'Gay painter' jibe not defamatory rules sheriff

A Fife painter and decorator has lost a defamation claim against a former friend who called him a "gay painter".

George Cowan alleged part-time comic Mark Bennett had damaged his reputation in the eyes of other local businessman.

The continual comments were said to have left Mr Cowan "embarrassed and upset" and he eventually decided to take legal action against Mr Bennett.

However, a sheriff ruled he was not defamed, although said what had happened was "deeply regrettable".

Dunfermline Sheriff Court heard the pair had once been on friendly terms and Mr Cowan had used Mr Bennett, who runs a printing business, as his stationery supplier.

Mr Cowan was later asked to join a Fife-based business network called LBD, which Mr Bennett was a founding member of.

'Upset and embarrassed'

It was claimed Mr Bennett often referred to the decorator as the "gay painter" during weekly meetings of the group.

Mr Bennett, described as someone who "enjoyed banter", was also said to have wolf-whistled at Mr Cowan as he made a presentation in front of other business people.

A civil hearing was told how Mr Cowan "did not like the attention" and was "upset and embarrassed" at the jibes.

He eventually sought legal advice and Mr Bennett was then sent a letter in March last year asking him to stop the comments and to hand over £10,000 in compensation.

Mr Bennett's response was to expel Mr Cowan from the business network.

A few weeks later Mr Cowan got a call from a local burger van owner to say she had found some of his business cards defaced with sexual comments about him.

'Destruction of friendship'

He believed Mr Bennett was responsible and a writ was soon served on him.

Mr Cowan claimed his reputation had been "lowered" in the eyes of others at the LBD meetings.

Mr Bennett admitted he had referred to his ex-friend as a "gay painter", but denied being behind the comments on the cards.

In a written judgement, Sheriff Kenneth McGowan said he was satisfied "no reasonable person" witnessing the comments would believe Mr Bennett was "seriously" claiming Mr Cowan was gay.

He added Mr Cowan appeared to show signs of "discomfort, if not humiliation" at the "continued attentions".

But, the sheriff went on: "I have concluded, as a matter of fact and law, that the pursuer has not proved that he was defamed."

Sheriff McGowan concluded, however, Mr Bennett must bear some responsibility for the "destruction of a good and friendly relationship".

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