Derek Ogg, campaigning lawyer

Born: September 19, 1954;

Died: May 1, 2020

Derek Ogg, who has died aged 65, was a campaigning lawyer whose life and career spanned work as a prosecutor, a skilful defender, often in some of the country’s most high-profile cases, and an influential campaigner on gay rights. He fought for decriminalisation, civil partnerships, and raised the profile of Aids as well as playing a central role in the establishment of the UK’s first purpose-built hospice for HIV patients.

Having started his career when gay men could still be arrested for having relationships with other men, Mr Ogg knew from his days as a young lawyer the oppressive effect the law could have on gay people. “I could have been arrested,” he said, “and my career would have been destroyed.” One of his later campaigns was to press the Scottish Government to apologise to gay men convicted of sexual offences, which it did in 2017.

Campaigning to change the laws on gay sex and relationships was one of the guiding passions of Mr Ogg’s life. In the 1970s, he played a leading role in the campaign to end the ban on gay sex in Scotland; in the 1980s, he set up Scottish Aids Monitor, the country's first Aids charity; in the 1990s he campaigned for the abolition of the notorious Section 28; and more recently he campaigned for civil partnerships and the Scottish Government’s 2017 apology.

However, his campaigning and caring side was also obvious in his legal career. Mr Ogg achieved great professional success, rising to become the head of the new national sexual crimes unit in 2009. But his colleagues also noticed his concern for lawyers who were just starting out or struggling – he sponsored a lawyer from Rwanda, for example, so he was able to come over and work in Scotland.

Partly, Mr Ogg’s concern for anyone who was struggling came from his own experiences as a young gay man. Born and raised in Dunfermline with two sisters and a brother, he found the homophobia of Scottish society in the 1960s and 70s oppressive and when he was a teenager considered suicide. As far as he was concerned, being gay was beautiful but society considered it criminal. “I thought I must have been so out of kilter, I was never going to fit in,” he said.

However, he later found comfort and purpose in campaigning not just on gay rights but on human rights, a trait which emerged early on when he went to Edinburgh University to study law. For a while, he was a member of the Young Conservatives – a brief political flirtation which friends would later tease him about – but he was also an effective president of the student association, a role in which he could practise his skills on launching a campaign and winning it.

After university, Mr Ogg worked as a solicitor in his home town, first in Ross and Connel, then in the firm which he co-founded, Hunter Burns and Ogg. He was called to the Bar in 1989, took silk in 1999, and was appointed senior advocate depute in 2007 before becoming the head of the National Sexual Crimes Unit in 2009. He left the Crown Office in 2010 to become a defence counsel.

Both as a defender and prosecutor, Mr Ogg was involved in some of Scotland’s most high-profile cases. He successfully prosecuted Malcolm Webster, the nurse who murdered his first wife in a car fire then tried to kill his second wife in another crash. Webster was jailed for at least 30 years at the High Court in Glasgow in 2011.

Mr Ogg also had considerable success as a defender and was bullish but caring about people’s right to a defence, particularly in sensitive cases such as child abuse. “We have to bear in mind the catastrophic consequences if a single innocent man is convicted because nobody really wanted to try to examine the evidence against him for fear they would be accused of being anti-child,” he said. But he was also supportive of a better and more sensitive way of interviewing child witnesses, including concealed cameras.

In his private life, particularly when he was younger, he loved owning and driving vintage cars, and always running parallel to his legal career was his career as a campaigner on gay rights. He first became involved in activism in the early 1970s as a member of Scotland’s first gay rights organisation the Scottish Minorities Group. Later, he founded Scotland’s first Aids charity Scottish Aids Monitor and helped set up Waverley Care, which was established to build the Milestone Aids hospice in Edinburgh, which opened in 1991. It was through his work in this area that he met Princess Diana, an association of which he was very proud.

Later, the focus of Mr Ogg’s campaigning became Section 28, which forbade the teaching of gay issues in schools, and civil partnerships. Gay people, he said, just wanted to set up homes without being harassed and lead peaceful lives like everyone else.

Mr Ogg himself entered a civil partnership with his partner Ken Macgregor, whom he met in 2001 and who pre-deceased him. Derek Ogg is survived by his siblings Moira, Brian and Maureen.