Glasgow & West Scotland

Secular group backs Hugh Dallas over 'Pope e-mail row'

Hugh Dallas and pope email
Image caption Hugh Dallas lost his appeal in December after being sacked

A group which fights the influence of religion is backing a referees' chief who was sacked for sending a joke e-mail about the Pope and child abuse.

The National Secular Society (NSS) said the Scottish Football Association (SFA) had acted disproportionately in sacking Hugh Dallas and four others.

Three were reinstated by the SFA last week after an appeal.

Mr Dallas is considering taking his case to an employment tribunal after his appeal was rejected.

The e-mail at the centre of the case contained a joke about the Pope and child abuse.

It showed a road sign of an adult holding a child's hand. It was captioned - "Caution: The Pope is coming" in reference to the Papal visit to Scotland in September.

The five members of staff who were sacked - including head of referee development Mr Dallas - were alleged to have forwarded the e-mail from their SFA accounts in breach of the organisation's IT policy.

In the days before Mr Dallas' disciplinary hearing in November, the Catholic Church in Scotland called for him to be sacked if the allegations were proven.

Catholic Church spokesman Peter Kearney said the e-mail was "totally unprofessional, gratuitously insulting to the Pope, deeply offensive to the Catholic community of Scotland, and an incitement to anti-Catholic sectarianism".

But the NSS, which campaigns against the influence of religion in government and society, said the church's intervention had been hypocritical and the SFA had over-reacted to a "trivial joke".

In a letter to the governing body, NSS executive director Keith Porteous Wood said Mr Dallas should be reinstated.

The letter states: "We believe the sacking of SFA staff because of a light-hearted joke over the Pope was disproportionate. We are pleased you have reinstated some of them and call on you to reinstate the remainder.

"We note that the sackings appear to have followed the Catholic Church reportedly urging 'Scottish football's governing body to sack Dallas if it was proved he had passed on a 'tasteless message' relating to the Pope's visit to Scotland'.

Abused children

"The church is in no position to lobby and deprive others of their jobs over such a trivial joke, given its own misdemeanours, conducted on a much larger scale for so long and so widely.

"It is a matter of public record that the Catholic Church itself has not sacked, nor indeed reported to prosecuting authorities, thousands of its own employees it knew to have abused children in its care.

"Had it done so, rather than moving these employees to unsuspecting parishes to abuse again, many more victims' lives would have been spared damage."

Mr Wood added: "We reject the suggestion that Mr Dallas' reinstatement would not be 'not in the public interest' and hope this is not code for not wishing to upset the church.

"The time when the church could command such draconian actions has long past, and for you not to reinstate all the remaining employees would be an injustice to them and seriously risks showing the association not to have acted impartially and proportionally."

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