THE CARELESS omission of a comma has led to years of legal dispute between Fife Council and the Church of Scotland about a clock in Inverkeithing.

Old town council minutes left it open to interpretation about who is responsible for the crumbling housing of the timepiece and councillors are worried in case "anyone gets killed" by debris that has been falling off it.

Inverkeithing Town Clock, donated by a Mr Smith, from Duloch, in the 19th century, is within the parish church tower and an application for £22,500 was made to the West Fife Common Good Fund to help fund repairs.

Local councillor Alice McGarry said: "I've been involved in this for a number of years and have argued the toss with the council about who is responsible for the clock housing, which was erected to hold the clock in place.

"The council have taken a very narrow view of it, that they only look after the clock, but it couldn't be in the tower if the housing wasn't holding it in.

"I think there's a comma missing in the old town council minutes which would have made the situation much clearer.

"Fife Council have taken it to refer only to the clock workings and not the clock housing, so we're at an impasse here."

The report to the committee said the council had agreed to carry out the work if it was paid for with Common Good Fund cash.

Cllr McGarry continued: "The church are at the stage where they've considered removing the clock and housing from the tower because they simply can't afford it.

"They've got extensive repairs for the church as it is. It's a 12th-century tower and it needs extensive repairs, which we're not responsible for and they are.

"They are in a bind here and so are we if anyone gets killed by a piece of wood falling off the clock housing.

"And bits have been falling off repeatedly over the past few months."

Cllr James Calder said: "Both parties have taken legal advice to clarify the position, is there any more information on that?

"I'm aware it's a really important landmark for Inverkeithing and also that there's a health and safety issue here too so it's time-critical it's dealt with."

Cllr McGarry said: "The council's legal advisor has advised that the council are only responsible for the clock itself and the Church of Scotland take a different view. Unless there's arbitration, I don't know. I'd like to see it sorted before I retire next year."

Area services manager Alastair Mutch confirmed that responsibility was "still being disputed by the council" and the matter had been raised with the chief executive, Steve Grimmond.

He added: "Legal services were directed by the chief executive to find a solution and their suggestion was this application to the Common Good Fund to meet the costs of the repairs and make the clock housing safe."

Cllr Tony Orton said he felt the council were "ducking out" of their responsibility and "using the Common Good" money to do so.

His suggestion that the fund and the council each pay half the costs did not have a seconder.

The recommendation to award the full grant was agreed.