A Borders community council chairman and political activist has fallen foul of race hate laws after a social media row with a 21-year-old student.
Gregory Lauder-Frost, 67, sent Isadora Sinha messages telling her to “go home” and saying she had “no right to be in our country or arguing with a superior race”.
As their online argument continued, he posted threats saying: “As the KGB say, you are on the list. Don’t get too comfortable.”
Lauder-Frost, founder and vice-president of the Traditional Britain Group, an organisation calling for members of ethnic minorities to be returned to what it describes as their natural homelands, tried to dismiss those remarks as “throwaway” comments as part of a Facebook debate.
He also claimed that he had been provoked.
However, following a trial at Jedburgh Sheriff Court last week, he was convicted of behaving in a threatening or abusive manner by posting offensive and racist comments likely to cause a reasonable person fear and alarm from his home in Mordington in Berwickshire last year.
A former leading light in the Monday Club, a right-wing Conservative Party pressure group, Lauder-Frost has courted controversy in the past with his extreme views.
He caused an outcry with his comments about Baroness Lawrence of Clarendon, mother of the murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and a campaigner against racism, referring to her as “anti-English” and not suitable for the House of Lords.
In 2013, Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg issued a public apology after attending a dinner hosted by the Traditional Britain Group, admitting it was “unquestionably a mistake” and describing the views of Lauder-Frost as “disgusting”.
This is the first time that the married father of two has been convicted of a criminal offence over his extreme political views, though, and his conviction at Jedburgh Sheriff Court is being seen as a message sent out by the Scottish legal authorities that racist and threatening remarks will not be tolerated on social media despite being notoriously difficult to prove.
He was fined £300 and ordered to pay £200 compensation to Ms Sinha after being found guilty of the racially-aggravated offence.
The trial heard evidence by video-link from Ms Sinha, a postgraduate genetics student at Cardiff University who describes herself as British-Indian despite being born in Hong Kong.
She explained how a video popped up up on her Facebook page from an Arthur Hargrave on British ethnicity which she commented on as she objected to the views being expressed.
A message then came up on April 25 last year sent from Lauder-Frost’s profile saying: “You are not British. You are someone of foreign ethnicity.”
Further such messages followed during the exchanges, with one saying: “It is not skin colour that matters, it is race. Your natural home lies out of the UK.”
“Please go back to your natural homeland instead of insulting us.”
Lauder-Frost later sent a picture of two light-skinned women saying: “Here are Caucasians,” adding afterwards: “I am not a white nationalist. I want to keep Britain British. If you are not ethnically British, you are not British.”
Other messages from his profile stated “you have no right to be in our country or arguing with a superior race” and “what do you think you are doing in my country?”
Lauder-Frost then sent more messages referring to “aliens” and “British haters” and urging her to “go home”.
He also said that non-Europeans should be returned to their natural homelands.
Ms Sinha responds to messages from both Lauder-Frost and Hargrave saying: “Both of you do not get the point. Try and research a bit more.”
She added another comment explaining why she feels she felt qualified to offer opinions, saying “considering I am a geneticist and have got an education in this. You two are just plain racist”.
Asked for her reaction to the views she was responding to, Ms Sinha replied: “Sadness, I suppose. I was taken a bit aback. I was not expecting it.”
However, she implied matters turned even more sinister when she received messages saying: “As the KGB say, you are on the list. Don’t get too comfortable.”
Asked for her interpretation of those comments, Ms Sinha said she took them as a threat, explaining: “No one has the right to make those kind of comments. The KGB killed people on their list. They tortured them and airbrushed them out of photos.
“Not only did he want me out of the country, he wanted me airbrushed from this country.
“I took the ‘don’t get too comfortable’ comment as a threat as well. The comments caused me to worry.”
Ms Sinha, who insisted she was proud to be British, rejected the suggestion that was a general view, saying that she was named in the comment and believed she was being targeted.
Under cross-examination from procurator fiscal Graham Fraser, Lauder-Frost gave his version of events about the Facebook exchange with the student 46 years his junior.
Asked if he had made the comment “please go home”, he replied: “Probably out of frustration.”
He continued: “She kept going on and on, and she was only halfway through a downmarket university course on genetics.
“I was insulted as she was lecturing us when she was making these comments.”
Asked to clarify what he meant about Cardiff’s being a downmarket university, Australian-born Lauder-Frost, holder of an Oxford University degree in modern history and a doctorate, said: “Some are better than others on a sliding scale, I am afraid.”
The pensioner pointed out he did not know who Ms Sinha was and had only found out about her when she responded to the Facebook thread and then checked her profile.
He added: “These debates are going on all the time on Facebook, and I don’t believe anyone takes them particularly seriously.
“Obviously, I have learned a lesson by being here today.
“Through this whole thread, I felt Miss Sinha was being very very provocative.”
When quizzed about his comment about her having no right to be in this country or argue with a superior race, he stated: “I felt she was arguing with the British and the Caucasians.
“She was an alien in this country, my country, and putting forth insulting arguments. She was postulating.”
Asked to explain his question “what are you doing in my country?” and his comment “go back to your natural home and stop insulting us”, he replied: “I was getting a bit tired. You get these throwaway comments on Facebook.
“It’s just amazing that this has ever reached court.
“It is a snowflake reaction. These are throwaway comments. I never meant for this girl to be abused or to be in fear. I don’t even know where she lives or anything about her.
“It is a debate or an argument. We are going down a dark path trying to regulate speech.
“I don’t see why you are singling me out.”
Mr Fraser, summing up for the prosecution, said: “The accused fully accepts he made the observations and he behaved in a way he knew would offend her.”
He highlighted the distress and upset caused by the messages adding: “He was responsible for that.”
Defence lawyer Robert More contended that his client had sent his messages in the context of being provoked but had stopped when asked to by Ms Sinha’s mother.
He said: “This was an intelligent young woman who was keen to get involved in a political debate but then, having been offended, decided to report the matter to the police.
“She did not stay out of the debate but continued.
“It does not prove there has been a contravention of section 38 of the act.”
Finding him guilty following a four-hour trial, sheriff Peter Paterson told Lauder-Frost he had crossed the line by making threatening comments which would have caused a reasonable person fear or alarm.
Regarding the racial element of the charge, he said: “The comments are racist. They clearly are.”
Sheriff Paterson gave Lauder-Frost three months to pay the fine and compensation in full.
Lauder-Frost, chairman of Foulden, Mordington and Lamberton Community Council, declined to comment on leaving court, though he has ince informed us that he intends to lodge an appeal.