Edinburgh crime: Retired sheriff Alistair Duff fined after being caught making sexual and racist comments
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A retired sheriff who once represented the Lockerbie bomber has escaped being placed on the Sex Offenders Register after he was caught making shocking sexual and racist comments during an online video call.
Alistair Duff, 69, was taking part in a WebEx conference call during a training session with Justice of the Peace members when he was overheard chatting to a friend on his mobile phone regarding a pornographic movie. Duff, from Edinburgh, was heard to make sexual comments including “Do you like to see a wee one bended over and struggling in school shoes, white socks and cotton panties” and using a racist term.
The disgraced sheriff was then reported to the police by disgusted colleagues and he was arrested and charged. Duff appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court on Monday where he pleaded guilty to a charge of conducting himself in a disorderly manner and committing a breach of the peace on October 26, 2021.
Prosecutor Michael McIntosh read a prepared agreed narrative to the court and said “at the time of the offence Duff was a serving sheriff and director of the Judicial Institute” and was taking part in a road traffic training course for Justice of the Peace officials.
The fiscal said the online conference call broke for lunch around 1pm and attendees were told to mute their microphones and turns off their cameras. But when three participants returned from their lunch at around 2pm they were said to have overheard the disgraced sheriff making comments that were “sexual in nature”. Mr McIntosh said two members were so shocked they began to record the remarks on their mobile phones.
The fiscal said; “The remarks which were recorded are as follows ‘Do you like to see a wee one bended over and struggling in school shoes, white socks and cotton panties’, ‘do you like them with pale skin?’ and ‘do you like them with brown skin – wee p**i’.”
The court was told the members then heard Duff soon realising his microphone was still active and made the comment “Oh s***”. The sheriff took part in the afternoon session and was said to have been “less polished than he normally is” and one of the Justices who had overheard the comments noted he “looked very grey and unwell”.
The court was told the three members who had heard the comments were left “shocked and disgusted” by what they had heard and after taking advice from colleagues reported Duff to the police. Police subsequently raided Duff’s two homes in Edinburgh and Fife and seized 13 electronic devices which were examined and the court heard officers found no illegal content on them. The police investigation showed married Duff had been speaking to a male who is now deceased when he was recorded making the sexual and racist comments.
John Scullion KC, defending, said his client had made “crass and offensive” comments which he admitted had caused “alarm and offence to the small group of people who heard them”. Mr Scullion said “nothing illegal was [found] on any device” and Duff is “embarrassed and ashamed” by the comments. The defence agent added: “He bitterly regrets the alarm and offence he caused to those involved.”
Sheriff Douglas Keir said: “This is undoubtedly an anxious and troubling case and I have reflected carefully on the details the submissions made to the court. By pleading guilty you have accepted the comments made during the course of a private phone conversation inadvertently caused shock and disgust. I take into account you are a first offender, previous of exemplary good character and a long and distinguished career in public service.”
The sheriff added he did not consider the offence to have a significant sexual aspect to it and as a result Duff escaped being placed on the Sex Offenders Register. Duff was fined a total of £1,275 to mark the offence.
Duff was appointed a resident sheriff at Dundee Sheriff Court in 2004 and is believed to have stood down as the head of the Judicial Institute for Scotland training college last month prior to his arrest in November 2021. Duff began his legal career as a solicitor in 1977 and he worked as a procurator fiscal between 1977 and 1981. He then worked as a solicitor between 1981 and 2004 and qualified as a solicitor-advocate in 1993 which granted him the right to conduct cases before the High Court.
Duff represented Abdelbaset al-Megrahi in 1993 when the Libyan national was put on trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague following the airplane bombing that killed 270 in 1988. Duff then joined the judiciary in 2004 and became involved in the training of future sheriffs in 2011 before eventually being appointed the head of the sheriff training college.