What did Nicola Sturgeon tell the Alex Salmond inquiry?

The First Minister spent eight hours answering questions from MSPs on Holyrood committee.

Nicola Sturgeon appeared before the committee on Wednesday. Jeff J Mitchell via Getty Images
Nicola Sturgeon appeared before the committee on Wednesday.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon spent eight hours answering questions from MSPs on the Alex Salmond inquiry.

Here are some of the key claims she made:

No conspiracy

The First Minister rejected the “absurd suggestion that anyone acted with malice or as part of a plot against Alex Salmond”, saying the “claim is not based in any fact”.

She added: “There is nothing here that the government has to hide.”

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She said the “idea this was some concoction or plot is just not based on any semblance of fact or any semblance of credible evidence”.

“I have seen nothing that comes within a million miles of backing up that central assertion Alex was making,” she added.

She insisted she “would never have wanted to ‘get’ Alex Salmond”, and that she had “no motive, intention, desire” for such action against her predecessor.

Naming of complainants

During his evidence on Friday, Salmond said the identity of one of the women who made complaints was disclosed to his former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein, by a member of Ms Sturgeon’s team.

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Salmond has now lodged a formal complaint with the permanent secretary to the Scottish Government under the civil service code on “the conduct of the official who is alleged to have disclosed the name” of a complainant.

Sturgeon said she disputed this version of events, saying: “I am not accepting that that happened.”

She told the committee she believed Salmond knew the identity of one complainant because he “apologised to the person” at the time of the alleged incident, and he “found out the identity of the other one through his own investigations”.

Apology

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

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.”

Asked by committee member Murdo Fraser if she owed the Scottish people an apology for having previously told them they should trust Salmond, Sturgeon said: “I trusted him and I am not going to apologise for the behaviour of somebody else.

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“I do not think it’s reasonable to ask me to apologise for the behaviour of Alex Salmond.”

Salmond’s ‘inappropriate behaviour’

Sturgeon told MSPs that the details of complaints against Salmond – which he denied – were “shocking” and his behaviour “was not always appropriate”.

She said Salmond’s account to her of what she called his “deeply inappropriate behaviour” is a “moment in my life that I will never forget”.

That Salmond “was acquitted by a jury of criminal conduct is beyond question”, she said, but added: “I know, just from what he told me, that his behaviour was not always appropriate.”

What Sturgeon knew and when

Sturgeon told MSPs that she first became aware of any complaint against Salmond from a Sky News inquiry in November 2017, about an incident at Edinburgh Airport.

This led her to harbour “a lingering suspicion that such issues in relation to Salmond might rear their head”.

But she said it was not until a meeting with her predecessor on April 2, 2018 at her home that she knew “beyond any doubt”.

The First Minister has previously claimed she first became aware of the Scottish Government investigation into Salmond at the April 2 meeting.

She later admitted having “forgotten” a March 29 meeting with Mr Aberdein, but she told MSPs on Wednesday: “The purpose of the conversation seemed to be to persuade me to meet with Alex as soon as possible, which I did agree to do.

“Geoff did indicate a harassment-type issue had arisen, but my recollection is he did so in general terms.”

She told the committee she wished her memory of the meeting on March 29 was “more vivid”.

Duncan Hamilton, a former SNP MSP and lawyer for Salmond, and the SNP’s former communications director Kevin Pringle, submitted evidence on Tuesday saying they believe Ms Sturgeon was aware the March 29 meeting would be about complaints against the former first minster.

Sturgeon ‘did not intervene’

Sturgeon said it would have been an “egregious” breach of her position had she acceded to Mr Salmond’s request for her to intervene following complaints against him.

“I did not intend to intervene, and I did not intervene, and while I know it is more complex than this, I think in terms of his anger towards me I think that is the root of it with Mr Salmond,” she said.

She added that it “would have been deeply wrong” to have intervened to try to “engineer the outcome” Salmond wanted.

Leaking of story to the Daily Record

The Daily Record newspaper broke the news of the allegations against Salmond on August 23 2018.

Sturgeon 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.”

Judicial review

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.

Sturgeon rejected suggestions the government did not take the advice of senior lawyers in conceding Salmond’s judicial review petition.

“The charge that has been made against me is that I wilfully allowed a judicial review to proceed against the legal advice, therefore I broke the ministerial code,” she said.

“With respect, as you now know, I was acting in accordance with the views of the law officers, not against.”


Scottish Conservatives launch manifesto to ‘rebuild Scotland’

Douglas Ross said recovery would be crippled by another independence referendum at his party’s manifesto launch.

Jane Barlow/PA via PA Wire
Scottish Conservatives: Douglas Ross and Ruth Davidson.

The Scottish Conservatives have launched their manifesto for the Holyrood elections, pledging to “rebuild Scotland” and stop another independence referendum.

Leader Douglas Ross said creating jobs would be his party’s priority in the next parliament but warned the country’s efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic would be “crippled” if the SNP continue to focus on independence.

The manifesto contains plans for £500 grants to help unemployed Scots to retrain.

He also announced plans to abolish Scotland’s higher rate of income tax “when public finances allow”, increasing the threshold from £43,663 to match the UK Government’s level of £50,270.

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The revised income tax threshold would increase the take-home pay for 1.1 million of Scotland’s highest earners, the Scottish Conservatives have said.

A total of 15 proposed Bills have also been unveiled, including a “Victims Bill” to end automatic early release, introduce whole life custody sentences and end the not proven verdicts that are unique to the Scottish justice system.

Speaking at the launch of the manifesto in Glasgow, Ross said: “Independence will be the SNP’s priority.

“If they are elected with a majority, they will take that mandate as free rein to drive forward their obsession at the earliest opportunity.

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“We cannot trust the SNP to deliver our recovery.

“We cannot rebuild Scotland, while we are crippled by the threat of an independence referendum.

“So we need to take that threat off the table.”

On the health service, the Tories said they would guarantee the NHS Scotland budget would increase either by the level of Barnett consequentials or 2% more than inflation every year – whichever figure is higher.

According to current estimates, this would increase the health service’s annual funding by more than £2bn by 2025-26.

A further £600m should also be allocated this year for “tackling the backlog of operations and treatment” exacerbated by the pandemic, Ross said.

The Scottish Conservatives have also pledged to increase mental health funding to 10% of the frontline health budget during the next parliament alongside expansions of community-based programmes such as cognitive behavioural therapy, social prescribing, exercise referral schemes and peer support.

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Outlining education policies, Ross said: “We would invest £120mn this year into a catch-up premium for every school child and set up a national tutoring programme for those children in most need of support.

“And over the Parliament we will give £1bn directly to schools for tackling the attainment gap.

“To end the SNP’s cuts to teacher numbers, we will recruit an additional 3000 teachers.

“We would allow every primary school child a free school lunch and breakfast because – as the son of a school cook – I know the importance of nutritious meals to a child’s learning.

“And we would roll out wraparound childcare, to allow kids to take part in exciting out-of-school activities and support their parents to keep a full-time job when their child starts school.”

The Prime Minister’s aides have refused to confirm whether Boris Johnson will campaign in Scotland ahead of the Holyrood elections.

As Ross set out the party’s manifesto, Downing Street advisers said coronavirus restrictions made campaign visits more “challenging”.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary Allegra Stratton said: “The key thing here is that because of Covid, the pandemic is making these visits more challenging than they would be otherwise.

“But rest assured we will update you in the usual way as and when a campaign trip is going to be made by the Prime Minister.”

Commenting on the Scottish Conservatives’ proposals, SNP depute leader Keith Brown said: “Today’s Tory manifesto shows that behind their rhetoric, these are the same-old Tories – completely out-of-touch, planning tax cuts for the rich and austerity for everyone else, and only interested in widening the gap between rich and poor in our society.”

Coronavirus: No further deaths as cases rise by 232 overnight

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 104 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19.

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

A further 232 cases of coronavirus have been recorded in Scotland, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

No additional deaths have been reported overnight.

The death toll of those who tested positive currently 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 2.5%, up from the 1.6% reported on Sunday when 211 cases were recorded.

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Of the new cases reported on Monday, 58 are in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde region, 56 are in Lanarkshire, and 30 are in Lothian.

The rest of the cases are spread out across seven other health board areas.

According to NHS boards across Scotland, 104 people are currently in hospital with confirmed or suspected Covid-19. Out of those, 14 patients are in intensive care.

The Scottish Government also confirmed that 2,747,694 Scots have received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, an increase of 3463 from the day before.

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A total of 757,115 people have received their second dose, a rise of 18,695.


Stonehaven train derailed ‘after colliding with stones’ on track

Rail Accident Investigation Branch says verified pre-accident inspections had found no track defects in the area.

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Interim report has been published into Stonehaven train derailment last August.

A train derailed near Stonehaven last year after colliding with stones washed out onto the track from the gravel-filled crest drain and from the adjacent ground, the Rail Accident Investigation Branch (RAIB) has said.

An interim report by the RAIB released on Monday said verified pre-accident inspections had found no track defects in the area.

The RAIB also said it had not found any evidence of a train fault that could have played a part in its derailment.

Three men died when a ScotRail train struck a landslip and came off the tracks at a bridge in Carmont, near Stonehaven, on August 12, 2020.

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Driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury were killed when the 6.38am Aberdeen-Glasgow service derailed.

Six other people were injured.

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ScotRail driver Brett McCullough, conductor Donald Dinnie and passenger Christopher Stuchbury.

The RAIB report also focused on drain inspection work in the area, concluding there is no evidence that part of a drainage system built at the location of the Stonehaven rail crash was inspected between its construction in 2012 and the fatal accident in August 2020.

A slope next to the crash site already had a “history of landslips and rockfalls” including an incident in 1915 which also led to a derailment, the report said.

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This led to Network Rail commissioning Carillion Construction Ltd – which has since collapsed – to design and construct a new drainage system.

The work was completed in 2012, but only the section closest to the track was listed on Network Rail’s drain maintenance database.

The RAIB said it has found “no evidence” the drain was inspected before the crash, apart from the section closest to the track.

It added that the design and construction of the drain, plus the “intended and actual” inspection processes, are among the main areas it considered as part of its investigation.

The report said there was “near-continuous heavy rain” in the area between around 5.50am and 9am on the day of the crash, which caused “significant flooding”.

The 51.5mm of rain that fell in this period was almost 75% of the monthly total in Aberdeenshire in an average August.

But it was “dry and sunny” when the derailment happened at 9.37am.

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Survivors of the derailment have launched legal action as they continue to seek answers over the cause of the fatal crash, which caused extensive damage to the tracks, bridge, embankment and drainage systems at the site in Carmont.

The railway line between Aberdeen and Dundee reopened in early November, 2020, after being closed for almost three months.

ASLEF, the train drivers’ union, welcomed Monday’s interim report into the accident, which it said had cast a long shadow across Britain’s railway industry.

Kevin Lindsay, ASLEF’s organiser in Scotland, said: ‘Blame for the accident has been laid firmly at the door of Network Rail for failing to maintain the area around the track. It was the landslip – the debris washed onto the track – which caused the train to derail, with the subsequent loss of life, injuries, and catastrophic consequences.

“We are urging Network Rail to examine every mile of track for which it is responsible, to ensure something like this can never happen again.”

Meanwhile, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT), said it believes the RAIB “seems to be taking Network Rail’s commitments on expertise at face value”.

RMT General Secretary Mick Cash said: “The tragic loss of life and damage at Carmont sets out that there are clear deficiencies in Network Rail’s approach to the effects of severe weather and its effects on the ageing rail infrastructure.

“Network Rail must learn from this incident and take the necessary steps to ensure that they are preventing incidents from happening.

“That means a robust and regular inspection, maintenance and improvement programme that means our railway infrastructure is fit for a future where extreme weather may become more regular and more challenging. We need a well-maintained railway that will need a hands-on approach to maintenance and improvements and not just leaving matters to predictions and forecasts.”

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps said the RAIB has been conducting “extensive work” during its investigation, adding: “I look forward to receiving the full findings in due course, to ensure lessons are learned from this tragedy.”


Four men injured in disturbance at school football pitch

Two men were treated in hospital following the incident at the John Paul Academy football park in Glasgow.

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Disturbance: Four men injured following incident at school football park.

Four men have been injured in a disturbance at a football pitch in Glasgow.

The incident happened at about 6.40pm on Friday at the John Paul Academy football park, Arrochar Street.

Two men, both aged 18, sustained serious facial injuries and were treated in hospital.

Another two men, both aged 19, were also injured but did not require hospital treatment.

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Detective constable Peter Lagan, of Maryhill Police Station, said: “Four people were injured during this incident, two of whom required hospital treatment, and our inquiries are ongoing to establish the full circumstances.

“There were a number of people around at the time and I would ask anyone who has yet not spoken to officers to get in touch.”


Doncaster slams ‘cynical’ European Super League project

SPFL chief executive says proposal would 'dramatically undermine the global appeal of football'.

Craig Williamson via SNS Group
UEFA has criticised plans for a controversial breakaway European Super League.

The proposed new European Super League “would have an enormously damaging impact on the very fabric of our sport at all levels”, the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL) said on Monday.

The SPFL spoke out after plans were unveiled for a controversial breakaway European Super League involving some of the biggest football teams across the continent.

Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City have announced they have signed up to the plan, joining teams from Italy and Spain.

Neil Doncaster, chief executive of the SPFL, said Scottish football’s league body stands alongside UEFA, the European leagues, the English Premier League and “the overwhelming majority of the game’s stakeholders in vehemently opposing the proposed European Super League”.

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He said: “These proposals, or any like them, would have an enormously damaging impact on the very fabric of our sport at all levels. It is no surprise they have been so swiftly and overwhelmingly condemned by fans the world over. 

“We believe that any such ‘competition’ would dramatically undermine the global appeal of football and would be financially catastrophic for all but a very tiny minority.”

The European Super League plans also involve Spanish sides Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona and Italian clubs AC Milan, Juventus and Inter Milan.

The proposal has support from investment bank JP Morgan, which will provide debt financing for the competition.

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It is understood that it will underwrite around six billion US dollars (£4.3bn) in loans for teams involved.

The plans would see the breakaway teams create a competition to rival the Champions League, but it would not feature relegation or promotion – leading to the accusations of a closed shop for the richest clubs.

Teams would play each other in midweek while still competing in their domestic leagues.

Uefa, the football associations of England, Spain and Italy, plus the Premier League, LaLiga and Serie A have also spoken out against the move.

Doncaster added: “The proposals we have seen, assembled by a small, self-selected group of very wealthy clubs, appear to be a cynical and very worrying attempt to thwart the core principle of sporting merit which rightly underpins European football.  They represent a clear and present danger to the sport we all love.

“Now, more than ever, given what we have all been through over the past year, governments, together with the game’s governing bodies and leagues, need to work together to do what is right and protect the very essence of the game.  

“The SPFL stands ready to support all efforts to fight for the principles of solidarity, sporting competition and fairness which lie at the very heart of the game.”

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Meanwhile, several SPFL member clubs posted images and video clips on their social media accounts on Monday in an apparent rebuke aimed at the proposed new league and to highlight the importance of fans to the game in Scotland.

Shoppers urged to ‘play their part’ to keep shop staff safe

The Scottish Retail Consortium and the union Usdaw have come together to make the appeal ahead of shops reopening.

Jane Barlow/PA via PA Wire
Shoppers have been asked to follow social distancing and other Covid-safety measures.

Shoppers have been urged to “play their part” in helping reduce the spread of coronavirus as the wider retail sector gets set to reopen its doors.

The Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) and Usdaw have come together to ask Scots to play their part in creating a safe and enjoyable environment for other customers and staff.

Non-essential stores have been shut in Scotland for 115 consecutive days but the Scottish Government is now expected to confirm they can reopen on Monday, April 26.

David Lonsdale, SRC director, said: “Every purchase from a shop helps support jobs in local retail and throughout the supply chain.

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“Retailers and their colleagues continue to work around the clock to maintain a safe shopping experience, so customers can have the confidence to return to their favourite stores.

“If we all follow the necessary physical distancing and hygiene measures and show consideration to those around us, including shop staff who are doing a difficult job, then everyone will be better off.”

Tracy Gilbert, Usdaw deputy divisional officer for Scotland, added: “The reopening of stores on Monday offers a lifeline for many retailers.

“That is good news in terms of helping to safeguard jobs, but the virus is still out there.

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“We expect employers to conduct full risk assessments, follow the agreed guidance and ensure that customers are fully informed of the necessary safety measures.

“Shoppers need to play their part in helping to limit the spread of the virus and avoid further lockdowns by following the rules and respecting staff.

“Regrettably, throughout this appalling pandemic, incidents of abuse towards shopworkers doubled and Covid-19 safety measures have now become significant flashpoints.

“Abuse should never be part of the job and shopworkers – who played a vital role in getting food and medicine into our homes during the pandemic – deserve our thanks and respect.”

The two organisations produced an industry-leading guide on implementing social distancing in April 2020.

They then worked with the Scottish Government to help develop official retail sector and customer safety guidance.

SRC is also launching a new social media campaign to encourage safe shopping.

Coronavirus: Majority of high school pupils return full-time

Secondary schools across Scotland start back on Monday morning following the Easter holidays.

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Coronavirus: The majority of schools return on April 19.

The majority of secondary school pupils in Scotland are returning to the classroom full-time on Monday.

Most primary and high schools across the country start back on April 19 following the Easter holidays.

High school pupils will no longer have to adhere to two-metre social distancing rules but other mitigations have been strengthened to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Face masks must be worn in all areas – classrooms, corridors and communal areas. This applies to S1-S3 pupils – not just those in the senior phase of their school education (S4-S6) – unless medically exempt.

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Furthermore, twice-weekly lateral flow tests are available for all secondary school pupils.

Pupils in Aberdeen, Fife, Dumfries and Galloway, Moray, Shetland and the Western Isles returned to the classroom last week on April 12.

Those in Edinburgh and Midlothian council areas are set to go back on Tuesday, April 20.

Only pupils who are shielding will have to wait longer until they can resume face-to-face lessons.

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Earlier this month, Nicola Sturgeon said the decision to return to in-person, full-time learning would be “a huge relief” to many children and parents.

The First Minister acknowledged that there would be some “concern and anxiety” about the move, but said safety would be “paramount”.

Scotland’s primary pupils returned to class full-time in stages during February and March, while most high school students were seeing teachers in-person on a part-time basis.

This year’s National 5, Higher and Advanced Higher exams have been cancelled, with results being awarded instead through coursework and assessments.

More on:

Hunt for man in balaclava who grabbed teenage girl in park

The girl was grabbed by a man wearing black clothing in Springburn Park on Saturday evening.

© Google Maps 2020

Police are hunting a man in a balaclava who grabbed a teenage girl in a Glasgow park.

On Saturday evening around 9pm, a man dressed in black clothing grabbed the 16-year-old as she walked through Springburn Park near to the boating pond. 

The girl managed to run away from the man before contacting police. 

“Detective Sergeant Larry Dempsey at Maryhill CID said: “This was a very frightening experience for the young teenage girl and luckily she managed to run away from the suspect.

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“It is vital that we trace the man responsible and we are currently reviewing any available CCTV in area. 

“Anyone who was in Springburn Park around 9pm on Saturday, 9 April and remembers seeing a man hanging around there who was dressed in dark clothing is urged to contact police immediately.”

Anyone with information should contact police at Maryhill via telephone number 101 quoting incident number 4445 of April 17. 

Alternatively calls can be made to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 where anonymity can be maintained.


Milky Way captured over loch in one of UK’s darkest places

Peter Ribbeck, 49, took the breathtaking image at Galloway Forrest dark sky park on Friday morning.

Peter Ribbeck via SWNS
Milky Way: Photographer captures stunning image over loch.

An amateur photographer has taken a stunning image of the Milky Way above a loch in one of the darkest places in the UK.

Peter Ribbeck, 49, took the breathtaking image at Galloway Forrest dark sky park, Dumfries and Galloway, during picture-perfect weather conditions.

Father-of-two Peter said the clear, moonless sky, helped create the starry picture – and despite being taken in the middle of the night said he has never felt more awake.

He arrived at Clatteringshaws Loch around 1.30am on Friday and waited patiently until the Galactic Centre began to appear on the horizon.

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The Galactic Centre – or Milky Way’s Core – is the brightest part of the Milky Way.

Peter, who works at a yacht marina, eventually snapped the picture at 3.30am and said he felt insignificant beneath the galaxies.

Peter said: “I got to Loch Clattering and started photographing there around 1.30am before the galactic centre began to appear on the horizon at 3.30am.

“It was absolutely amazing, it was such a calm night with a moonless sky so it was really dark – it’s one of the darkest places in the UK.

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“The conditions were just perfect, and it was amazing to look at.

“I turned my head torch off and it took about three minutes for my eyes to adjust to the darkness and then I started seeing all the finer details.

“It’s a selfie really, so you’re standing there, and the camera is running for around 30 seconds and you just feel phenomenal seeing it.

“There was no wind, it was about 0 degrees celsius and totally silent, and I was just looking into the galaxies and you feel really insignificant.

“I was quite tired but standing there I have never been more awake.”


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