Salmond inquiry ‘cannot proceed due to obstruction’

Convener Linda Fabiani said the committee is 'completely frustrated with the lack of evidence' it has received.

SNP: Nicola Sturgeon with husband and party chief exec Peter Murrell. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
SNP: Nicola Sturgeon with husband and party chief exec Peter Murrell.

The Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against Alex Salmond “simply cannot proceed” due to “obstruction”, its convener has said.

SNP MSP Linda Fabiani said the special committee is “completely frustrated with the lack of evidence” it has received.

The inquiry is hampered by written responses “still outstanding” from the Scottish Government, from SNP chief executive Peter Murrell – husband of Nicola Sturgeon – and from Salmond himself, she said.

The committee has met in private with no new oral witnesses for the last two weeks and will be forced to do so again next Tuesday, Fabiani added.

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It had been hoping to hear further oral evidence from the likes of Mr Murrell as well as the First Minister and her predecessor.

Police Scotland launched a probe earlier this month after apparent WhatsApp messages from Mr Murrell which discuss “pressurising” police over the Salmond case.

Sent at the start of the year, around the time criminal proceedings were beginning against the former FM, Sturgeon’s husband also allegedly suggested London’s Metropolitan Police should open a second investigation into Salmond’s conduct.

Mr Murrell’s message reportedly read: “The more fronts he is having to firefight on the better for all complainers.”

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The messages were revealed by East Lothian MP and Salmond ally Kenny MacAskill, who says he was leaked them anonymously.

The Holyrood inquiry has already heard evidence under oath twice from permanent secretary Leslie Evans as well as speaking to former permanent secretary Sir Peter Housden and trade union representatives.

In a statement on Tuesday, Fabiani said: “The committee continues to be completely frustrated with the lack of evidence and, quite frankly, obstruction it is experiencing.

“We had hoped to be in a position to hear further oral evidence, but with responses still outstanding from the Scottish Government, chief executive of the SNP and the former First Minister, all of this means that we simply cannot proceed at this stage.” 

The convener added: “We have no choice but to meet in private again next week to review the evidence we have received to date.

“But I would urge all those we have approached to engage productively with the committee so it can get on with the task in hand.”

Committee member and Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie went further, suggesting the inquiry is becoming a “laughing stock”.

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She went on: “It is all too clear that the government’s commitment to transparency was little more than a bad joke and that they are determined to prevent the committee from executing its vital task. 

“The Scottish Government and, indeed, many others involved in this affair have demonstrated contempt for this committee and its aims. 

“The secrecy must end and the Scottish Government and others must stop treating elected representatives as annoyances.”

The committee has previously complained of the government failing to meet deadlines to provide evidence and heavily redacting or simply not including key files.

Scottish ministers say this is due to legal restrictions.

The inquiry was set up in early 2019 after the Court of Session ruled the way the Scottish Government dealt with harassment complaints against Salmond was “unlawful”, “procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias”.

The Scottish Government was forced to pay the former First Minister more than £512,000 in damages.

The claims were made in 2018 – shortly after the Scottish Government changed its complaints procedure – but dated back to Salmond’s time in Bute House in 2013.

While not directly related, it went on to trigger Police Scotland’s separate investigation into the former First Minister, and ultimately, a criminal trial.

Salmond was cleared of 13 charges of sexual offences by a jury in the High Court in March.

Murder probe launched into death of teenager at railway station

Justin McLaughlin, 14, died following an incident at High Street station in Glasgow on Saturday afternoon.

Police Scotland

Police have launched a murder inquiry following the death of a 14-year-old boy at a Glasgow railway station.

Justin McLaughlin was found seriously injured at High Street train station after being attacked with a knife at around 3.45pm on Saturday, October 16.

He was taken to the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead a short time later.

An extensive investigation into Justin’s death is under way and police are appealing to members of the public to assist with their enquiries.

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Detective chief inspector Brian Geddes, of Police Scotland’s major investigation team and the senior investigating officer, said: “Our thoughts very much remain with Justin’s family and friends. His family have asked for their privacy to be respected at this very difficult time, and they are being supported by specialist officers.

“Although enquiries are at an early stage, what we do know is that an incident took place at High Street train station and we are sure that there will be people who may have witnessed something in the lead up to this.

“The area would have been busy with members of the public and commuters and we are urging those who have any information, no matter how small, to get in contact with police.”

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James McParland, Justin’s headmaster at St Ambrose High School in Coatbridge, paid tribute to the teenager and said pupils will be given additional support upon their return to school on Monday.

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Mr McPartland said: “The community of St Ambrose High School is shocked and saddened by the death of Justin McLaughlin.

“Justin was a valued member of our community and his loss will be felt by staff and pupils alike.

“Our prayers and thoughts are with his family and friends, and additional pastoral support will be available to young people within the school on their return on Monday morning.”

Detectives have set up an online portal to encourage members of the public to submit information.

The Major Incident Public Portal (MIPP) is a website that gives the public access to a form so they can send information directly to the major incident teams based at the Scottish Crime Campus:

Detective inspector Marc Francey, of British Transport Police, said: “This was a shocking act of violence in broad daylight, which has seen a boy tragically lose his life.

“We are working closely with Police Scotland and doing all we can to find those responsible, and I would urge any witnesses, or anyone who was in the area at the time and saw anything suspicious, to contact us as soon as possible.

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“We will also be increasing our uniformed patrols in the local area in the coming days to help reassure the travelling public.”

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Police Scotland can be contacted by calling 101 and quoting incident number 2280 of Saturday October 16. 

BTP can also be contacted by texting 61016 or calling 0800 40 50 40 quoting reference 394 of 16/10/21.

Alternatively, you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

More on:

Two children in critical condition after motorway crash

Two women and a man were also seriously injured in the crash on the M8 on Sunday morning.

Police Scotland
Crash: Two children are in a critical condition and three adults seriously injured following collision.

Two children are in hospital in a critical condition after a motorway crash in West Lothian.

Police said the incident, which involved a Ford Focus and a Volkswagen Golf, happened on the M8 at junction 4, near Whitburn, at around 9.50am on Sunday.

A woman, a man and two children who were in the Ford were seriously injured and taken to the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh and the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People.

The children, aged six and 14, are in a critical condition.

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The female driver of the Volkswagen Golf was taken to University Hospital Wishaw with serious injuries.

The road reopened at 2.35pm.

Sergeant Jennifer Forbes said: “We’re asking for anyone who witnessed the collision or has any potential dashcam footage of the cars involved to please come forward.

“If you believe you can assist our investigation, please call 101, quoting incident 1158 of October 17.”


Former Scottish Labour MP Ernie Ross dies aged 79

Mr Ross, who was the MP for Dundee West from 1979 until 2005, died on Sunday.

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Death: Tributes paid to former MP Ernie Ross.

Former Labour MP Ernie Ross has died at the age of 79.

Mr Ross, who was the MP for Dundee West from 1979 until 2005, died on Sunday in the city.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar paid tribute, saying Mr Ross was a “passionate voice against injustice, not just in Dundee but across the world”.

He added: “Whether campaigning to save the local dental hospital or for human rights abroad, he knew the importance of using the privilege afforded to him by politics to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves.

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“Across the parliament and the Labour Party he was a trusted confidante, adviser and friend.

“My thoughts and the thoughts of the entire Scottish Labour family are with June, his beloved family and his many friends.”

Michael Marra , shadow cabinet secretary for education and skills, said the former Dundee MP was “utterly devoted to his family”.

He wrote on Twitter: “He and June were such good friends to my wife and I and to so many in the party. Always full of encouragement and advice. A very good man who I loved dearly and who I will always miss. RIP.”


Fisherman missing after failing to return from boat trip

Joe Masson left his home in Fraserburgh at 10am on Saturday to go out on his creel boat.

Police Scotland
Missing: Joe Masson has not been seen for more than 24 hours.

A fisherman has gone missing after failing to return home following a trip on his creel boat in Aberdeenshire. 

Joe Masson left his home in Fraserburgh at 10am on Saturday to go out on his boat and was last seen around 1.30pm on board the vessel from Cairnbulg Harbour, Cairnbulg.

The 73-year-old’s family reported him missing after he failed to return home later that day and a search involving police, HMS Coastguard, the MOD and the RNLI has been ongoing to trace him.

Inspector Mark Young from Ellon Police Station said: “We have had significant resources in the area searching for Mr Masson, including the Coastguard helicopter, and search activity will continue in the meantime.

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“The harbour is popular with fishermen and local walkers and I am keen to hear from anyone who was in the area between 10am and 6pm yesterday who may have seen Mr Masson or his blue creel boat ‘Goodway FR23’

“Please call Police Scotland on 101 quoting reference number 3854 of Saturday October 16 2021 if you have seen Mr Masson or have any information that will assist officers with their enquiries.”


Pupils eligible for free school meals ‘should be given food packages’

Families in Midlothian have been given money to help buy packed lunches due to a lack of hot school meals.

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Plea: Councillor urges for families to be given food packages rather than cash.

Families of primary school children who are still missing out on hot school meals should be given food packages rather than cash to support them, a councillor has said.

Hot meals are still off the menu for older primary school children in Midlothian with the local authority giving families who qualify for free meals cash to buy their own packed lunches.

However councillor Kelly Parry has become so concerned by the situation she contacted the cabinet secretary for education Shirley-Anne Somerville MSP seeking advice.

She has urged the council’s chief executive Grace Vickers to take onboard the advice from the MSP, who said local authorities need to step in and provide food not money to families who are struggling to find nutritious meals.

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Councillor Parry said: “I have been contacted by so many families who are concerned about the lack of hot school meals being provided to their children.

“It is so difficult and stressful for many parents, some of whom are working two jobs, to find the food items they need to make sure their children have a proper lunch.

“The supermarket shelves are not well stocked at the moment and costs are rising making it hard to shop for items.

“I would go so far as to say it is a breach of children’s human rights and a national scandal that Midlothian is not providing balanced and nutritious meals in the way other local authorities are doing.”

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At a council meeting last month Midlothian Council’s executive director Kevin Anderson said plans were in place to reintroduce a hot meal option across all ages in October, telling councillors: “It is restricted to a large extent by the school estate and social distancing. There are some restrictions that we still want to apply.”

However councillor Parry said parents whose children qualify for free school meals have received payment to buy packed lunches up to the end of October suggesting the council has missed its deadline.

She raised concerns about the fact only P1 to P4 youngsters were receiving hot school meals across the county while P5 to P7 children entitled to a free meal were receiving payments to buy packed lunches.

Neighbouring East Lothian Council opened its dining halls in primary schools at the start of September but Midlothian primary schools are still serving lunches to P1 to P4 in their classrooms.

Councillor Parry said when she asked officials if money was being saved by not serving hot school meals to older children, she did not receive any “clarity”.

She said: “I would not like to think they are balancing the books over children’s nutritional needs.”

A Midlothian Council spokesperson said moves were underway to reintroduce hot meals for older children.

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They said: “The education service is working closely with the council’s catering service on a phased re-opening of our school dining halls after the October break.

“Parents and carers will be informed by their child’s school as to when the school lunch service in dining halls will reopen after the October break.

“Payments will continue to be paid to parents and carers of P5 to P7 pupils eligible for free school meals until the service resumes.

“In the meantime though, P1s to P4s continue to be offered free school lunches, including a hot meal option, which they are having in classrooms.”

Reporting by Local Democracy Reporter Marie Sharp


Harry Potter trolley appears at Waverley train station

Fans will be able to recreate the moment the young wizard discovered Platform 9 ¾.

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Harry Potter: Trolley appears in Edinburgh to celebrate 20 years since the first movie's release.

A magical trolley has appeared at Edinburgh Waverley station to celebrate 20 years since the premiere of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Fans will be able to recreate the moment the young wizard rushes through the magical wall to discover Platform 9 ¾ and the Hogwarts Express.

The trolley, which is a symbol of the gateway between the ‘Muggle’ and wizarding world, is usually situated on the concourse of King’s Cross Station and is visited every year by more than two million people.

The installation will be available at Edinburgh Waverley for Harry Potter fans to visit until October 18 before heading to Birmingham, Cardiff, Belfast and Dublin.

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Harry Potter fans gathered at the unveiling of the trolley in Edinburgh on Saturday and were delighted to recreate the magical moment for themselves. 

Alex McKenzie, 27, said: “I have been a huge Harry Potter fan from since I can remember so it feels great to be a part of the 20th anniversary celebrations. 

“The trolley is such a classic scene from the films and recreating it here has been magical”

Seven-year-old Jenna Marshall added: “Posing with the trolley was just like I was actually going to go to Hogwarts. I felt so excited, it was so realistic!”

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The trolley tour was launched to thank the fan community for their support over the past two decades and help them capture their own version of this iconic moment from the first film.

The official 20th Anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone will be celebrated on November 16.


Pensioner dies at scene of early morning house fire

The 79-year-old man died following the blaze on Finavon Terrace, Dundee on Sunday morning.

© Google Maps 2020
Death: Man dies following early morning house fire.

A pensioner has died following a house fire in Dundee.

Emergency services were called to the blaze at a property on Finavon Terrace around 7.20am on Sunday. 

A 79-year-old man died at the scene. 

The Scottish Fire and Rescue service extinguished the fire and enquiries into the cause of the blaze are ongoing. 

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A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “We received a report around 7.20am on Sunday October 17 of a fire at a property in Finavon Terrace, Dundee.

“Emergency services attended. A 79-year-old man sadly died at the scene.

“The fire was extinguished by the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and enquiries into the cause of the fire are ongoing.”


Councillors back plans for new service station near A90

The proposed facility near Laurencekirk would feature retail outlets, a restaurant and a hotel.

© Google Maps 2020
Service station: Councillors back plans for the facility near Laurencekirk.

Councillors have backed plans to build a new service station near Laurencekirk, paving the way for the creation of 30 new jobs.

A J Developments had applied to Aberdeenshire Council seeking planning permission in principle for the facility.

The development, to be located next to the A90/A937 junction, is expected to include retail units, a restaurant, a ten-bay petrol station and a 100-bed hotel.

The initial proposal states the site would also feature a children’s play area, toilets and parking as well as charging for electric vehicles.

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The development is expected to create 30 new jobs.

The addition of two drive-thru restaurants and a drive-thru coffee shop to the site had also been proposed, however these plans were later removed.

The new development will be constructed separately to the Scottish Government’s A90/A937 Junction Improvement Scheme.

Mearns Community Council supported the application but raised concerns over “safe” pedestrian access to Denlethen Wood and the diversion of vehicles should an accident occur on the A90.

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Council planners recommended the plan be approved stating the proposed hotel would “cater for a gap in the current market” following the closure of facilities in and around Laurencekirk over recent years.

They also said the development could be constructed “without detriment” to the character of the surrounding area and would provide “clear public economic benefits” by creating local jobs.

At Tuesday’s meeting councillor George Carr moved a motion in support of the application and said he believes the new facility would help the town and wider area.

He said: “The 100-bed hotel could well be a great advantage for the Mearns, it provides an anchor for people to stop off then forage out to support and enjoy other businesses and communities that would greatly benefit from this development.”

Provost Bill Howatson backed the motion and the committee agreed to refer the application to the Infrastructure Services Committee for determination.

Reporting by Local Democracy Reporter Kirstie Topp


Barclays set to reveal £1.6bn profits with more Covid cash released

The bank set aside £3.7bn as a rainy day fund last year and released £742m earlier this year.

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Barclays is set to reveal a rise in profits next week.

Barclays is set to reveal a rise in profits next week driven by a buoyant investment banking division and the release of bad loan provisions set aside due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The bank set aside £3.7bn as a rainy day fund last year and released £742m earlier this year. Investors will be looking to see how much more will be released on Thursday as the economy recovers.

Bosses revealed a strong profit rebound when they updated the City on the first six months of the year in July, recording pre-tax profits of £5bn against just £1.3bn in the same period in 2020.

Analysts are expecting the group to post profits of £1.6bn in the three months to October against £1.1bn made a year ago.

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Between July and October last year, the bank took further bad loan provisions of £608m to cover itself from any Covid-19 losses.

The City is expecting the release of these funds to provide a boost to profits for the same period this year, although how much remains uncertain.

Sophie Lund-Yates, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said: “Last year, the group put aside swathes of money in case customers defaulted on payments, but these provisions are being unwound – which helped profits substantially in the first half.

“It’s a short-term tailwind, but one which we think will have continued into this quarter.”

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But she warned that low interest rates will continue to drag on the profitability of Barclays’ loans.

Russ Mould and Danni Hewson, financial analysts at AJ Bell, said the performance of the investment bank would also be scrutinised closely by analysts and investors.

They said: “The unit had a good first half, generating £3.4bn of pre-tax profit against £2.2bn in the prior period in 2020, helped by active bond and equity markets, plenty of primary and secondary equity market activity and a good dollop of mergers and acquisitions on top.”

Analysts expect the division to post profits of £1.8bn for the period between July and October.

The pair also said that shareholders will be looking for any update on when Barclays’ chief executive may stand down after churn in the management team in the last year.

They said: “There have been hints that boss Jes Staley may leave by the end of 2021, especially after a reshuffle of management heads at this time a year ago.”

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