Sturgeon: I had no reason to want to ‘get’ Salmond

Scottish Tories repeat their call for the First Minister to resign following eight-hour evidence session.

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have differing versions of events. STV News
Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon have differing versions of events.

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she had no reason to conspire against her predecessor Alex Salmond.

The First Minister rejected the “absurd” suggestion there was a plot against Salmond as she gave evidence to a Holyrood inquiry.

She said: “I would never have wanted to ‘get’ Alex Salmond – I would never, ever have wanted any of this to happen. I had no motive, intention or desire to ‘get’ Alex Salmond.”

Sturgeon told MSPs on the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints that the details of complaints against Salmond were “shocking” and his behaviour “was not always appropriate”.

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She said Salmond’s account to her of his “deeply inappropriate behaviour” is a “moment in my life that I will never forget”, as she maintained she did not intervene in the Scottish Government’s investigation into her predecessor as First Minister.

Sturgeon apologised to the public and the women who submitted sexual harassment complaints about Salmond, saying there had been “a very serious mistake” in the Scottish Government’s investigation.

The inquiry into Salmond was launched after a number of women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment.

But a successful judicial review by Salmond resulted in the government investigation being ruled unlawful and “tainted by apparent bias”, resulting in a £512,250 legal fee payout.

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He was later acquitted of 13 charges following a criminal trial and Sturgeon told MSPs on Wednesday the idea that those involved were “concocting” allegations was false, and they came forward of “their own free will”.

She said it was “absolutely right” the Scottish Government investigated the complaints, saying an “individual’s profile, status or connections should not result in complaints of this nature being ignored or swept under the carpet”.

She said “two women were failed and taxpayers’ money was lost, I deeply regret that”.

She added: “Although I was not aware of the error at the time, I am the head of the Scottish Government so I want to take this opportunity to say sorry to the two women involved and to the wider public.”

Sturgeon said what happened was “simple”, adding: “A number of women made complaints against Alex Salmond. The government, despite the mistake it undoubtedly made, tried to do the right thing.

“As First Minister I refused to follow the age-old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants.”

Addressing Salmond’s committee evidence on Friday, Sturgeon said: “That he was acquitted by a jury of criminal conduct is beyond question. But I know, just from what he told me, that his behaviour was not always appropriate.

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“And yet across six hours of testimony, there was not a single word of regret, reflection or a simple acknowledgment of that. I can only hope in private the reality might be different.”

The First Minister had originally claimed she first became aware of the Scottish Government investigation into Salmond on April 2, 2018, before later admitting to a March 29 meeting with his former chief of staff Geoff Aberdein.

She said that at the March 29 meeting, Mr Aberdein “did indicate a harassment-type issue had arisen, but my recollection is he did so in general terms”.

She told the committee she wishes her memory of the meeting on March 29 was “more vivid”, but “it was the detail of the complaints under the procedure that I was given on April 2 that was significant and indeed shocking”.

Describing the April 2 meeting in her home with Salmond, she said while he denied the complaints against him he gave his account of the incident which “he said he had apologised for at the time”.

Sturgeon told MSPs: “What he described constituted in my view deeply inappropriate behaviour on his part, perhaps a reason why that moment is embedded so strongly in my mind.”

She said she did not “immediately record the April 2 meeting” as she did not want it to become public and risk “breaching the confidentiality of the process”.

She added she had no intention of intervening in the investigation process and did not intervene, saying to do so would have been an abuse of her role.

Addressing the judicial review, Sturgeon said there was strong prospects of defending the challenge and as late as December 11, 2018, the advice given was it was “very clear there was no need to drop the case”.

She said she followed the advice of law officers so did not breach the ministerial code, as has been claimed.

Labour’s Jackie Ballie questioned Sturgeon over “missing” documents from the Scottish Government’s legal advice given to the committee at the “11th hour”, with convener Linda Fabiani saying the committee shares Baillie’s “frustration” on this.

Sturgeon stressed she had always acted “properly and appropriately” and there was “no intention” by the Scottish Government to withhold information from the committee.

She added: “While the government made mistakes… there is nothing here that the government has to hide.”

She said her government’s complaints procedure is “lawful” but there was an error in the appointment of the investigating officer, who had prior contact with the two women who complained.

The First Minister was also questioned about a claim that a senior member of her team had leaked the name of one of the complainers to Mr Aberdein, who passed it to Salmond.

Sturgeon said: “I am not accepting that that happened, therefore I am clearly not accepting that was authorised.”

She said her assumption was Salmond had worked out the names on his own “through his own investigations”.

During the committee meeting, Salmond lodged a formal complaint with the head of Scotland’s civil service “on the conduct of the official who is alleged to have breached civil service rules, by disclosing the name of a complainant in the Scottish Government process”.

Sturgeon was also asked about a leak of the Scottish Government investigation to the Daily Record newspaper in 2018, which broke the news of the allegations.

She said the leak “didn’t come from me, or anyone acting on my instruction or request”.

She added: “I’m certain as I can be it didn’t come from my office.”

Sturgeon is facing calls from the Scottish Conservatives to resign after two witnesses backed up Salmond’s claim that she misled parliament about a meeting with her predecessor in evidence to the committee.

She accused Salmond of “lashing out against us” in his evidence, adding “many of us, including me, feel let down by him”.

After the eight-hour evidence session, Sturgeon’s spokesman insisted the First Minister had “dismantled” the allegations levelled against her.

He said: “The First Minister gave a clear, open and transparent account to the committee and directly addressed all of the issues raised.

“She was happy to take all of their questions and gave evidence for as long as the committee members wanted.”

However, the Scottish Conservatives repeated their call for Sturgeon to resign, describing her evidence as a “litany of lies.

Party leader Douglas Ross said: “The litany of lies and abject failures is too much for any First Minister to survive. The evidence is overwhelming. She must go.”

Scottish Labour, meanwhile, said the First Minister still faced “serious questions”.

Committee member and deputy leader Jackie Baillie said: “Ultimately, the First Minister was unable to answer accusations made against her, unable to disprove claims made by credible witnesses, and unable to properly defend the government’s costly decision to persist with the judicial review.

“Serious questions remain over the First Minister’s conduct.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “The committee will need time to consider the large volume of new evidence before reaching its verdict. There are serious matters for the future of the First Minister.

“Reaching the correct conclusion will be the first step on the route to restoring confidence of those who may consider making complaints about harassment in future.”


Coronavirus: No further deaths as 211 new cases recorded

The Scottish Government also confirmed that 2,744,231 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

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Covid-19: The fight to stop the spread of the deadly virus goes on.

There have been 211 new cases of Covid-19 recorded in the last 24 hours, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

However, there have been no new deaths from people who have tested positive for the virus.

The death toll of those who tested positive stands at 7642, however weekly figures on suspected Covid-19 deaths recorded by National Records of Scotland suggest the most up-to-date total is now more than 10,000.

The daily test positivity rate is 1.6%, up from the 1.2% reported on Saturday.

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The Scottish Government also confirmed that 2,744,231 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

A total of 738,420 people have received their second dose.


‘Life is on hold’: Mum’s plea two years on from son’s murder

Tony Ferns died after being assaulted in his Audi A3 in Thornliebank during 2019.

Police Scotland / SNS Group via SNS Group
Appeal: Tony Ferns died with his mother Phyllis watching on.

A mother has said her “life is on hold” as she made an appeal for information two years on from her son’s murder in Glasgow.

Tony Ferns was in his Audi A3 in Crebar Street, Thornliebank, on Thursday April 18, 2019, when a man approached and assaulted him.

The 33-year-old managed to make it home with serious injuries to Roukenburn Street, where paramedics fought to save his life.

However Mr Ferns died with his mother Phyllis watching on.

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A murder inquiry was launched and more than 600 people have been spoken to as officers examined thousands of hours of CCTV footage.

Two years on, his mother has appealed to members of the public for help, saying: “I cannot believe it is now two years since my son Tony was brutally murdered and taken away from me forever.

“My life is on hold. I have not been able to move on or accept the fact I won’t see my boy again.

“I need closure. I need the person or persons responsible to be prosecuted.

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“I appeal and plead with anyone who has any information to contact police or Crimestoppers.”

Crimestoppers is also offering a reward of up to £10,000 for information which assists the investigation into Mr Ferns’ murder.

Detective Chief Inspector Gillian Grant, who is now leading the inquiry, said: “I am determined to find whoever is responsible for Tony’s murder. It’s clear he was a much-loved son and partner and is deeply missed by his family.

“I am convinced there are people out there who have information, vital to this investigation, who have failed to come forward.

“This may be down to fear or some misplaced loyalty to those responsible for this horrific crime, but please do the right thing and contact us, you can be assured your information will be treated in the utmost confidence.

“Phyllis had to watch her son, Tony, suffer and die, something no mother should have to go through.

“Put yourself in her shoes and think how she must feel, does she not deserve to know why her son was murdered and taken from her? Please help us find answers for a mother who deserves to know the truth.”

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Anyone with information is asked to call Police Scotland via 101, quoting incident number 4732 of 18 April 2019, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where you can give your information anonymously.


UK scientists ‘must learn’ about Indian Covid variant

Seventy-seven cases have been detected in the UK, including four in Scotland and 73 in England.

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Scientists urged to speed up Indian variant analysis.

UK scientists must urgently learn as much as possible about the Indian Covid-19 variant, a leading epidemiologist has warned.

Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M), said as much information about the new variant must be gathered “as quickly as possible”.

He said: “What’s concerning about the Indian variant is there appear to be two mutations which… may make the vaccines less effective, and may make the virus more transmissible.”

According to the latest update, 77 confirmed cases of the B.1.617 variant, which was first discovered in India, have been detected in the UK, including four in Scotland and 73 in England.

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However, UK environment secretary George Eustice said there is no evidence that the Indian variant of coronavirus is able to “get around” the vaccine.

He said: “The last I think I saw… there were around 70 cases. But I think I’ve seen lots of different numbers on different variants – you’ll appreciate, there is quite a few – so it is a fairly small number at the moment. But it is something that we are watching.

“I’m told that there is no evidence at the moment that this particular variant is able to get around the vaccine, for instance, or indeed that it is necessarily more contagious than the others,” he told Sky News On Sunday.

Dr Hopkins, chief medical adviser for NHS Test and Trace added: “We have seen a couple of cases [of the Indian variant] that haven’t arisen from travel but we’re still trying to undergo the investigations to look in great detail at where they might have acquired it from.

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“To escalate it up the ranking we need to know that it is increased transmissibility, increased severity or vaccine evading, and we just don’t have that yet.”


Rangers end Celtic’s grip on Scottish Cup with 2-0 win at Ibrox

Steven Gerrard's side continued their dominant domestic form to knock out their rivals.

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Steven Davis opened the scoring with an acrobatic volley.

Rangers have beaten Celtic 2-0 in their Scottish Cup fourth round clash at Ibrox.

Steven Gerrard’s side, who have already clinched the Premiership title this season, are on course for a domestic double while Celtic’s difficult season continues and the Parkhead club lost their grip on the last of the three trophies they were defending from last season.

Rangers went ahead after just ten minutes when an attack on the right saw a cross spin up and into the box. Steven Davis met the ball with an acrobatic volley that Scott Bain couldn’t stop.

Celtic responded with shots from Odsonne Edouard and Callum McGregor but missed a golden chance after 24 minutes. A low cross from the left came into the path of Stephen Welsh right in front of goal but the defender steered it back the way it came when he had the goal at his mercy.

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Rangers went further ahead ten minutes later and the move yet again came down their right flank, with Joe Aribo beating Diego Laxalt before hitting the line and firing in a cross that Jonjoe Kenny knocked into his own net under pressure from Ryan Kent.

After the break David Turnbull tested Allan McGregor with a fierce shot from outside the box as Celtic looked to gain a foothold in the game.

The visitors then had another huge chance when Mohamed Elyounoussi’s shot was blocked by McGregor but spun up and into Odsonne Edouard, who flicked the ball over the bar with the goal gaping.

Rangers had further chances. With Kent and Alfredo Morelos trying to beat Bain in quick succession but Celtic kept them out while pushing for a goal of their own.

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The chance with just over ten minutes to go. Leigh Griffiths, brough on for Ryan Christie, was fouled by Joe Aribo in the box and Celtic had a penalty.

Edouard took responsibility from the spot but McGregor dived to parry away his penalty and complete Celtic’s misery.

Neither side could find a goal in the final minutes and Rangers took victory, and progress to next week’s cup quarter-finals where they will meet St Johnstone.


Sturgeon insists SNP manifesto ‘designed to unite Scotland’

Policy proposals, published this week, set out plans to hold a second vote on Scottish independence by the end of 2023.

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Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the SNP’s election manifesto is designed to 'unite Scotland'.

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted the SNP’s election manifesto is designed to “unite Scotland” as the country looks to recover from coronavirus.

While the policy proposals, published this week, set out plans to hold a second vote on Scottish independence by the end of 2023, it also promised free dental treatment, extended childcare and a “green transport revolution” – including giving bikes to youngsters who could not otherwise afford them.

Sturgeon insisted the manifesto, put forward in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament election on May 6, is the “most bold and ambitious” the SNP has produced.

Her comments came as she urged Scots to vote for her party, “to re-elect me as First Minister and for a serious government which will deliver the fairer and more prosperous Scotland that we all want to see”.

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She vowed that in addition to this she would give “the people of Scotland a choice over their future once the Covid crisis has passed”.

Her political rivals have claimed if the SNP wins a majority in next month’s Holyrood elections, Ms Sturgeon will be focused on independence and not ensuring Scotland recovers from the pandemic.

Speaking about her party’s manifesto, Sturgeon said: “It is designed to unite Scotland around shared goals as we lead the country through the pandemic and into a sustainable recovery.”

The SNP leader stated: “At the heart of our plans is a belief that the recovery must benefit everyone.

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“We cannot simply wind the clock back to 2019 – we must be prepared to make long-term investments which will provide much-needed support to families right now, but will also have long-term benefits for our health and wellbeing.

“I’m proud that the SNP has delivered a massive increase in childcare provision, has rolled out free school meals to all P1 to P3 pupils, abolished prescription charges and introduced the Scottish Child Payment.

“But now is the time to build on these ambitions by going even further.”

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Sturgeon calls for four-nations Covid-19 inquiry this year.

The First Minister also said a four-nations inquiry into the coronavirus pandemic should begin this year.

Sturgeon said she had already committed to an inquiry covering Scotland in 2021, but said a UK-wide inquiry could also look at issues affecting each nation.

The Prime Minister has previously said he supported holding an inquiry into the UK’s response to Covid-19 but a timescale has not yet been set.

The SNP’s election manifesto says there should be a “person-centred” public inquiry that would hear from those who have lost loved ones to the virus.

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Sturgeon said: “I am committed to establishing in Scotland a judge-led public inquiry to examine all aspects of our handling of the pandemic – including the situation in our care homes – and to have this under way before the end of this year.

“This will happen in Scotland whether or not it happens in other parts of the UK.

“However, there is no doubt it would be beneficial to have an inquiry that could look across the four nations as well as at specific issues within each nation – this would help provide answers to families, businesses and all those who have made sacrifices over the last year.

“I hope all governments across the UK will join me in committing to a full public inquiry starting later this year.”


Man repeatedly stabbed in arms and chest during attack

The 29-year-old was attacked on a dirt track in Dumbarton around 10.20pm on Saturday evening.

Police Scotland
Stabbed: Man treated at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley following attack.

A man has been seriously injured after being repeatedly stabbed in an attack in Dumbarton. 

The 29-year-old was stabbed in the arms and chest during the incident on a dirt track near the gas works off Castlegreen Street around 10.20pm on Saturday.

He was taken to the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, where he was treated for serious but not life-threatening injuries.

Police want to identify two men, both aged around 17 to 20 years old, following the attack.

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One is described as being around 5ft 9in tall and of slim build. He was wearing dark trainers, dark jogging bottoms and a dark top – either a hoodie or jacket – with the hood up.

The other was around 5ft 5in tall and of medium build. He was wearing dark trainers, jogging bottoms and a grey jacket with the hood up. The jacket is a synthetic shiny material.

DC Aislinn MacLeod of Clydebank Police Station said: “Our enquiries into this incident are ongoing and anyone with information is asked to come forward.

“If you were in the area and saw or heard something suspicious then please get in touch. Similarly if you were driving in the area and may have dashcam footage then please review this and come forward if you believe you can help our investigation.

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“Please call 101 with any information, quoting incident 5116 of 17 April, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.”


Tories pledge to boost ‘neglected’ rural communities

Douglas Ross launched the Tories rural manifesto on Sunday, with proposals to help create jobs in the sector.

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Rural: Tories launch manifesto to help support 'neglected' communities.

Rural communities that have been “neglected” by the SNP must not be left behind as Scotland recovers from Covid, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives has said.

Launching the party’s rural manifesto at a farm in Inverurie on Sunday, Douglas Ross outlined a number of proposals to create jobs, improve infrastructure and restore public services in rural areas.

The plans include £550m in Community Investment Deals worth up to £25m each to help rural areas bounce back after the pandemic.

The Tories also pledged to end uncertainty for Scotland’s farmers by launching a full public consultation on a blueprint to replace the Common Agricultural Policy within 100 days of the election.

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Start-up grants for young farmers and new entrants would be reopened, while an extra £5m a year would be invested in agricultural research and development.

The manifesto also includes a commitment to review sentencing and penalties for rural crime and to put an end to higher delivery charges to remote parts of Scotland.

Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “Scotland’s rural communities have been neglected by the SNP for too long.

“They have been held back by poor infrastructure, diminished services and a lack of clarity for farmers – this must change now.

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“Rural areas must not be left behind as Scotland recovers from Covid-19, so we have set out plans to spread economic growth and improve public services.

“We want to create jobs in these areas, so that no one needs to move away from where they have grown up to find work.

“From rolling out full fibre broadband to ensuring councils receive fair funding, the Scottish Conservatives will give rural areas the support they need to thrive.

“For farmers, we have committed to end the uncertainty by launching a full public consultation on a blueprint for Scotland’s new agricultural policy within 100 days of the election.

“The SNP have dallied and delayed for too long. We would work with the farming sector to design a simple and fair system that works for Scottish farmers and crofters.

“I am committed to putting a stop to the SNP’s centralisation agenda and representing rural communities, so their voices are heard loud and clear at Holyrood.”


Scottish Labour manifesto launch delayed to Thursday

Anas Sarwar said despite the delays he had nevertheless been setting out his policies on job creation and economic recovery.

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Sarwar said the launch date had been pushed back for a second time.

Anas Sarwar has claimed Scottish Labour’s manifesto launch has been delayed to Thursday due to an “unscheduled” coronavirus announcement from the Scottish Government set for Tuesday.

Sarwar said the launch date had been pushed back for a second time – following the delay to the original launch due to the suspension of campaigning after the Duke of Edinburgh’s death.

However, the First Minister has previously indicated she would be likely to give an announcement this Tuesday.

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Sturgeon has previously indicated she would be likely to give an announcement this Tuesday.

The Scottish Labour leader said despite the delays he had nevertheless been setting out his policies on job creation and economic recovery.

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During an appearance on the BBC’s Sunday Show, Sarwar said the original launch had been planned for Monday but was cancelled due to a halt in campaigning, while other parties had been doing their own launches later in the week.

He said they had planned to move to this coming Tuesday but there was “an unscheduled Scottish Government statement now on Covid, despite us seeking clarification from the government on that”.

Sarwar continued: “We’ve been told to expect a statement from the Scottish Government that was unscheduled.

“So we’re having to move our manifesto date again.”

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He said this was “frustrating” but the party had not been waiting for its manifesto launch to set out its policies on economic stimulus and tackling child poverty.

The next easing of coronavirus restrictions is due to take place on April 26, when indoor opening of hospitality will be permitted.

Sarwar also attacked Nicola Sturgeon’s record in government, saying NHS treatment times had grown poorer.

He said: “She’s taken her eye off the ball on drugs deaths, she’s taken her eye off the ball on the NHS, she’s taken her eye off the ball in terms of her suicide rates across the country, she’s taken her eye off the ball on education.

“We need an effective Labour opposition in the next parliament to make sure she keeps her eye on the ball for the recovery and not focussed by her own priorities.”

The Scottish Government said ministers had a duty to communicate public health updates and plans were being kept under review.

At her briefing on Tuesday April 13, Sturgeon said she was “likely” to do another briefing the following Tuesday.

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Sturgeon tweeted on Sunday: “Tuesday’s Covid briefing isn’t unscheduled (last Tuesday’s was).

“It has been scheduled for weeks – indeed, those watching the briefing I did on April 6 would have heard me signal it.”

Sarwar responded with a tweet of his own, saying: “Nicola Sturgeon’s own Minister told me that the ‘scheduled’ briefing this week had been brought forward to last week, so not to expect one.

“I want this campaign to be about ideas – not TV schedules – so we’ve moved again to ensure we don’t clash with a public health announcement.”


Hibs forwards earn Jack Ross praise after comfortable cup win

Christian Doidge, Kevin Nisbet and martin Boyle were all on the scoresheet in their 4-0 win.

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Ross said his attacker have all hit form.

Hibernian head coach Jack Ross savoured the contribution of his in-form strikeforce after a 4-0 Scottish Cup win at Stranraer.

Christian Doidge and Kevin Nisbet were on target before Martin Boyle struck twice, including from the penalty spot.

The trio have now scored their team’s last 11 goals between them and 14 of the last 15.

Their form is sure to give Hibs confidence ahead of next weekend’s quarter-final against Motherwell at Easter Road.

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Ross said: “They have been like that all season. When you look at the amount of goals the three of them have contributed, they are all in double figures, which is terrific.

“I was laughing in the dugout, you could argue there’s a case for looking for goals from other areas of the pitch. But if you have three forward players that are producing that, there’s not many teams across the country that have got that.

“They are all on good form at this stage of the season which is great.”

Boyle in particular is in a purple patch with nine goals in 11 matches. The winger also set up a series of chances at Stair Park.

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“I think he’s had a brilliant season,” Ross said. “The expectations on him are so high that whenever he comes off it a little bit….

“But if you look at his goals and assists across the season he will be up there with any players in the country.

“When he is super confident like that he’s a brilliant player, a major, major asset to us.”

Stranraer boss Stevie Farrell bemoaned a near miss for his side with the score at 1-0 when Darryl Duffy inadvertently blocked Tam Orr’s goalbound effort.

“I thought Hibs had brought on another centre-half,” Farrell joked.

“I just watched it there and it was going right in the bottom corner.

“They are the wee defining moments that can change games but Hibs thoroughly deserved their victory.

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“You can see why they are the third-ranked team in the country at the minute.

“Their movement is excellent and I said that to the players, don’t be too despondent because you can learn from that.

“But we did well. That was our fourth game in a week and it was always going to be difficult.” 


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