SNP councillor wins defamation payout following faction fighting

Julie McAnulty and Lord Uist, who found she had been defamed.

A former SNP councillor has won £40,000 in damages from a party activist who falsely accused her of racism in a row between “factions” in a local branch, BBC Scotland is reporting today.

The accusation was made against Julie McAnulty in February 2016, at the height of a row which saw meetings of an SNP branch in Coatbridge shut down.

Ms McAnulty sued fellow activist Sheena McCulloch over the “outrageous” claim.

Judge Lord Uist said the accusation was “activated by malice and ill-will” as a result of political infighting.

The court case centred on an email sent by Ms McCulloch, then an assistant to SNP MSP Richard Lyle, to senior party figures.

She claimed that Ms McAnulty – then a North Lanarkshire councillor – had made a racist remark while the pair were out campaigning ahead of a council by-election in 2015.

The email later appeared in the Daily Record newspaper, and Ms McAnulty was suspended from the party and dropped as a potential candidate for Holyrood elections.

She was later deselected as a council candidate, and stood unsuccessfully as an independent in the 2017 local elections after resigning from the SNP.

Ms McAnulty launched a defamation action against Ms McCulloch at the Court of Session in Edinburgh, saying the comments attributed to her were “false and calumnious”.

Ms McCulloch insisted that the content of her email was substantially true, but Lord Uist said it was “implausible and inherently unlikely that the pursuer (Ms McAnulty) would have made the statement attributed to her”.

He said the complaint was “part of a campaign directed against the pursuer by the opposing faction within the local SNP”, and was “designed to prevent [her] from being nominated as a candidate for the Scottish Parliament elections, and possibly to oust her from the party”.

He added: “The false allegation of racism against the pursuer was extremely serious in nature and caused her great distress.

“The libel in question, which made an unfounded allegation of racism, was an outrageous one which has had a serious effect on the pursuer’s personal reputation and effectively ended her political career.”

Ms McAnulty had been seeking £100,000 in damages, but the judge limited the award to £40,000 after concluding that Ms McCulloch could not be held responsible for her email – which was marked “confidential” – being more widely published.

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