'Sectarian jokes' put QC's job on the line

THE surroundings were almost as familiar as the wood-panelled walls of the High Court.

Before Donald Findlay QC were 140 passionate Rangers supporters from the Loyalist stronghold of Larne, Northern Ireland, and at his side were two Rangers legends, Willie Henderson and Andy Goram.

Like the former Rangers director, they had been booked to entertain the revellers, who had paid 22 each for the privilege of hearing their tales in April 2005. The hazy atmosphere, allied to the death of Pope John Paul II a week or so earlier, inspired one of Findlay's jokes. "It's very smoky in here," he was reported to have said. "Has another f***ing Pope died?"

There was reportedly an unprintable joke about a nun but, as Findlay's supporters point out, the Rev Ian Paisley was also a target for his humour that night.

Regardless, the allegedly anti-Catholic jokes were made public, and Findlay was again at the centre of media attention. The Faculty of Advocates, a body that does not encourage its members to court publicity, was distinctly unamused.

Eight months earlier, in August 2004, American journalist Franklin Foer published his book, How Soccer Explains The World - An Unlikely Theory Of Globalisation. Foer visited Scotland during his research, taking in an Old Firm game at Ibrox and meeting Findlay afterwards.

Foer writes that Findlay expressed regret he had not been more bullish in his own defence over the notorious sectarian songs incident in 1999. Findlay was fined 3,500 by the Faculty of Advocates and resigned as Rangers chairman after he was caught on video singing sectarian songs with supporters following a victory over Celtic.

Foer reported Findlay as saying that a suitable test for British citizenship could be: "If a troop carrying the Queen's colours doesn't bring tears to your eyes, then f*** off!"

Foer says Findlay posed a series of provocative rhetorical questions. "Are you not entitled to say that you have no time for the Catholic religion, that it involves the worship of idols?" he is reported to have asked. "Why can't you be forgiven for thinking that confessing to a priest who is confessing to God is ridiculous and offensive? Or that the Pope is a man of perdition?" he is said to have added.

It remains unclear what action, if any, the Faculty of Advocates took in the immediate aftermath of these reported comments. Two months after the Larne episode, Findlay resigned his post as chair of Faculty Services Ltd, the private company that looks after the business affairs of advocates. Precisely why he stood down remains a mystery.

However, independent of each other, two Scots made complaints to the Faculty. Tom Minogue, a retired Fife businessman, alleged Findlay's conduct in Larne and comments in Foer's book were not compatible with his role as a QC. Hugh Lynch, from Larbert, who retired in 1997 as rector of St Mungo's RC High School in Falkirk and had served as an assistant director of education, was also appalled by reports he read of the Larne incident.

The Dean of the Faculty, Roy Martin QC, and the body's complaints committee, agreed he was guilty of professional misconduct. It is understood Findlay was given the option of "putting his hands up" and paying a relatively modest fine.

Findlay, who is nothing if not a fighter, flatly refused and now faces prosecution at a formal disciplinary tribunal, which has the power effectively to finish his career.

Minogue was not available for comment, but Lynch said last night: "Sectarianism has to be wiped out in Scotland. Jack McConnell has described it as Scotland's shame and I do believe the Executive wants to bury that shame.

"He [Findlay] claims he has a right to free speech and is not a bigot, but by his own actions he condemns himself. What sort of role model does he provide for young lawyers or young Rangers fans? He should not be allowed to continue to bring an august body like the Faculty into disrepute."

Minogue petitioned the Scottish Executive in 2005 over Findlay's alleged conduct, claiming it was wrong for the QC to receive Legal Aid money.

Minogue claimed the public had the right to expect a Scottish advocate, particularly a QC, to behave in a "dignified and appropriate" manner in public, particularly outside Scotland.

Findlay responded at the time: "I have appeared and spoken at Celtic supporters' dinners, including one chaired by the local priest. I really don't want to say too much about this, other than that we are all actors.

"We play to the audience that we have. I often tell stories about my childhood, and every word is a lie, designed to entertain. The things I say at a sportsman's dinner should not be taken as the gospel according to Donald Findlay. I am playing a role.

"I do not accept the charge that I am racist or a bigot and I fear that Tom Minogue in due course will have to hear from my solicitors."

Highs and lows

Donald Findlay was born on March 17, 1951, in Cowdenbeath in Fife. He was educated at Harris Academy in Dundee, and at Dundee and Glasgow universities.

He became an advocate in 1975 and then was made a QC in 1988. He earns more criminal legal aid cash than any other Scottish advocate, making 300,000 a year.

Findlay has been a strong supporter of the Conservative Party and famously led the Think Twice campaign against Scottish devolution in 1997.

He has served as a defence lawyer in dozens of high-profile murder trials, including some of Scotland's most famous cases of recent years, such as that of Luke Mitchell, convicted of killing Jodi Jones in 2005.