A RETIRED army veteran who used to bring a special Christmas sparkle to hundreds of families every year has spent the run-up to the big day in the dark – thanks to grumpy neighbours and council red tape.
And Hilton resident Robert Russell says as well as youngsters missing out on festive fun, local charities are being hit in the pocket.
The 53-year-old forked out a fortune to stage his spectacular lights extravaganza and Santa’s grotto and spent last December raising much-needed cash for people with cancer.
But he was left "heartbroken" when Highland Council officials shut down his charity operation just days before Christmas last year.
And this year he was banned from staging his light show unless he made expensive changes.
Mr Russell had already provided presents for more than 40 children and raised hundreds for Maggie’s Highland when he got the knock on the door from the council last Christmas.
He had been inspired to do something for charity after suffering from cancer himself.
The local authority closed the grotto he ran at his council house in Oldtown Road because it breached tenancy rules.
At the time, he was threatened with action if it was not closed but this year he was told that he needed to pass inspections and fork out for electrical breakers before he could even put out his light display.
"I have nothing out at all even though I have a garage three-quarters full of decorations," Mr Russell said.
"There were complaints from neighbours about the lights and about children using the path to get to the grotto."
Mr Russell has been suffering from ill health but believes that his situation has been made worse without the festive cheer.
"This is dragging me down because it is just not worth putting it up to get all that grief.
"It has really knocked the stuffing out of me – it used to take me and my friends three days to get it all up but it was worth it for the kids’ smiles."
He does not blame the council for making the decision as he believes that it received complaints from neighbours who do not like him.
"I don’t understand at all why some people weren’t happy with it when the majority were," he said.
"I have been on this street for more than 10 years and I just wanted to give something back to the community."
Mr Russell said he had tried his best to stay ahead of the law, including investigating whether he required a disclosure check. He also ensured no children visited the grotto without their parents, and restricted its opening time from 4.30-6.30pm so it didn’t bother neighbours.
A council spokeswoman said tenancy rules stated an individual cannot run a business from their home without permission or cause a nuisance or harassment to neighbours.