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Politicians guilty of ‘trivial’ sex attacks should not lose their job, claims convicted Aberdeen councillor

Councillor Alan Donnelly on the steps of Aberdeen Sheriff Court.
Councillor Alan Donnelly on the steps of Aberdeen Sheriff Court.

A shamed Aberdeen councillor has belittled his sexual assault conviction as “absolutely trivial” – while rubbishing efforts to ensure no one placed on the sex offenders register is allowed to remain in public office.

Alan Donnelly returned from a paid year-long suspension in March, having been handed the most serious sanction a councillor can currently face without having been sent to prison.

Now the watchdog left unable to remove the 66-year-old from his role as a councillor is pushing for the Scottish Government to change the law so sex offender councillors would automatically lose their jobs.

The Standards Commission wants a law dating from 1973 to be reviewed to reflect the modern justice system, and to give them the legal right to strip anyone placed on the sex offenders register of their elected office.

Donnelly was added to the sex offenders register over an attack at a city function

At trial in 2019, Donnelly was found guilty of sexual assault –  touching his victim’s face, hair and body and kissing him on the face – and was later sentenced to an eight-month supervision order, placed on the sex offenders register and ordered to pay his victim £800 in compensation.

Speaking to Aberdeen Journals, the Torry And Ferryhill councillor claimed to be a “pawn” in a “conspiracy” against him, repeatedly stated his innocence and criticised the “cruel” sheriff, the prosecutors, witnesses and even his victim.

Pressed for a comment he pushed back, asking: “Do you kiss your mother at Christmas? Do you kiss your father? Is that a sex offence?”

Donnelly: Sexual assault he was convicted of was ‘absolutely trivial’

Councillor Alan Donnelly leaving court after being placed on the sex offenders register for sexual assault.
Councillor Alan Donnelly leaving court after being placed on the sex offenders register for sexual assault.

And he hit out at the suggested law change that, had it been announced in Scotland when it was elsewhere in the UK, would have led to him losing his job.

“What I’ve been through in the last two years, dragged through the mud, is completely out of proportion and had I been disqualified by the commission it would have been another act of gross disproportionality to what I have been convicted of,” he said.

“If I were disqualified for the absolutely trivial act which I supposedly did- which I deny but was convicted of – it would have been completely and utterly out of proportion.

“We are going to have someone in public life instantly sacked from their job because they have kissed someone in a bar after two drinks, and the female or male has objected.

“Can you compare someone who has seriously sexually assaulted or raped a person to someone who has done next to nothing?”

Claiming his life had been destroyed by the verdict – which he won’t accept “until the day he dies” – he added: “I think people are put on the sex offenders register for what I describe as ‘trivia’.

“There are people added for serious sex offences, there is a big difference between someone exposing their backside in public as opposed to strangling and raping someone.

“The demarcation is that it depends on the level of the conviction and, naturally, the sentence.”

The ‘Donnelly Clause’: Standards hearing showed the need for change

But the watchdog’s inability to sanction Donnelly as panel members might have preferred was laid bare at his hearing last November.

Aberdeen’s depute provost when the allegations came to light, Donnelly resigned from the Conservative Party – but resisted calls to quit as a councillor altogether, leaving disqualification the only means of removing him.

The Local Government Act 1973 dictates that a councillor would automatically lose their job if jailed for three months – but sheriffs are being pushed not to imprison offenders for less than a year if community-based alternatives are an option.

The issue – already rectified in England and Wales – has been referred to by some at Aberdeen Town House as the “Donnelly Clause” – as he’s the only councillor ever reported to the Standards Commission For Scotland after being convicted of a sexual offence.

Kevin Dunion, left, at a Standards Commission For Scotland hearing before the pandemic.
Kevin Dunion, left, at a Standards Commission For Scotland hearing before the pandemic.

Convener, Professor Kevin Dunion, told us: “Our ability to impose sanctions on councillors, including disqualification, only applies when their misconduct occurs when acting in an official capacity.

“Misbehaviour in a personal capacity cannot be dealt with by the Standards Commission.

“However the expectation has been that serious offences, such as sexual assault, would give rise to a prison sentence of three months or more, and automatic disqualification would follow.

“Sentencing guidelines now mean that short term prison sentences are less likely.

“So even if personal behaviour results in a councillor being placed on the sex offenders register, unless they are jailed for three months or more, they can continue to serve as a councillor, despite their actions falling far short of the standards the commission considers the public could reasonably expect of an elected official.

“In the commission’s view, the public will find that unacceptable, which is why we are asking the Scottish Government to review the matter as has already occurred in England and Wales.

A spokesman confirmed the Scottish Government had received correspondence from the commission and ministers were “currently considering a response”.

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