Robertson considers action over web
GEORGE Robertson, the
NATO secretary general, is considering legal action against
the owners of the Sunday Herald, over internet allegations
about his connection to Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane killer.
The move by Lord Robertson, which could force Scottish
Media Group to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds in
compensation, follows claims posted on the newspaper’s
discussion page by a member of the public.
lawyers warned that the scale of the payout could even force
the Sunday Herald out of business, given worldwide awareness
of the Dunblane massacre.
There was also concern that
the case could have serious implications for anyone who
operates a website encouraging views from members of the
Andrew Jaspan, the editor of the Glasgow-based
Sunday Herald, admitted the website was not "policed",
although he insisted the offending material had been removed
half an hour after the paper was contacted by Lord Robertson’s
However, last night, a legal source
said the information posted on the Sunday Herald forum had
been there for four weeks and could have badly damaged Lord
He said: "We are talking about
a well-known public figure on the international stage being
linked through these allegations to an atrocity which is known
throughout the world.
"We are talking about hundreds
of thousands of pounds in compensation and even an amount
which could close the newspaper.
"Authors already have
a responsibility not to publish defamatory statements. If they
do, and they do put them on the web, then there is no reason
why they shouldn’t be liable worldwide."
Scottish legal expert said online defamation typified by the
case involving Lord Robertson was an area of increasing
concern for businesses.
Traditionally, defamation has
been considered a national matter, with little scope for
conflict between laws of different countries, but the internet
has muddied the waters by emphasising the cross-border access
to websites which is possible for users.
Davies, a solicitor with Edinburgh-based Shepherd &
Wedderburn, who specialise in intellectual property and
information technology law, said: "Documents published and
uploaded in one country can be viewed and downloaded all over
the world, exposing newspapers and other publishers to the
libel laws of potentially any nation which provides internet
access to its citizens.
"The lack of a uniform
approach at an international level to such issues prevents any
kind of legal certainty."
Internet speculation about
Lord Robertson grew following the revelation that 106
documents were closed to the public after the inquiry into the
shootings at Dunblane Primary School in 1996.
Robertson told Lord Cullen’s public inquiry he became
increasingly concerned about Hamilton’s militaristic camps
after his own son attended Dunblane Rovers, run by Hamilton in
1983. After speaking of his fears to Michael Forsyth, then a
newly elected MP for Stirling, Lord Robertson kept him
informed of publicity relating to Hamilton’s clubs.
Yesterday, the Mail on Sunday claimed the letters
between the two politicians drew a detailed picture of
Hamilton’s perverted behaviour towards young boys in his care
as well as his firearms obsession.
The paper states
that letters from Mr Forsyth "campaigned on behalf" of
Hamilton from 1983 onwards, but that he also passed to police
parental concerns about Hamilton’s personality. After
receiving letters from Hamilton complaining about a police
investigation into his 1988 summer camp, Mr Forsyth raised the
issue with Central Scotland Police.
A year later,
Hamilton met the force’s deputy chief constable and, the Mail
says, shortly afterwards the killer wrote to Mr Forsyth
"thanking him for his assistance".