A BBC report on the Queen's death in which a presenter laughed after hearing that Catholics were "cleared" out of Scotland has sparked outrage and was branded "inflammatory and wrong". 

The broadcaster has been criticised over the comments, made as the King’s proclamation was announced in Edinburgh yesterday.

During a segment documenting the late Queen’s journey from Balmoral to the capital, where she will lie in rest at St Giles’ Cathedral until Tuesday, the presenter noted that the Protestant reformer John Knox is buried there.

Another presenter then replied: “John Knox of course, the old great Protestant reformer, who cleared the Catholics out of Scotland.”

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A third presenter can then be heard laughing after one of her colleagues noted that is how “history remembers him”.

But an expert in religious martyrdom has said this is not only incorrect but also insensitive given Scotland’s more recent history of Christian sectarianism.

Paul Middleton, professor of Biblical studies at Chester University, told The National that the assertion Knox had ran Catholics out of Scotland during the Reformation was “just not true”.

He added: “They suggest, in fairly inflammatory language, that John Knox cleared Catholics out of Scotland – that just simply didn’t happen.”

The National: A statue of John Knox in Glasgow's Necropolis A statue of John Knox in Glasgow's Necropolis (Image: Jamie Simpson)

The report is now the subject of an official complaint to the corporation’s internal watchdog.

Chris McEleny, the general secretary of the Alba Party, has written to the BBC Complaints office, accusing the broadcaster of anti-Catholic sentiment.

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He said the segment was “grossly offensive”, adding: “I cannot imagine similar treatment to any other religion. During the Reformation, Catholicism was made illegal in Scotland.

“Our faithful were arrested and on occasion tortured if found to be practising the Catholic faith. St John Ogilvie was of course hanged in the centre of Glasgow.

“It is inconceivable then that BBC presenters would laugh about events that were rooted in anti Catholic sentiment.”

Ogilvie – a Catholic priest and Jesuit – was executed at Glasgow Cross in 1615 and is understood to be Scotland’s only Catholic martyr. He was canonised 1976.

The National: Painting of St John Ogilvie, courtesy of Glasgow City Archives Painting of St John Ogilvie, courtesy of Glasgow City Archives (Image: Glasgow City Archives)

But Prof Middleton said Scotland’s Reformation was not comparable with the religious transformation in England.

More than 300 people were murdered for their faith in England between 1534 and 1680, many of whom were later made saints.

“In Scotland, the Reformation was relatively bloodless,” said Prof. Middleton.

“People like John Knox and other reform preachers were effectively charismatic figures that stirred the people up.”

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While the celebration of Mass was banned in Scotland and Catholicism officially outlawed following the Reformation, there were still parts of the country – notably the Western Isles and parts of the Highlands – where the faith was practiced openly.

The broadcaster should be more cognisant of cultural sensitivities around religion in Scotland, Prof Middleton added, saying the country’s more recent history of sectarianism between Protestants and Catholics should be taken into account in reporting.

He added: “I get the fact that they are filling time and basically saying the first things that come into their minds – but particularly given the sensitivities of sectarianism, particularly in Scotland, saying something which is pretty inflammatory and wrong, it’d be reasonable to expect the BBC to take a bit more care.”

The broadcaster should “perhaps have people that … understand the religious, political and royal history of Scotland”, he added.

The BBC has been approached for comment.