Sheriff resigns over claims he visited sauna

ONE of Scotland's most experienced sheriffs has stepped down following allegations about his private life.

Sheriff Andrew Lothian has retired with immediate effect following claims he had visited saunas.

Lothian, 65, who has been on the bench since 1979, stepped down on Friday. It is understood to have emerged that a tabloid Sunday newspaper planned to run a story about Lothian.

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Lothian, who will keep his pension, had been scheduled to hear a civil case on Tuesday and, despite his age, had no immediate plans to retire.

The Scottish Courts Service said yesterday: "He has retired with immediate effect following allegations that he visited saunas."

However, the SCS later said Lothian had retired "following allegations about his private life".

Lothian was regarded as one of Scotland's foremost sheriffs and legal minds. He was a regular writer and commentator on the law.

He became a sheriff in 1979 in Glasgow, where he served until 1992 before moving to Edinburgh. He graduated from Edinburgh University in 1965 and became an advocate in 1968.

Justice sources last night said his departure was a huge blow not just for Lothian himself but also for the reputation of Scotland's judiciary.

One said: "This is really tragic for him. He was due to retire soon anyway but he wouldn't want to go this way. He was a very respected sheriff and very senior. He'd been a sheriff long enough to get his full pension."

Lothian, in his 29 years on the bench, is understood to have dealt with numerous sex and indecency matters, recently hearing the notorious case of the Naked Rambler in the cells below Edinburgh Sheriff Court because the defendant refused to wear clothes.

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Richard Baker, Labour's justice spokesman in the Scottish Parliament, yesterday warned that sheriffs or judges who faced allegations of visiting saunas could tarnish the image of a legal system which regularly deals with prostitutes.

He said: "This is very sad. This goes beyond questions of legality into the issue of the reputation of the judiciary, which is very important."

Sources last night stressed that sheriffs and judges who visited saunas could easily become prey to blackmailers.

Lothian had been at the centre of some of the highest profile and most important trials in sheriff courts in recent years.

Last year he was widely credited with forcing the resignation of the chief executive of NHS 24, the emergency medical telephone service, after finding that the death of a 20-month-old boy with meningitis "might have been avoided".

The victim, Kyle Brown, died after his mother was kept waiting 40 minutes for an NHS 24 adviser.

Lothian has a reputation as a fair and thoughtful sheriff, who was capable of being both lenient and tough, depending on the circumstances. He has come down hard on professionals who have strayed from the law, however.

Two years ago he branded a police officer a liar when, when over the drink-drive limit, he crashed his car into a neighbour's garage.

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Scotland on Sunday was last night unable to contact Lothian.