A Dundee publican has been fined for spreading sordid misinformation about an SNP candidate days before an election.
John Justice made false claims about Chris Law MP on social media, alleging without foundation he was being investigated for sexual misconduct.
Mr Law’s campaign team were alerted to the concerning Facebook post ahead of the Dundee West snap election in 2019.
The post read: “Unbelievable. Watch the news on the next day or two, Chris Law SNP investigated for taking nude photographs without the woman’s consent. You heard it hear first.”
Justice denied breaking the law, claiming he had a reasonable belief that his allegations were true.
He told Dundee Sheriff Court the claim was being investigated by a Scottish journalist rather than police.
But he was found guilty after a one-day trial.
Sheriff George Way told Justice, of Whitehall Street, it was a “deliberate attempt to slur and besmirch the candidate.”
Giving evidence, Mr Law said: “It was shared with me in the morning by a member of staff.
“I was made aware I think at about 8am.
“My first concern was the safety and security of my family.”
Mr Law said he contacted the SNP party lawyer around an hour after seeing the post.
He said that the post was one of around 50 by the same person: “Had it been a one-off, I probably would have ignored it.”
When asked by fiscal depute Sarah High if there was any truth in the post, Law said: “Absolutely not.”
He added that as far as he was aware, there was no police investigation.
The post appeared with a graphic and Mr Law said: “The impression I got from them was as if this was breaking news or national news.”
Mr Law told the court he didn’t know Justice, but added that he knew the 67-year-old drove a taxi which advertised Labour opponent Jim Malone.
“At the time, it was quite a negative campaign in 2019,” he added.
“This was repeated and completely untrue.”
PC Mark Crawford who interviewed Justice told the court: “Police were unaware of a report of that nature.
“We have a crime reference system.
“There’s been no allegation whatsoever reported.”
The officer told defence solicitor Ian Houston: “He said he’d heard it from sources who had spoken to him in the Lochee Sports Lounge.”
Mr Houston explained that the Lochee venue had been used as a Labour Party base during the campaign.
Stands by post
Justice told the court the licensee at Lochee Sports Lounge had told him over the phone about the allegations and he had repeated them.
He said: “I received a phone call.
“They told me certain information which had been imparted to them.
“I’m pro-union, anti-SNP. I’m not a Labour Party member, I was supporting the Labour Party that campaign.
“The Labour Party knew they were going to be decimated.”
Justice said of the 1,200 friends he has on Facebook, only around 200 would live in the constituency Law was fighting.
Justice by name…
Following his trial, Justice was found to have breached the Representation of the People Act 1983 by making or publishing a false statement about a candidate before or during an election.
The former solicitor, who now runs The Pillars Bar in Dundee was found guilty of making the statement which related to Mr Law’s personal conduct or character.
Sheriff Way said: “You’ve got to differentiate between political comment which is protected.
“I’m satisfied the Crown has made out its case in the sense that this was clearly immediately prior to an election.
“I can see no other purpose in posting that Chris Law is being investigated for taking nude photographs without consent.
“That, in my view, can have no other purpose than to challenge the character and conduct of the candidate, with a view to affecting, in some way or another, adversely, his chances of being elected.
“That takes us to the defence,” the sheriff said.
“I regret to say I am unable to accept that defence.
“I do not in fact find Mr Justice or his witness to be credible or reliable witnesses.
“No evidence was led from the lady who was said to have spoken to him personally.
“No evidence was led from the journalist and I’m left with the conclusion that this was a deliberate attempt to slur and besmirch the candidate.
“It was a convenient slur on a candidate he wished to besmirch.
“There are consequences for this. It would be different if he was an electoral agent.
“At the end of the day, one thing I do accept is whatever Mr Justice did or did not think he was doing, he was throwing chaff into the wind in terms of trying to defeat the candidate.
“The world has moved on considerably.
“There was a lot of behaviour that frankly should not have taken place taking place.”
Sheriff Way fined Justice £500.