Hawick councillor cleared of breaching code of conduct

Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson.
Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson.

A councillor accused of a breach of standards has told of his relief after learning that a complaint against him has been dismissed.

Hawick and Hermitage councillor Davie Paterson was accused of making offensive comments towards two fellow council members in social media posts ahead of the 2017 local election.

However, after a probe into the messages by Bill Thomson, commissioner for ethical standards in public life in Scotland, he has been cleared of any wrongdoing.

Mr Paterson said: “I am glad to see that I have been vindicated by the standards officer. I have always maintained that I am entitled to freedom of expression.

“I am glad that it is over. I have had months of sleepless nights.

“I felt these two councillors were attacking my character, and I was worried sick of possibly being disciplined as a councillor.

“I was sure that I had done nothing wrong, but you still worry about it, and I’m absolutely delighted that it is finally over.”

Mr Paterson said he hoped the matter can “now all be forgotten about and we can work together for the folk that we represent”.

A complaint was regarding a potential breach of Scottish Borders Council’s code of conduct.

The complaint related to comments made on Facebook, and it was claimed they constituted an infringement of election law.

The commissioner said he was unable to make a judgement on that as it was outside his jurisdiction.

The complainant also considered the comments made by Mr Paterson to be “inaccurate, misleading and disrespectful”.

However, the commissioner concluded that the 64-year-old’s Facebook comments were protected under European Court of Human Rights rules as political expression, adding: “The protection is wide and can even extend to comments which some may consider to be inappropriate, offensive or insulting.

“It seems the respondent’s comments are protected in this way, notwithstanding the obvious upset which they may have caused.”

Mr Thomson adds: “Accordingly, taking into account the circumstances and the detail of the complaint, I am satisfied that the alleged conduct could not amount to a breach of the councillors’ code and that there is, therefore, no basis for me to investigate the complaint.”

Mr Paterson is the council’s longest-serving member, having celebrated 30 years’ continuous service last May, initially with the old Roxburgh District Council and with the current regional authority since 1994, though he won’t be standing for re-election next time round, he says.