Russian influence in the UK is the new normal – report

The UK is one of Russia's 'top targets' in the West for cyber warfare and money laundering, report finds.

Russia: Oligarchs with close ties to Putin 'have influence in UK'. Getty Images
Russia: Oligarchs with close ties to Putin 'have influence in UK'.

Russian influence in UK politics and business has become a “new normal”, a long-awaited intelligence report said.

Successive UK governments have welcomed oligarchs from Russia – some with close ties to Vladimir Putin – “with open arms”, said the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) report.

The ISC also said there was credible “commentary” that Russia tried to influence the 2014 Scottish independence referendum.

The report said Britain was one of Russia’s “top targets” in the West when it came to practices such as disinformation and cyber attacks, as well using the City of London to launder illicit money.

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It added that politicians and leaders in the UK “took their eye off the ball” when it came to countering the security threat posed by the Kremlin.

The so-called Russia Report’s release was controversially blocked shortly before last year’s general election.

The committee said they did not have enough information to conclude whether or not Russian state actors sought to interfere in the 2016 Brexit vote.

It has called for the UK intelligence community to produce an assessment on whether the Kremlin did interfere in the referendum and to publish an unclassified summary.

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The ISC said: “Even if the conclusion of any such assessment were that there was minimal interference, this would nonetheless represent a helpful reassurance to the public that the UK’s democratic processes had remained relatively safe.”

ISC member and SNP MP Stewart Hosie said “no one in government knew” if Russia sought to influence the Brexit vote and “actively avoided any effort” to investigate the matter.

He added: “There has been no assessment of Russian interference in the EU referendum and this goes back to nobody wanting to touch the issue with a ten-foot pole.”

Foreign secretary Dominic Raab previously said it is “almost certain” that Russian agents sought to interfere in December’s general election.

But in a lengthy response to the Russia Report, Downing Street said it had seen no evidence of interference in the Brexit vote.

It denied it had underestimated the threat and said Russia remains a “top national security priority” for the UK Government.

The ISC report said the UK, particularly London, had accepted wealthy Russian oligarchs into high society and “few questions if any were asked about the provenance of this considerable wealth”.

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The City of London – the UK’s key financial district – has provided these influential figures with a means of recycling illicit finance through the London “laundromat”, and connections at the highest levels of UK business and politics, it added.

This has led to a growth industry of ‘”enablers” including lawyers, accountants, and estate agents who are “wittingly or unwittingly… de facto agents of the Russian state”.

The ISC said: “Russian influence in the UK is the new normal.

“There are a lot of Russians with very close links to Putin who are well integrated into the UK business and social scene, and accepted because of their wealth.”

The heavily-redacted report noted that there had been widespread allegations that Russia sought to influence voters in the 2016 Brexit referendum but it would be “difficult – if not impossible” to assess whether any such attempts had been successful.

However, this is because the UK Government had made no effort to find out, it said.

The committee accused successive Westminster administrations of being “slow to recognise the existence of the threat”.

The ISC said it was a priority to “mitigate the risk, and ensure that, where hostile activity is uncovered, the proper tools exist to tackle it at source and to challenge the impunity of Putin-linked elites”.

The ISC noted that “a number of members of the House of Lords have business interests linked to Russia, or work directly for major Russian companies” and these relationships should be “carefully scrutinised” given the potential for Moscow to exploit them.

The committee said: “It has been clear for some time that Russia under Putin has moved from potential partner to established threat, fundamentally unwilling to adhere to international law – the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006 and the annexation of Crimea in 2014 were stark indicators of this.

“We therefore question whether the government took its eye off the ball because of its focus on counter-terrorism: it was the opinion of the committee that until recently the government had badly under-estimated the response required to the Russian threat – and is still playing catch-up.”

The ISC suggested that the prospect of interference in domestic political processes by the Russians was viewed as a “hot potato” which none of the intelligence agencies wanted to grasp.

The report said: “Open source studies have pointed to the preponderance of pro-Brexit or anti-EU stories on RT and Sputnik, and the use of ‘bots’ and ‘trolls’ as evidence of Russian attempts to influence the process.

“We have sought to establish whether there is secret intelligence which supported or built on these studies.

“In response to our request for written evidence at the outset of the inquiry, MI5 initially provided just six lines of text.”

In a 20-page response to the report, the UK Government rejected the call for an assessment of alleged Russian activity during the Brexit referendum.

It said: “We have seen no evidence of successful interference in the EU Referendum.”

The government also denied the suggestion it had “badly underestimated” the Russian threat.

A spokesman said: “The government has long recognised there is an enduring and significant threat posed by Russia to the UK and its allies, including conventional military capabilities, disinformation, illicit finance, influence operations, and cyber-attacks.

“As such, Russia remains a top national security priority for the government.”

Travellers to Scotland face pre-departure tests amid Omicron fears

International travellers will have to provide a negative pre-departure test taken two days before travelling.

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New travel rules come into effect at 4am on Tuesday morning.

People arriving in Scotland from abroad will need to take a pre-departure Covid test to help stem the spread of the Omicron variant, the Scottish Government announced on Saturday.

International travellers will have to provide provide proof of a negative PCR or lateral flow test taken two days before travelling, in addition to a negative PCR test on or before day two after arrival, under measures agreed on a four nations basis.

The requirement comes into effect at 4am on Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile, Nigeria has been added to the red list for international travel from 4am on Monday morning, meaning all travellers returning to Scotland from Nigeria will be required to quarantine on their arrival in managed accommodation for 10 days.

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The changes were informed by a UK Health Security Agency risk assessment.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said: “It is essential we take steps now to keep people safe, protect the roll out of the booster programme and reduce the chances of unsustainable pressure being placed on the NHS over the winter.

“We have always said it may be necessary to quickly implement fresh measures to protect public health in Scotland, particularly with regards to international travel, and these restrictions are proportionate and necessary to that aim.

“We fully understand the impact the changes will have on staff and businesses in the travel and aviation sectors, particularly as the new variant came at a time when we were beginning to see some signs of recovery.  We will not keep the restrictions in place any longer than is necessary.”

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The announcement will be seen as evidence of the mounting concern within Whitehall of the threat posed by the Omicron variant.

However, the requirement for pre-departure tests was greeted with anger and dismay across the travel sector – just as bookings were picking up with the approach of the Christmas break.

Joanne Dooey, president of The Scottish Passenger Agents’ Association (SPAA) – the professional body for travel agents and the travel sector in Scotland, said: “Tonight’s news is the early Christmas present none of us in the travel sector wanted or needed. It’s a crushing blow for the travel sector in Scotland and travel agents are truly battle weary.

“The confidence which was returning to international travel will be stamped out following this announcement. The reintroduction of pre departure tests from Tuesday means that anyone travelling back into Scotland must take a test before they leave their destination, within 48 hours of travel back into the UK, or risk being unable to travel back and quarantining on foreign soil at their own expense.

“It leaves everyone currently overseas, who has a scheduled return to the UK from 4am this Tuesday, scrambling to find testing which meets the Scottish government regulations.

“We expect that travel agents’ phones will be ringing off the hook with customers who wish to cancel or postpone their holidays, business trips and Christmas visits to families overseas.”

The Airport Operators Association chief executive Karen Dee said it was a “devastating blow” for aviation and tourism.

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“Pre-departure tests acts as a major deterrent to travel and most of the limited remaining demand following the reintroduction of self-isolation will now fall away, just as airports were hoping for a small uplift over the Christmas holiday,” she said.

“Travel and aviation are the only sectors hit with any operating restrictions in response to the Omicron variant.

“The UK and devolved governments should have done the right thing and, alongside the restrictions, announced support for our businesses and our staff to get through another period of shutdown.

“Hundreds of thousands of jobs rely on air travel – government must recognise this and provide the support needed to safeguard this critical infrastructure upon which our economic recovery from the pandemic depends.”

Sturgeon urges people to get Covid vaccine as she receives booster

The First Minister attended the vaccine centre in Easterhouse on Saturday.

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Nicola Sturgeon has urged people to get their Covid vaccination as soon as they can after she received her booster jag.

The First Minister was given her Covid booster, as well as a flu shot, at the Glasgow Club Easterhouse vaccine centre on Saturday.

It comes amidst concern over the Omicron variant across the UK, with scientists working to learn more about the latest strain.

Speaking after receiving her jag, the First Minister outlined the importance of getting vaccinated to increase protection against coronavirus.

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She said: “It is critically important for everybody who is eligible to come forward and get a booster as soon as possible.

“We know that booster jags significantly increase the amount of protection that you get, so it’s not marginal, it is really significant.

“And that would always have been important as we head into winter, but with the new Omicron variant, it’s even more important.

“There’s lots of talk about whether vaccines will be less effective against Omicron, we don’t know that yet, but it’s really important to stress that even if that was the case, less effective does not mean ineffective.

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“You’re still going to have so much more protection if you have a vaccination, including your booster vaccination, than you will have without that.

“So please, if you haven’t already had your vaccine, whether that’s your first dose, second, third dose, or your booster and you’re eligible, please get it.”

Official figures published on Saturday indicate there were 14 coronavirus-related deaths and 1257 new cases recorded in Scotland over the last 24 hours.

One case of the new Omicron variant has been confirmed in that time, in NHS Grampian, taking the total people infected with the variant to 30.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde has the most of the new variant cases at 11, followed by NHS Lanarkshire with nine, five in NHS Forth Valley, three in NHS Highland and two in NHS Grampian.

The Scottish Government said Public Health Scotland is “aware of a processing issue with UK Government lab tests contributing to lower than expected cases and tests” in the daily figures and investigations are ongoing to resolve the problem.

There were 605 people in hospital with recently confirmed Covid-19 as of Friday night and, of these, 50 were in intensive care.

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So far, 4,351,214 people have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination, 3,956,719 have had a second, and 1,823,515 have been given a third dose or booster.


Family pay tribute to crash victim with the ‘biggest of hearts’

Robert McGhee, 24, was pronounced dead at the scene after his car left the road and struck a tree.

Police Scotland
In a statement released through Police Scotland, his family said he will be 'in our hearts forever more'.

Tributes have been paid to a 24-year-old man who died in a crash, with his family describing him as having the “biggest of hearts”.

Robert McGhee was pronounced dead at the scene after his car, a black Audi S3, left the road and struck a tree in Aberdeenshire.

The incident took place on the Torphins to Kincardine O’Neil road at around 9pm on Monday, November 29.

In a statement released through Police Scotland, his family said he will be “in our hearts forever more”.

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“It’s with great sadness that at only 24, Robert (Bert) was taken from us,” the family said.

“A loving son, fiancé, grandson & nephew, his big blue eyes & long eyelashes melted everyone. 

“He was the most helpful, hardworking, caring, polite young man with the biggest of hearts you could ever meet. 

“The world has lost a treasure that can never be replaced. You will be in our hearts forever more.”

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Police are appealing for anyone who may have witnessed the collision or saw the vehicle before the incident to contact them.

North East-based Road Policing Sergeant Chris Smith, said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Robert at this time.

“Enquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances of the collision and I would urge anyone who witnessed the collision or saw the vehicle prior to the incident that has not already spoken to the Police to come forward.

“In particular, we are keen to trace the driver of a green coloured 4×4 described as a jeep who is believed to have stopped at the scene and their information may be of assistance to our investigation.”

Details can be passed to Police Scotland on 101 quoting reference 3433 of November 29, 2021.


Senior police officer suspended following ‘criminal allegation’

The force's oversight body, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), confirmed the suspension of an officer in a statement.

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A senior officer can be suspended if an allegation, if proven, would be sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct or if the nature of the allegation means suspension is in the public interest.

A senior officer in Police Scotland has been suspended following a “criminal allegation”.

The officer is understood to be Police Scotland Temporary Assistant Chief Constable Pat Campbell.

He is executive lead for organised crime, counter-terrorism and intelligence, which also covers border policing, cyber crime and digital forensic, having taken up the role a year ago.

Campbell is senior responsible officer for cyber capabilities, cyber strategy and technical surveillance.

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The force’s oversight body, the Scottish Police Authority (SPA), confirmed the suspension of an officer in a statement.

Prosecution service the Crown Office has instructed police watchdog the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner (Pirc) to investigate the allegation.

A senior officer can be suspended if an allegation, if proven, would be sufficiently serious to amount to misconduct or if the nature of the allegation means suspension is in the public interest.

In its statement, the SPA said: “The Scottish Police Authority has suspended a senior officer from Police Scotland duties.

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“The decision was taken after a criminal allegation was brought to the authority’s attention.

“The Police Investigations and Review Commissioner is investigating this allegation under direction from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

“The suspension is effective from Wednesday 1 December and will be reviewed regularly, or if there is a change in circumstances relevant to the suspension.”

Police Scotland Deputy Chief Constable Fiona Taylor said: “I can confirm that a senior officer from Police Scotland has been suspended by the Scottish Police Authority.

“This is in connection with a criminal investigation being carried out by the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner.

“The chief constable has reviewed Police Scotland’s command structure to ensure the organisation continues to meet operational demand.”


Bird flu case confirmed in flock of free range hens

Birds at premises near Gretna will be humanely culled to limit the risk of the disease spreading.

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Bird flu has been detected in flock of hens in Dumfries and Galloway.

Bird flu has been detected in a free range flock of hens in Dumfries and Galloway, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The remaining birds at the premises, near Gretna, will be humanely culled and a 3km Protection Zone and 10km Surveillance Zone have been declared around the infected premises to limit the risk of spread of the disease.

Within the zones, a range of different controls are now in place. These include restrictions on the movement of poultry, carcasses, eggs, used poultry litter and manure – and restrictions on bird gatherings.

Producers and bird keepers are being reminded to comply with the order to house birds, which came in to effect on November 29, or to ensure their birds are kept separate from wild birds.

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The additional housing measures build on the strengthened biosecurity regulations that were brought in across Great Britain as part of the Avian Influenza Prevention Zone (AIPZ) on November 3 and in and Northern Ireland on November 17.

Meanwhile, the chief veterinary officer for Wales, Christianne Glossop, confirmed the presence of avian flu on a mixed poultry premises near Crickhowell, Brecon and Radnorshire, Powys.

And a second suspected case has been identified in Northern Ireland, in a flock in County Antrim.

Scotland’s chief veterinary officer Sheila Voas said: “We have already made clear that all bird keepers – whether major businesses or small keepers, with just a few birds – must ensure that their biosecurity is up to scratch to protect their birds from disease and prevent any contact between their birds and wild birds.

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“Keepers who are concerned about the health or welfare of their flock should seek veterinary advice immediately.

“Your private vet, or your local Animal and Plant Health Agency office, will also be able to provide practical advice on keeping your birds safe from infection.

“Any dead wild swans, geese, ducks or birds of prey, or five or more dead wild birds of other species (including gulls) in the same location at the same time, should be reported to Defra’s national telephone helpline.

“Public health advice is that the risk to human health from the virus is very low and food standards bodies advise that avian influenzas pose a very low food safety risk for UK consumers, and it does not affect the consumption of poultry products including eggs.”

Rural affairs secretary Mairi Gougeon said: “With the recent disease confirmations in wild and captive birds across the UK, it is not unexpected for avian influenza to be found in birds here in Scotland.

“We ask that the public remain vigilant and report any findings of dead wild birds to Defra’s national telephone helpline.

“Do not touch or pick up any dead or sick birds that you find.”

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Van Bronckhorst’s winning start continues as Rangers see off Dundee

Ibrox side move seven points ahead of Celtic at top of the Scottish Premiership.

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Giovanni van Bronckhorst continued his winning start as Rangers manager.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst made it four wins out of four as Rangers boss in a dominant 3-0 cinch Premiership win over Dundee at Ibrox.

Midfielder Joe Aribo’s deflected strike in the 36th minute gave the incessant home side a deserved interval lead and only sterling work by Dens Park keeper Adam Legzdins kept the Taysiders in the game.

However, visiting defender Ryan Sweeney put a cross from Aribo into his own goal in the 55th minute before striker Alfredo Morelos scored a third in the 70th minute of arguably Rangers’ best league performance of the season.

The league leaders moved seven points ahead of Celtic who get the chance to reduce the lead at Dundee United on Sunday.

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Rangers, with Scott Arfield and Fashion Sakala in for rested Ryan Kent and Steven Davis, took control from the start and did not relent.

Aribo’s nifty footwork at the edge of the Dundee box ended with Sakala snatching at a shot with the ball flying high and wide and then the striker screwed a shot wide of the far post.

The pressure was constant.

In the 24th minute Sakala’s powerful and more accurate drive was brilliantly pushed behind by Legzdins – the corner came to nothing – before the busy keeper made a decent save from left-back Borna Barisic and a better one from Connor Goldson.

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However, the creaking Dundee rearguard was breached when Aribo let fly from the edge of the box with a low drive which ended up behind Legzdins after taking a touch off defender Liam Fontaine.

The champions kept pushing forward and three minutes from the break Legzdins denied Morelos from close range.

The Govan side began the second half with Arfield’s deflected shot rebounding off the post and Legzdins making more saves, from strikes by defender Calvin Bassey and Sakala.

On-loan Celtic striker Leigh Griffiths was roundly booed when he took over from ex-Gers midfielder and Dundee skipper Charlie Adam before Sweeney, in trying to cut out a cross from Aribo, slid in to put the ball into his own net.

To the jeers of the home fans Griffiths was then booked by referee Alan Muir for a foul on Aribo with Morelos also taking a yellow for his part in the ensuing melee.

A mix-up in the Gers defence saw Paul McMullan get a shot away but it was pushed behind for a corner by keeper Allan McGregor which was defended before Dundee boss James McPake was shown a yellow card by referee Muir, presumably for dissent.

Before that Griffiths might have been lucky to avoid another yellow for his challenge on Glen Kamara.

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Morelos barged his way through the centre of Dundee’s defence to knock in number three, and the scoreline could have been even more emphatic had Christie Elliott not cleared away another goal-bound header from the Ibrox striker, albeit Griffiths cracked the post in added time with a shot.


Humza Yousaf urges people to ‘use their judgement’ over Christmas

He urged people to use their judgement and be sensible when making plans.

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Humza Yousaf has said he will be asking his family to take lateral flow tests before attending for Christmas dinner.

The health secretary made the comment as he indicated that people “have to use their judgement” in making plans during the festive season.

Speaking to STV News, Yousaf remarked that he would not, however, be checking his mother in law’s Covid certification before she comes the door.

“As health secretary, I’m not here to tell you what you can and cannot do in terms of Christmas parties, or how you behave at Christmas parties,” he said.

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“That is entirely up to you within the rules, within the guidance, what we’re suggesting… you know, as long as you are obeying those rules, then of course, we’ll be saying to people exercise some caution.

“I’m planning to have Christmas dinner with extended family and of course I will be asking all of my family to do a lateral flow test before.

“I don’t think that’s too onerous. But I won’t be checking my mother in law’s Covid certification before she comes to the door.

“So, I think people just… have to use their judgement, have to be sensible and I trust most people to do just that.”

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Yousaf acknowledged concern over the Omicron variant, but reiterated the steps people can take in order to help reduce transmission of the virus.

He said: “Of course we’re concerned. As we have said previously, we don’t doubt that there is community transmission.

“That community transmission is clearly as we are testing more people, as we are looking for that s-gene dropout, which is the proxy measure for omicron cases, we’re identifying more and more cases right across the country.

“So, what can people do to help us out here? They can make sure they get vaccinated, whichever vaccine you’re eligible for – first, second, third booster doses – get yourself vaccinated.

“Test yourself regularly, particularly if you’re going to be socialising, whether that’s indoors or outdoors.

“Make sure you’re wearing your mask in settings that are applicable and appropriate.

“And of course, practice good hygiene. These are the things that you can do to help us to keep transmission under control.”


Pensioner found fatally injured on street named by police

Douglas Forbes was discovered on Academy Park in the Leith area of the city on Thursday night.

Police Scotland
Police are investigating the death of Douglas Forbes in Edinburgh.

A man who was found fatally injured in Edinburgh has been named by police as Douglas Forbes.

The 78-year-old was found hurt at Academy Park in the Leith area of the city at around 8.50pm on Thursday night.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Detective inspector Jonny Wright from Gayfield CID said: “We are still working to establish how Douglas came to sustain his injuries.

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“We are trying to piece together his last movements and believe he was in the city centre with friends, prior to being dropped off at Academy Park by a taxi.

“We would like anyone who was out with Douglas on Thursday 2 December, and for the taxi driver who dropped him off, to get in touch with us as soon as possible.

“This can be done by contacting 101, quoting incident number 3329 of 2 December 2021.”


Does this street have the best Christmas display in Scotland?

Street transformed into winter wonderland after neighbour diagnosed with terminal cancer.

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Lavender Drive in Newton Mearns must surely be Scotland’s most festive street.

After more than two months of planning, neighbours have switched on their street-long Christmas display.

The idea to transform Lavender Drive into a winter wonderland came during the depths of lockdown last year when one resident, father-of-two Fred Banning, was diagnosed with terminal bowel cancer.

By asking for donations from those who come to see the 16 spectacular homes, the neighbours raised more than £5500 for the Beatson Cancer Charity last Christmas and hope to collect even more this time around.

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“I was going to and from chemotherapy and the first time I turned the corner and saw the whole street lit-up was just fantastic,” Fred, 38, told STV News. 

“It was really quite moving, it is like nowhere else I’ve ever lived.”

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The street Christmas lights were switched on after two months of planning.
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Lavender Drive has been transformed into a winter wonderland.
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The decorations are lighting up the night in the Newton Mearns street.
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Money is being raised for cancer research.
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Neighbours came out to single Jingle Bells during the big switch-on.
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The display aims to raise money after father-of-two Fred Banning was diagnosed with terminal cancer.

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