South Tyneside councillor who compared political rival to 'Myra Hindley' spared jail after harassment conviction

A councillor who compared a political rival to Myra Hindley on social media has avoided jail after being convicted of harassment.

By Kevin Clark
Tuesday, 17th May 2022, 6:13 pm

Independent Primrose ward councillor John Robertson, 55,of Witton Road, Hebburn, had denied a charge of harassment without violence but was convicted at Newcastle Magistrates Court on May 17.

The court heard yesterday the case related to two Facebook posts by Robertson in January last year about Labour rival Geraldine Kilgour.

The first described Cllr Kilgour as ‘vile, sadistic, narcissistic’ and accused her of involvement in the bullying of a 75-year-old resident.

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It also referred to video evidence of her ‘bullying the elderly and vulnerable’ and said South Tyneside Council’s safeguarding team had refused to investigate.

The court has been told the video referred to was one filmed covertly by Ms Kilgour’s estranged step-family, in which she was was seen to have an argument with her mother.

The video had been investigated by the Northumbria Police and Coun Kilgour cleared of any wrongdoing.

The second message urged people to keep sharing the video and said in the absence of any action against ‘Myra’, Robertson would be referring the matter to the Quality Care Commission and Adult Safeguarding Board.

Independent councillor John Robertson

Cllr Kilgour has not been subject to any action by either body.

Brian Payne, prosecuting, asked Robertson about use of the word Myra: “You said ‘This Labour council refused to take any action’ and then you referred to ‘Myra’. Just to confirm, were you using the word Myra to refer to Myra Hindley?’, Robertson replied: “Definitely.”

"To an entire generation of people, Myra Hindley is regarded as the worst female criminal ever to go through the justice system,” said Mr Payne.

"You are comparing Cllr Kilgour to a person who served an entire life sentence for murder – that is what you are referring to?”

Coun Geraldine Kilgour

Robertson replied: “Myra Hindley was vile and sick.”

‘I beg to differ’

Robertson told the court he believed his role as a councillor gave him a greater right to freedom of speech. Asked by Mr Payne if he was aware of his roles and responsibilities as an elected representative at the time of the posts, he replied: “Yes, as well as having enhanced freedom of speech as a councillor.”

Mr Payne said: “There is freedom of speech which is an enshrined right, but no politician has an enhanced set of freedoms,” to which Robertson replied: “I beg to differ.”

Robertson told the court he believed the police investigation had been hampered by officers’ fears of Labour Party influence.

“For any officer to try to say ‘This person should be arrested, this person should be charged’, their career is on the line,” he said.

"We have got a police force that is afraid to do its job because of the power that a Labour councillor has got.”

Asked by Mr Payne, “Who has more expertise in the criminal law, you or the police?”, he replied: “The police – if they are not interfered with.”

Asked whether he had been subject to disciplinary action by the council’s standards committee over the posts, he said: “There were five Labour councillors and one Independent. There was no way the five Labour councillors were not going to find the leader of the opposition guilty.

"I was found guilty by a kangaroo court.”

Mr Payne said: “You have been enthusiastic in saying that you yourself did not post the video up, but you really, really wanted everybody to know about it, didn’t you?”

Robertson replied: “I think they should still know about it, now, next week and next month.”

Free speech and ‘horrible words’

Announcing his guilty verdict, Judge Gary Gartland said no-one was above the law: “Free speech is something we are all entitled to and council officers are not entitled to any enhanced or even greater free speech than any of us.

"I am afraid we are all equal whether we like it or not – we are all equal before the law.”

Robertson had had every right to raise his concerns about Cllr Kilgour but had gone about in in completely the wrong way, he said.

"In my opinion, he was quite entitled to draw the public’s attention as a councillor to the fact that allegations had been made against his council colleague,” he said.

"What he was not entitled to do was use vile language – repeatedly use vile language – in those two posts.

"It seems to me that Mr Robertson went far beyond what was reasonable in using those horrible words. The principle question is ‘Has Mr Robertson gone ‘over the top, in layman’s terms and harassed Mrs Kilgour?’.

"And I am satisfied that he has.”

He dismissed Robertson’s concerns over the criminal investigation.

“There is no way the police would deflect themselves from their duty just because it involved a politician,” he said.

Robertson had taken it upon himself to carry on with the campaign despite both the police and council clearing Coun Kilgour of any wrong-doing: “Mr Robertson clearly did not like that and decided that he was going to campaign away and continue with his version of justice and do that by exploiting social media in the worst way possible,” said Judge Gartland.

"If he had conducted himself calmly and professionally, without this vile language and references to Myra Hindley and ‘the witch’, he would not be sitting in court today.

“In my opinion, this case is truly and properly proved.”

Sentencing Robertson to eight weeks in prison, suspended for a year, the judge said: “Language can be more dangerous than weapons – it starts wars.

"It is terrible that the political discourse had declined to such a level.”

Robertson was ordered to pay £250 compensation, £500 costs and a £128 victim surcharge, but Judge Gartland rejected an application for a restraining order, telling him: “I am satisfied your conduct will not reappear on social media in the way it has in the past.”

Robertson replied: “I think lessons have been learned.”

A South Tyneside Council spokesperson confirmed that the conviction does not affect his position as a councillor

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