Salmond inquiry appearance in doubt after evidence redacted

Salmond’s evidence to the inquiry was originally published on Monday.

Salmond's lawyers have written to the committee. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Salmond's lawyers have written to the committee.

Former first minister Alex Salmond may not appear before a Holyrood inquiry on Wednesday after his written evidence was redacted.

Salmond’s evidence to an inquiry investigating a botched investigation into harassment allegations was originally published on Monday, but was removed on Tuesday morning before a redacted version was published a short time later.

His lawyers have now written to the committee asking to see the legal basis for the redaction, saying the decision could have “a material bearing on whether he is able to attend” the hearing on Wednesday.

Salmond accused his successor Nicola Sturgeon of breaking the ministerial code by misleading parliament, and described the Crown Office as “not fit for purpose” under its current leadership.

ADVERT

Following concerns raised by the Crown Office, the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body decided to remove the evidence and redact it.

Salmond was expected to appear before the committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints on Wednesday after weeks of dispute over whether his evidence was legally safe to publish.

However, that appearance is now in doubt.

Salmond’s lawyer David McKie wrote: “We therefore require to see urgently the legal basis for the proposed redactions in order that we can properly advise our client and make further representations.

ADVERT

“These could have a material bearing on whether he is able to attend tomorrow.”

Sturgeon denies breaching the ministerial ethics code.


Coronavirus: ‘Things firmly heading in the right direction’

First Minister says number of cases is falling and country's vaccination programme is progressing extremely well.

Fotograzia via Getty Images

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says Scotland’s response to tackling the coronavirus pandemic is “firmly heading in the right direction”.

Another 24 deaths and 500 cases have been recorded over the past 24 hours.

Scotland hopes to start lifting lockdown restrictions in the coming weeks, and Sturgeon told parliament that progress was being made.

She said: “The number of cases is falling, the numbers in hospital are falling and the vaccination programme is progressing extremely well”.

Three other deaths that were registered recently were also added to the total under the daily measure – of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days – which now stands at 7398.

ADVERT

Meanwhile, 726 patients are currently in hospital with coronavirus, a decrease of 24, with 69 of those in intensive care, down one

The number of people who have been given their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine now stands at 1,688,608, an increase of 26,729 from the day before.

Additionally, more than 100,000 have received their second dose.

ADVERT

Enhanced contact tracing is currently under way in Scotland after the Brazilian variant of Covid-19 was detected in the country.

Three Scottish residents tested positive for coronavirus after flying into Aberdeen from Brazil, via Paris and London, in January.

The tests, which were completed in early February, were passed to the UK’s sequencing programme and were identified as being the Manaus variant on Saturday.

The First Minister said the importation of new variants of Covid-19 from overseas remained one of the key threats to defeating the virus.

She said: “It is absolutely the case that the key risk we face as we suppress the virus here at home and vaccinate more people is new variants coming into the country that could potentially undermine the efficacy of the vaccine, so this is one of the most serious challenges and top priorities that we have in the weeks to come.

“Local authorities have the ability and there is work to identify the needs of people who are being asked to self-isolate and that can – if necessary – include accommodation.

“We should take care to ensure that we are not risking the spread of the virus through the lack of availability of the support people need to self-isolate and that is something we take seriously.”

Newly published advice appears to contradict Salmond claim

The Scottish Conservatives said the four documents released on Thursday fall far short of what was demanded.

Andrew Milligan/PA via PA Wire
Salmond: Claims contradicted.

Newly released Scottish Government legal advice appears to contradict Alex Salmond’s claim of a plot to delay a civil case in the hope it would be overtaken by criminal proceedings he faced.

But the Scottish Conservatives said the four documents released on Thursday fall far short of what the Scottish Parliament and Salmond inquiry demanded, and called on the Scottish Government to “end the secrecy” and release all the advice.

The documents relate to the botched investigation into allegations of sexual harassment by the former first minister.

A successful judicial review by Salmond resulted in the investigation being ruled unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, with a £512,250 payout being awarded to him for legal fees in 2019.

ADVERT

Salmond was acquitted of 13 charges following a criminal trial last year.

Giving evidence to a Holyrood inquiry into the government’s handling of complaints last Friday, he claimed the Scottish Government hoped a criminal trial would “ride to the rescue” and prevent its unlawful investigation of him suffering a “cataclysmic” civil court defeat.

Explaining his belief that a looming criminal trial was the reason the government did not admit defeat in the case sooner, Salmond said: “Conceding in October [2018] would be embarrassing, it would be difficult, but it wouldn’t be as cataclysmic as an open court case in January [2019].

“What other motivation could there possibly have been than the belief that something might happen and intervene which meant that the judicial review never came to court?”

ADVERT

He added: “If the criminal case had been advanced, then the civil case wouldn’t have gone ahead pending the outcome of the criminal case.

“Many people seemed to invest a great deal of hope that the criminal case would ride to the rescue, like the cavalry over the hill, and the civil case would never be heard.”

In a document dated September 4 2018, Roddy Dunlop QC and Solicitor Advocate Christine O’Neill, counsel for the Scottish Government, said they could see strength in the argument that the criminal investigation may “make the entire petition pointless”.

He wrote: “If there is a criminal conviction then surely this case will not proceed; and if there is a trial and an acquittal then the Ministers would be faced with a very different situation than that which presently obtains.”

Deputy First Minister John Swinney released a first batch of legal advice on Tuesday under threat of a no-confidence vote and further documents were published on Thursday evening.

However Swinney said the newly released documents make clear that delaying the case – known as sisting – was only considered as an option in order to minimise the impact of the case on the ongoing police investigation.

In a letter dated September 17 2018, the Lord Advocate said that the other option would be reporting restrictions and that this would be preferable.

ADVERT

He said: “I am satisfied that, if reporting restrictions are competent, these would adequately protect the public interest in any future criminal proceedings.

“On that basis, that would clearly be the preferable and appropriate route, since it would enable the issues raised by the petition to be addressed whilst protecting any future criminal process.”

The Scottish Conservatives have lodged votes of no confidence in Swinney and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross said: “The limited documents that John Swinney has just published falls far short of the demands of the Scottish Parliament and of the Salmond inquiry.

“There is still nothing for the whole month of November.

“This is not good enough. End the secrecy and release all the legal advice.”


House parties ‘on the rise’ as Covid restrictions flouted

Calum Steele of the Scottish Police Federation said there had been an increase in non-compliance with Covid restrictions.

Pixabay via Pixabay
Covid: Non-compliance 'on the rise'.

Non-compliance with regulations put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, particularly indoor gatherings, is on the rise, the head of the Scottish Police Federation (SPF) has said.

Calum Steele, the general secretary of the body that represents rank and file officers, said more complaints were being made against certain people who “have had enough” of the restrictions.

But Mr Steele said he does not believe, despite recent statistics, people in cities are more likely to break the rules as opposed to those in more rural areas.

Following a question from Labour MSP Alex Rowley at the Covid-19 Committee on Thursday, Mr Steele said: “I think to some extent, we’re probably talking about house parties largely… but it actually reaches across the length and breadth of the country.

ADVERT

“There is an increase in general non-compliance with those specific restrictions.

“Those examples of non-compliance are increasing among a relatively small proportion of the population who have just decided that they’ve had enough and they no longer intend to play by the rules.”

Mr Rowley quoted a recent 12% spike in complaints made to police in Dundee, compared to last year, while the same figure in Perth and Kinross dropped by 11.8% alongside a 14.6% drop in Angus.

Mr Steele said “I’m not sure that’s an urban versus rural problem.

ADVERT

“I think there’s an inevitability that, by virtue of an appreciation that there are more police officers in our urban centres rather than our rural locations, that there is probably a greater expectation in our cities that if the public phone the police to attend to gatherings… the police will be there and probably more of a grudging acceptance that there’s probably no point in phoning the police in some of the more rural areas, because by the time they get there the whole thing will be finished.”

He added: “I’m not sure there’s anything particularly distinct in the psyche of those that live in our cities versus those that live in our rural communities about the levels of compliance.”

Mr Steele went on to say the population is struggling under “fatigue” from the restrictions, which on March 23 will have been in place in some form across the country for a year.

Over recent weeks, the Scottish Government has extended its testing regime to emergency service call-handlers, in an effort to ensure staff numbers don’t drop to dangerously low levels, a move which Mr Steele welcomes.

But he said more should be done to test frontline officers, who are regularly expected to deal with the public.

“There has been some improvement in terms of the ability to access testing, but generally it’s when officers are symptomatic or believe they’re symptomatic and the ability to request and access tests is available to them,” he told the committee.

“We don’t believe, as an organisation that goes far enough.”

ADVERT

He added: “There has been a legislative intent that police officers place themselves in these high risk situations that there should be a support mechanism and a safety mechanism to ensure that as a consequence of having done so that police officers are not exposed to the virus and thereafter taken it to others and exposing others to that virus as a consequence.”


Robbers attacked victim with stun gun and knife at ATM

Christopher McLeod was wounded in the back and knocked to the ground as Dawn Cullen and male accomplices assaulted him near a cashpoint.

STV News
Cullen was unanimously convicted of the offence and McCreadie was also found guilty of the crime on a majority verdict of a jury at the High Court in Edinburgh.

A woman who took part in a terrifying early morning attack on a man with a stun gun and a knife near a cashpoint machine has been jailed for five years.

Christopher McLeod was wounded in the back and knocked to the ground as Dawn Cullen and male accomplices assaulted him.

The robbers repeatedly discharged the stun gun into his body after they confronted him with demands for money, his bank card and its PIN  number in the street attack.

Mr McLeod, then aged 26, was found bleeding heavily by police who went to his aid in Edinburgh and said he had been assaulted by a woman and males.

ADVERT

The attack victim was taken for treatment and found to have stab wounds to his lower back which were cleaned and closed with skin staples.

Cullen, 36, of Murrayburn Park, Edinburgh, and her co-accused prisoner Keith McCreadie, 36, had denied assaulting and robbing Mr McLeod on October 7 in 2019 at the city’s Morvenside Close, in Wester Hailes.

But Cullen was unanimously convicted of the offence and McCreadie was also found guilty of the crime on a majority verdict of a jury at the High Court in Edinburgh following a trial last month.

Sentence had been deferred for the court to obtain background reports on the pair.

ADVERT

On Thursday, shortly before McCreadie received a seven-year long jail term, judge Lord Beckett told the duo that jail was the only option available to them.

Passing sentence, Lord Beckett said: “This was a serious example of an offence of assault to injury to robbery.

“For such a serious offence and to deter any other person from committing such egregious crimes, I must pass an appropriate sentence. 

“There is no suitable alternative to custody.”

The duo were accused of assaulting Mr McLeod while acting with another by making threats, repeatedly punching him on the head and striking him with a knife.

They also fired the stun gun at him before knocking him to the ground to his severe injury and permanent disfigurement and robbing him of money, a bank card and bus pass.

Cullen was also convicted of illegally possessing the stun gun and assaulting Heather Hughes, 30, at Morvenside Close on October 7 in 2019 by chasing her and brandishing the prohibited weapon.

ADVERT

The court heard that DNA from Cullen was found on a knife recovered by police from a nearby garden following the attack. She was also picked out as the woman who took part in the assault close to a Scotmid store, which has an ATM machine, during identification procedures.

CCTV which featured an audio recording was examined by forensic scientists who said that on three occasions distinct sounds could be heard which were consistent with that produced by a stun gun when it is operated in the open air.

One witness said he heard an attacker tell the victim that if he did not give details of his PIN he would be put in the boot of a car and saw him getting “Tasered”.

DC Jacqueline Grant, 43, who listened to the soundtrack on the CCTV said she heard a male voice ask: “Do you want Tasered?” as well as crackling sounds and groaning.

She told prosecutor Lisa Gillespie QC that an eight to ten inch long knife was found after the attack and blood was on a wall.

Following the convictions defence counsel Kenneth Cloggie,  said Cullen was in remission from cancer but still had regular appointments.

The court heard McCreadie has previously been jailed for assault and robbery and his counsel Tim Niven-Smith said he acknowledged that a “substantial” custodial sentence was inevitable in his case.


Refugees in Scotland ‘struggling’ with isolation during pandemic

But strong friendships have proven to be a vital lifeline for families throughout lockdown.

STV News

Having fled fear and fighting to seek safety in Scotland during a pandemic has left many refugees at breaking point, a study has revealed.

While isolation and loneliness have affected people across the nation, a study has revealed those who have come to Scotland in the hope of building a better life have been given little support.

Waffa Alkiwfi and her family fled Syria after fearing for the lives of her children because of fighting, power cuts and no running water.

The family found safety in Dundee, found work, made friends and were learning the language – then coronavirus struck – cutting them off from most support.

Waffa Alkiwfi and her family fled Syria after fearing for their lives (STV)
ADVERT

Ms Alkiwfi said: “When we were first locked down it was very hard. I felt lonely and sad, not seeing my friends and going to city centre.

“I miss seeing people’s smiles. It’s more difficult to understand in English with people wearing masks.”

Mechanic Khaldoon Al Khayyit and his wife Faten Basher fled war torn Iraq, where lockdowns were part of life.

He told STV News: “It’s not different because when we were in Iraq there was militia and the same problem we stay in our house ten days maybe 20 days, the same problem, the same scare we can’t go outside.”

Faten Basher and her husband Khaldoon Al Khayyit (STV)
ADVERT

Research by Queen Margaret University has revealed the pressures of the pandemic has pushed many refugees to the brink. 

Dr Alison Strang, author of the report, said: “The combination of the isolation and the lack of hope and the lack of opportunity to move on with your life is a recipe for really acute despair and poor mental health.

“For neglected population groups, such as refugees and asylum seekers, who have experienced significant disruption in their lives, this sense of ‘life hanging in the balance’ during a time of social isolation, can become unbearable.

“But many refugees, against the odds, are managing to keep the hope going, keep the family going.”

“But many refugees, against the odds, are managing to keep the hope going, keep the family going.”

Dr Alison Strang

The friends the families have made in Scotland have been a lifeline during lockdown.

Ms Basher said: “I have a friend Joyce. She helps me and I speak with my neighbour. In the morning when I open the window I speak with him a lot.”

William Scotland, the couple’s neighbour, said: “I have been helping him to speak English and he’s been helping me to speak some Arabic.”

ADVERT

Through volunteering, Ms Alkiwfi struck up a strong friendship with Anne Singleton – the families are now inseparable.

Ms Singleton said: “She would do anything for anybody. She’s really talented. She’s an amazing cook.

“She cooks me and my sister and our families an amazing carry out every Friday night which is wonderful. It’s just been an absolute joy to meet her so I feel very lucky.”

Despite losing so much in their lives these refugees say they are also lucky and, like so many, are looking forward to lockdown lifting and playing their part in the country they now call home.

The Chief Scientist Office Rapid Research into COVID-19 fund allowed research money to be made quickly available near the start of the pandemic to progress the Queen Margaret University research.

‘Urgent action needed’ to meet climate change goals

MSPs say the Scottish Government should set out a timescale for retiring new hybrid vehicles.

Tetra Images via Getty Images
Climate change: Urgent action needed.

Urgent action is needed to ensure Scotland’s climate change targets are met, several committees of MSPs have said, including a timescale for phasing out new hybrid cars.

In addition to phasing out the need for new diesel and petrol cars by 2030, the MSPs say the Scottish Government should set out a timescale for retiring new hybrid vehicles as drivers move to all-electric transport.

Four Holyrood committees published their recommendations for meeting emissions targets on Thursday.

In December, the Scottish Government set out its updated climate change plan, including a target to reduce the distance travelled in car journeys by 20% by 2030.

ADVERT

It urged a shift towards electric cars, but the Connectivity Committee said hybrid cars should be included in the phase-out as well as traditional petrol and diesel vehicles.

MSPs on the committee also voiced concerns about constraints on electric vehicle charging by the capacity of the electricity grid and said urgent improvements were needed.

Other committees called for more clarity on how targets would be met and the methods for measuring progress.

The Local Government Committee said the implementation of zero-emission heating should be brought forward.

ADVERT

Their recommendations come ahead of the Cop26 conference in Glasgow later this year, described as the most important gathering on climate change since the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Environment Committee convenor Gillian Martin said: “Scotland has committed to ambitious climate change targets and it is critical that for this ambition to be realised, the Scottish Government acts with the utmost urgency upon the recommendations we have made, across all four committees, today.

“The pandemic has shown that we can act boldly and at pace in the face of a crisis.

“Climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity today and our response to it must reflect that.”

The Economy Committee also published its recommendations.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland has the most ambitious climate legislation in the world and our Climate Change Plan update sets out the policies that will be introduced, boosted or accelerated to help us meet them and to support our green recovery from the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

“The update sets us on a pathway to deliver our targets up to 2032 and contribute to a just transition to net zero, but we have been clear that this journey will not be easy.

ADVERT

“We know there are factors we can’t control, including technological advances and the limits of devolved power. We will need to be innovative, to learn as we go and utilise new and exciting technologies. We also need the UK Government to act in key reserved areas like decarbonising the gas grid and reforming transmission charges.

“The update to the Climate Change Plan represents an important step in this journey and sets the direction for other upcoming strategies, but it is by no means the end of the story. We will continue to develop our approach as we learn by doing and listen to expert advice – including that to come shortly from the Just Transition Commission.

“We are grateful to the committees for their engagement and scrutiny and will consider their recommendations on the updated plan as we move to the implementation phase.”


Duke of Edinburgh has ‘successful’ heart procedure

Prince Philip, 99, underwent the procedure for a pre-existing heart condition.

Adrian Dennis via Getty Images
The Duke of Edinburgh has been in hospital for treatment.

The Duke of Edinburgh has undergone a “successful” procedure for a pre-existing heart condition, Buckingham Palace has said.

Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband, will remain in hospital for treatment, rest and recuperation for a number of days.

The 99-year-old has been in hospital for two weeks, having also been treated for an infection.

Buckingham Palace said in a statement: “The Duke of Edinburgh yesterday underwent a successful procedure for a pre-existing heart condition at St Bartholomew’s Hospital.

ADVERT

“His Royal Highness will remain in hospital for treatment, rest and recuperation for a number of days.”


Sturgeon was ‘very good’ but lacked detail, says Baillie

Scottish Labour's deputy leader praised the First Minister's performance before a Holyrood committee but said more information is needed.

Scottish Labour via Jackie Baillie MSP
Nicola Sturgeon appeared at the Holyrood committee into the Government’s unlawful investigation of former first minister Alex Salmond.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie said Nicola Sturgeon put in a “very good performance” at the Holyrood committee into the Government’s unlawful investigation of former first minister Alex Salmond but suggested detail was lacking.

Baillie, a member of the committee, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “As I expected I thought Nicola Sturgeon put in a very good performance. It was very polished, as we’ve come to expect of her.

“But in the torrent of words that were exchanged over the eight hours I’m not sure that in some areas where we needed quite specific detailed answers that we actually got them.”

Asked to say more about those areas and if she has all the background information she needs, Baillie said: “I mean that genuinely is part of the problem. In my 22 years in Parliament, I have never been so obstructed, unable to do my job, as I have been on this committee.

ADVERT

“And in part that’s down to the Scottish Government. We have consistently asked them for information, which they say they will provide, we get it six months late.

“And in the case of legal advice, it’s taken two parliamentary votes and endless letters to try and get them to actually hand it over, and they only did so at six o’clock before the committee meeting.”

She said not all the legal advice was handed over, meaning that questions about “key bits of the process” still cannot be asked.


SFA and UEFA in talks over Euro 2020 Hampden matches

Scottish football's governing body hopes 'as many fans as possible' can attend fixtures scheduled to take place in Glasgow.

Rob Casey via SNS Group
Hampden is scheduled to host four matches at Euro 2020.

The Scottish Football Association says it remains in talks with UEFA about Hampden hosting four matches at this summer’s European Championship.

Scottish football’s governing body released a statement on Thursday, saying it hopes that “as many fans as possible” can attend the fixtures scheduled to take place in Glasgow.

It comes after sources told The Associated Press that Bilbao, Dublin and Glasgow are at risk of being dropped over the lack of guarantees about the number of fans that could be allowed into stadiums by June

They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the situation ahead of a looming deadline for UEFA to receive the plans from host countries.

ADVERT

A Scottish FA spokesperson: “We remain in constant dialogue with UEFA and Scottish Government regarding the co-hosting of the tournament in Scotland, given the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We will continue these discussions to ensure as many fans as possible can enjoy the four matches at Hampden Park.

“We also note UEFA’s re-stated commitment to holding Euro 2020 across the 12 European cities, with no other plans being pursued, and will continue to work towards UEFA’s submission deadline of April 7.”

Sports venues in England will be able to welcome spectators back on a limited basis from May 17 under Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s recovery plan.

ADVERT

The target of June 21 to lift all restrictions comes midway through the rearranged Euro 2020 finals, and the day before England are due to face the Czech Republic at Wembley.

But the Scottish Government has not fixed any such dates for the return of spectators to stadiums.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she hopes to remove the stay at home requirement by April 5 and then, at least three weeks later, Scotland will return to geographically variable levels.

UEFA has an executive committee scheduled for April 19, where it is possible decisions on whether to withdraw hosting rights from one or more cities could be taken.

The 12 hosts will be asked to effectively make a minimum guarantee on capacity limits by April 7 and UEFA anticipates the cities will wait until the last moment to commit themselves to a position.

They will be asked to consider the most realistic of four scenarios, ranging from a 100 per cent capacity venue to playing behind closed doors.

You're up to date

You've read today's top stories. Where would you like to go next?