Sunday Herald columnist 'sacked' for backing journalist who questioned Rangers 'mettle' to stop offensive chanting

A Sunday Herald columnist has been "sacked" after giving her support to a journalist who questioned the efforts of Rangers Football Club to tackle offensive crowd chants.

Angela Haggerty said she was informed her column would be no longer welcome in the newspaper today. She told Press Gazette she is "very troubled" by the decision, which she feels has "chilling implications for freedom of the press".

The editor of the Sunday Herald, Neil Mackay, has distanced himself from the sacking of Haggerty, saying it was the decision of editor-in-chief Magnus Llewellin.

He tweeted: "Important: the decision to remove @AngelaHaggerty as Sunday Herald columnist was not taken by me but by the editor-in-chief Magnus Llewellin."

Earlier this week, Glasgow's Herald newspaper issued an apology to Rangers over an opinion piece by sports journalist Graham Spiers. In it, he questioned the "mettle" of the Rangers board to tackle offensive chanting. Spiers responded by standing by the facts his opinion was based on.

The Herald statement said: "In a recent column for heraldscotland, Graham Spiers said an un-named Rangers director had praised the song The Billy Boys.

"He also questioned the willingness of Rangers directors to tackle offensive behavious, and The Herald and Graham Spiers accept this was inaccurate.

"We acknowledge every member of the Rangers board is fully committed to fighting bigotry and offensive chanting, wherever it occurs in Scottish football, and that the club is actively tackling the issue."

Spiers responded with a blog, saying his "opinion was based on the fact that, at a meeting I attended at Ibrox Stadium on August 31st 2015, a Rangers director told me that he thought The Billy Boys was 'a great song'.

"I subsequently expressed my dismay at the director’s comment in an email exchange with Rangers. There was, and is, no question of me calling any Rangers director a bigot.

"Rangers duly complained to The Herald about my column. As the weeks passed a dispute arose, and the pressure brought upon the newspaper became severe.

"The Herald told me repeatedly that they now had to find a way to a public resolution with Rangers. Having searched many avenues to reach an agreement with the club, the newspaper ultimately denied my request to withhold any clarification/apology until my own position was clearer.

"The Herald has never told me that they disbelieved my version of events.  I also retain the highest regard for Magnus Llewellin, the paper’s editor who has tried to resolve this problem.

"My opinion – as expressed in my column – was based on a truthful account of my meeting with a Rangers director."

The Rangers Supporters Trust responded to the correction by saying it was "delighted with Rangers' action in challenging the lies of Herald columnist Graham Spiers.The club has today secured a humiliating public climb down from Mr Spiers following his latest false accusations."

Haggerty then responded to this, tweeting: "Solidarity with @GrahamSpiers, again being targeted by the mob for telling some harsh truths…

"Welcome to Scotland: write about glaring bigotry at Ibrox and the extremist 'fans' will hound you, intimidate you, harass you. In 2016."

These were apparently the tweets that led to her sacking. She told Press Gazette: "I'm very troubled by the decision by the Herald editor-in-chief to discontinue my column after expressing support for a fellow journalist being targeted by sustained abuse online. This has chilling implications for freedom of the press and freedom of speech. Having been targeted by Rangers-related groups since editing a book about the club's financial collapse in 2012, I have been under significant harassment. This has led to police involvement on several occasions, a six-month prison sentence for one man and several attempts to have me fired from jobs.

"I am not the only journalist in Scotland to have experienced this, and I am very concerned that this decision will reinforce a mob mentality and put journalists at even more risk."

The National Union of Journalists condemned the actions of the newspaper group.

Dominic Bascombe, assistant organiser NUJ Scotland, said: "The NUJ has already defended Angela over the bullying and harassment she has suffered for doing her job. The axing of her column sends a message that The Herald is unwilling to stand up for its contributors and is willing to sacrifice journalists when commercial interests are involved. This is totally unacceptable."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said: "It is outrageous that commercial meddling has led the Herald to sack a respected columnist. This pandering to the mob does the freedom of journalism and the reputation of the Herald no favours. We call on the editor to reinstate these columnists at once."

Ruth Davidson MSP, leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party, said that "as an ex-hack, I'd expect my title to back the integrity of journos".

Angus Robertson MP, leader of the SNP in Westminster, said: "As someone proud to have worked as journalist and still member of @NUJScotland I am horrified by these developments."

Spiers tweeted that he was "disgusted" by the treatment of Haggerty.

Llewellin said in a statement: "A Graham Spiers column published on heraldscotland in December made a claim about an un-named member of the six-strong board of Rangers.

"This presented a legal issue which had to be addressed and which was discussed at length, by all parties involved.

"The issue was whether we could defend in court a contentious statement and the advice given was that we could not. Finally, on clear legal advice, we were left with no option other than to apologise and seek to draw a line under the matter.

"After the apology was published we had to abide by it and the spirit in which it was published. Unfortunately that apology was then undermined and we had to take appropriate action.

"Our titles have a long history of supporting quality journalism and defending free speech and robust comment. This made all the more difficult the action we had to take.

"While one of our advertisers is on the board at Rangers that was never an issue and we shall continue to report and comment on the pressing issues of the day without fear or favour."

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