A DECORATOR who took issue with being described as a "gay painter" has lost a court fight after a sheriff said calling someone homosexual was not defamatory.

George Cowan, who is heterosexual, had taken printing boss Mark Bennett to court in a £10,000 action after accusing his former friend of trying to blacken his name by branding him gay.

The pair were both members of a business networking group in Fife and Mr Cowan claimed he was tormented by Mr Bennett at their regular meetings.

The print shop owner would wolf whistle while his ex-friend was giving speeches and joked he was having affairs with fellow male members of the Local Business Directory (LBD) group.

Mr Bennett also sent Mr Cowan, 38, pink business cards and was accused of defacing other cards with offensive remarks.

However, a sheriff has rejected Mr Cowan's defamation case after ruling it was not defamatory to be called a homosexual.

Last night, Mr Bennett, 47, of Dunfermline, Fife, told of his delight at the outcome.

He said: "I am very happy I have won and I'm not surprised."

Mr Bennett, who used to be a stand-up comedian, insisted his remarks were just "banter" and he didn't mean to cause offence.

However, Mr Cowan argued they would lower his reputation in the eyes of other members of the business group, which included Dunfermline Athletic chairman John Yorkston, and sued for damages at Dunfermline Sheriff Court.

Sheriff Kenneth McGowan said the painter and decorator's reputation had not been damaged by the remarks.

He said: "Times have moved on. Homosexuality is not illegal. On the contrary, the rights of homosexuals are widely protected by the law. There are many people in public life in Scotland and the UK who are openly homosexual.

"Looked at in that way, it is difficult to see how an imputation of homosexuality could be defamatory.

"There was no evidence that the defender's characterisation of the pursuer was taken seriously by those who heard it.

"By this I mean that they did not take from the defender's comments that the pursuer was, in fact, homosexual."

Sheriff McGowan also ruled there was not enough evidence to conclude Mr Bennett had distributed derogatory business cards smearing Mr Cowan as a paedophile.

However, he did criticise the print shop owner for publicly humiliating his rival and said the case was "deeply regrettable".

He added: "The pursuer has lost this case. Nevertheless, the defender does not come out of this dispute smelling of roses.

"The impression given by the defender in evidence was he was a joker, full of joie de vivre.

"Yet it is clear the pursuer and a number of other members of LBD were deeply uncomfortable with the defender's behaviour.

"One is driven to the conclusion either the defender was aware of this discomfort, yet deliberately persisted with the 'banter' in the face of it or that he was unaware of it, which says little for his awareness of the impact of his actions on those around him and suggests he badly misread the situation.

"He must bear some responsibility for the destruction of what had, apparently, been a good and friendly relationship. That, and the consequences of this litigation, are deeply regrettable."

Mr Cowan, who was expelled from the business group after raising the legal action, said: "I want to read the judgment in full before I say anything."