Edinburgh, Fife & East Scotland

'I almost collapsed when I got the bill'

"When I received the bill for £192,000, I almost collapsed.

"I literally had to sit down, I thought my legs were going to give way under me."

Edinburgh cafe owner Bonita Russell said the shock of receiving that bill in April for repairs to her building has still not dissipated.

She is one of 17 owners saddled with debts of about £11,000 each after work was carried out on their stonework and chimneys.

The work was done under Edinburgh Council's statutory notice system, a power unique to the city.

It allows the council to organise repairs to private homes, and recoup the money from the owners.

Image caption Bonita has owned the cafe for the past 21 years

The system, which has been in place for decades, is designed to protect Edinburgh's architectural treasures.

But a BBC documentary has uncovered evidence of possible fraud and serious wrongdoing in the building works overseen by the council.

An inquiry by Lothian and Borders Police's fraud unit is still ongoing. The council has also called in auditors Deloitte to investigate.

The first estimate received by Bonita and others living in building totalled just over £80,000 - about £5,000 each.

However, by the time the work had finished the bill had more than doubled, to £192,000.

Bonita said: "Well, when it was at £80,000 I was absolutely in tears to the builder. And I mean, I was sobbing my heart out, because there was no way I could find £5,000. And then when we got the final bill through, I almost fainted.

"I just thought no chance, I have no hope of finding the money to pay for this. I mean when you're charging £1.10 for a roll, you've got to sell a lot of rolls to make that kind of money."

'Nest egg'

Bonita, who has worked in the cafe on Trafalgar Street for the past 36 years, and bought it in 1990, said her retirement plans are now in doubt as she may have to sell up to pay off the debt.

"This originally was to be my nest egg when I retire," she said.

"I hopefully was going to pass it on as a business and get £40,000 or £45,000 and that was going to be my wee retirement fund. That's gone now. So it's breaking my heart."

The BBC commissioned two experts - structural engineer John Addison and quantity surveyor Gordon Murdie - to examine buildings which were subject to statutory notice work.

They concluded that the Trafalgar Street owners had been charged for an entire wall being repointed and they could not see evidence that it had been done.

Scotland's Property Scandal will be broadcast at 22:35 on Tuesday 20 September on BBC1 Scotland, and on the iPlayer.

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