A senior solicitor who sent offensive tweets about Islam, Catholicism and Judaism – and also retweeted some – has been suspended from practice for 18 months.
Deborah Elizabeth Daniels, who identified herself as a solicitor in her Twitter biography, also made an offensive comment about a photo showing a woman wearing a niqab sitting next to what was described as “a drag queen/a person of transgender”.
The Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (SDT) said that by “behaving in a way which lacked integrity in such a public, offensive and wholly unacceptable way, [she] caused reputational damage to the profession as well as causing offence to members of the public.
“It was unacceptable for there to be any perception amongst the wider public that such conduct on the part of a solicitor was regarded as anything but serious misconduct by the profession more generally.”
Ms Daniels, who was born in 1947 and admitted a solicitor in 1986, was one of two partners at West Yorkshire firm Bird & Daniels.
Most of the tweets were about Islam, and they lasted for a period of 14 months. The first one said: “All women must carry staining pepper spray, learn self defence and do everything necessary to rid the world of Islam.”
Others included: “not phobic because that denotes an irrational fear – our wish to demolish Islam is perfectly rational”; “every woman should crush this sexist cult”; and “the ring of steel hasn’t worked so well put the bloody lot in a work camp and educate them or get rid”.
The Catholicism charge concerned three tweets sent over the course of eight days, the first of which said “kiddy fiddling, sex without being constrained by marriage, priests who were anti women from Anglican church joined”.
The Judaism charge related to tweets sent over the course of a month, including one that said “jewish friend said ‘you think we don’t celebrate Christmas but we do you spend like idiots – we count the profits’”.
In each case, the tribunal said the tweets were “offensive, wholly inappropriate and expressed hostility towards and/or a hatred” of the religion concerned. Two of the tweets cited in the ruling were retweets.
The photograph was on the BBC website under the headline ‘What New Yorkers make of this photo’, which had gone viral. In response, Ms Daniels tweeted “they both look stupid and unemployable and therefore pointless”.
The tribunal said this was “offensive, wholly inappropriate and/or discriminatory”.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority, prosecuting, said the tweet was particularly concerning given her role running a firm and being involved in recruitment.
Ms Daniels admitted all of the charges but explained that, in relation to the first three, she had been responding instantly to stories she had read in the news, such as about “the poor treatment which many [Muslim] women appeared to her to be suffering”, child abuse in the Catholic Church, and “shootings and killings of Palestinian children by Israelis”.
Ms Daniels insisted that “she had no hatred of Islam” and “was not remotely anti-Semitic”.
The tweet about the photograph related “purely to the dress style of the two individuals in the photograph and she did not feel negatively towards either individual or the groups to which they belong”.
In mitigation, the solicitor – who has deleted her Twitter account – expressed her contrition and “explained that her tweets were not part of any premeditated campaign to achieve anything; they reflected the ‘curse’ of Twitter”.
She told the tribunal that she spent “seconds, or milliseconds, considering her tweets before publishing them. They were not the product of considered reflection”.
However, the tribunal was “not persuaded” by Ms Daniels’ explanation: “[She] was unable when questioned to link comments she had made, for example regarding Jews and Christmas, to political or current events or to explain how momentary concern or anger at injustice could translate into those comments.
“The tribunal considered that whilst the individual tweets may have been drafted spontaneously in the heat of the moment and without reflection, there was a series of offending tweets which could not be described as spontaneous. The conduct was persistent and protracted.”
Though the police had taken no action in response to the tweets, the tribunal said that, as a solicitor, Ms Daniels “had greater responsibilities to act with integrity to avoid causing harm to the profession”.
It added: “The seriousness of the misconduct was such that public confidence in the profession demanded no less than an immediate, fixed-term suspension.”
She had told the tribunal that, without her presence, her firm would fold, but the tribunal said she had provided no evidence to support this.
In addition to the suspension, Ms Daniels was ordered to pay costs of £11,000.
The Bird & Daniels website says: “Our team are dedicated to a friendly, practical service to our clients of all backgrounds, and our team has been as diverse as our community, bringing to each other much added value.”