Atheists urge SFA to give Dallas his job back

THE National Secular Society has demanded the Scottish Football Association reinstate Hugh Dallas, the referee sacked for sending a "gratuitously insulting" e-mail about the Pope.

While the Catholic Church described the e-mail as "deeply offensive" and supported the sacking of the SFA's head of referee development in November, the National Secular Society insisted yesterday that it was "a light-hearted joke"

It called on the SFA to give Mr Dallas and another employee who was also sacked their jobs back.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the NSS, has written to the SFA following its decision last week to reinstate three of the five individuals sacked last year during a disciplinary hearing that was called after they circulated the e-mail containing a joke linking the Pope to child abuse.

The three members of staff were reinstated on Friday, following negotiations between the SFA and the GMB union, and are expected to return to their posts later this month after what a union official described as "a wee hiccup" on the workers' unblemished records of service.

In the letter, Mr Wood said the sacking of staff by the SFA was "disproportionate", and that, while the organisation was pleased that three members of staff had been reinstated, it called on the football body to give the remaining two, Mr Dallas and another employee who had not appealed, their jobs back.

Mr Wood then launched an attack on the Catholic Church. He wrote that it was in "no position to lobby and deprive others of their jobs over such a trivial joke, given its own misdemeanours, conducted on a much larger scale for so long and so widely".

He added: "It is a matter of public record that the Catholic Church itself has not sacked, nor indeed reported to prosecuting authorities, thousands of its own employees it knew to have abused children in its care.

"Had it done so, rather than moving these employees to unsuspecting parishes to abuse again, many more victims' lives would have been spared damage."

The organisation stated: "We reject the suggestion that Mr Dallas's reinstatement would not be 'not in the public interest' and hope this is not code for not wishing to upset the Church."

The e-mail, sent as the pontiff was visiting Scotland, was condemned at the time by the Catholic Church, which demanded Mr Dallas be sacked.

Mr Dallas attempted to overturn his dismissal, but his appeal was rejected at the end of December.

The former World Cup referee is considering taking the SFA to an employment tribunal.

The offending e-mail showed a road sign of an adult holding a child's hand. It was captioned "Caution: The Pope is coming", in reference to the papal visit.

The members of staff who were sacked were alleged to have forwarded the e-mail from their SFA accounts in breach of the organisation's IT policy.

The staff given their jobs back were secretary Amanda McDonald, audio-visual technician Tim Berridge and administrative assistant Marco McIntyre. The fifth employee is not thought to have launched an appeal.

The failure of the SFA to act swiftly after the controversy erupted last September was condemned by the Catholic Church at the time.

Two months after the issue came to light, the Church's spokesman, Peter Kearney, wrote to the SFA chief executive, Stewart Regan, urging him to sack Mr Dallas if the allegations were proved, to make its investigations public and to treat the matter with urgency.

In his letter, Mr Kearney described Mr Dallas's conduct as "totally unprofessional, gratuitously insulting to the Pope, deeply offensive to the Catholic community of Scotland and an incitement to anti-Catholic sectarianism".

Two days after the letter was sent, it emerged that Hugh Dallas, the respected former Fifa official, who officiated at the 1996 Olympic Games and the 1999 Uefa Cup final, had left his position at the SFA.Last night, a spokesman for the Catholic Church said he had no comment to make. A spokesman for the SFA said: "We have said repeatedly we do not comment on individual cases."

The e-mail five

Hugh Dallas head of referee development, was sacked. His appeal against dismissal was rejected at the end of December. The former World Cup referee is considering taking the SFA to an employment tribunal.

Secretary Amanda McDonald, audio visual technician Tim Berridge and admin assistant Marco McIntyre were all sacked, but were reinstated following an appeal.

Mailroom manager Bob Bryan was sacked, but he is thought not to have appealed against the decision.

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