A senior Labour politician has come under fire for suggesting that a councillor embroiled in a racism row could have been the victim of mistaken identity.
Elaine Murray, a former MSP and the current Dumfries and Galloway council leader, has been criticised by Transport Minister Humza Yousaf for making the suggestion.
Ms Murray intervened following allegations that her colleague Cllr Jim Dempster had racially abused a brother and sister when they went into his newsagent shop as children around 30-years ago.
When the allegations were made this week, Mrs Dempster had already been suspended by Labour for making a racially offensive remark about Mr Yousaf. Mr Dempster said that no-one would have seen Mr Yousaf “under the burka” on a visit to Dumfries and Galloway made by the Transport Minister. He has acknowledged and apologised for making the remark. But has denied the latest accusations which date from the late 1980s and early 1990s.
The unnamed individuals, who made the accusations against Mr Dempster, claimed he chased the sister, then only aged six, around his shop with an air freshener claiming she “smelled like curry”.
The brother claimed he is still haunted by the “10-years of hell” he endured when going to Mr Dempster’s shop in the village of Sanquhar.
Yesterday Ms Murray sent some journalists an email titled: “Jim Dempster – a case of mistaken identity?”
Her email referred to a message she had received from a “well respected business person” in Dumfries and Galloway, whose father she knew through the council.
The “business person” said the claims against Mr Dempster had been discussed on social media by a group of friends who were at school with one of the councillor’s accusers.
The message referred to a “growing consensus that it must have been a case of mistaken identity”.
It suggested Mr Dempster had been confused with another shopkeeper who had a shop nearby. It said said descriptions of the shop and of the shopkeeper’s alleged behaviour was a “better fit” with the other shopkeeper.
It added: “I thought I should pass it on in case this mistaken identity angle hasn’t been considered.”
Ms Murray said she had passed the information on to Mr Dempster and added: “The victims of the racist bullying are not to be blamed if this is mistaken identity, as they would have been traumatised by their experiences. The person who went to the press with their statements and the journalists who carried it without investigation are. I shall be conducting my own enquiries over the weekend.”
But Mr Yousaf, who has been in touch with those making the allegations against Mr Dempster was angered.
On twitter, the Transport Minister said Ms Murray should stop being an “apologist” for Mr Dempster’s “inexcusable behaviour”.
Mr Yousaf added: “I have spoken again to victims and they absolutely reassure me it is Jim Dempster who racially abused them, not mistaken identity. How dare a Council Leader try to cast doubt about the victims of racism. Why is @NithCllrMurray even getting involved - Dempster has been suspended!”