The Christian Institute

News Release

Church groups settle discrimination claim against Robertson Trust: “We are grateful and relieved”

  • Scotland’s largest grant-making trust apologises to two church groups for unlawfully discriminating against them.
  • The Robertson Trust controls all shares in the group which makes The Famous Grouse and The Macallan whiskies, and awards £20 million a year in grants
  • The legal action centred on the Trust’s cancellation of bookings to use their conference centre in Stirling.

Stirling Free Church (SFC) and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) have negotiated a successful outcome to their religious discrimination claim against The Robertson Trust (TRT).

The claim centred on TRT’s cancellation of bookings by the two Christian groups simply because they were for religious events.

The hearing of the claim started in the Sheriff Court at Glasgow in April and was due to resume on 1 December. But the parties have now reached an agreed settlement in which the Trust admits it broke equality law and apologises to both organisations. It has also paid a substantial contribution towards legal costs.

Having agreed terms of settlement, the parties have agreed a joint minute which is being lodged with the Sheriff Court. This states:

“In June and September 2019, Kintail Trustees Limited, as Trustees of the Robertson Trust (the “Trustees”) entered into contracts with the Free Church of Scotland at Stirling (the “Free Church”) for the hire of the conference facility known as the French Barracks at The Barracks Development, Stirling (the “Property”). The Trustees applied a settled funding policy, which places restrictions upon the activities to which the Trustees may advance charitable funding, to the termination of the contracts, in the belief it applied to the hire of the Property.  They now regret and fully accept that in so doing they inadvertently failed to meet their duties to the Free Church in terms of the Equality Act 2010, and therefore acted unlawfully. The Trustees apologise to the Free Church.”

TRT has made a materially identical statement in respect of the BGEA.

The settlement follows July’s employment tribunal ruling that the Trust’s former CEO, Kenneth Ferguson, was the victim of religious discrimination and unfair dismissal by the Trust and its chair, Shonaig Macpherson, when he was sacked in 2020.

The cancellation of bookings by the two Christian groups, and the sacking of Ferguson, all followed an outburst of anger against mainstream Christian beliefs on marriage from Macpherson.

Macpherson was angry when she learned that SFC, where Kenneth is an elder, was hiring trust premises for its Sunday meetings. Records shown to the employment tribunal revealed her hostility to SFC’s belief that marriage is between one man and one woman.

Macpherson left TRT in October. Her tenure was not due to expire until 2023.

The BGEA has now notched up five legal victories against venues that have sought to block their events. Earlier this year a partner organisation of the BGEA won a case against Blackpool Council for banning adverts for one of its events. The Council had to pay £109K in fees and compensation. And just weeks ago the BGEA announced new event dates for its “God Loves You Tour” in the UK following settlements with three major venues which had previously cancelled their contracts with the BGEA due to hostility to its beliefs.

Iain Macaskill, the minister of SFC, said today:

“It has been a long time coming but finally justice has been done. Our legal action was never about financial compensation. It was about the principle. It is against the law to advertise a venue as being available to all-comers but then cancel the contract simply because the booking is for a religious event. Christians have the same legal rights as everyone else and the outcome of this case affirms that. The Trust has accepted that they broke the law and they have apologised to us. We are grateful and relieved.”


Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute, which backed all three claims against TRT, said:

“When Kenneth won his religious discrimination claim against The Robertson Trust we said the Trust had a lot of work to do to rebuild trust with faith groups. I’m pleased to say that the Trust has now begun that work in earnest. This settlement will go a long way towards reassuring religious organisations that they can expect to be able to use The Robertson Trust’s facilities without discrimination. They’ve admitted they got this wrong, they’ve apologised and they’ve made a substantial contribution towards legal costs. I think everyone can welcome that.”

“This settlement is another important reminder that if you discriminate against Christians for their beliefs, whether you do so in the workplace or the marketplace, you are probably breaking the law. Equality and human rights law firmly protects the ability of Christians to hold and express their beliefs, whether on sexual ethics or anything else.”


Notes for Editors:

  • The Employment Tribunal is yet to decide the level of damages in Mr Ferguson’s employment claim.
  • The SFC/BGEA case was part heard in April and had been due to resume in court 1-3 December.
  • Shonaig Macpherson had claimed in the Employment Tribunal that the Trust had a ‘neutrality’ policy of not renting to organisations that promoted religious or political views, but the Tribunal found that the Trust “did not have any specific written policy with regard to renting or providing a licence to occupy to third parties”. It also found that the Trust rented premises to Stonewall and other groups which support same-sex marriage.
  • The legal actions by Kenneth Ferguson, Stirling Free Church and the BGEA were all supported by The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund. Donations towards the fund can be made here.
  • The Robertson Trust is the largest independent grant-making trust in Scotland. It controls all voting shares in the whisky giant the Edrington Group which makes The Famous Grouse and The Macallan. TRT awards more than £20 million a year to good causes.