Donnachie loses appeal as Scots judge rules no injustice at trial

By Marcus Dysch, May 3, 2012
Donnachie and supporters after his conviction last September

Donnachie and supporters after his conviction last September

A former St Andrews University undergraduate has failed in an attempt to overturn his conviction for racially abusing a Jewish student.

Paul Donnachie attacked Chanan Reitblat last March at a university hall of residence, desecrated an Israeli flag and called the Lithuanian-born supporter of Israel a "terrorist".

Donnachie, of Blackpool, was sentenced to 150 hours of community service last September after being convicted of the attack but appealed on the grounds that he believed the trial had not been conducted properly.

During the incident, Donnachie told Mr Reitblat: "Israel is a terrorist state, the flag is a terrorist symbol, and you are a terrorist. Israel has no history here." He then put his hands down his trousers before wiping them on the Israeli flag.

At his trial, Donnachie, now 21, argued that his attack was not antisemitic, but motivated by his political beliefs.

His appeal, heard at Edinburgh's High Court of Criminal Appeal last month, had centred on his legal team's intention during the first trial to call three witnesses - two members of Scottish Jews for a Just Peace, and one from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign - to give evidence about the political situation in Israel in Donnachie's defence.

The sheriff who conducted the original trial, Charles Macnair QC, had ruled that the proposed evidence of the witnesses was "irrelevant". Donnachie's lawyer, John Scott QC, argued that the trial had therefore not been conducted properly.

But in his judgment on Tuesday, Lord Mackay agreed with Mr Macnair that the evidence would have been irrelevant and that the sheriff had been right to "publicly acknowledge that the issue would have no bearing on his decision".

Dismissing the appeal, Lord Mackay concluded: "There was therefore no substantive miscarriage of justice, nor was there an appearance of injustice."

Expelled from St Andrews after his conviction, Donnachie is now studying at another university.

Scottish University Jewish Chaplaincy chair Nicola Livingston said: "We welcome the court's decision to uphold the rights of Jewish students to express their identity without harassment, intimidation or racist attack.."

Before the appeal, Donnachie, who was heavily backed by the SPSC, collected support from pro-boycott Israelis who claimed he had been "persecuted due to his support of the Palestinian cause".

He has spent time in Israel and the Palestinian Territories since his conviction and said he had found himself "observing a dichotomy of oppressor versus oppressed, in which case I will always find myself on the side of the latter, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity".

Mr Reitblat said: "I welcome the judgment which affirms my right to identify with Israel as part of my Jewish identity. This landmark decision sends a clear message to those who question that right in such a criminal way. "

He said that the £300 compensation that Donnachie was ordered to pay will now be donated - in the name of the SPSC - to victims of terror attacks in Israel, the Yoni Jesner Foundation, and the JNF.

Last updated: 1:02pm, May 3 2012