Decision: Edward Sutherland
Fitness to Teach Panel Outcome
5, 7, 8 and 12 April 2022
|Registration Category||Secondary – Religious Education|
|Panel||Brian Feeney (Convener), Gillian Fagan and Diane Molyneux|
|Legal Assessor||Amanda Pringle|
|Servicing Officer||Hannah Oakley|
|Presenting Officer||Gary Burton, Anderson Strathern|
|Teacher’s representative||Kenneth McGuire, Westwater Advocates|
Any reference in this decision to:
- ‘GTC Scotland’ means the General Teaching Council for Scotland;
- the ‘Panel’ means the Fitness to Teach Panel considering the case;
- the ‘Rules’ (and any related expression) means the GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Rules 2017 or refers to a provision (or provisions) within them; and
- the ‘Register’ means the GTC Scotland register of teachers.
At the outset of the hearing, the Teacher’s Representative submitted an application for six character references for the Teacher to be accepted as late papers. The Presenting Officer did not object to the admission of any of the documents. The Panel considered Rule 1.7.17, which allows a Panel to admit oral, documentary or other evidence subject to the requirements of relevance and fairness and the GTC Scotland Practice Statement Fact-Finding in Fitness to Teach Conduct Cases, which contains guidance on the admissibility of evidence. The Panel considered that the statements would be relevant to their decision making at Stage 2, if reached, and that it was fair to admit them. The Panel therefore granted the application to admit the late papers.
The following allegation(s) were considered at the hearing:
Between 25 September 2018 and in or around January 2019 whilst employed by South Ayrshire Council as the Principal Teacher for Religious and Moral Education at Belmont Academy, the Teacher did:
- Use an account on the social media website Facebook, under the alias ‘Stevie Harrison’ to post the following:
- On 25 September 2018, share a post from a Facebook user, Person A, which stated “Back after 30 day ban! My first thought? Fuck “Israel”.”;
- On 4 October 2018, post “Someone complained to Facebook about me not using my real name. I don’t know WTF they are up to, but there it is on my profile. Stevie Harrison. If you want my birth certificate, just say. If I lose my job because some Zionist doesn’t like me supporting the people of Palestine, don’t worry about it. I’ll still have my dignity. The see you next Tuesday who complained won’t have. Rant over,”;
- On 25 October 2018, post “I’ve seen it all now. Zio prick’s asking for donations. Should be in the fucking jail for all the stuff he’s done.” whilst sharing the link to a JustGiving page raising money for Person B, a Jewish solicitor who was personally known to the Teacher;
- On 25 October 2018, post “I knew I’d seen that fucking zio before. Tried to stitch up a good mate of mine. Prick. Free Palestine ya bastard” whilst sharing a post from Facebook user Person C in the Facebook group Glasgow Palestine Human Right’s Campaign which included an article related to Person B from the Herald Newspaper dated 21 October 2018, titled “Diversity training for Jewish lawyer who called pro-Palestinian campaigners ‘scummy racists’”;
- On 28 October 2018, post “Zio prick Person B’s been a bad boy. All these Muslims he claims to employ and two of his lawyers are done for drink driving [four laughing face emojis]”;
- On 1 December 2018, post “Looks like a certain Zio’s big nose is out of joint. Don’t worry Person B. You’re going to get what’s coming to you. I hear you’re in a lot of trouble. And that complaint’s going in.”;
- In or around January 2019, post “a certain Jewish lawyer woke up this morning to find Free Palestine painted rather prominently”, or words to that effect;
- The material posted by the Teacher at allegation 1 above was of an antisemitic nature.
And in light of the above it is alleged that your fitness to teach is impaired and you are unfit to teach, as a result of breaching parts 1.3, 1.4, 1.6, 2.3 and 5.3 of the GTCS Code of Professionalism and Conduct.
The Teacher admitted allegation 1 in its entirety. The Teacher denied allegation 2 and stated that the Facebook posts were not antisemitic due to there being a distinction between Zionism, a political position, and Judaism, a religion. The Teacher did not accept that he was unfit to teach, nor that his fitness to teach was impaired.
Ahead of commencing the fact-finding stage in relation to allegation 2, the Presenting Officer sought the Panel’s formal confirmation that allegations 1 (a) to (g) were found proved by admission in terms of Rule 1.7.21. The Teacher’s Representative confirmed he had no comment on the matter beyond clarification that the Teacher maintained he had not breached any parts of COPAC and that he remained fit to teach. The Panel considered the Teacher’s formal admissions and noted his position. The Panel confirmed that allegations 1 (a) to (g) had been admitted by the Teacher and that the allegations were therefore found proved in terms of Rule 1.7.21, which states ‘a Teacher may admit a fact or description of a fact and a fact or description of a fact so admitted will be treated as proved.’
In accordance with Rule 1.7.17, the Panel admitted all the documents and statements listed below as evidence for the purposes of the hearing:
Presenting Officer’s hearing papers
- Final Investigation Report, dated 2 June 2020, with appendices including:
- Letter from Witness 1, dated 22 May 2019
- GTC Scotland member of the public referral from Witness 1 dated 4 June 2019, enclosing:
- Screenshots of Steve Harrison’s Facebook account
- Letter from Witness 1 dated 30 May 2019
- Teacher’s completed response to Notice of Investigation, dated 24 June 2019, enclosing:
- Screenshots of Facebook posts from the account of [redacted]
- Letter from Witness 3
- Revised response to the Notice of Investigation, dated 9 July 2019, with covering email
- Email from the Teacher, dated 23 July 2019, enclosing screenshots
- GTC Scotland witness statement of Witness 3 (attended)
- GTC Scotland witness statement of Witness 2 (attended)
- GTC Scotland witness statement of Witness 1
- Scan of Oxford English Dictionary definitions of ‘antisemitism’ and ‘Zionism’
- Response to Interim Report, dated 26 March 2020, enclosing:
- Screenshot of Evening Times article dated 15 March 2019
- Screenshot of IHRA definition
- Screenshot of Scottish Government Response to a Freedom of Information Request
- Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation in Scotland
- Submission by Professor Henry Maitles to the Independent Review of Hate Crime Legislation
- Reference of [redacted], dated 19 March 2020
- Additional statement from Teacher concerning [redacted]
- [redacted] reports, dated 12 December 2018 and 7 November 2019
- Notice of Investigation, dated 20 June 2019
- Notice of Panel Consideration cover email and delivery receipt, dated 3 June 2020.
Teacher’s hearing papers
- Panel Consideration Decision Annex, dated 15 July 2020
- Statement of evidence of Witness 4, undated and unsigned
- Letter from Teacher’s GP [redacted], dated 12 November 2020
- Emails and associated attachments from [redacted], dated 26 March 2020 to 26 November 2020
- Text messages from [redacted], dated 15 October to 26 November 2020.
- Character references (late papers):
- [redacted], undated
- [redacted], undated
- [redacted], undated
- [redacted], dated 18 March 2021
- [redacted], undated
- [redacted], dated 26 September 2021
Servicing Officer’s hearing papers
- Notice of Full Hearing, dated 16 December 2021 with cover email and delivery receipt
- Procedural Meeting decision annex, dated 17 March 2021, concerning applications for privacy and a virtual hearing
- Procedural Meeting decision annex, dated 25 March 2022, concerning the Teacher’s vulnerable witness application.
Summary of Evidence
The Panel noted that the Teacher had admitted the facts detailed in allegation 1 but that the Teacher denied he had breached any parts of COPAC. The Panel noted that, on the basis of the admission, it was able to find the allegations proved in accordance with Rule 1.7.21 and therefore it was not required to hear evidence in relation to allegation 1.
Accordingly, the Panel had to determine whether part of the allegations were proved, namely allegation 2.
The Presenting Officer confirmed that he would not be leading any witnesses in evidence, and was instead relying upon written and documentary evidence. He confirmed his reliance upon the witness statement provided to GTC Scotland by Witness 1 signed and dated 14 August 2019. The Teacher’s Representative confirmed that he and the Presenting Officer had discussed this prior to the hearing and that both had agreed that the statement of Witness 1 would be read into evidence by the Presenting Officer. The Presenting Officer therefore proceeded to read the statement aloud.
The Teacher’s Representative then proceeded to lead the Teacher’s witnesses in their evidence.
Witness 2 had provided a statement to GTC Scotland which was signed and dated 1 August 2019 and he confirmed that what was written in the statement was accurate. At the outset of his evidence, he read aloud his witness statement. He confirmed knowing the Teacher through membership of pro-Israel advocacy groups and through their mutual friendship with Witness 3. He confirmed his own position as [redacted] of the Glasgow Friends of Israel (‘GFI’) and of the Teacher’s position as Convenor of the Confederation of Friends of Israel Groups in Scotland. He outlined in detail the activities of GFI of which the Teacher had been a member for 4 years. He spoke about GFI members, including the Teacher, using false identities on social media to post materials which would assist in identifying people who were committing hate crimes against the group. The witness confirmed he would report matters and share information gleaned from the profiles with Police Scotland, although this was not a formal association. He confirmed that he was aware of the Teacher’s fake Facebook account in the name of ‘Stevie Harrison’ (‘SH’), that the Teacher had kept him informed of what was being posted and that much information had been garnered as a result. He confirmed that he was aware of Witness 1 and Witness 1’s wife’s engagement with the Teacher in which they had sought to exploit the persona of SH against Witness 3. The witness confirmed that great care had been taken to ensure, when crafting the posts, that no antisemitic terms were used, and that Witness 3 had also assisted with this. He also confirmed that it was due to Witness 3 reporting Witness 1 to the Law Society of Scotland (‘LSS’) that disclosure took place of the SH account’s operation by the Teacher. The witness spoke to the Teacher being a great supporter of Jewish people and that the Teacher had never been antisemitic. He confirmed that even in his persona as SH, the Teacher had not made any antisemitic posts when applying the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (‘IHRA’) definition of antisemitism. Witness 2 stated that the IHRA definition was developed as there had never been a true understanding before this of what ‘antisemitism’ means. He stated that the definition has been agreed and adopted by around 30-40 countries and a large number of governments and organisations, including the Scottish Government. Witness 2 stated that the definition should replace dictionary definitions, which are outdated as they do not account for social and political antisemitism and its dependence on context. Witness 2 stated that, in his view, it would be irregular and inadvisable not to use the IHRA definition. When pressed by the Presenting Officer whether the addition of derogatory terms to the word ‘Zio’ resulted in comments becoming antisemitic, Witness 2 was firm in his view that whilst this would result in ‘incredibly unpleasant’ posts, these would not be antisemitic when put in context, and in applying the IHRA definition. He stated that Zionism does not necessarily equate to being Jewish, and vice versa.
Witness 3 had provided a statement to GTC Scotland which was signed and dated 8 November 2019 and he confirmed that what was written in the statement was accurate. At the outset of his evidence, he read aloud his witness statement, as well as a letter he had written regarding the Teacher at a later point in proceedings. Witness 3 confirmed his profession as a solicitor and his personal friendship with the Teacher through their joint involvement with various groups, including the GFI, involved in advocating for the Jewish community and the state of Israel. He confirmed that he was aware of the Teacher’s involvement in online advocacy, in particular his involvement with setting up and operating a Facebook account under the pseudonym of SH which had proved very useful in furthering the group’s aims of monitoring antisemitic activities. He confirmed that he became aware of Witness 1 contacting the Teacher’s fake persona and that the subsequent engagement by the Teacher had proved very helpful in his own ongoing difficult relationship with Witness 1. Witness 3 confirmed that the information gleaned by the Teacher was used by him in reporting Witness 1 to the LSS and Police Scotland and that SH had been exposed as a fake persona operated by the Teacher as part of that process. Witness 3 conceded that whilst the posts may look unpalatable, they were merely ‘role play’, written very carefully in order to appear anti-Israel but not antisemitic. He confirmed his own experience of antisemitism and confirmed its distinction from anti-Zionist attacks. In particular, he confirmed that the post regarding vandalism was not real as the events had never taken place. The witness was vehement in his view of the Teacher as a great supporter of Jewish people. Witness 3 said that in his opinion the complaint made to GTC Scotland by Witness 1 about the Teacher was malicious and vexatious. He confirmed that he regarded none of the posts as antisemitic, even with the addition of derogatory terms or common tropes. Witness 3 stated that he is often referred to as a ‘Zio’ and that this refers to a political ideology as opposed to his religion. He stated there is a distinction to be drawn between being attacked for being a Zionist and being attacked for being Jewish. Witness 3 stated that he and the Teacher did not specifically discuss the language that the Teacher was going to use in his posts as SH. However, he did not see a problem with any of the language used.
Witness 4 had provided an unsigned and undated ‘Statement of Evidence’ to the Teacher’s Representative which she read aloud at the outset of her evidence. Witness 4 outlined her professional and academic experience in the field of antisemitism. She confirmed her strong view that the IHRA definition of antisemitism ought to be used to determine whether the Teacher’s Facebook posts were antisemitic due to the widespread adoption of the definition, including by the Scottish and British Governments. She explained that Zionism relates to being pro-Israel as a political entity, and antisemitism as being anti-Jewish in a racial and religious sense. She said that with no ‘concrete’ determination of antisemitism within the IHRA definition, consideration of any comments as being antisemitic required account to be taken of the context and all of the circumstances in each case. She commented on each of the posts contained within allegation 1 (a) to (g) which she advised should not be judged as antisemitic and that this was quite apart from all of the posts lacking clear and unequivocal antisemitic content. She said that it was necessary to look at the context of the posts made by the Teacher, his motivation and balance these with free speech rights. She acknowledged that the post at allegation 1(f) came closest to appearing to be antisemitic but that, in her considered opinion, it was not unequivocally antisemitic. She stated that the IHRA definition had never been intended for use as a tool to sanction people nor as a means to take away their livelihood or free speech, or indeed to effect discipline.
Edward Sutherland (the Teacher)
The Teacher had not provided a statement to GTC Scotland. At the outset of his evidence, he read aloud from his Notice of Teacher’s Case Form dated 18 September 2020, which outlined his position on the allegations. He outlined his 25 year teaching career and that he remained in his post of Principal Teacher of Religious Studies at Belmont Academy. The Teacher detailed his profound personal commitment to his antisemitism advocacy activities and of his journey to conversion to Judaism. The Teacher outlined the background to the setting up of a Facebook account in the fake persona of SH which had been motivated by his desire to protect friends, and that a few other members of GFI had also created fake accounts. He said that the hitherto largely inactive account was used to assist his friend, Witness 3, with difficulties he was encountering, in particular with Witness 1. He stated that from October 2018 to January 2019, the posts he made as SH were specific to seeking to deal with Witness 1. The Teacher said he that he had consulted with Witness 3 on a daily basis, taking onboard his occasional suggestions as to content. The Teacher stated that the posts made by him on SH’s private Facebook page were visible only to those people whom SH ‘befriended’ as they appeared to be engaged in antisemitic activities. On that basis, the posts were made only for those intended recipients and to encourage them to view SH as a ‘fellow traveller’. He accepted that in principle it was not appropriate for a teacher to create a fake Facebook account to ‘entrap’ others under explanation that he had acted entirely defensively in order to protect his friends. The Teacher provided details of his [redacted] and of their significant impact upon him. He accepted that he had been foolish in his belief, at the time, that he could maintain the privacy of the posts and that, with hindsight, he should have been more circumspect in terms of relying on the account privacy to ensure ongoing control of the posts. He further acknowledged that the use of the words in the posts were vulgar and obscene, and as such could constitute a breach of COPAC but he did not accept that they were antisemitic.
He commented in turn on the individual posts; he accepted that posts (a) to (d) were vulgar, that posts (e) and (f) contained the word ‘Zio’ and that the final post, (g), was a description of a fictious event. However, the Teacher denied that any were antisemitic, in particular when considered in context. He confirmed that the posts made by him under the pseudonym of SH had been intended for an audience of a self-selecting group of adults and had been made on an account which was set either as deactivated or as private. The Teacher confirmed the posts became public via proceedings before the Scottish Solicitors’ Discipline Tribunal and/or the LSS. He said that his unintentional breaches of COPAC arose from a unique and transient set of circumstances which, following personal reflection, would never be repeated by him. He said that following disciplinary proceedings by his employer, he had continued to teach in his post and that he remained in good standing with his employer. He said that the allegations were not connected to pupils, the school, his employer, the local authority or indeed to teaching. He stated that immediately upon receipt of the GTC Scotland Notice of Investigation, he had deactivated the Facebook account which he subsequently deleted in early 2020. The Teacher confirmed that his employer’s disciplinary process had enabled his full understanding of the potentially negative implications of his actions and that he acknowledged the unacceptability of his actions with respect to potential harm to the reputation of the school and local authority. The Teacher confirmed his full co-operation with GTC Scotland throughout proceedings, that he will never hold a fake persona Facebook account again and that reflection had enabled him to understand how foolish and unacceptable his actions had been. He accepted that the posts were insulting, vulgar and rude and should not have been made but that at no point were they antisemitic. The Teacher stated that the posts would likely be considered by a member of the public as coming from a foolish and foul-mouthed person but that they had not strayed into antisemitism. He said that his fitness to teach was not currently impaired as matters had moved on considerably since the events alleged in the allegations. He stated that the events constituted an isolated incident in respect of which he had undertaken a great deal of reflection and remedial action, and which would never occur again.
At the conclusion of the evidence, the Panel heard submissions from both the Presenting Officer and from the Teacher’s Representative.
The Presenting Officer submitted that the burden of proof lay upon him in terms of Rule 1.7.15 and he referred the Panel to the GTC Scotland Fact Finding in Fitness to Teach Conduct Cases Practice Statement. He invited the Panel to concentrate on the definition of what did and did not constitute antisemitism due to the lack of a ‘black and white’ definition of the term. He submitted that Witness 4’s evidence had been confusing and often conflicting given that her oral evidence had differed from her written report. He submitted that the IHRA definition was not legally binding upon the Panel, and that it presented a lower hurdle to overcome in evidence than that of the Oxford English Dictionary definition. He submitted that it was for the Panel to determine using its own judgement given the lack of a definitive definition. He considered each of the posts in turn and he submitted that the Panel were entitled to find all to be antisemitic in nature. The Presenting Officer submitted that whilst all of the Teacher‘s witnesses had spoken to the importance of consideration of ‘context’, the Teacher‘s motive was, in fact, an irrelevancy when determining the antisemitic nature of the posts. The Presenting Officer drew the Panel’s attention to the derogatory and pejorative language used by the Teacher, his clear use of stereotypes in addition to the sustained nature of the posts. The Presenting Officer invited the Panel to find allegation 2 found proved on the balance of probabilities.
The Teacher‘s Representative submitted that all of the Teacher‘s witnesses were reliable and credible, and that their evidence, whilst given in support of the Teacher, was neither partisan nor evasive. He drew the Panel’s attention to the lack of any witnesses appearing on behalf of the case against the Teacher. He commended the expert evidence of Witness 4 to the Panel, in particular that her compelling evidence confirmed there was no antisemitism in the posts made by the Teacher. He submitted that each of the posts required to be considered on their own and therefore a cumulative approach was not appropriate when considering matters. He submitted that when considering each of the posts, the Panel should bear in mind the factual context and background of the case together with the evidence of Witness 4 who had confirmed no antisemitism was present. He reminded the Panel of Witness 4‘s evidence regarding the difference between anti-Zionism and antisemitism, and that the correct approach to be adopted was that of a reasonably informed person. The Teacher’s Representative invited the Panel to find allegation 2 not proved.
Findings of Fact
The Panel gave careful consideration to all the evidence presented and submissions made by the parties in making its findings of fact on the allegations.
The Panel had in mind that the burden of proof rested on the Presenting Officer and that the standard of proof required is that used in civil proceedings, namely the balance of probabilities.
The Panel first considered the reliability and credibility of the witness who had given oral evidence at the full hearing.
The Panel found that whilst Witness 2 was well-placed as a witness due to his knowledge and understanding with regard to antisemitism and the events under consideration, this was coloured by his close friendship with the Teacher and that this resulted in his objectivity being impacted. The Panel noted the discrepancy between his written statement and oral evidence regarding the alleged antisemitic nature of one of the posts. The Panel considered that he was not directly contradicting himself in this respect, but was reluctant to commit to an answer. The Panel considered that Witness 2 gave his evidence in a professional manner and conveyed his recollection well. His evidence was consistent with the facts that were known or certain. The Panel considered he was telling the truth and was therefore a credible and reliable witness. They could place a good amount of weight on his evidence, but the objectivity of his evidence was impacted somewhat due to his interest in the outcome of the proceedings and his friendship with the Teacher.
The Panel was of the view that there were discrepancies between Witness 3’s evidence and the evidence of the Teacher around the writing of the posts. Witness 3 stated that he had only seen the Teacher’s posts after they had been made. The Panel noted that his evidence did not vary from the other witnesses apart from an inconsistency with regard to the number of fake Facebook profiles used by the GFI group, which the Panel did not feel was particularly relevant for its purposes. The Panel were of the view that Witness 3 was telling the truth as he saw it but that it could not place a great deal of weight upon his evidence due to his lack of objectivity, in particular due to the subjective nature of the outcome he had been seeking with regard to the posts in relation to Witness 1. The Panel noted the somewhat dismissive manner in which Witness 3 gave his answers and that he appeared to adopt a disrespectful tone verging, at times, on jocularity. The Panel considered that Witness 3 had treated both itself and the proceedings with a casualness, and at times flippancy, which was unbecoming to the seriousness of the case and with regard to the potential outcomes for the Teacher.
The Panel considered that Witness 4gave her evidence in a highly professional manner and that as an expert witness on antisemitism, she was the most objective witness to have given oral evidence, given she had no prior involvement with the Teacher or the events. The Panel considered that it could place considerable weight upon her evidence due to her expertise in the field, her independence and objectivity.
The Panel considered that the Teacher was telling the truth as he saw it but that, at times, he appeared reluctant to admit any failure of memory which led to some concerns for the Panel. The Panel considered that it was impossible for the Teacher to be objective in his evidence given his interest in the outcome. The Panel considered his evidence to have been given in an open manner and that it was consistent with all of the other witnesses bar the hearsay evidence of Witness 1. The Panel considered that the Teacher’s evidence was consistent with his previous accounts and the facts that were known, and in the most part with the evidence of other witnesses. It considered that it could attach a fair amount of weight to the Teacher’s evidence due to his direct involvement in events and his knowledge of the subject matter, but that this was tempered to an extent by his obvious personal interest in the outcome. The Panel noted the Teacher’s acceptance of his actions and that in his explanations there had been no attempt to deny these. The Panel noted that the Teacher repeatedly interrupted his own evidence by requiring to reposition his device and move location. The Panel found it difficult to see the Teacher at times, and considered that his set-up was also unbefitting to the seriousness of the proceedings. The Panel felt this was likely due to inadequate preparation, as opposed to a deliberate attempt to undermine proceedings, but felt that this was avoidable.
The Panel then considered the witness statement of Witness 1 which had been admitted as hearsay evidence. The Panel had regard to the GTC Scotland Witness and Hearsay Evidence Practice Statement with regard to the weight which could be placed upon his evidence, given that it had not heard from him in person. The Panel considered that whilst it would accept his evidence with regard to the posts made by the Teacher, the remainder of his evidence was not relevant as it consisted of his opinions and therefore was irrelevant to finding the allegation proved or not. The Panel felt that it could place little weight on his evidence regarding antisemitism due to the lack of reasoning present. The Panel considered his evidence required to be viewed through the prism of Witness 1’s ongoing feud with Witness 3 and as such it would disregard the remainder of his evidence as irrelevant with regard to allegation 2. Overall, the Panel found his evidence to be probable, while also being mindful of the issues when considering the evidence of an absent witness, such as an inability to ask questions of him.
The Panel noted that the Teacher had admitted some of the allegations, specifically allegation 1 (a) to (g). Accordingly, the Panel had already found this allegation proved by way of admission in accordance with Rule 1.7.21.
The Panel then considered allegation 2 which was not admitted, taking each section of allegation 1 in turn.
The Panel discussed the difference between ‘the average man in the street’ and ‘a reasonably and properly informed member of the public’, as the latter was to be the guide for their determination. The Panel considered that a properly informed member of the public would be informed of the definition of antisemitism relating to anti-Jewishness, and the use of Zionism as referring to the state of Israel as a political entity.
When considering allegation 2 insofar as it related to the post at allegation 1 (a), the Panel considered the evidence of Witness 2 and Witness 4 whom they regarded as credible and reliable witnesses. The Panel noted that the Teacher was not the original author of this post, and had ‘re-posted’ it on his own page. It considered that the remarks were targeted at the country of Israel rather than the Jewish people. The Panel considered a reasonably and properly informed member of the public would not consider the remarks an attack on the Jewish people, bearing in mind the distinction between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. The Panel determined that it was not satisfied that the remarks were of an antisemitic nature.
When considering allegation 2 insofar as it related to the post at allegation 1 (b), the Panel considered the evidence of the Witness 2 and Witness 4 whom they regarded as reliable and credible witnesses. The Panel considered the definition of anti-Zionism and antisemitism to be important in considering the nature of the post. The Panel also noted the consistency of the evidence of the Teacher and Witnesses 2 and 3 with regard to the careful crafting of the statements to be as provocative as possible without constituting antisemitism. The Panel noted that the post used the words ‘Zionist’ and ‘Palestine’ and that it was indicative of a political position. The Panel therefore determined that whilst the remarks were wholly inappropriate, they were not of an antisemitic nature.
When considering allegation 2 insofar as it related to the post at allegation 1 (c), the Panel considered the evidence of Witness 4, in particular with regard to the use of the term ’Zio’ alongside the word ‘prick’, and that any consideration necessitated examination of the context in which it had been used. The Panel gave great weight to Witness 4’s detailed and expert opinion. The Panel agreed with the evidence of Witness 4 that whilst the term ‘Zio’ was frequently used as a derogatory term for Jewish people, there was no evident link within the post to a Jewish person. Although the allegation references the fact that the subject of the post is Jewish, the Panel noted that this was not referenced in the post itself. The Panel determined that it was not satisfied that it could be proved on the balance of probabilities that the post was antisemitic in nature.
When considering allegation 2 insofar as it related to allegation 1 (d), the Panel again considered the use of the term ‘Zio’ and of racial stereotypes or tropes alongside the evidence of Witness 4, who suggested that the post could allude to a racial stereotype/trope of Jewish people being involved in criminality. The Panel noted that the Teacher had not included the word ‘Jewish’ in the post himself but that the link within the post had identified Person B as Jewish. The Panel considered that the reference to ‘free Palestine’ was indicative of a political ideology rather than an anti-Jewishness, and that there was insufficient evidence regarding the content and background before the Panel to render the post antisemitic.
When considering allegation 2 insofar as it related to allegation 1 (e), and similarly to their determination regarding allegation 1 (d), the Panel considered the post to be extremely unpleasant but that with no mention of the Jewish faith it constituted a reference to Zionism and that the presence of the derogatory term ‘prick’ alongside ‘Zio’ did not establish antisemitism.
When considering allegation 2 insofar as it related to allegation 1 (f), the Panel considered the evidence of Witness 2 who was the sole witness to have acknowledged that the post could be seen as antisemitic. The Panel noted that Jewish people having big noses was widely accepted as an offensive trope which would be readily acknowledged as such by a reasonably informed member of the public. The Panel noted the direct link to Witness 3 as a Jewish person. The Panel was satisfied on the balance of probabilities that the remarks made were of an antisemitic nature.
When considering allegation 2 insofar as it related to allegation 1 (g), The Panel noted that the post referred to a fabricated event which had not happened. The Panel considered that this post would not have been included in the allegations had it not contained reference to a person being Jewish. The Panel determined that the person’s Jewishness was being used in a descriptive manner and that on the balance of probabilities, the post was not antisemitic.
Accordingly, the Panel found allegation 1 proved by admission and by reason of the Panel’s consideration of the evidence in relation to the allegations, it found allegation 2 proved in respect of allegation 1(f) only.
Findings on Fitness to Teach
Given that the Panel found that some of the allegations were proved, the Panel invited the parties to lead evidence and make submissions in relation to the Teacher’s fitness to teach.
The Teacher gave evidence to the Panel confirming that he would never repeat the behaviour within the allegations found proved as he had learned a salutary lesson. He stated that whilst not seeking to excuse his behaviour, he had been vulnerable at the time of events due to [redacted]. He advised the Panel that his role had shifted from that of activist to educator involved with a now charitable organisation, and that he would remain cautious and circumspect in his behaviours for the remainder of his teaching career.
The Presenting Officer submitted that the Teacher’s behaviour undoubtedly constituted misconduct and referred the Panel to the case of Roylance v GMC  1 AC 31. He submitted that whilst it was common ground that the Teacher had no intention of making antisemitic comments, the Teacher had lost control of his posts including the sole post found to be antisemitic. The Presenting Officer submitted that the multiple breaches of COPAC confirmed the seriousness of the Teacher’s misconduct. He submitted that the Teacher continued to exhibit a lack of insight given his assessment of the behaviours as ‘mild deception’ and that the Teacher had exhibited a fundamental misunderstanding of the behaviours expected of a teacher as role model and professional. The Presenting Officer invited the Panel to find that the Teacher had fallen significantly below the standards expected of a registered teacher and that the Teacher was unfit to teach.
The Teacher’s Representative submitted that it had not been established that the Teacher was currently unfit to teach nor that his fitness to teach was impaired. He referred the Panel to the case of AD v GTC Scotland (2019) SC 463 with regard to the absence of the term ‘misconduct’ from the 2011 Order. He submitted that this was an unusual case given events had occurred outwith the school environment. He reminded the Panel that there had been no repetition of matters in the intervening years since the events took place. He stated that the Teacher had accepted the vulgarity and inappropriateness of the comments made and that this meant there would be no repetition on the part of the Teacher. He submitted that the Teacher’s employer had taken appropriate action albeit this did not bind the Panel. He submitted that the Teacher’s ongoing and, hitherto, unblemished teaching career evidenced that he was currently fit to teach with no impairment. The Teacher’s Representative invited the Panel to find that the Teacher was fit to teach and that his fitness to teach was unimpaired.
The Panel gave careful consideration to all of the evidence presented, the authorities referred to and submissions made by the parties in relation to the Teacher’s fitness to teach. The Panel addressed the relevant considerations in relation to fitness to teach, as outlined in the GTC Scotland Fitness to Teach Conduct Cases – Indicative Outcomes Guidance (‘IOG’).
In making its decision, the Panel considered the following questions.
- Did the Teacher’s conduct or competence at the time of the incident(s) fall short of the expected professional standards?
- The Panel assessed the Teacher’s conduct by reference to COPAC. The Panel determined that the Teacher’s conduct breached parts 1.3, 1.4, 1.6 and 5.3 of COPAC.
The Panel concluded that the Teacher fell short of the standards expected of a registered teacher and that his actions amounted to misconduct.The Panel considered that in making posts of both a vulgar and antisemitic nature, the Teacher had breached part 1.3, in particular as the Teacher had no means by which to ensure privacy of the posts on an ongoing basis. The Panel noted that whilst it was accepted that the Teacher had no intention of making any remarks of an antisemitic nature, part 1.4 had been breached due to the understandable public perception of the offensive and vulgar nature of most of the posts, and that of the wholly unacceptable antisemitic post. The Panel considered that in making the posts on an anonymous basis, the Teacher had evidenced his awareness of the inappropriateness of a teacher acting in this fashion and hence the Teacher had breached part 1.6. The Panel considered the Teacher to have breached part 5.3 due to the post found proved to be antisemitic and also the pejorative nature of the language used in the remaining posts which demonstrated intolerance and prejudice to potential readers unaware of the context of the Teacher’s intentions.
- Are the shortfalls identified remediable, have they been remedied and is there a likelihood of reoccurrence?
Having found that the proven allegations amounted to misconduct, the Panel went on to consider, with reference to the IOG, whether the conduct was remediable, whether the conduct had been remedied, and whether there was a likelihood of reoccurrence. The Panel regarded the conduct as serious. However, whilst not desirable and certainly exhibiting a level of inanity, the Panel considered the conduct was not fundamentally incompatible with being a registered teacher. The Panel noted that Teacher’s character references were both relevant and strongly supportive of him. In particular, the Panel considered noted confirmation therein of a level of naivety on the part of the Teacher which the Panel considered had left him open to manipulative behaviour from other individuals. The Panel concluded that the behaviour was remediable. The Panel noted the Teacher’s full co-operation with the GTC Scotland proceedings from the outset and that he had admitted some of the allegations. The Panel also noted the Teacher’s honesty regarding his own [redacted]. The Panel noted the terms of the Teacher’s character references which, combined with the fact that the Teacher has continued to teach, led the Panel to conclude that the shortfalls had been remedied. The Panel noted the Teacher’s position that he will never repeat the behaviours which led to the GTC Scotland proceedings as he fully understood their unacceptability and his own foolishness. The Panel noted that his intentions had never been of an antisemitic nature and further, that his focus had shifted from that of activist to educator. The Panel concluded that there was little likelihood of reoccurrence.
- Is a finding of impairment required in the public interest?
The Panel considered that the public perception of the seriousness of the allegations would be high and that the public would consider the actions of the Teacher as misconduct. The Panel considered that having found one post to be antisemitic and that the others contained vulgar and unacceptable comments, there was an over-riding public interest in finding impairment of the Teacher’s fitness to teach. The Panel also determined that the seriousness of the conduct was such that a finding of impairment was needed to uphold proper professional standards, public confidence in the profession and in GTC Scotland as a regulator. The Panel also determined that a finding of impairment was necessary in order to be a deterrent to future behaviour of a similar nature. Those would be undermined if a finding of impairment were not made. The Panel concluded that whilst the Teacher was no longer impaired, his behaviours had demonstrated a sufficiently serious lapse of judgement that a finding of impairment in the public interest was required in all the circumstances of the case.
Accordingly, for the reasons set out above, the Panel determined that the Teacher’s conduct falls short of the standards expected of a registered teacher and that his fitness to teach is therefore impaired.
Given that the Panel had decided that the Teacher’s current fitness to teach is impaired, the Panel required to determine what action it was appropriate to take in light of the impairment. The Panel invited the parties to make submissions in relation to the appropriate disposal.
The Presenting Officer submitted that the sanction to be applied was a matter for the Panel to determine and he adopted his submissions from stage 2 with regard to the Teacher’s insight, character references and [redacted]. He contended that all disposals were available for the Panel and that it was important for the Panel to send an appropriate message to the Teacher and the public in relation to the conduct expected of a registered teacher particularly in light of the seriousness of the Teacher’s breaches of COPAC.
The Teacher’s Representative submitted that the appropriate sanction in all the circumstances of the case would be a reprimand for a 3-month period. He drew the Panel’s attention to the isolated nature of the event over a short period of time, and that there had been neither harm to nor involvement of pupils in events. He submitted that along with the Teacher’s assurances that he would never repeat the behaviour that the Panel should also take account of the Teacher’s otherwise exemplary, and ongoing, teaching career and the strongly supportive character references. He urged the Panel to take account of the Teacher’s admissions, and of his genuine remorse and serious reflection. He submitted that the case was not in the factual matrix which would require anything other than the sanction of a reprimand, in particular due to the finding of impairment on the ground of over-riding public interest alone.
The Panel gave careful consideration to the submissions by the parties in relation to disposal, the evidence at the earlier stages of the hearing and the particular circumstances of the case.
The Panel addressed the relevant considerations as outlined in Part B of the IOG. The Panel required to consider the sanctions in ascending order from the least to most severe. Accordingly, the Panel first considered a reprimand. The Panel considered this was the most appropriate sanction in the circumstances. The Panel concluded that the conduct did not constitute an abuse of trust. No harm had been caused to a pupil. The Teacher had admitted most of the conduct found proved. The conduct was not at the most serious end of the range of this type of conduct due, in particular, to the parties’ acceptance that there had been no intent on the part of the Teacher to make any remarks of an antisemitic nature. The Teacher had reflected and had taken steps to remediate. The Panel noted the Teacher’s stated remorse and fervent assurances of having learned his lesson. The Panel was of the view that that the conduct was of an isolated nature albeit it took place over a discrete period of months. The Panel noted that there had been no repetition of the behaviour in the intervening 3 years and that the events represented an ill-judged, one-off incident in an otherwise unblemished teaching career. The Panel considered there was a low likelihood of reoccurrence. The Panel also considered that a reprimand would satisfy the public interest in the particular circumstances of the case. A reprimand appropriately indicated the seriousness of the conduct to the profession and the public and thus would maintain public confidence in teachers, the teaching profession and GTC Scotland’s regulation of the profession. The Panel concluded that the reprimand should be imposed for 9 months. The Panel considered there to be an aggravating factor due to the reprehensible language used by the Teacher and the Panel’s single finding of antisemitism, whilst noting the lack of antisemitic intent on the Teacher’s part. The Panel selected that period due to the nature and seriousness of the conduct and to act as a deterrent to the wider profession.
Accordingly, the Panel ordered that a reprimand will be recorded against the Teacher’s registration on the GTC Scotland Register for an aggregated period of 9 months, effective from the date that the Teacher is notified of this decision.