Green MSP Andy Wightman cleared in defamation case

Wightman was ruled not to have defamed a wildcat conservation firm which he branded a 'tax haven'.

Andy Wightman: Green MSP 'delighted' at judgment. Andy Wightman / Facebook
Andy Wightman: Green MSP 'delighted' at judgment.

Scottish Green MSP Andy Wightman has been cleared of defaming a company which seeks to protect the endangered Scottish wildcat.

Wildcat Haven Enterprises had brought the action against Wightman in a bid to win £750,000 in damages.

The firm claimed it suffered loss and damage after the Lothian MSP made claims in two blog posts and on social media that it branded defamatory.

Wildcat Haven director Paul O’Donoghue told the Court of Session in Edinburgh last year that Wightman had damaged his company’s reputation by claiming it was a “tax haven”.

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Wightman lawyer’s contended the MSP’s comments were built around “legitimate criticisms” of the business, which sells “souvenir plots” of land to members of the public.

On Wednesday, a judge ruled that Wildcat Haven’s claim had failed and dismissed the action against the Wightman.

Lord Clark said: “A number of the defamatory imputations founded upon by the pursuer (Wildcat) are not the meanings which the ordinary reasonable reader would have taken from the relevant material and so those claims cannot succeed.”

He added: “It is apparent that there are a number of meanings which the pursuer relies upon which are not true meanings and indeed are overstatements by the pursuer of what was actually stated.

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“These include the pursuer’s allegations that the defender referred to it as the same entity as HTL (Highland Titles Limited) and that the pursuer itself was ‘a tax dodging scam designed to con the public out of money and then funnelling money donated to wildcats to the Channel Islands, to line the pockets of corporate fat cats and the aristocratic gentry’.”

In his first blog published in September 2015 under the headline ‘Wildcat Haven, Bumblebee Haven or Tax Haven?’, Wightman wrote that the conservation company was supported by the Alderney-based HTL and Volkswagen.

It stated that Wildcat Haven had adopted Highland Title’s methods of selling small souvenir land plots and claiming that the buyer became the owner.

Mr O’Donoghue told the court: “The claim that Wildcat is a tax haven is deeply upsetting…

“The allegations that my wife and I take any money from Wildcat Enterprises for our personal gains sickens me to the stomach.”

Wildcat maintained that the sale of land plots was a marketing device allowing supporters to donate funds in “a novel, imaginative and light-hearted way”.

Wightman, the author of Who owns Scotland, contended that the blogs represented his honest comment on matters of public interest.

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Lord Clark said Wightman had made four untrue statements in the material published.

But the judge said: “The fact that the defender has made certain statements which are untrue does not itself mean that the defamatory allegations complained of the pursuer were made.

“For the defence of fair comment to be available, it is not necessary that every fact founded upon is true.

“In applying the standard of responsible journalism in a practical and flexible manner, I… conclude that the blogs do not meet that test.”

However, he continued: “There was an important factual inaccuracy contained in the blogs.

“While it is correct that the defender did research and sought verification on a number of the matters mentioned in the blogs, he made a material omission in failing to take into account that the pursuer had altered the identity of its asset-lock from HTCTS (the charitable trust that owned HTL) to another entity.”

Lord Clark stressed the evidence available showed Wildcat Haven to be a “small company engaged in a genuine scheme aimed at the conservation of wildcats, run by well-intentioned and enthusiastic individuals”.

The judge added: “This must have been apparent to the defender at least as being a serious possibility.

“The scheme was still seeking to get off the ground around the time of blog one, as the defender was fully aware.

“There was no urgency to publish either of the blogs; unlike a newspaper seeking a scoop, there was no specific newsworthy matter that had just occurred and required immediate publication.

“The defender has, at his leisure, put together the contents of the blogs.

“In those circumstances, responsible journalism carried with it the need to seek comment on behalf of the pursuer in advance of publication.”

Wildcat had claimed that an opportunity to buy an area of Highland forest had fallen through following the publication of the material.

The Green MSP raised more than £115,000 in an online crowdfunder to help fund his legal bills for last autumn’s eight-day trial.

Wightman said he was “delighted” at Lord Clark’s judgment and thanked his family, friends and legal team for their support.

He added: “I want to pay particular thanks to the thousands of people who generously contributed to my crowdfunder, without whom I would simply have been unable to defend myself. I have been hugely encouraged by their ongoing support.

“The National Union of Journalists and Scottish PEN have also been very supportive as part of their wider campaign for defamation reform.

“I have maintained throughout that I did not defame the pursuer and that this action should never have been brought against me.

“It is vital that parliament modernises the law of defamation to ensure that the law provides the right balance between freedom of expression and the rights of people not to have their reputations tarnished.

“It is also important that the law is clear, so that writers and journalists can write confidently and provide the freedom of expression that is so important in any democracy.”

Some homes ‘without power for a week’ after Storm Arwen

Engineers have been working to restore power.

SSEN via PA Media

Some homes left without power following the “catastrophic damage” caused by Storm Arwen last week may not be reconnected until Friday, an electricity company has said.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) has reconnected more than 120,000 customers since Friday’s storm, but 6500 remained without power on Wednesday.

Graeme Keddie, of SSEN, said the main villages have been reconnected but that for “localised faults” power is not expected to be restored until Friday.

He apologised to any customers affected and said the company is doing all it can to restore power “as quickly as possible”.

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Mr Keddie said the storm had caused “devastation on parts of the network”, particularly in Aberdeenshire, where 4000 customers remain without power.

He told BBC Good Morning Scotland: “It’s a dynamic situation, we’ve got a better picture than we had yesterday and the day before.

“We’ve got all of the main villages connected; it’s now looking at the rural areas. We’re confident that we have a handle on the situation in terms of what we can restore in the next couple of days.

“We’re looking to make really good progress today and tomorrow and we expect it will be the last final few homes on Friday, and we want to be clear those are our expectations.”

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He added: “For those localised faults, those faults that are serving a home or a group of homes, we are looking into Friday for restoration.”

SSEN said it will reimburse all reasonable accommodation costs for any customer unable to make alternative arrangements.

Customers unable to access the company’s welfare facilities for free hot food and drinks can also claim the cost of takeaways or meals from local establishments, up to £15 per person.

SSEN managing director Chris Burchell said: “The impact of Storm Arwen has caused catastrophic damage to the electricity network across the north-east of Scotland and is the most significant event we have ever had to deal with in the area in a generation.

“I would like to thank our customers who have shown great resilience, patience and understanding since the impact of Storm Arwen, and we fully recognise that urgency of the situation for those who continue to remain off supply.

“I would like to personally apologise to all customers who have been impacted and would like to reassure everyone still off supply that our teams are working extremely hard to reconnect them as soon as possible.”


Support for Scottish independence rises to 55% – STV poll

2014 referendum results could be reversed if another was held now, according to the Ipsos MORI poll.

Jeff J Mitchell / Staff via Getty Images

Support for Scottish independence has risen to its highest level for a year, according to a new poll for STV News.

Backing for ‘Yes’ is now at 55% – up five points compared to the last Ipsos MORI poll just before the Holyrood election in May.

Excluding undecideds, it suggests the result of the 2014 referendum could be reversed if another was held now, and comes just days after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called for indyref2 by the end of 2023.

Meanwhile, approval ratings for Prime Minister Boris Johnson have hit a record low in Scotland, where four in five said they were ‘dissatisfied’ with his performance.

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Sturgeon remains the highest-rated party leader, but while Scots are overwhelmingly positive about the Scottish Government’s handling of the Covid vaccine rollout, they are less pleased with its performance in health and education.

What did the poll tell us?

Independence

STV News

Party leaders

STV News

Scottish Government performance

  • Vaccine rollout: 84% believe the Scottish Government has done a good job
  • Health: 48% say the government has done a bad job of improving the NHS; 40% think it has done a good job
  • Education: Bad job – 46%; Good job – 35%
  • Handling Brexit implications: Bad job – 43%; Good job – 37%

‘Far from over’

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Emily Gray, managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland, said: “This latest poll from Ipsos MORI and STV News indicates that the argument for Scottish independence is far from over, with a slight improvement for the Yes side. 

“Given the margins of error around polling estimates, however, neither the Yes or No camps should be confident of victory at this point. 

“The Yes camp may be benefiting from what has been a very bad week for Boris Johnson and the Conservatives at Westminster, with fieldwork taking place after heated debate about MPs’ second jobs. 

“This is certainly reflected in Johnson’s own ratings, which have fallen to a new low.”

Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1107 adults aged 16 and over across Scotland by phone between November 22-29.


Murder investigation launched after discovery of teenage girl’s body

Amber Gibson, 16, went missing in Hamilton on Friday night.

Police Scotland
Police Scotland can confirm that the body of a young female found near to Cadzow Glen, Hamilton, has been formally identified as 16-year-old Amber Gibson.

The death of a missing 16-year-old girl is being treated as murder after her body was discovered in a wooded area in South Lanarkshire.

Amber Gibson, also known as Amber Niven, disappeared in Hamilton shortly before 10pm on Friday.

She had last been seen on Cadzow Street, after leaving her home in the Hillhouse area around 9.15pm that night.

On Sunday morning, at around 10.10am, emergency services were alerted to a body near to Cadzow Glen.

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On Monday, Police Scotland confirmed the formal identification of the body and said the death was being treated as unexplained.

STV News
Amber Gibson: Cadzow Glen in Hamilton where murdered 16-year-old’s body was found.

But on Tuesday night, officers announced the launch of a murder investigation into the killing.

They have appealed to the public for help discovering what happened to Amber.

Detective superintendent Raymond Brown, from Police Scotland Major Investigations Team West, said: “Our thoughts very much remain with Amber’s loved ones and we will continue to support them through this terrible time.

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“Whilst our enquiries continue, we are asking for anyone with any information on what happened to Amber, or anyone who believes they saw her at any point of her movements between Friday and Sunday, to please come forward.”

Chief inspector Briony Daye, Local Area Commander, said: “I’d like to reassure the local community that this is believed to be an isolated incident and there is not any risk to other members of the public.

“There will continue to be an increased police presence in the area over the coming days and anyone with concerns can speak with local officers at any time.”

Anyone with information can call police on 101, quoting incident 1281 of November 28. Alternatively, you can contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111, to remain anonymous.

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Scottish rugby international Siobhan Cattigan dies aged 26

Scottish Rugby extended its sincere condolences to her family and friends.

Ross MacDonald/SNS Group via SNS Group
The Stirling County back row won 19 caps for Scotland between 2018 and 2021.

Scotland rugby international Siobhan Cattigan has died at the age of 26.

The Stirling County back row won 19 caps for Scotland between 2018 and 2021.

In a statement, Scottish Rugby said it was “deeply saddened” by the news, and extended sincere condolences to her family and friends.

They wrote: “The thoughts of all our people and players go out to Siobhan’s family and many teammates at Stirling County and Scotland at this incredibly difficult time.

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“Specialist Scottish Rugby employees are now providing on-going support to those most closely affected.”

Cattigan started all three matches of the 2021 Women’s Six Nations tournament, playing at number eight against England, Italy and Wales.

She was also involved with Scotland’s Rugby World Cup 2021 Europe Qualifiers squad, where she came off the bench in Scotland’s win over Spain.

Cattigan also studied Criminology and Sociology at the University of Stirling before going on to receive a Master’s degree in sports psychology.

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In a statement by Stirling County, Cattigan was praised as an inspiration and described as being central to the development of women’s rugby within the club.

“Shibby has been a big part of County for many years and will be hugely missed by everyone at the club,” they wrote.

“She was central to the development of women’s rugby within the club & an inspiration to the girls in the youth section.

Shibby was a teammate & friend & we deeply mourn her loss.  Our love,  thoughts & heartfelt condolences are with Shibby’s family at this devastating time. 

“We very much hope their privacy will be respected by everyone as they deal with their tragic loss.”


All over-18s to be offered Covid booster jabs before February

Scottish Government confirms over-18s will be eligible for a third dose of Covid-19 vaccine three months after their second.

Yui Mok/PA via PA Media
Scottish Government says booster doses should be offered to all adults in Scotland before February.

All adults should be offered a coronavirus booster vaccination by the end of January, the Scottish Government has announced.

Scotland follows the rest of the UK in confirming that over-18s will be eligible for a third dose of a Covid-19 vaccine three months after their second.

The UK-wide Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised that a third dose will help increase adults’ protection levels following the emergence of the new Omicron variant.

A total of nine cases of Omicron have been discovered in Scotland – all linked to a single, private event on November 20 – although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned of the possibility of “many more” people being infected.

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Confirming the plan to follow the JCVI advice to offer boosters to all eligible over-18s, a Scottish Government spokesman said: “Scotland already has the highest vaccination rate of all UK nations for first, second and third doses. The winter vaccination programme has already delivered more than 1.6 million booster doses to the most vulnerable groups.

“We are aiming to offer the booster vaccine to everyone aged 18 or older who is eligible by the end of January, in line with the JCVI’s advice, and we will confirm our approach to deployment very soon.

“We will continue to do all that we can to make sure people in Scotland are offered the greatest possible protection from vaccination, as quickly as we can.”

According to the JCVI guidance, the booster doses should be given no sooner than three months after a person’s second dose of an original vaccine – halving the time previously recommended.

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Young people aged 12 to 15 should be offered a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine, no sooner than 12 weeks after their first dose.

More than 850 jobs to be created at SSE distribution arm

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks Distribution aims to boost investment in northern Scotland and central southern England by about a third.

Peter Byrne via PA Media
Investment: Jobs to be created at SSE distribution arm.

Energy giant SSE has unveiled plans to create more than 850 jobs in its distribution business as part of proposals to ramp up investment to £4bn and cut its carbon footprint.

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks (SSEN) Distribution, which is owned by SSE, aims to boost its investment by around a third in the north of Scotland and central southern England for the next price control period between 2023 and 2028.

It said the extra investment will be delivered without increasing customer energy bills.

It comes as part of the wider SSE group’s aims to invest £12.5bn over the five years and accelerate its net-zero plans.

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The move will see SSE become the biggest constructor of offshore wind in the world and will increase the amount of renewable energy produced by four gigawatts (GW) over the period.

SSE will deliver a quarter of the UK’s 40GW offshore wind target by 2030 and more than a fifth of the UK’s electricity networks investment.

Under the SSEN business plan, which has been submitted to regulator Ofgem for approval, the division aims to cut its carbon footprint by 35%.

It also plans to facilitate the connection of 1.3 million electric vehicles and 800,000 heat pumps on its network.

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SSE chief executive Alistair Phillips-Davies said: “Collectively, SSE is investing nearly £7m each day, enabling over 20% of the upcoming UK electricity networks investment, the delivery of over 25% of the UK’s 40GW offshore wind target and so much more to help the UK and other governments decarbonise.

“With the UK committing to an accelerated net-zero timeline ahead of COP26, this is where the rubber hits the road and we see huge growth in our distribution business as it brings net zero to the front door.”

SSE has resisted calls from activist investor Elliott Investment Management for a break-up, instead focusing on its green spending drive funded by a dividend cut and asset sales.

It is set to sell a 25% stake in SSEN Distribution, as well as SSEN Transmission, likely to be early in 2023-24.


Medics angry ahead of debate on safety at Glasgow hospital

Senior clinicians have written to the First Minister and Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care about ‘unfounded criticism’.

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Queen Elizabeth University Hospital: Medics angry ahead of debate.

A group of senior clinicians at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow have complained about “unfounded criticism” of clinical teams and staff.

In a letter to First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon and the Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf, 23 senior clinicians “…have expressed their immense frustration”.

The clinicians wrote: “As NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde clinicians and clinical leaders, we write to express our immense disappointment and frustration about the way in which our hospitals, our colleagues and the treatment of our patients is being portrayed in the press and the chamber of the Scottish Parliament.”

They add: “We are particularly disappointed that individual patients are being discussed in Parliament without the knowledge of the families concerned, causing untold distress to families already grieving the loss of their loved one.

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“Our staff across NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde, including the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital campus, provide professional, dedicated care to their patients and as we prepare for a challenging winter, this sustained criticism of our staff is undoubtedly causing them distress and worry.

“This unfounded criticism of our clinical teams and staff as well as the safety of our hospitals, is also hugely detrimental to staff morale at a time when so much is being asked of them.”

The letter comes ahead of Labour leader Anas Sarwar calling for Sturgeon to “finally do the right thing and sack the leadership at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital”.

Labour claim photographs of mould, recently discovered at QEUH, and published in an academic paper expose the risks of water in seeding infection inside hospitals.

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Labour’s opposition business motion focuses on patient safety, and calls on the Scottish Parliament to withdraw its confidence in the leadership of Greater Glasgow & Clyde Heath board.

The vote comes after families and clinicians came forward to speak out about a series of deaths at the flagship hospital spanning the last five years.

Sarwar said that repeated pleas from the loved ones of those who have died from preventable hospital-acquired infection have been ignored.

Stags snapped ‘fighting for supremacy’ in shadow of Highlands mountain

They were spotted in the Highlands last month.

Connor McLaren via SWNS
The male deer were snapped locking antlers on a moorland below Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glen Etive.

Two young stags were spotted ‘fighting for supremacy’ during rutting season in the shadow of a Highlands mountain.

The male deer were snapped locking antlers on a moorland below Buachaille Etive Mòr in Glen Etive, in the Highlands last month.

Rutting is when stags fight each other with their antlers to decide who has the right to mate with female deer.

Wildlife enthusiast Connor McLaren, 26, travelled from his home in Perth, Perth and Kinross, to see if he could spot any deer.

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He said the smaller of the two was ‘dominating the fight’ but did not know who won in the end after watching for around 40 minutes.

Connor, who works as a digital marketer for Porsche, said: “I was out taking photos and I knew there are sometimes deer in that area.

“I went down and had a look for them and got lucky. The stags fight for supremacy for a mate.

“Those two deer were fighting so they have the right to mate.

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“I don’t know if it was because he had the high ground but the smaller one seemed to be dominating the fight.”

Connor continued: “There was no victor by the time I left – they were still going at it. I watched them for around 40 minutes.

“They’d fight for a bit, then they’d stop then start again. They were both quite young though, so I don’t know if either of them would win overall.

“You’d expect one of the more mature stags is probably going to win.”


Which street in Scotland has the slowest broadband?

Although more people have access to superfast speeds than ever before, many are suffering from slow connections, according to a survey.

skynesher via IStock
The Banchory street is among five across Scotland with average speeds of less than 1Mbps.

Grant Road in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, is the slowest street for broadband in Scotland, according to research by comparison site Uswitch.com.

The street clocked an average download speed of just 0.28Mbps, which means it would take more than 41 hours to download a two-hour HD film.

In contrast, the fastest street in the country – Murrayfield Terrace in Bannockburn, Stirling – had average speeds of 665Mbps, meaning that the same two-hour film could be downloaded in just 62 seconds.

The Banchory street is among five across Scotland with average speeds of less than 1Mbps.

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The village of Berriedal, Earlish in Portree, Rolland Avenue in East Wemyss, and Houstoun Gardens in Uphall, make up the top five slowest streets.

Portlethen in Erskine, Duncan Drive in Elgin, Bunloit village, a caravan park in St Andrews, and East Park Street in Huntly complete the top ten slowest streets with none reaching above an average of 1.69Mbps.

The UK average broadband speed is 79.1Mbps, according to the figures.

Dalhousie Crescent in Dalkeith is the second fastest street on the list, hitting an average of 576Mbps, followed by Raith Drive in Cumbernauld, Harmong Street in Bonnyrigg, and Abbotsford Avenue in Hamilton – all of which clocked speeds above 470Mbps.

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The list of the top ten fastest streets is completed by Ruchill Street in Glasgow, Skylands Rise in Hamilton, Tower Place in Edinburgh, Paterson Drive in Dumfries and Galashiels Avenue in Chapelhall – recording average speeds of 311Mbps or higher.

Uswitch said the number of users getting faster broadband speeds is growing, with 43% of those in the UK experiencing superfast internet connections of more than 30Mbps – almost double the number six years ago.

But the comparison site urged frustrated consumers to check what speeds they are getting and see whether faster broadband is available.

“It’s great to witness the increased uptake of ultrafast broadband, but we don’t want to see large swathes of the country left behind on shoddy connections that aren’t cutting it for modern life,” said Ernest Doku, a broadband expert at Uswitch.com.

“Initiatives like the Universal Service Obligation and Project Gigabit are helping improve connections at both ends of the spectrum, but there is a lot more to be done so consumers don’t get left behind.”

An Ofcom spokesperson said: “This survey highlights an important point: if people are getting low broadband speeds, it isn’t usually because fast connections are not available.

“Crewe is actually well covered by superfast broadband – including Wistaston Road. So we always recommend speaking to your provider to check you’re on the fastest connection and the best deal.”


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