard Mr Oswald had recovered with the help of the The Neuk mental health crisis centre, based in Perth.

“It is quite clear that since this very difficult episode in your life, you have taken appropriate and relevant steps to ensure you don’t find yourself in that situation again,” he said.

Alarming phone call

At the time of the fire, Mr Oswald, from Perth, was employed as a small contracts manager for the Carron Lodge site.

Steve Brown, 59, managing director of GS Brown, told the trial he continues to employ Mr Oswald, who he has known for about 20 years.

The former St Johnstone FC chairman told fiscal depute Andrew Harding that in the days leading up to the fire, Mr Oswald’s attitude noticeably changed.

He said: “Scott was always outgoing and full of energy but when I spoke to him at the time, he was very low and down.”

Former St Johnstone chairman Steve Brown gave evidence at his employee’s trial.

On the morning of the fire, Mr Brown received a call from Mr Oswald.

He said his employee, speaking in an unusually soft voice, said: “I’m really struggling. I love you and I’ll see you on the other side.”

“He just hung up,” said Mr Brown.

“I tried to phone him back but there was no answer.”

Mr Brown said that the call set off “huge alarm bells”.

“I remembered that there were tracking devices in our vehicles.

“We discovered that Scott’s van was in St Andrews.”

Carron Lodge fire aftermath
The fire gutted Carron Lodge. Image: DC Thomson.

As he drove to the Fife town, Mr Brown was called by police, alerting him to a fire at Carron Lodge.

He arrived at the scene at around 10.30am.

“The police were already there and there were four fire engines in attendance.

“I would say that about 60% of the building was burnt.”

Cross-examined by defence counsel Duncan McPhie, Mr Brown said Mr Oswald took time off after the blaze but is now back at work following a phased return.

‘Shut himself off’

Mr Oswald’s wife Laura also told the trial about changes to his behaviour in the days leading to the fire.

“He wasn’t sleeping okay.

“He was quite angry sometimes and he lost his temper.”

When she asked what was troubling him, Oswald told her: “Work stuff.”

The 43-year-old nursing student said she took a call from her husband on the morning of the fire.

“He said he loved me and that he was sorry.

“He said he just couldn’t cope and he mentioned something about a fire.”

Mrs Oswald said her husband had “shut himself off” during the Covid lockdown.

The couple had since raised money for the Neuk charity organisation with a climb up Ben Nevis.

Water’s edge

Detective Constable Gavin Dunn said he found Mr Oswald on the beach at East Sands, St Andrews, after he was reported as a missing person.

“He looked like a poor soul.

“He was shaking and soaking wet.

“There was a strong smell of smoking coming from him.”

DC Dunn, 34, said: “He told me he had a job due to be completed in December and that there was no chance he was going to make the deadline.

“So he set that place alight and he was f***ed.”

The Carron Lodge fire
The Carron Lodge fire. Image: DC Thomson.

The court heard Mr Oswald later told a psychiatrist he had an out-of-body style experience as he sat inside the burning lodge.

He said he felt like he was looking down on himself, sat in an upper floor with photos of his family.

Mr Oswald then went outside when he heard voices of people nearby.

He then drove down to the beach where he was discovered by police at the water’s edge.

Mr Oswald had never denied started the fire but pled not guilty to the charge of wilful fireraising with a special defence that “by reason of mental disorder, he was unable to appreciate the nature and wrongfulness of the conduct.”

  • The Neuk, which offers a round-the-clock mental health and suicide prevention support can be contacted on 01738 638475 or visit the website here.
  • The Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123.

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