A Labour minister who bought a mansion gifted to his community has unwittingly sparked a landmark defamation action over Facebook claims of "corruption".

Former finance and health secretary Andy Kerr last year paid £180,000 for the historic John Hastie Museum a century after it was bequeathed to the people of the Lanarkshire town of Strathaven.

Mr Kerr bought the property - which housed the museum till its closure in 2011 - from a local developer who had in turn purchased the mansion and its grounds from South Lanarkshire Council.

There is no suggestion that Mr Kerr and his wife Susan - who sits on the Labour-controlled local authority - have done anything wrong.

Pictured: The John Hastie Museum

The Herald:

However, speculation on a local Facebook Group that an unnamed politician had bought the former museum has provoked a highly unusual defamation action.

The developer who sold the museum to Mr and Mrs Kerr has sued the moderator of the Strathaven Group, a community volunteer called Paulo Quadros, for £20,000.

David Bryson of Burnhead Group, according to a writ filed at Hamilton Sheriff Court, says posts on the Facebook group falsely alleged he "had been engaged in a criminal conspiracy in concert with a local politician to benefit that politician at the expense of the public".

Mr Quadros, pictured below, a 62-year-old pain management consultant who has lived in the village for more than 20 years, did not write the posts, which have subsequently been deleted.

The Herald:

But the defamation action also founds on an email Mr Quadros wrote to Mr Bryson in the immediate aftermath of the Facebook storm. Mr Bryson claims that Mr Quadros in this email says that he had told councillors, that he, Mr Bryson, may have been responsible for an incident when some work associates of Mr Quadros allegedly felt threatened by a man making references to "Facebook".

The Herald understands Mr Quadros denies this interpretation of his email and is defending the defamation action.

The lawsuit comes two years after England and Wales reformed libel laws to bring them in to line with the social media and internet age and to introduce a test of "serious harm". The Herald is campaigning for similar changes north of the border.

Pictured: Andy Kerr

The Herald:

Local Conservative councillor Graeme Campbell said: "I am very concerned that Mr Quadros has been pursued for something allegedly said by other people but not by him.

"I don't think the council has done anything wrong. They sold the building in an open tendering process. And I don't think Mr and Mrs Kerr have done anything wrong either. They have just bought a house."

The Herald view: defamation law must be reformed

Mr Bryson's solicitor Fraser Geddes said the social media aspect of the case was now "secondary".

He said: "The Facebook posts, which initially caused our client some concern, and which did not appear to have been written by Mr Quadros, were eventually removed.

"While referred to in the Court action, these posts were of secondary concern to our client, having by then been removed.

"His principal concern was the withdrawal of the statement made in his email, and an apology for that. It was his refusal or at least delay in doing so which resulted in this action being deemed necessary."

The future of the John Hastie Museum, pictured from the rear below, and its grounds have been a major local issue in Strathaven.

The Herald:

The building was bequeathed to the village's Old Parish Council in 1916, by its owner, John Hastie. His name was then given to the museum and the park that surrounds it.

South Lanarkshire Council provoked a storm of protest when it announced plans to sell the building and show the collection, which includes a jar of pickled snakes, elsewhere. A campaign, Hands Off Our Museum, argued the council had no right to sell the house, which locals claimed was in poor condition.