Charity chair denies 'anger' over Free Church's same sex stance

The chair of one of Scotland’s largest independent charities has denied allegations she was “angry” at learning of a deal for Stirling Free Church to rent its premises because of her views around its stance on same sex marriage.

Kenneth Ferguson alleges he was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against by the Robertson Trust. Picture: John Devlin

An employment tribunal has heard how Shonaig Macpherson, the Robertson Trust’s chair since 2017, was “clearly very angry” and that her “voice was audibly shaking” on the day she learned of the arrangement.

However, she said she was “disappointed” and “distressed” over the fact the deal appeared to constitute a breach of the trust’s funding policy and a conflict of interest.

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Kenneth Ferguson, the former chief executive officer of the trust - which is behind some of the world’s leading whisky brands - claims he was unfairly dismissed and discriminated against following a row over his church renting trust-owned premises. He is seeking nearly £75,000 in damages.

At the first day of the hearing, Ms Macpherson said she had enjoyed a “good working relationship” with Mr Ferguson, but felt “very let down” at learning of the church’s rental of the Barracks facility in Stirling.

She denied she was angry about one of the trust’s flagship properties being used by an organisation whose views she “vehemently opposed,” and repeatedly said she could not recall referencing the Free Church’s views on same sex marriage in multiple conversations with members of the trust’s staff and its trustees.

The tribunal heard evidence in the form of an email sent by Katie Campbell, a chartered account who was working as a consultant to the trust, to Kenneth Osborne, its then finance director, in which she claimed that Ms Macpherson was “appalled at the idea of the Free Church using a trust space and Kenneth’s role in facilitating it.”

But Ms Macpherson rejected accusations she was trying to hide her objections to the Free Church’s views, stating: “The trust does not fund or promote any activity which seeks to promote religious instruction or worship. I would have been in exactly the same position had I found myself being told Mr Ferguson’s mosque, synagogue or his gurdwara were using the Barracks.”

The Robertson Trust’s income is primarily derived from its ownership of Edrington, the firm behind brands including Macallan and Famous Grouse.

The tribunal, which is taking place virtually, continues.

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