Council gives up SoS gag order

A Scottish council has twice failed to prevent Scotland on Sunday revealing rape allegations against a teacher.

Aberdeenshire Council was forced to abandon an attempt to impose a gagging order on SoS last Friday when the council’s lawyers withdrew a motion for an interdict after the judge, Lord McEwan, commented on “patent defects” in the paperwork outlining its case.

The Court of Session hearing came less than a week after the council’s first attempt to gag SoS.

Late the previous Saturday, council lawyers went to court to stop SoS revealing that one of its employees had been accused of rape by a former pupil, now also a teacher.

The case was heard at the Edinburgh home of Lord Johnston at 11pm when the judge refused to grant an interdict. By this time the paper was already being sold on the streets.

At the Court of Session hearing, Aberdeenshire Council sought to ban SoS from publishing any further stories about the case.

He also asked the court to grant an order removing the original story from SoS’s website.

The council claimed further coverage in the paper could prejudice its disciplinary investigation into the teacher’s conduct.

But Graeme Henderson, the advocate representing SoS, argued before Lord McEwan that it would be “an unconscionable blow to press freedom” if he imposed such a vague and imprecise legal ban on the paper’s freedom of expression, which is protected by the Human Rights Act.

Bill Frain-Bell, advocate for the council, asked for permission to rewrite the petition before the court but Lord McEwan described the petition as suffering “patent defects”.

Lord McEwan said the petition lacked “meat”. He said the council had to provide details of the names of officials whom it suspected of leaking confidential information to SoS to support its application before it had a chance of success.

Frain-Bell decided to withdraw the petition and Lord McEwan ordered the council to pay SoS costs for the hearing.

It is believed the cost to the council of both failed gagging actions could be more than £10,000.

SoS editor John McLellan said: “It is quite astonishing that council tax-payers’ money should be wasted in such a ludicrous attempt to gag the press but I am delighted that not one but two judges recognised how incompetent Aberdeenshire Council’s handling of this matter has been.”

By Hamish Mackay

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