South Scotland

'Deviant' remark ex-councillor censured

Council HQ Image copyright Google
Image caption Mr McAughtrie was a senior Labour councillor with the Dumfries and Galloway authority

A former councillor who described an LGBT campaigner as a "deviant" has been censured by a public sector watchdog.

Tom McAughtrie made the remark on a photograph of Belle Doyle she posted on her Facebook page.

She told a standards hearing in Dumfries that she felt threatened by the "menacing" comment.

Mr McAughtrie, a former Dumfries and Galloway councillor, was found to have breached three sections of the councillors' code of conduct.

In its ruling, the Standards Commission for Scotland (SCS) said it would have imposed a suspension if he was still a serving councillor.

Tricia Stewart, the panel chairwoman, said the remark was a personal attack which was "gratuitous, offensive and abusive".

She added: "Those in public life must take steps to ensure their behaviour does not open the door to intimidation and must uphold high ethical standards.

"The hearing panel considered the language used in the posting was wholly unacceptable and unjustified and understandable the complainer felt threatened by it."

'Came out of nowhere'

The hearing heard that Dr Doyle was previously the chairwoman of the Dumfries and Galloway LGBT+ group.

She posted a photograph on her Facebook page on the day of the Scottish independence referendum - 18 September 2014.

It showed her with a second person at a polling station as they traditionally raced to be the first to cast their vote.

Almost two years later - on 4 August 2016 - she received a notification on her phone that Mr McAughtrie had commented on the image.

It read: "Thankfully you two deviants were dealt the blow you deserve by the decent people of Dumfries."

Dr Doyle told the hearing that she had debated local transport issues with Mr McAughtrie in the past but this comment "came out of nowhere".

"This struck me as quite menacing because I didn't know quite why I had been picked out," she told the hearing.

She said she reported it to the police that night as it made her feel vulnerable living alone in Dumfries.

Mr McAughtrie was a councillor for the Abbey ward for about 30 years before he lost his seat at the election in May 2017.

Image copyright Standards Commission for Scotland
Image caption Tricia Stewart was the chairwoman of the SCS panel

He had served as chairman of Swestrans, the local transport partnership, and of the Dumfries Common Good Fund.

He was suspended from the Scottish Labour Party when the allegations emerged in September 2016 but he continued to serve as a councillor.

He did not appear at the hearing and he did not send a representative to speak on his behalf.

Bill Thomson, the commissioner for ethical standards in public life, told the hearing that Mr McAughtrie used his council-issued mobile phone to make the comments on Dr Doyle's social media profile, violating the local authority's ICT policy.

And he pointed to evidence that Mr McAughtrie had made earlier "intemperate" comments towards Dr Doyle on social media in discussions about the future of the rail network in the region.

The SCS panel found the Mr McAughtrie breached sections 3.1, 3.2 and 3.16 of the councillors' code of conduct.

It said they noted the contribution he had made to public life in Dumfries and Galloway during his 30 years with the council.

The SCS is the watchdog which monitors the behaviour of those in public office in organisations such as councils, health boards and the Scottish Police Authority.

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