Universal Credit cut ‘will breach human rights obligations’

Universal Credit was increased by £20 per week to help claimants during the pandemic.

The £20 per week uplift is due to be phased out from the end of the month. MarioGuti via IStock
The £20 per week uplift is due to be phased out from the end of the month.

The UK will be in breach of its international human rights obligations if it pushes ahead with the planned Universal Credit (UC) cut, campaigners have warned.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has written to more than 350 MPs urging them to “use your influence” to stop the proposed cut when they return to Parliament next week.

The £20-a-week uplift, introduced temporarily to help claimants weather the storm of the coronavirus pandemic, is to be phased out from the end of the month.

The increase has been described as a “lifeline” for struggling families.

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The UK Government says it is the right time to focus on jobs – helping people into employment and existing workers to progress in their careers.

The cut is opposed by six former work and pensions secretaries, charities, think tanks, teachers and MPs across the political spectrum.

HRW argues removing the uplift would place the UK in violation of the UN’s International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, signed by the UK in 1968 and ratified in 1976, which sets out the rights to an adequate standard of living and to social security.

The letter, signed by HRW UK director Yasmine Ahmed, calls the move “retrogressive” and warns it will do “great harm”.

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She writes: “Cutting the basic rate of support to people living on low incomes, many of whom are already in work, by more than £1000 per year would leave many in a position where the Government’s social security system cannot guarantee their human right to an adequate standard of living.”

International human rights law is clear that cuts should not occur if they would lead to human rights violations, she said.

Any cuts must also satisfy a six-part test set out by the UN, she said, adding: “In any event a government deliberately choosing to significantly retrogress its protection of basic rights, including the rights to an adequate standard of living and to social security, will be violating those rights.”

Instead of removing the uplift, the organisation is calling for policy makers to focus on ensuring the social security system arms claimants with enough resilience to withstand daily economic pressures.

It says people claiming legacy benefits from the pre-UC system, who received no uplift, should be guaranteed a commensurate increase.

Chris J Ratcliffe / Stringer via Getty Images
Rishi Sunak has said the uplift to Universal Credit was always a temporary one.

The Department for Work and Pensions has not published its impact assessment for the move.

Research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation shows it risks plunging 500,000 people into poverty, including 200,000 children.

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It says 413 parliamentary constituencies across Britain will see at least a third of working-age families with children affected.

The HRW letter is one of a series of interventions calling on the Government to rethink its plans.

Earlier this week, more than 100 organisations implored the Government to abandon the cut, warning it would “fundamentally undermine” the Tories’ mission to level up.

Cross-party committees at Westminster, the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Welsh Senedd and the Scottish Parliament have also called on the Government to make the higher rate of payment permanent.

A UK Government spokesman said: “As announced by the Chancellor at the Budget, the uplift to Universal Credit was always temporary.

“It was designed to help claimants through the economic shock and financial disruption of the toughest stages of the pandemic, and it has done so.

“Universal Credit will continue to provide vital support for those both in and out of work and it’s right that the Government should focus on our Plan for Jobs, supporting people back into work and supporting those already employed to progress and earn more.”


Amber and green lists merge as international travel rules ‘simplified’

Scottish Government also cuts number of countries from which returning travellers are required to quarantine in a hotel.

Joe Raedle / Staff via Getty Images
International travel: Scotland's 'traffic light system' is to be 'simplified'.

Scotland’s traffic light system for international travel is to be “simplified” and the number of countries from which returning travellers will be required to quarantine in a hotel is to be cut, the Scottish Government announced on Friday.

Green and amber classifications will merge from October 4 but the red list will be retained for those countries deemed to have high Covid-19 case rates or variants of concern.

And Scotland will not follow the UK Government’s decision to ease testing rules.

Those arriving north of the border will still be required to take a pre-departure test before returning – including from non-red list destinations – even if they are fully vaccinated.

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The Scottish Government will also not follow their UK counterparts in allowing vaccinated travellers to replace the day two PCR test with a cheaper lateral flow test from the end of October.

Current amber list rules – which allow fully vaccinated people to avoid isolating – will be the default for non-red list countries.

Transport secretary Michael Matheson said the changes to the system recognise “the success of global vaccination programmes”.

He said: “This is a major step but one with sensible safeguards built in recognising the success of the Scottish Government’s vaccination programme.

“The expansion of the eligible vaccinated traveller policy combined with the changes to the traffic light system will provide a welcome boost to Scotland’s tourism industry.

“However, we have concerns that the UK Government’s proposals to remove the requirement for a pre-departure test for some travellers will weaken our ability to protect the public health of Scotland’s communities. While we want to maintain a four nations approach to these matters, we need to consider urgently their implications.”

The number of countries recognised in the eligible vaccinated traveller policy (currently only UK, EU/EFTA and USA), is being expanded to recognise countries where vaccine certification meets appropriate standards.

The 17 countries added to the policy from October 4 are: Canada, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Brunei, Taiwan, Dominica, Japan, South Korea, Qatar, Kuwait, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

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Furthermore, Bangladesh, Egypt, Kenya, the Maldives, Oman, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkey will be removed from the red list at 4am on September 22.

The Scottish Government recently relaxed rules, allowing people travelling from non-red list countries to choose from a variety of private test providers.

Derek Provan, chief executive of AGS Airports Ltd, which owns Aberdeen, Glasgow and Southampton airports, said Friday’s reforms are “significant” but long overdue.

He said: “Today’s announcement to overhaul international travel rules may be significant, but the reforms detailed today are what we have been urging the UK Government to implement for months.

“The outgoing traffic light system was both costly and confusing. Not only did the data show it to be ineffective in terms of protecting public health or detecting variants of concern, but it has been extremely damaging to our industry which has been on the brink for the last 18 months.

“It was inconceivable to think 2021 would be worse than 2020 for aviation, however, that is the reality. Now that progress is being made to strip away the layers of complexity associated with international travel, we urge the Scottish Government to adopt a four-nations approach without delay.

“Moving forward we need government to work with the industry to help rebuild passenger confidence and, more importantly, restore the connectivity we have lost.”

A spokesman for Edinburgh airport criticised the Scottish Government’s “decision to diverge yet again and further curtail Scotland’s aviation and travel industries in their recovery”.

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He said: “We are now the most restrictive country in Europe yet there is no justification or health benefit to retaining testing measures, something clinical professionals and experts have themselves said.

“This is great news for airports in Manchester and Newcastle – passengers will now travel there to avoid expensive tests and save around £100 per person, taking money out of Scotland’s economy and threatening our airline capacity.”

He added: “This will harm our recovery, impact on Scotland’s economy and cost jobs and livelihoods across the country.

“It now seems the economy boosting step previously referred to will benefit England rather than Scotland.”

Closing NHS Louisa Jordan may be ‘one of the worst decisions’

The Scottish Government has asked for military support amid a crisis in ambulance waiting times.

NHS Louisa Jordan via Twitter
On March 31, the hospital was closed to allow preparations for COP26 to go ahead.

With a shortage of beds and ambulances queueing up across the west of Scotland, closing the NHS’s temporary emergency critical care hospital may be “one of the worst decisions” made during the pandemic, a GP has said.

The NHS Louisa Jordan was opened in April last year inside Glasgow’s Scottish Events Campus (SEC). It was not used to treat Covid-19 patients but it did host thousands of medical appointments and saw 370,000 vaccines administered.

On March 31, the hospital was closed to allow preparations for COP26 to go ahead, a decision that Dr John Montgomery, South Glasgow GP committee chair, said will come to be regretted.

“You’ve got an NHS that works, before the pandemic, at maximum capacity, then when you suddenly have the crisis of a global pandemic, you don’t have sufficient beds,” he told STV News.

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Ambulances queue outside A&E at Hairmyres Hospital
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“Ambulances can’t offload patients into hospital and waiting times for ambulances have hit crisis point.”

A patient in Dr Montgomery’s part of the city died at home after waiting for an ambulance 40 hours.

The First Minister apologised to those who had endured long waits for ambulances, including the family of Gerard Brown.

The Scottish Government has officially requested support from the military to deal with pressure in the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS).

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But as Scotland continues to have the highest level of coronavirus cases in the UK, Dr Montgomery said he and his colleagues have never been so afraid.

“I’ve been practising for over 30 years, this is the most fearful that we’ve ever been when it comes to the impending winter,” he said.

“We’ve dismantled the Louisa Jordan at a time when we actually need it. We need to offload patients into hospitals to free up the ambulances.

“The Louisa Jordan would have been ideal.”

Dr Montgomery said the current crisis is not only down to the pandemic, agreeing with the president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh who said there was “a real workforce problem in the NHS and in social care”.

NHS Scotland via Email
NHS Louisa Jordan has been dismantled.

“We don’t have the number of GPs that we need to have to serve the population,” said the Glasgow GP.

“If there are not enough gatekeepers it’s going to have a knock-on effect up the line. It puts pressure on secondary care and the issues that flow from that.

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“The tragic ambulance cases are just a symptom of what’s going on and what potentially is coming ahead.”

The Ministry of Defence has said the Scottish Government request for aid is to support mobile testing units currently deployed by the SAS, which would free up resources in the service.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Louisa Jordan was a scheduled closure to allow preparations for COP26 to begin.

“Whilst our ambulance service, like all areas of our NHS, is facing the biggest challenges it has faced since its creation, people in emergency situations can always expect an ambulance.

“We continue to work closely with SAS to put in place a number of actions to increase their capacity

“Meanwhile, our NHS Recovery Plan, backed by over £1bn of funding, is supporting an increase in inpatient, daycase, and outpatient activity to address backlogs.”


Scotland continues to have highest level of Covid cases in the UK

Cases are unchanged in Scotland, but have dropped in England and Northern Ireland.

sajoiner via IStock
Data from the ONS estimates that around one in 45 people had Covid-19 in the week to September 11.

Scotland continues to have the highest level of coronavirus cases in the UK, figures suggest.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that around one in 45 people had Covid-19 in the week to September 11, the second week in a row it has been at the highest level since estimates began for Scotland in last October.

This is the equivalent of around 120,800 people, the ONS said.

While the percentage of people testing positive had increased slightly (from 2.23% to 2.29%) in the week ending September 11, the rate of increase had slowed, the ONS said.

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All figures are for people living in private households and exclude hospitals and care homes.

The data also showed that around one in 80 people in England had Covid-19 in the week to September 11, down from one in 70 the previous week.

One in 80 in England is the equivalent of about 697,100 people.

At the peak of the second wave in early January, around one in 50 people in England were estimated to have coronavirus.

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Meanwhile, in Wales, around one in 60 people are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week to September 11, up from one in 65 in the previous week.

In Northern Ireland, the latest estimate is one in 75, down from one in 60 in the previous week.

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Ambulance crisis caused by more than pandemic, senior surgeon warns

Professor Michael Griffin said less than half of the Scottish health service’s problems are due to Covid.

Scottish Ambulance Service via SAS
Ambulance: Crisis 'caused by more than pandemic'.

A majority of the issues in Scotland’s hospitals and the knock-on effect to the ambulance service are not due to Covid, a top surgeon has said.

Professor Michael Griffin, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, warned Scotland has “a real workforce problem in the NHS and in social care” that needs to be addressed and it is causing a “vicious circle” impacting all parts of the health service.

He told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that increasing numbers of Covid cases and infected patients in hospitals are adding to the “very, very complex problem” facing the health service – including under pressure paramedics.

It comes after the Scottish Government officially requested help from the army to support the ambulance service amid deteriorating response times.

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“It’s not just due to Covid,” Prof Griffin said, adding that the pandemic is responsible for “probably 30-40% of the issues that we’re seeing”.

He said: “With the reduction in elective surgery in many of the health boards across Scotland, it’s not just Covid.

“It has a significant contribution, but there are other multiple factors involved and it’s quite a complex situation.

“We have staff absences from illness, recruitment and isolation, such that we’re not able to staff certain areas.

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“There’s a real problem with getting patients out of hospitals at the moment and into social care, because there is a care home workforce crisis which is causing issues and bed blocking.”

Addressing the specific problems facing paramedics and waits for ambulances, Prof Griffin continued: “If the hospital beds are all full, it’s extremely difficult for the ambulance drivers to get their patients into hospital, on to trolleys, into A&E and into beds if they need admission.

“It is a bit of a vicious circle.”

Warning the “huge backlogs” in the NHS will take years to address, he welcomed the Scottish Government’s recovery plan and proposals for diagnostic hubs as “really good steps forward”.

But he added: “They’re not going to be any good to us in the short-term unless we can staff them and at the moment we are very much short of nursing staff to be able to staff them.

“It’s all very well having surgeons and having anaesthetists, but if we don’t have the extended surgical team and the crucial nursing staff and other healthcare workers, we can’t actually do our jobs.”

The comments appear to contradict Nicola Sturgeon’s insistence that the crisis in the ambulance service is “largely caused by the Covid pressure” and it is “the latest in a number of significant challenges posed to us as a result of this pandemic”.

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During First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Sturgeon apologised to people who had endured long waits for ambulances, including the family of 65-year-old Gerard Brown, from Glasgow, who died while waiting 40 hours for treatment.

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar urged Sturgeon: “Please do not use the pandemic as cover for your government’s failure,” as he described reports of people dying or being left in agony while waiting for ambulances as an “avoidable human tragedy”.

The First Minister replied: “I accept there were pressures on the ambulance service, as there were pressures on the entirety of our health service before this pandemic.

“But I do think anybody who suggests that the pandemic is not a significant contributory factor to what our health service is dealing with right now is stretching credibility.

“The pandemic has created the most challenging conditions for our National Health Service probably since the National Health Service was created and that is being felt acutely in Scotland.”

Pauline Howie, chief executive of the Scottish Ambulance Service, told Good Morning Scotland: “We’re currently experiencing an unprecedented period of significant and sustained demand on our services.

“That’s a result of increasing Covid-19 cases and also increasing non-Covid demand through illnesses and injuries.

“We’ve seen increased turnaround times at hospitals and staff absences due to isolating and these factors are all causing these unacceptable delays for patients.”

Asked what the winter will hold for the ambulance teams, she said: “It’s going to be extremely challenging, there’s no doubt about it.

“That’s why we’re looking at a whole range of measures to see what else we can possibly do ahead of winter to put in place capacity, not just in the ambulance service but across the whole of the health and care system.”


Adeline ‘can’t wait to make friends’ after life-saving transplant

Adeline Davidson is on the road to recovery - but her younger sister Josie has just been diagnosed with the same condition.

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A little girl who waited two years for a life-saving bone marrow transplant is set to start nursery – as her sister faces a health battle of her own.

Four-year-old Adeline Davidson underwent the treatment to tackle a rare blood cancer and is now “desperate to make friends”.

But as Adeline’s life continues to get increasingly normal, her sister Josie has been diagnosed with the same condition.

The two-year-old is facing “a long road”, however her condition is not currently life-threatening.

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Their mum Steph Davidson, from Alness in the Highlands, told STV News: “I think deep down I knew that Josie had something similar and it turns out that there’s two mutations in Adeline and Josie’s got one.

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Josie Davidson has been diagnosed with same condition as her older sister Adeline.

“The condition can still lead to bone marrow failure, but at the moment she is stable, so we are going with that and taking everything as it comes.”

‘She’s desperate to make friends’

Meanwhile, Adeline is well on the road to recovery and is set to start nursery in two weeks.

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“Things are really good,” said Steph. “We are nearly seven months post-transplant and her test results and blood counts are all great.

“She’s gone from hypocellular marrow, which means no cells, to 80 to 90 per cent cellularity, so nearly the same as any other normal person.

“She’s starting nursery in two weeks – I am thrilled, she’s thrilled, everyone’s thrilled. She’s ready to go.

“She is desperate to have friends and learn things and it’s a chapter we have been waiting for for two-and-a-half years – we are here, we have made it.”

STV News
Adeline Davidson can’t wait to start making friends.

Adeline has Shwachman-Diamond syndrome, a rare, inherited bone marrow failure. Symptoms can include low number of white blood cells, poor growth due to difficulty absorbing food and, in some cases, skeletal abnormalities.

Her treatment was delayed due to the pandemic, which the family said remained a big issue for them.

“It is still an obstacle, but we are at the point where we can’t keep delaying things for Adeline – it is always going to be there,” said Steph.

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“There are other bugs and viruses, which we are prepared for, so we have just got to get on with it and be as normal as possible.”

‘Nothing more important’

In 2019, more than 300 people turned up at an open donor drive in Inverness to have swabs taken and sampled in a bid to find a match for Adeline.

Her match was eventually found abroad and the family want people to get tested and declare themselves as potential donors.

So far, Adeline has required more than 100 blood transfusions to support her health.

Steph said: “It kept her alive for two-and-a-half years. There’s nothing more important than that and I know there are so many other children and adults that need the same thing.”


Police sergeant who made lewd remarks about children snared in sting

Paul Bucknall, 52, believed he was communicating with two parents of young children.

Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service via Website
Glasgow Sheriff Court: Paul Bucknall pleaded guilty.

A police sergeant who made lewd remarks about children was caught in an undercover sting.

Paul Bucknall believed he was communicating with two parents of young children.

This was said to have occurred at Cathcart Police Station in Glasgow and at his home in Cumbernauld, North Lanarkshire.

Prosecutors said the 52-year-old repeatedly sent messages that were “grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character”.

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The charges state he thought he was in contact with someone called Gemma and another parent called Lee.

However, they were instead an undercover colleague posing as the pair.

Bucknall is said to have made lewd remarks about children with reference to “sexual activity” in connection with them.

The incidents spanned between September and December 2019.

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Bucknall pleaded guilty to two charges under the Communications Act during a hearing at Glasgow Sheriff Court on Friday.

The case was adjourned until next month when it is expected further information will be heard.

Police Scotland confirmed Bucknall is currently suspended from duty.


Scotland make winning start under new coach Martinez Losa

Erin Cuthbert and Martha Thomas score as Scotland kick off World Cup qualifying campaign with victory against Hungary.

Ross Parker - SNS Group / SFA via SNS Group
Erin Cuthbert opened the scoring in Budapest.

Scotland kicked off their World Cup qualifying campaign under new coach Pedro Martinez Losa with a convincing 2-0 win over Hungary in Budapest.

Erin Cuthbert and substitute Martha Thomas guaranteed a winning start under the Spaniard, who held his first training session with the squad four days ago.

And the Scots, who were without the retired Kim Little and the injured Caroline Weir, reacted well despite a brief scare in the opening period.

Cuthbert opened the scoring in the 17th minute when she fired home the rebound from her initial penalty, which had been saved by Hungarian goalkeeper Reka Szocs.

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Klaudia Kovacs hit the bar for the hosts, who began to grow in confidence without really managing to pressure the Scotland rearguard.

Martinez Losa made a series of changes in the second period, including the introduction of Thomas just past the hour mark in place of the experienced Jane Ross.

And Thomas’s introduction paid dividends as she effectively made sure of the points in the 73th minute when she rose to head home from a corner.

The Scots had late chances to add to their tally through the likes of Lana Clelland and Clair Emslie, but their performance will carry them into their next match, against group minnows the Faroe Islands at Hampden Park on Tuesday, in good heart.

Scotland records 30 deaths and 5529 new cases of Covid-19

Official statistics published on Friday showed that there were 1037 people in hospital with the virus.

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As of Thursday, 1037 people were in hospital with the virus, with 87 people in intensive care.

Scotland has recorded 30 deaths and 5529 new cases of coronavirus in the last 24 hours.

Official statistics published on Friday showed that there were 1037 people in hospital with the virus, with 87 people in intensive care.

It comes after 26 deaths were recorded in Thursday’s statistics, and 30 deaths were recorded on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that around one in 45 people had Covid-19 in the week to September 11.

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It is the the second week in a row it has been at the highest level since estimates began for Scotland in last October.

Concerns have also been raised over rising case numbers in care homes, with 206 positive cases confirmed amongst residents in Scottish care homes between September 6 and September 12.

The CEO of Scottish Care, Donald Macaskill, earlier warned of the challenge facing the sector.

“These are exceptionally challenging times for care homes in Scotland,” he wrote on Twitter.

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“We have the highest number of Covid outbreaks since Feb and sadly the highest number of deaths since March.

“Please do all you can to support your local care home residents and workforce.”

On Tuesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed that children in Scotland aged between 12 and 15 will be able to get a vaccine from Monday.

Drop-in clinics will be open next week for those who have read the information provided regarding vaccination.

In the following week, letters will be sent to all 12 to 15-year-olds inviting them to an appointment at a drop-in centre or vaccination clinic.

The First Minister also announced that from Monday, booster jabs will be offered to all adults over 50 in Scotland.

The booster will also be offered to frontline health and care workers and to younger adults with certain health conditions that put them at higher risk and to household contacts of people with suppressed immune systems.

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Man who stabbed boy to death with pair of scissors jailed

Connor McMath, 21, struck Sean Ford, 15, in the neck in front of other stunned youngsters.

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Court: Connor McMath, 21, has been jailed for at least 15 years.

A killer who stabbed an innocent boy to death with a pair of scissors has been jailed for at least 15 years.

Connor McMath, 21, struck Sean Ford, 15, in the neck in front of other stunned youngsters.

Prosecutors said the teen had “done nothing” wrong and instead had been a peacemaker after a friend had been assaulted at the flat in North Wishaw, Lanarkshire, on March 7, 2020.

McMath fled the scene leaving his stricken victim, who never survived the attack.

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On Friday he was handed a life sentence at the High Court in Glasgow having earlier been convicted of murder.

Lord Matthews told him that “this one act of impulsive violence” had ruined a number of lives.

The judge added: “This kind of thing sadly all too often results in stupid arguments and violence, which, in this case, was sadly fatal.

“The circumstances are even more incomprehensible as there was no need for you to get involved at all.

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“You know perfectly well that you were responsible for the death of a child and that must be met with significant punishment.”

The trial last month heard how McMath was “acting hard” before the killing.

McMath joined a number of youngsters at the flat along with 18-year-old Derek Paton.

Jurors heard claims it was there Paton assaulted a 15-year-old boy, who was a friend of Sean.

Sean, of Wishaw, came into the room and stated: “What are you doing that for? That’s my pal.”

As the schoolboy then sat down, McMath suddenly lashed out for no apparent reason.

A 13-year-old girl told the trial: “He took scissors out of his pocket and the next thing I knew there was blood everywhere.”

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As a dying Sean begged for help, the killer fled from the flat.

A 999 call was made as a 14-year-old girl gave Sean CPR.

However, the tragic teenager died from a stab wound to the neck.

McMath, also of Wishaw, soon texted his grandfather asking to stay with him.

In a message, he stated: “I have stabbed someone in the neck… like an idiot.”

McMath also confessed to his parents. Asked why he had attacked someone, he replied: “Don’t know.”

McMath denied murder, claiming self-defence and that he had not aimed the scissors at Sean.

But, in his closing speech, prosecutor Chris McKenna told jurors: “Sean Ford had done nothing to justify what happened to him – far from it.

“The evidence suggests he was trying to calm the situation down.”

Donald Findlay, defending, said what happened that night was “desperately unfortunate”.

The QC added: “It is clear he did not start the incident, but he reacted and, as a consequence, someone died.”


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