The two faces of Donald Findlay, QC

IN SOLEMN black gown and horsehair wig, Donald Findlay is Scotland's top QC, with a commanding presence and brilliant legal mind.

Recently, his showmanship has expanded beyond the traditional audience of the 15-strong jury, as he has taken on the role of regular after-dinner speaker and stand-up comic at functions organised by Rangers fans.

It is an alternative career that once again threatens his reputation. This weekend, it was revealed that, at a recent event, Mr Findlay, who was disgraced in 1999 after being filmed at a similar event singing The Sash, told a number of Catholic jokes.

At Larne Rangers Social Club in Northern Ireland last Friday evening, Mr Findlay was reported to have said: "It's very smoky in here tonight - has another f***ing Pope died?" He then went on to tell a vulgar joke about a nun.

Colleagues in the legal profession last night spoke of being bemused by Mr Findlay's latest comments. One described him as a "walking contradiction". Another pondered whether Mr Findlay's controversial behaviour was a sign of loneliness.

But the QC defended his new role as stand-up comic and insisted he had done nothing wrong.

"I have absolutely no contrition about my comments whatsoever. What have I got to be contrite about? There was nothing sectarian in any of my comments," he said.

"I made no comments. I told gags at a Rangers supporters' club dinner. I and others have been telling the same gags for three years or more. If you want to make a serious point about this, the serious point is this: are we saying today in Scotland that there is a list of subjects that you are not allowed to make a gag about? If somebody is telling me that then the question I would pose is: what the hell does that do for free speech in this country? Are we so anally retentive?

"If there are a list of topics that we can't tell gags about then what we are saying now is that you would ban Dave Allen from television. Are you really saying to me that in Scotland today you cannot tell a gag which takes the mickey out of some aspect of religion without it being described as being an anti-Vatican joke?"

The QC went on to describe Scotland as a "miserably twisted and at times bigoted media-driven country". He denied that he himself was a religious bigot, and insisted that anyone who accused him of such behaviour was themself a bigot.

Yesterday, Hugh Farmer, a leading Catholic layman and former editor of the Scottish Catholic Observer, described Mr Findlay's comments as "unnecessary and unfunny". He said: "I thought he had learned his lesson."

Mr Findlay's comments have surprised those who felt the prominent lawyer had successfully rehabilitated himself after his public disgrace in 1999. The then vice-chairman of Rangers Football Club was filmed at a post-season party singing The Sash, and another anti-Catholic song that included the lyric "up to our necks in Fenian blood".

The pictures were splashed over the national press and the video was played on television. Mr Findlay was forced to resign from the board of Rangers Football Club and stand down as rector of St Andrews University. He was also fined 3,500 by the Faculty of Advocates.

Although Mr Findlay's legal skill has been put to the use of both Catholics and Protestants, his behaviour was deemed by members of the Catholic community to have been highly offensive in light of his role as the defence counsel for Jason Campbell, a Rangers fan found guilty of the murder of Mark Scott, a 16-year-old schoolboy and Celtic fan in 1995.

At the time, Mr Findlay felt so hounded by his media portrayal that he collected sleeping pills and considered suicide.

Before then, Mr Findlay was renowned as one of Scotland's most successful lawyers who was inspired as a child by the 1950s TV series Boyd QC.

He was a vocal member of the Conservative Party who was known for his flamboyant style, including his pipe and mutton-chop sideburns. Before the release of the video, Mr Findlay had joked that he refused to celebrate his birthday because it fell on St Patrick's Day.

The question many of his colleagues ask is why a prominent QC performs on the public stage for a fee which Mr Findlay says is "often considerably less than 500".

"I think he is a genuinely lonely person," said one lawyer. "He's never married, his 'relationship' with Rangers came undone back in 1999 and I think that was probably the saddest day of his life. Attending these functions is probably some sort of substitute. The other reason is, what else has he got to do? He knows he'll never be a High Court judge. He's gone as far as he will go within the law, so he's trying entertainment."

Mr Findlay yesterday said there was as clear demarcation between his two roles. He said: "When I appear on the after-dinner circuit I am not appearing as a QC, I'm appearing as a comic, the same as everybody else. There is absolutely no connection."

One lawyer who did not wish to be named said: "When he goes on stage he doesn't take the judgment he has as a lawyer - that's why he says what he says and does what he does.

"The man is a paradox, a walking contradiction. He makes these comments and yet I honestly don't believe he's a bigot. He may act out at these tribal gatherings, but if you meet him on a one-to-one basis, he will be charming and diligently do his best for a client or a friend regardless of their religion.

"He's an atheist who finds any form of religious belief incomprehensible."

Many members of the legal profession attest to his generosity and the support he has given them in the past.

Another lawyer, who again did not wish to be named, said: "We've some great lawyers in Scotland and if a few of us are together we often talk about who we would get to defend us if we ended up on the other side of the law and the name that comes up most is Donald. In saying that, you've got to question how long he will be around if he continues to act this way. I would be surprised if the Faculty of Advocates weren't working out what to do."

A spokesman for the Faculty of Advocates said last night: "The faculty has received no formal complaint on this matter. In the event of a formal complaint being received, it would be necessary for the faculty to consider it. For that reason, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this stage."

However, it is not necessary for an outside complaint to be made for the Faculty of Advocates to take action. Any member of the faculty itself, including its dean, could complain if they felt Mr Findlay's comments had brought the profession into disrepute.

Last night, Mr Findlay insisted he was unconcerned. He said: "Who would have been offended at Larne Rangers Supporters Club?

"If anybody makes a complaint and any professional body takes it up, I will fight that tooth and nail, because it is an interference firstly of free speech and then on my right as an individual to go out and entertain and to enjoy entertaining and to make people laugh."