James Coyne (55), who fly-fishes for Scotland and rents the fishing rights on the 1000-acre loch, drove up in his Jeep, parked behind the trio’s school people carrier and shouted aggressively across the fields to them, using the F-word which left the youngsters feeling scared and intimidated.
Stirling Sheriff Court heard the boys, on an outward-bound evening with teacher Stephen McCue, a sessional residential child-care worker at Stirlingshire’s Ballikinrain School, were spinning rather than fly-casting for trout on the picturesque reservoir when the incident happened.
Coyne, of Carron Valley Fishing Lodge, Carron Valley, denied using threatening and abusive behaviour in the incident, on March 20 last year.
He said he had fly-fished for Scotland last summer against England, Ireland and Wales, and he had thought Mr McCue and the boys were poachers because they were using the wrong gear.
He said: “He was spinning, and that’s illegal in the Carron Valley because it rips the fishes’ gills and mouths open.”
Sheriff William Gilchrist said he accepted Mr McCue’s account of the events, and ruled that Coyne had been abusive, but he found the criminal charge not proven because the allegation that Coyne had made threats had not been corroborated.
Mr McCue said the boys, 14 and 15, were “not serious fishermen” and that Mr Coyne seemed “very aggressive” and “looked quite intimidating”.
He accused Mr Coyne of swearing several times using the F-word and the C-word and threatening to put a brick through the windscreen of their vehicle.
Mr McCue said: “It was just an activity for them to do, to get them away from the school and from their computer screens for the evening.
“We went to the reservoir because one of the boys said he had fished there before.
“It was a beautiful evening. We parked the car and climbed over the fence and went down to the loch. The boys were fishing, I was supervising them. We saw a car pull up, two men got out, and the older one started shouting and gesturing aggressively towards us.”
Mr McCue said he told the boys to pack up their gear and they went back to the road, where Coyne continued to shout and swear.
He added: “I calmly attempted to explain to the person shouting that it was an evening outing from a residential school, that I had two boys with me who were minors in care, and if he’d calm down, I’d explain.
“I explained the school had a permit to fish, but that seemed to make things worse. He said ‘I’m the bailiff and you’re stealing my fish’. I didn’t believe him because I didn’t think anybody in an official capacity would be that intimidatory and out of control.”
The teacher, who said he spent his whole professional life calming volatile situations, said he himself then swore for the first and only time and said he’d wait for police to sort the situation out after Coyne had made a faked a call to police.
Mr McCue said Mr Coyne, who had his son with him, had tried to kick his mobile phone out of his hand after he attempted to take a picture of his car, before they drove off.
Mr McCue said it later transpired that the school’s fishing permit had expired, and would not have covered that particular stretch of water anyway, but he had honestly believed they were covered. He reported Coyne’s behaviour, and was himself interviewed by police, who decided not to prosecute him for fishing without a permit because he’d made a genuine mistake.
Mr McCue added: “These boys [in residential care] have been bullied all their lives, and they don’t need to see it from people in authority.”
Giving evidence from behind a screen, one of the boys, aged 15, said he was “scared” by Coyne “shouting at and not listening to” his teacher.
He said behaviour had to be abusive and threatening, not simply abusive, for a conviction.
The sheriff said: “I cannot conclude beyond reasonable doubt that the accused’s behaviour, although I find it to be abusive, constituted a crime.”
Coyne, a father and grandfather and a former project manager for Scottish Water, said he spent £40,000 a year stocking the reservoir with trout, and poaching was a “constant threat to his livelihood”.