A PRO-INDEPENDENCE blogger has lost his appeal in a £25,000 defamation battle with Kezia Dugdale.

Stuart Campbell, who runs the website Wings Over Scotland, attempted to sue the former Scottish Labour leader last year after she accused him of writing “homophobic tweets”.

But Sheriff Nigel Ross ruled Ms Dugdale did not have to pay damages following a three-day hearing in Edinburgh.

He found that although she was incorrect to imply Mr Campbell was a homophobe in her Daily Record column, the article was covered by the defence of fair comment.

He later ordered Mr Campbell to pay Ms Dugdale’s full legal expenses, plus a 50 per cent “uplift”.

Mr Campbell appealed the decision in the Inner House of the Court of Session – Scotland's highest civil court – last month, where three senior judges heard the case virtually, using online video links, in a legal first sparked by the coronavirus crisis.

Judges Lord Carloway, Lord Menzies and Lord Brodie have now rejected his appeal.

In a written judgment, Lord Carloway said: "The court agrees with the sheriff’s conclusion that this was indeed fair comment."

Ms Dugdale said she felt "a huge sense of relief that this whole saga is over".

She added: "I cannot thank the Daily Record enough, for the opportunity to write and their willingness and determination to defend the words written.

"At the heart of this case was the right of all Scots to freely express opinion; this important right has been upheld today."

She also thanked her legal team, her friends and LGBT organisation Stonewall Scotland for standing by her.

The legal row centres on a tweet Mr Campbell, 52, sent in March 2017.

He wrote that the former Scottish Secretary David Mundell’s son, the Tory MSP Oliver Mundell, was “the sort of public speaker that makes you wish his dad had embraced his homosexuality sooner”.

David Mundell came out as gay in 2016.

Writing in her Daily Record column a few days later, Ms Dugdale said she was “shocked and appalled to see a pro-independence blogger’s homophobic tweets”, and accused Wings Over Scotland of spouting “hatred and homophobia towards others”.

Mr Campbell strongly refutes this and accused her of defamation.

Last month, Craig Sandison QC, who was acting for the blogger, told the court the defence of fair comment failed on three separate grounds.

He said the allegation of homophobia was an "allegation of fact, not of opinion or comment".

He also argued Ms Dugdale's article contained insufficient reference to the facts on which it was based, and the comment itself "was not fair within the meaning of Scots law".

Mr Sandison said there is no rational basis to conclude Mr Campbell's tweet was homophobic.

He also took issue with Sheriff Ross's ruling that any damages resulting from the defamation action would have been reduced to just £100, partly due to Mr Campbell's abrasive and rude writing style.

He suggested an award of £25,000 was justified by the seriousness of the allegation.

But Roddy Dunlop QC, acting for Ms Dugdale, urged the judges to reject the appeal and said the irony of the legal action "remains lost" on Mr Campbell.

He said: "This is a man who lives or dies on the basis of freedom of expression, who spends his time online belittling, reviling and abusing anyone with the temerity to disagree with his world view."

But the "first time someone dare stand up to him," Mr Dunlop said, "his first thought is to sue".

He said there was a "clear and unarguable failure" to prove any damage to reputation.

Lord Carloway, Lord Menzies and Lord Brodie upheld Sheriff Ross's earlier ruling.

However they said £5,000 would have been awarded had the court found in favour of Mr Campbell, rather than the "nominal award" of just £100.

Writing on his blog, Mr Campbell said the appeal was "purely a financial matter" and that he went to court to refute the claim "that I was a homophobe, and in that respect I was completely vindicated".