Unexplained: What happens when families and police disagree on cause of death?

Norah Connelly and Stephanie Bonner have become firm friends since the deaths of their sons - and they want answers.

The sudden death of a child is unimaginable.

But two mothers believe they are living through something even more painful — not knowing why their sons never came home.

Norah Connelly and Stephanie Bonner have become friends; bonded by the shared tragedy of losing their beloved boys in circumstances they fear may never be explained.

Trainee chef Johnny Connelly, who had mild learning difficulties, was walking home from work when he disappeared. A week later, the 28-year-old’s body was recovered from a canal.

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Two days after Johnny’s death, 19-year-old “gentle giant” Rhys Bonner was reported missing. His half-naked body was found in marshland a fortnight later.

Norah and Stephanie are convinced some people know what happened and have vowed to never give up until they get justice for their sons.

With the first anniversary of their deaths this month, the grieving mums spoke with Kelly-Ann Woodland for a Scotland Tonight report to be broadcast on STV at 7.30pm on Thursday.

Stephanie said: “He was a big gentle giant. He loved life. I’ve got his ashes but I’m never going to do anything with them until I’ve got answers.”

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Norah said: “Help me get a wee bit of closure. If my son’s death had been an illness or an accident, I could grieve naturally. But I can’t grieve until I get some peace in my heart.”

Rhys Bonner, 19 years old

Disappeared: July 24, 2019 from Barlanark, Glasgow.

Body found: August 8, in marshland three miles away.

Death certificate: “Unascertained”

Rhys Bonner’s badly decomposed remains were found semi-submerged in marshland on the outskirts of Glasgow’s east end. He had no obvious reason to be there. He had no shoes or socks on and was naked from the waist down.

Mum Stephanie believes someone was either directly responsible for killing Rhys, was involved in somehow causing his death or, at least, knows what happened.

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She and her family are highly critical of Police Scotland and have made an official complaint.

Rhys Bonner’s family have been highly critical of the police.

When Rhys did not return home, Stephanie discovered he was last seen in the company of an older woman.

His family reported Rhys missing — and shared their concerns — but felt Police Scotland were dismissive. A year later, the family’s opinion has sunk even further. All trust has gone.

Using their own initiative, the family secured CCTV of Rhys and learned he had been with the woman a few miles north of their home in Barlanark.

A witness spotted them on a path behind modern, red-brick houses on Blacader Drive in Gartloch Village, which is set in a semi-rural swathe of green on the map, belying its proximity to the inner city.

The family couldn’t convince police to search with sniffer dogs or a helicopter. Instead, they and friends mobilised to comb the dense, waterlogged expanse.

Stephanie Bonner visited the site where Rhys’ body was found.

Around a week after going missing, items of Rhys’s clothing were found in the marshland but another week passed until a police drone spotted his bright yellow Celtic top in a cluster of trees.

Stephanie said: “They found his clothes and a trainer was up a tree. Then they found a sock. Then they found his other trainer and then his jogging trousers.

“How did they not find his body until a week later? Did they not search in the same area to find him that day?”

When Rhys left home he had been wearing a baseball cap. The family found it in the women’s close and handed it to police who, they say, appeared uninterested.

In their complaint, the family allege the police failed to conduct basic enquiries, before and after his body was found, and did not publicly appeal for witnesses.

For weeks, Stephanie’s parents gathered to lay flowers at the spot where they had been led to believe Rhys was found — until a local resident approached them.

The resident had filmed phone footage of four police marine unit officers in distinctive red uniforms using ropes to remove Rhys’s remains.

Not only was the clip hugely distressing, the family realised their floral tributes were 800 feet from where his body had actually been found.

Stephanie said: “A concerned neighbour said ‘the police are showing you the wrong bit; your mum and dad are laying flowers and we just feel so sorry’.

“Every time I go to bed, that’s all I see at night, that’s my son, my wee child. It’s just devastating.”

Stephanie believes the police prematurely dismissed Rhys’s death as non-suspicious and, having done so, any potential evidence of criminality was lost forever. It also means they cannot back down.

She said: “They said it wasn’t criminal — they said that straight away. I was trying to figure out how they’re saying it’s not criminal. And when the video came, I said that’s how it’s not been criminal, because they’ve not acted, they’ve not tried to get any evidence.

“It doesn’t matter what happened to Rhys, they weren’t going to do anything about it.”

This apparent misinformation about the location of where Rhys’s was found, the “disrespectful” treatment of his body and alleged failures to secure evidence are central to the family’s complaint.

Stephanie, aged 17 when Rhys was born, says he was a “family boy” who loved basketball and would often go shopping for her and take his wee sisters to the park.

He was tall and handsome, but scared of spiders and the dark. Stephanie says he would never have gone into the area where he was found.

For Scotland Tonight, Stephanie made her first visit to where Rhys was found and appealed to anyone with information, adding: “Just don’t be scared. Please come forward and just tell me anything at all, it doesn’t matter if it’s just a wee thing.”

Chief inspector Patrick Murphy says Rhys’s death was “fully investigated” with “no criminality” established and that a report was submitted to the Crown Office.

He added: “We are in regular contact with his family to keep them updated on any new information and keeping them fully informed is a priority for us.

“A complaint about the police has been received from Rhys’s mother which is under consideration by our Professional Standards Department, therefore we are unable to comment further at this stage.”

Johnny Connelly, 28 years old

Disappeared: July 15, 2019, from Glasgow city centre

Body found: July 22, in canal on route home.

Death certificate: Blank

When Norah Connelly gets up each day she has a chat with her son Johnny, who died one year ago.

She told Scotland Tonight: “Every morning I wake up and look at Johnny’s photo and say ‘maybe today’s the day we’re going to get justice Johnny’.”

The trainee chef, kids’ football coach and amateur goalkeeper had gone into Glasgow city centre one evening last July to ask his boss about overdue wages.

Having left with an assurance his pay would be deposited in the bank, he had no option but to walk home to Milton in north Glasgow.

When he did not return to Norah that night, she instinctively knew something had happened. A week spent anxiously watching every stopping bus was in vain. Then came the devastating confirmation from a police officer.

Johnny Connelly with his twin sister Norah and elder sister Michelle.

Johnny’s body was found in the canal beside the Speirs Wharf, a residential development at Port Dundas, perched above the M8 motorway and central Glasgow.

The following month, Police Scotland appealed for information, saying they believe he was injured during “an incident” in an underpass at nearby Garscube Road. They later said there may have been “some sort of altercation”.

Such was her devastation, Norah says she “wanted to jump in” to the canal, adding: “I thought my life was over. I wanted to be with my boy. Johnny had been with me for 28 years.”

Norah says that due to his learning difficulties Johnny was vulnerable, with little sense of danger. She said: “Because he was such a nice person, he thought everybody was like him. He was very trusting.”

For three months, the authorities withheld Johnny’s body before finally allowing his family to lay him to rest.

Last week, on the first anniversary of his disappearance, Norah visited the canal for the first time since the funeral. Joined by family and friends, she laid flowers and wept.

A friend gifted her a DVD in which Johnny plays Greg Hemphill’s character Victor McDade in a college production of sitcom Still Game.

Norah, who had never before seen her son’s comedy acting, said: “I’m gong to treasure that.”

Norah Connelly and Stephanie Bonner have formed a bond.

Speaking after the emotional gathering under dark grey skies, she said: “I feel as if my son’s not at peace because he knows his ma’s not at peace. And maybe when I’m at peace and get to know what’s happened, my son will get peace.”

In January this year, police released new information in a fresh public appeal. They said three white men, aged 30 to 45 and wearing jeans and sports clothing, could have “vital information”.

Norah does not know if Johnny was attacked and fell into the canal while trying to escape or whether he was assaulted then thrown in.

She added: “I believe the people who were involved knew he was in that water and they’ve left him there. They’ve never phoned any emergency services. They’ve just walked away.

“I hope they have nightmares about it because I have nightmares of my son lying in that canal for a week.”

Unlike the family of Rhys Bonner, she is mostly satisfied with the police response, singling out a sergeant who attended Johnny’s funeral while off duty and left flowers at a memorial bench.

However, she struggles to understand why a blank space remains on his death certificate.

She said: “They can’t tell me how my son died. I can’t get my head around how this day and age a pathologist can’t tell how somebody died. I’m left in limbo.”

She hoped to learn more at a meeting with Crown Office officials and police officers on March 31. But it was cancelled due to coronavirus lockdown and is due to be rescheduled.

Many people have struggled with lockdown. For Norah, it was “a total nightmare”. She said: “I was sitting in that house for three months on my own with the mental torture because I’ve not got any answers.”

She and her two daughters remain cautiously optimistic that a breakthrough will come one day.

She said: “I keep praying for a miracle that somebody comes forward with information because I do believe that whatever happened to Johnny has been spoken about. There are people who do know and I plead with them — please come forward.

“I could be your mother sitting her today. Your mother would want justice for you. It’s a living hell. He was a good boy who never deserved that.”

Radiating maternal love and pride, she added: “He’ll never be forgotten. Johnny touched a lot of people’s hearts when he was living and he’s still touching people’s hearts today. That’s the kind of boy he was. Once you met him you never forgot him.”

Police Scotland say their investigation is ongoing. Detective Inspector John Morrison added: “A team of officers continues to work on the John Connelly inquiry and we are in close contact with his family, who are kept up to date with any relevant developments.”


Coronavirus: 44 deaths and 788 new cases in past 24 hours

Another 77 people with recently confirmed Covid-19 are in intensive care and 1077 are being treated in hospital.

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Coronavirus: 44 people die of virus in past 24 hours.

Scotland has recorded 44 deaths from coronavirus and 788 positive cases in the past 24 hours.

The death total has now risen to 3,720 people who died having tested positive for the virus, with 5,380 deaths registered in Scotland where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.

There are 1077 people with recently confirmed Covid-19 in hospital, with 77 in intensive care. 

Meanwhile there were 21,494 new tests for coronavirus that reported results, with 4.4% of these positive.

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NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde had the highest number of new cases with 221, followed by NHS Lanarkshire at 166, NHS Lothian with 122, NHS Fife at 59 and NHS Ayrshire and Arran with 58.

No cases were recorded in the Western Isles, Shetland or Orkney.

A total of 1,170,888 people in Scotland have been tested at least once since the start of the outbreak and of these, 93,943 have tested positive.


Sturgeon: I’ve never been so certain independence will happen

The First Minister addressed delegates at the virtual SNP conference on Saturday.

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Scotland is a “nation on the brink of making history”, Nicola Sturgeon declared, as she insisted the country’s people have the “right” to choose their own future in a second independence referendum.

While Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vetoed SNP calls for a fresh vote on the issue, the First Minister has said she hopes another ballot could be held in the early part of the next term of the Scottish Parliament.

The question is set to dominate next May’s Holyrood elections, with Sturgeon’s party using the campaign to step up their demands for another referendum.

Recent opinion polls have suggested that a majority of Scots now support the country becoming independent.

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And Sturgeon, addressing the SNP annual conference, told party activists that “the people of Scotland have the right to choose their future”.

She stated: “Scotland is now a nation on the brink of making history.

“Independence is in clear sight – and if we show unity of purpose, humility and hard work, I have never been so certain that we will deliver it.”

Her comments on unity came after SNP MP Joanna Cherry used an interview with the Times newspaper to hit out at the “cult of leader” in the party, insisting it is damaging to “put all your faith on one person”,

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Cherry said a “more collegiate leadership” style is needed, as she also criticised the “no debate mentality” as being “really unhealthy”.

The MP said: “It’s an unfortunate tendency in modern political discourse, which I’ve labelled #nodebate.

“It typifies a small minority in my party and has bled through from the debate about reform of the Gender Recognition Act, to include alternative plans for an independence referendum. I think it’s very unhealthy and I don’t think it represents the majority view in the party.”

SNP leader Sturgeon said that, in order to win independence, the party must “reach out to all of Scotland like never before”.

Speaking at the start of the online event, she said: “Let us demonstrate, with cool heads and patient persuasion, that Scotland is ready to take its place in the global family of independent nations.”

Support for independence has risen to become the “sustained and majority view in public opinion this year,” Sturgeon said.

And she stressed that, while the “primary focus” must currently be on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, “Scotland must also be ready for what comes next”.

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She told the conference that Covid-19 had “taken thousands of lives” and “upended our society”, with businesses and the economy “severely” damaged.

But she claimed that with independence Scotland could have a “resilient economy, with job creation and fairness at its heart” and would be able to “protect and invest in public services like our NHS”.

Sturgeon continued: “We can overcome poverty, inequality, and we lead the way in tackling the climate emergency.

“The question for all of us as we look ahead to the election next May is this – who should be taking the decisions that shape our futures?

“We know that it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources to the benefit of everyone.”


Lewis Capaldi and Texas among Scottish Music Awards winners

The virtual ceremony, hosted by Edith Bowman, featured a number of special performances by Scottish stars.

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Awards: Capaldi scoops Scottish Music Award.

Lewis Capaldi, Biffy Clyro and Texas were among the winners at the Specsavers Scottish Music Awards, which has taken place virtually for the first time.

Hosted live by Edith Bowman from SWG3 in Glasgow, the online broadcast featured a special at-home acoustic performance from Capaldi, as well as new, socially distanced performances from Amy Macdonald, Texas, Wet Wet Wet, Dougie Maclean, Luke La Volpe, HYYTS and more.

The event on Saturday raised vital funds for music therapy charity Nordoff Robbins, which expects to lose 50% of its income in 2020 due to Covid-19.

Biffy Clyro won the Best Album Award for their latest record A Celebration Of Endings and recorded a special video message.

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In it they said: “Hello everybody, we hope you’re well! Thank you so much for the Scottish Music Award Album of the Year, it means a lot to us.

“When we started recording this record last year, I guess like everyone else, we had no idea what 2020 held in store, but you know what, the power of music and art feels more important than ever this year.

“We’ll all be back together soon I hope, we love you guys, we miss you guys.”

Texas received the Icon Award and recorded an exclusive set for this year’s ceremony.

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Sharleen Spiteri sent a virtual message to the audience, saying: “This really is something very, very special, especially after the amount of years as a band that we’ve been together.

“To be given this and for everybody to think that we deserve it, it means a lot. To be relevant, still making records and be successful this far down the line, for over 30 years, we feel very very lucky.

“Stay safe and hopefully I will see you all very soon in real life, at a safe distance! I’m going to keep this and say I’m the iconic one!”

The Best UK Award went to Capaldi, who played an acoustic rendition of two of his biggest tracks Before You Go and Someone You Loved, from his home.

He said: “I just want to say a massive thank you to the Scottish Music Awards, for giving me the award for SSE’s Best UK Artist this year.

“I know people haven’t been releasing music or anything this year, so that’s kind of an award just for existing, I guess, but… I’ll take it!”

Amy Macdonald won the Women in Music Award and the Songwriting Award went to Young Fathers.

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Wet Wet Wet collected the Outstanding Contribution Award and gave a performance of some of their biggest hits.

The Best Breakthrough Awards went to Luke La Volpe (Male) and kitti (Female) while HYYTS took the Best Pop Act Award and Dougie MacLean the Special Recognition Award.

The Nordoff Robbins Legend Award was awarded to DJ George Bowie, while Graeme Park’s Hacienda Classical Orchestra took the Innovation Award and Gun the Ambassadors of Rock Award.

Donald C MacLeod, chairman of the Nordoff Robbins Fundraising Committee Scotland, said: “Like so many charities, Nordoff Robbins have been severely impacted by Covid-19 and we truly can’t thank everybody who came together to make this event happen enough.

“From Scottish music legends like Dougie MacLean and Wet Wet Wet, superstars like Lewis Capaldi and Biffy Clyro, and not to mention rising stars like Stephanie Cheape and Luke La Volpe – music has been a lifeline for so many of us during these unprecedented times and their support is so appreciated.

“And to our audience who joined in from their own homes tonight and so generously donated to Nordoff Robbins – your ongoing support ensures we can provide music therapy to those who need it most, particularly in these trying times when more people than ever are facing social isolation. Congratulations to all our winners!”


‘Puppy farms’ raided with 80 animals taken into care

On Friday, officers raided two properties in East Ayrshire as part of an operation targeting the low-welfare puppy trade.

Police Scotland
Police: Officers raided two properties in East Ayrshire.

Police and the Scottish SPCA have seized 80 animals as part of an operation targeting the low-welfare puppy trade.

On Friday morning, officers raided two properties in East Ayrshire following a multi-agency briefing at Kilmarnock police station.

Dogs, puppies, cats and kittens were seized in the search.

A spokesperson from the Scottish SPCA said: “This raid was part of Operation Delphin, a multi-agency taskforce set up to tackle the low-welfare puppy trade. 

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“Investigations are ongoing.”

A force spokesperson said Police Scotland is “absolutely committed” to  disrupting those involved in serious and organised crime in Scotland.

They added: “The low-welfare trade of animals is just one example where criminals seek to profit from the misery of others.

“Thousands of puppies are born into the illegal puppy trade each year. Many are kept in horrendous conditions, are often removed from their mothers too early – causing distress, harm and health problems, all in the name of a quick profit.

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“We work closely with a variety of organisations to detect and disrupt illegal activity.”

If you have any concerns about the welfare of animals in your area, call the Scottish SPCA’s confidential helpline on 03000 999 999.

For more information on the campaign against the illegal puppy trade, click here.


Higher exams decision to be made before February deadline

National 5 exams have already been cancelled in Scotland due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

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School: Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been given the provisional go-ahead.

A decision on the holding of Higher and Advanced Higher exams will be made before the February deadline, the education secretary has said.

National 5 exams have already been cancelled in Scotland due to the Covid-19 pandemic but a decision on the more advanced tests have been given the provisional go-ahead by John Swinney.

However, despite a final decision being expected by mid-February, for the exams usually held in May, the education secretary has said an announcement will be made earlier.

The topic will be up for discussion this week by the Covid-19 Education Recovery Group – a body set up by the Scottish Government in response to the pandemic – but the final decision will be for Swinney.

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Speaking at a fringe event of the SNP conference on Saturday, hosted by teaching union EIS, Swinney said: “I’m not going to leave it until February.

“I’ve said that’s the backstop but I appreciate that’s too late in the year for that.”

The most important issue when making the decision is the impact coronavirus has had on pupils and the inequalities it could cause, he said.

“The key issue, and we’re gathering data about this, is what’s the degree of disruption to a candidate’s learning because that’s the crucial point in whether I can be assured there can be the fair delivery of a diet to all candidates.

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“If you’re in an area where one child has not had any period of self-isolation but another child has had three periods of self-isolation, there’s big equity issues around that.”

The news comes after a recent survey by the National Parent Forum of Scotland found that more than half (50.6%) of the 4196 parents or carers asked wanted the exams cancelled.

Just over a quarter (26.6%) said they wished the assessments to go ahead, while 22.8% were undecided.

Swinney was less clear when asked if teachers would be considered a priority group for the Covid-19 vaccine, when it was made available.

Responding to a question from an SNP member at the event, he said the vaccination programme outlined by health secretary Jeane Freeman in Holyrood earlier this month prioritised health care workers, vulnerable people and those most likely to be exposed to the virus.

The Scottish Government has said up to 320,000 doses of the vaccine could be distributed around the country by the second week in December, while up to a million people may be inoculated by the end of January.

“There’s essentially a combination between the approach to the vaccine which will be clinically driven judgments and the expansion of the testing regime,” Swinney said.

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“Given the scale of the rollout of the vaccination programme, which will be significant from December onwards, there will obviously be a very intense focus on making sure we get that vaccination programme carried out across the population and that will, of course, include teachers.”


Labour MSP Jenny Marra to step down at next election

Ms Marra wrote to her local party branch to inform them of her decision not to stand in next year's election.

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MSP: Jenny Marra to step down at next election.

Labour MSP Jenny Marra has announced she will step down at the next election.

Ms Marra, who gave birth to her second child in April, wrote to her local party branch to inform them of her decision not to stand in next year’s Holyrood election.

She said her job as MSP for the North East means she spends too much time away from her family.

Elected in 2011, Ms Marra went on to become the convener of the Public Audit Committee.

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According to the Courier, Ms Marra said: “It has been the privilege of my life to represent the people of north east Scotland and to speak on behalf of the citizens of Dundee in many campaigns over my ten years in parliament.”

She added: “I learned so much from my parliamentary role: chairing the audit committee for the past five years, taking the human trafficking bill to the statute book and standing up for women’s sex-based rights in the face of aggressive challenge.

“For all these opportunities I am grateful to the Labour voters in Dundee and north-east Scotland and to local party members for their trust, advice and support.”

In recent months, the MSP has called for Labour leader Richard Leonard to stand down, claiming if the party does not “change now, we risk catastrophe”.

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Despite the souring of the relationship between the two, Mr Leonard said: “I’d like to thank Jenny Marra on behalf of Scottish Labour for all the hard work and commitment she has shown to the cause of labour.

“She will be missed in the Scottish Parliament.”

Daniel Johnson, another of the MSPs who called for the leader’s resignation, expressed his sadness at Ms Marra’s decision, saying on Twitter: “I’ve known @JennyMarra since we were both members of @StAndLabour 20 years ago.

“You have political friends and friends who happen to be in politics. The latter are rare and precious.

“So sorry that she is standing down from parliament.”


Whisky auction for Doddie Weir’s foundation raises £50,000

The auction has become one of My Name’5 Doddie Foundation's biggest fundraising events amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

My Name’5 Doddie Foundation via email
My Name’5 Doddie Foundation: A whisky auction raised more than £50,000.

Rugby legend Doddie Weir is toasting the generosity of whisky lovers across the country.

Supporters of his My Name’5 Doddie Foundation have raised more than £50,000 through an online auction of rare bottles and brands.

The auction – organised and run by The Whisky Shop – has become one of the foundation’s biggest fundraising events amid the Covid-19 pandemic as it continues to fund and support drug trials and research into motor neurone disease (MND), which Doddie was diagnosed with almost four years ago.

Jill Douglas, the foundation’s chief executive, said: “We are absolutely blown away by the generosity shown by the bidders in this very special whisky auction.

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“It has been a tough few months for all charities and we are also very conscious that people are experiencing uncertainty and hardship so we want to thank everyone involved.

“A great many people worked so hard to make this a success and a huge thank you goes to the distilleries and individuals who donated this very special selection of whiskies – they have given collectors and whisky lovers a chance to buy some unique bottles while supporting our foundation.”

The foundation, which recently celebrated its third anniversary, has donated £5.8m towards MND research, as well as a further £1m to support people with the disease.

Ms Douglas added: “This is only possible through your wonderful and continued support. And we have big plans for 2021 so watch this space.”


Man seriously assaulted in early hours at block of flats

A 31-year-old man was taken to Ayr Hospital where he was treated for head injuries.

SNS group via Police Scotland
Assault: Man treated for head injuries following assault.

A man has been seriously assaulted in the early hours of the morning in Ayr.

Around 12.05am on Saturday, police were called to a report of a man assaulted at the entrance door to a block of flats in Princes Court.  

Officers attended and the injured man was found within a flat.

The 31-year-old was taken to Ayr Hospital where he was treated for head injuries then later released.

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The suspects were wearing dark coloured clothing.

Detective Constable Janet Ferguson of Ayr Police Station said:  “We are still speaking to the injured man to gather the exact circumstances of this incident.  We are also gathering local CCTV footage to gain information that will help our enquiry.

“At this time, I would ask anyone who was in the area of Princes Court around midnight, who witnessed anything suspicious, or who has information on this attack that will assist our investigation, to contact us.”

Ayr Police Station can be contacted through 101 quoting reference number 0071 of November 28.  

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Alternatively Crimestoppers can be contacted on 0800 555 111, where anonymity can be maintained.


SNP pledge free breakfast and lunch for children if re-elected

Education Secretary John Swinney made the pledge during the SNP conference on Saturday.

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Pledge: Free breakfast and lunch for primary school children if SNP re-elected.

The SNP will provide free breakfast and lunch to primary school children in Scotland all year round if re-elected next May, Education Secretary John Swinney has pledged.

He made the commitment as he warned that Scotland was facing a “tsunami of child poverty” if UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak imposes a “second wave of austerity”.

In response, Mr Swinney promised free breakfasts and lunches for every primary school pupil in Scotland.

The policy would be implemented from August 2022, making Scotland the first nation in the UK to offer universal free primary school meals.

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The Scottish Education Secretary said: “Just as we extended free meals through the holidays this year and next, if re-elected we will extend free school meals through every school holidays.”

The commitment came as he told the SNP conference how the Westminster Government had “ignored” Scotland during the coronavirus crisis, rejecting pleas from Scottish ministers for the furlough scheme to be extended, with this only happening “when the economic problems of Covid hit the south of England”.

Mr Swinney, also Scotland’s Deputy First Minister, said the coronavirus pandemic had “shown us just how little financial security some families have”.

He spoke about the plight of “families not entitled to many benefits, families in work”, saying that “they are already hard pressed and Tory austerity will hit them harder”.

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While he said the Scottish Government had acted – citing the introduction of next year’s £10 a week Scottish Child Payment to poorer families – he also said more must be done.

He told the conference that if re-elected in May, the SNP would make free breakfasts and lunches available to “all primary school pupils,” stressing this would apply to “all classes, all year round”.

Mr Swinney said: “That is the next step in our battle to stop the Tories forcing more and more kids into poverty.”

While children already receive free school meals in P1 through to P3, he said: “We will not leave a child at the mercy of a Tory Chancellor just because they are in P4, P5, P6 or P7.

“If elected next May, from 2022 we will extend universal free school lunches to all primary school pupils, P1 to P7.”

He continued: “We want every child to have every chance to learn every minute of every school day, starting from the moment they arrive in class.

“A child arriving at school hungry cannot learn as well as they should. So, we will also extend free provision of a healthy breakfast to all primary school pupils as well.

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“Breakfast and lunch for every pupil every school day.

“But another lesson of 2020 is term-time isn’t enough. Hunger doesn’t take a holiday and so neither can we.

“Just as we extended free meals through the holidays this year and next, if re-elected we will extend free school meals through every school holidays.”

The promise comes as footballer Marcus Rashford continues his efforts to lobby the UK Government to extend the provision of free meals south of the border.

Mr Swinney went on to tell SNP supporters the coronavirus pandemic had brought about a “seismic shift in the psyche of Scotland”, saying people now routinely looked to the First Minister rather than Westminster for leadership.

He praised Nicola Sturgeon, describing her as having “bared her soul almost every day… as she shared the agonising decisions Government has had to make over the last eight months”.

He added: “We have not got every decision right but the people of Scotland have seen who places their interests – sometimes their very safety – at the heart of decision making.”

Mr Swinney said that one “lesson of Covid” was “not just that you can trust the SNP, but that Scotland can trust herself”.

He told people: “We can have faith in ourselves as a nation, as capable, talented and ready to face life’s challenges as any other country.

“As this pandemic has continued, the people of Scotland have seen the truth of that argument with every passing day.

“We have always said that the solution to Scotland’s problems do not lie in London. Never was that more obvious than in 2020.

“In the moment of crisis, our nation’s eyes did not turn to Westminster. It was not the Prime Minister who people looked to. It was the Government here in Scotland and our First Minister.”

Mr Swinney added: “It is deeply telling that even those people yet to be convinced by the merits of independence did not look to London, to Westminster or to Boris Johnson.

“When it mattered most, we all looked to Scotland’s own leader, our own Government, and our own Parliament.”


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