Church leader 'was hounded'

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The Independent Online
A leading churchman accused of sexual assault yesterday claimed that he was the victim of a conspiracy in the Church of Scotland.

Professor Donald Macleod, who is head of systematic theology at the Free Church College in Edinburgh, said that he had been put in an "absurd situation" by the allegations against him.

Edinburgh Sheriff Court was shown a video recording of a police interview in which he said the claims made by one of his accusers, a 35-year-old female lecturer, were "completely untrue". He said they were "fabricated".

Professor Macleod, 55, denies five charges of sexual assault involving four women from 1985 to 1991. He was cleared of a sixth charge on Wednesday after legal debate over the date of the alleged incident.

Professor Macleod told police that he had been "hounded for 10 years" by people in the church who had taken allegations against him to the church authorities, although the complaints had been had thrown out.

He said one of his accusers, a 35-year-old woman, was closely involved with people who were part of a "wider conspiracy" and claimed her statements had changed over time.

He also claimed that a letter accusing him, written by a 36-year-old woman who now lives in Tasmania, Australia, had been instigated by a Rev John Murray. The court was earlier told that a special fund paid the woman's airfare so she could give evidence.

Andrew Hardie QC, for the defence, asked Sheriff John Horsburgh to return not guilty verdicts on three of the charges.

Scottish law requires supporting evidence from a source other than the alleged victim before a charge can be proved. In this case the Crown is relying on a rule which allows similar charges to support each other.

Mr Hardie argued that the charges could not be supported by each other since they were not similar in character, circumstances and time. He pointed out that one was far more serious than the others, and another concerned an incident alleged to have occurred five years after the others.

The case continues.