An RE teacher who set up a fake social media page to post anti-semitic comments aimed at “entrapping” others into similar remarks has been warned over his conduct by the education watchdog.
Edward Sutherland, a secondary school teacher in Ayr, claimed a slew of rants on Facebook under the name Stevie Harrison were an attempt to “out” racists rather than his own personal belief.
The 52-year-old – a convener of the Confederation of the Friends of Israel group – admitted writing the abuse online in conjunction with other members, but denied the comments met the definition of antisemitism.
However, he had his defence rejected by the General Teaching Council for Scotland (GTCS) and has now been given a caution to remain on his record for nine months.
In written evidence to the panel, Sutherland confirmed he had colluded with witnesses, listed only as witness two and witness three, to establish the account under a fake name, but claimed he had done so to “protect” friends.
Witness three, a solicitor, helped “craft” the posts between October 2018 and January 2019 in order to draw out bigoted and racist comments, which would then be collated and passed to Police Scotland.
In one instance, Sutherland, as Harrison, wrote of an instance of vandalism outside witness three’s office – however that was later confirmed not to have taken place.
Witness three stated he “regarded none of the posts as anti-semitic,” further arguing they “referred to a political ideology as opposed to religion”.
He later branded the submission from the complainant, witness one, as “malicious and vexatious” noting the pair had experienced a “difficult relationship”.
Witness two said it was common practice for members of the Glasgow Friends of Israel group to utilise fake social media pages in order to “identify people who were committing hate crimes against the group”.
He confirmed that he was aware of Sutherland’s fake Facebook account and he had kept him informed of what was being posted.
The GTCS report found Sutherland had “taken on board [witness three’s] occasional suggestions as to content”.
It added: “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.”
While the vast majority of posts were not judged to meet the threshold for antisemitism, one was.
Sutherland’s representation initially motioned for a three-month “reprimand”, however that was rejected by the panel.
In summary, they reported: “There had been no repetition of the behaviour in the intervening three years and that the events represented an ill-judged, one-off incident in an otherwise unblemished teaching career.”