Robertson considers action over web allegation
GEORGE Robertson, the NATO
secretary general, is considering legal action
against the owners of the Sunday Herald, over
internet allegations about his connection to
Thomas Hamilton, the Dunblane killer.
The move by Lord Robertson, which could force
Scottish Media Group to pay out hundreds of
thousands of pounds in compensation, follows
claims posted on the newspaperís discussion page
by a member of the public.
Last night, lawyers warned that the scale of the
payout could even force the Sunday Herald out of
business, given worldwide awareness of the
There was also concern that the case could have
serious implications for anyone who operates a
website encouraging views from members of the
Andrew Jaspan, the editor of the Glasgow-based
Sunday Herald, admitted the website was not
"policed", although he insisted the offending
material had been removed half an hour after the
paper was contacted by Lord Robertsonís
However, last night, a legal source said the
information posted on the Sunday Herald forum
had been there for four weeks and could have
badly damaged Lord Robertsonís reputation.
He said: "We are talking about a well-known
public figure on the international stage being
linked through these allegations to an atrocity
which is known throughout the world.
"We are talking about hundreds of thousands of
pounds in compensation and even an amount which
could close the newspaper.
"Authors already have a responsibility not to
publish defamatory statements. If they do, and
they do put them on the web, then there is no
reason why they shouldnít be liable worldwide."
Another Scottish legal expert said online
defamation typified by the case involving Lord
Robertson was an area of increasing concern for
Traditionally, defamation has been considered a
national matter, with little scope for conflict
between laws of different countries, but the
internet has muddied the waters by emphasising
the cross-border access to websites which is
possible for users.
Gillian Davies, a solicitor with Edinburgh-based
Shepherd & Wedderburn, who specialise in
intellectual property and information technology
law, said: "Documents published and uploaded in
one country can be viewed and downloaded all
over the world, exposing newspapers and other
publishers to the libel laws of potentially any
nation which provides internet access to its
"The lack of a uniform approach at an
international level to such issues prevents any
kind of legal certainty."
Internet speculation about Lord Robertson grew
following the revelation that 106 documents were
closed to the public after the inquiry into the
shootings at Dunblane Primary School in 1996.
Lord Robertson told Lord Cullenís public inquiry
he became increasingly concerned about
Hamiltonís militaristic camps after his own son
attended Dunblane Rovers, run by Hamilton in
1983. After speaking of his fears to Michael
Forsyth, then a newly elected MP for Stirling,
Lord Robertson kept him informed of publicity
relating to Hamiltonís clubs.
Yesterday, the Mail on Sunday claimed the
letters between the two politicians drew a
detailed picture of Hamiltonís perverted
behaviour towards young boys in his care as well
as his firearms obsession.
The paper states that letters from Mr Forsyth
"campaigned on behalf" of Hamilton from 1983
onwards, but that he also passed to police
parental concerns about Hamiltonís personality.
After receiving letters from Hamilton
complaining about a police investigation into
his 1988 summer camp, Mr Forsyth raised the
issue with Central Scotland Police.
A year later, Hamilton met the forceís deputy
chief constable and, the Mail says, shortly
afterwards the killer wrote to Mr Forsyth
"thanking him for his assistance".