Ministers face judicial review over church lockdown closures

Religious leaders believe church closures are unlawful as they 'breach human rights law and the Scottish constitution'.

Some religious leaders want churches to reopen. Paul Faith via PA Media
Some religious leaders want churches to reopen.

The Scottish Government is facing a judicial review over the closure of churches after religious leaders launched legal proceedings.

Representatives from a range of Christian denominations including the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), the Free Church of Scotland, and a number of independent churches launched the action stating that the closures are unlawful as they breach human rights law and the Scottish constitution.

Lockdown measures designed to stop the spread of coronavirus have forced places of worship to shut.

Lawyers for the religious leaders said that Lord Braid has now granted full permission for a substantive hearing next month, which they said could result in the courts ordering Scottish ministers to allow churches to reopen.

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The Rev Dr William Philip, leader of the Tron church in Glasgow, said: “Criminalising corporate worship is both damaging and dangerous for Scotland, and we are pleased that this case will be heard in March 2021.

“We must care for people as whole human beings, and Covid-19 is not the only threat to health and wellbeing.

“Our congregation of 500 in the heart of Glasgow is diverse in age and background, including some of the most vulnerable in the city.

“I have witnessed first-hand huge suffering through lockdown, not least a huge increase in loneliness, misery and untold damage to mental health.

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“The worst deprivations from this ban are inflicted on the poorest, the neediest, the most vulnerable – now excluded from the comfort and encouragement in life and death only Christian worship can give.”

As part of the latest lockdown rules, places of worship are only permitted to conduct weddings or funerals – with the number of attendees strictly limited – and to broadcast services online.

Communal worship can continue south of the border subject to restrictions on attendance.

The church leaders sent a pre-action letter to Scottish ministers on January 15 urging them to reopen churches, and lodged the legal claim for judicial review on January 28.

As part of the legal case, the church leaders will seek a “declarator” that the closure of churches in Scotland is unlawful, that church closure regulations must be reversed, and that a person may lawfully leave their home to attend a place of worship without fear of prosecution.

The case will be heard remotely on March 11 and 12.

The Rev Geoffrey de Bruin, leader at Christian Revival Church Edinburgh, said: “This is now a crucial moment for the freedom of the church in Scotland.

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“The closure of churches is a breach of the historic principle of the separation of church and state which is enshrined in the Scottish constitution.”

However not every denomination is in agreement with the move.

A Church of Scotland spokeswoman said: “We do not think legal action is the right course to take when the country is under threat from Covid-19.

“We fully accept that the latest pandemic restrictions mean that we have to close churches again for the time being.

“The vast majority of our members understand and support these temporary restrictions.

“We will continue to work with the Scottish Government to ensure that reopening churches will happen as soon as it can be done safely.”

Covid alert level lowered as threat to NHS ‘reduced’

The decision to reduce the alert to Level 4 has been made by the UK’s four chief medical officers.

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The UK’s Covid-19 alert level has been lowered.

The UK’s Covid-19 alert level has been lowered as the country’s top medics said the threat of the NHS being overwhelmed has receded.

The Level 5 alert was announced on January 4 as lockdown measures were introduced amid fears the health service could be swamped.

The decision to reduce the alert to Level 4 has now been made by the UK’s four chief medical officers because the number of cases in hospital are “consistently declining”.

Scotland’s Dr Gregor Smith, England’s Professor Chris Whitty, Northern Ireland’s Dr Michael McBride, Wales’s Dr Frank Atherton, along with NHS England’s Professor Stephen Powis, announced the decision on Thursday following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre.

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They said health services across the four nations “remain under significant pressure with a high number of patients in hospital”, but thanks to the efforts of the public numbers are now “consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded”.

They added: “We should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high.

“In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer.

“However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not – remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.”

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The alert level move comes as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced more than 1.5 million Scots have been given their first coronavirus vaccination.

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, she said 1,515,980 people had now received their first dose of the vaccine, an increase of 27,903 in the last 24 hours. 

Almost one third of the adult population in Scotland have now been given their first coronavirus vaccine, which Sturgeon called “an important milestone”.

More than 1.5 million Scots given first Covid vaccination

The First Minister said almost a third of adults in Scotland have now been given their first dose of the vaccine.

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More than 1,500,000 Scots have been given their first coronavirus vaccination, the First Minister has said. 

Speaking at the Scottish Parliament, Nicola Sturgeon said that 1,515,980 people had now received their first dose of the vaccine, an increase of 27,903 in the last 24 hours. 

Almost one third of the adult population in Scotland have now been given their first coronavirus vaccine, which Sturgeon called “an important milestone”.

She said: “The fact that more than one and a half million people have now received the first dose of vaccination is I think an important milestone.

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“We’ve now given a first dose to almost exactly one third of the adult population and that includes virtually everyone in the top four clinical priority groups recommended by the JCVI.”

There have been a further 31 deaths from coronavirus in the past 24 hours in Scotland, with the death toll now standing at 7084. 

The number of new cases has fallen to 769, a decrease of 27, which brings the total number of positive cases recorded in Scotland to 200,406.

The daily test positivity rate now stands at 3.7%, down from 3.9% the previous day.

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There are currently 967 patients with coronavirus being treated in hospital, with 89 of those in intensive care.

Thousands of jobs under threat at supermarket giant Asda

The supermarket giant has launched consultations with around 5000 workers.

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Asda has launched consultations with around 5000 staff.

Asda has launched consultations with around 5000 staff over a major restructuring which could put around 3000 back office store workers at risk.

The supermarket giant said the restructuring has been driven by the “structural shift” towards online grocery shopping during the pandemic.

The grocery firm said it also plans to create around 4500 separate jobs in its online operations this year and will look to hire staff impacted by the potential cuts.

Nevertheless, Asda said the consultations will impact about 3000 back office store workers, particularly affecting staff with cash and administrative roles amid the continued slump in cash transactions.

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The firm said it plans to close its Dartford and Heston home shopping centres, with around 800 jobs affected, as it looks to shift more picking operations into stores.

It added that around 1100 of its store management roles will be changed to support online grocery operations as more picking takes place in stores.

However, the company said this could increase the total headcount in these roles by around 60, as part of the consultations.

Roger Burnley, Asda chief executive and president, said: “The pandemic has accelerated change across the retail sector, especially the shift towards grocery home shopping, and our priority is to serve customers in the way they want to shop with us.

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“The last 12 months have shown us that businesses have to be prepared to adapt quickly to change and I am incredibly proud of the way we demonstrated our agility and resilience through the pandemic.

“We know that these proposed changes will be unsettling for colleagues and our priority is to support them during this consultation process.

“Our plans to transform the business will result in more roles being created than those we propose to remove and our absolute aim is to ensure as many colleagues as possible stay with us, as well as creating the opportunity to welcome new people to our business.”

It comes months after the billionaire Issa brothers and private equity backer TDR Capital agreed a £6.8bn deal for the supermarket chain.

The takeover is still awaiting approval from competition regulators, so the new owners are yet to take control of Asda’s operations.

Roger Jenkins, GMB National Officer, said: “Asda workers have had a torrid two years. The failed Sainsbury’s takeover, twelve months working on the pandemic frontline and now the uncertainty of a new take over, sidling the company with huge debts and potential sell-offs.

“This is the last thing they need.

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“The scope of today’s announcement means 5000 people have their lives put on hold. It’s not right

“Asda is a profitable company that does not need to enforce redundancies.

“GMB will battle hard to make sure no one leaves their job unless they want to.”


Sydney Devine’s funeral cortege passes mourners at theatre

Dozens of people gathered to pay their respects to the singer, who died earlier this month aged 81.

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The funeral of Scottish entertainer Sydney Devine has taken place. 

Mourners gathered at Alloway Parish Church in Ayrshire on Thursday to pay their respects to the singer, who died earlier this month aged 81.

The funeral cortege then passed by The Gaiety Theatre in Ayr, where dozens of people gathered to offer a final farewell to the star, breaking into applause as the hearse passed by. 

Glasgow Pavillion via Facebook
Scottish singer Sydney Devine died earlier this month.

One woman who stood to pay her respects said it was “quite a big day for locals”.

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The cortege then moved on to Ayr cemetery on Holmstone Road, where he was laid to rest. 

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People gathered to applaud the late star outside The Gaiety Theatre.

Devine was best known for his rendition of ‘Tiny Bubbles’ and had sold millions of records throughout his career. 

Tributes poured in following his death, with the First Minister saying Devine was a “true legend” of Scottish entertainment.

Iain Gordon, manager of Glasgow’s Pavilion Theatre where Mr Devine regularly performed, said “he was the ultimate showman and performer”.


Junior docs: ‘Covid patients our own age give us a shock’

Junior doctors are being hailed as unsung heroes of the crisis, but here they describe the brutal reality on the frontline.

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It has been almost a year since 121 junior doctors graduated early to support Scotland’s biggest health board in its response to coronavirus.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde placed the volunteers at Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Royal Alexandra Hospital, Inverclyde Royal Hospital and the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital – the biggest teaching hospital in the country.

Junior doctors were also placed at other NHS health boards across the country. 

STV News has followed two doctors as they embarked on the start of their careers. 

Ruaraidh’s story

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Ruaraidh Campbell’s career started abruptly when he returned from volunteering in Samoa to help the NHS in the fight against coronavirus.

His graduation date was pulled forward by two months, and soon after he started on the wards.

“I thought there’s no point in sitting at home,” the 25-year-old says. “I’ll get there and help if I can.”

Since March, Ruaraidh has worked on the respiratory and orthopaedic wards, and the high-dependency unit.

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“We’ve often seen not just one person coming in with Covid, but multiple people close to them.

“It can often mean that multiple family members or friends can all get very sick at the same time. And unfortunately, when people do pass away, that can be really, really tough.

“Sometimes we’re dealing with situations where relatives are passing away in very short time spaces. That can feel very difficult and you come home and you think, ‘well, this could be my mum and dad, this could be my granny and grandad’.

“When you think about that, when you put yourself in the other person’s shoes, it can feel quite heavy at times.”

One of the things that has shocked Ruaraidh the most is the age of some of his patients.

He says: “Another really difficult thing is seeing patients who are approximately our age, who despite being young and fit are very unwell with Covid.

“That always gives you a bit of a shock.”

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Senior consultants say it has been the “most challenging year” junior doctors could have had.

“We’ve had to deal with more death and dying than you usually would,” Ruaraidh said. “But more than that it’s dealing with it in a different way.

“With some visiting restrictions that unfortunately had to be in place because of the pandemic, it’s meant you often have to give tough news or deal with patients and families over the phone.

“I always find breaking bad news difficult. It’s an incredibly personal moment and you have to properly prepare for it. Because, however tough it is for you, it’s tougher for the person listening.

“It can be really difficult to speak frankly and honestly and lay out the facts, because you feel like you’ll hurt the person if you do that. But in most cases by being open and honest, that’s an empowering process.

“I remember the first time doing that, having to speak to a patient’s family and say that it’s not good news. I remember caching myself, when they asked me the question ‘is my relative going to die?’.

“It’s a tough question to answer, you need to compose yourself and say ‘unfortunately, yes but this is what we are going to do to make the person comfortable’. 

One of the main problems facing junior doctors is staff illness, with many requiring time off to self-isolate while others work extra shifts to fill the gaps in the rota.

Ruaraidh caught the virus at work.

“I had Covid myself and it really took it out of me,” he says. “Especially for someone who is pretty fit and healthy. I take care of myself and work out most days. It hit me much harder than I thought it would. It was quite nasty and I’ve been quite tired and breathless since.”

Having only worked in Glasgow for a matter of months, Ruaraidh is looking forward to getting to know his new colleagues over a beer when restrictions ease.

“Junior doctors work long hours and shifts can be tough emotionally and physically and when you have time off you value that,” he says.

“It’s been hard outside of work. Because you do a difficult job, there’s this old adage about ‘work hard play hard’ – and I don’t think that’s 100% true anymore, but it speaks to a certain truth that we really valued our time off because after a difficult long job, you want to make the most of your time off.

“And, like everyone else, we’ve struggled with not being able to see our family and our friends and to do the usual hobbies we’d enjoy. So I think that’s been quite tough on people. It’s not just the work but it’s when you come home, it’s been difficult to switch off.”

Ruaraidh’s virtual graduation was a proud day for his family. His mum and older sister are also doctors.

Although he hasn’t been able to see them, his family and girlfriend Sophie have been a great support.

“You have days that are tough, and you do see some sad stuff. And that is the nature of being a junior doctor.

“Sometimes you get home and you just need someone to listen and give you a hug if you’ve had a tough day, which we have quite often.

“I don’t know how often people in a normal job shed a few tears, but it’s not uncommon here.

“I also have my lovely girlfriend, who’s a massive support as well, she brings me back down to earth, she’s fantastic. It’s been tough at times, but that’s experience shared by many people throughout the UK.”

Annie’s Story

Annie Evans moved 400 miles from her family home in Sheffield to start as a junior doctor at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

“It’s always going to be difficult to start as a doctor, but when you have to start in a new city, in the middle of a pandemic, when you don’t really know anyone… it was difficult,” she says.

Living so far away from home, Annie hasn’t been able to spend time with her family.

“I think my parents are proud. When I speak to my extended family as well, it’s always quite shock if you’re telling them stories.

STV News
Junior doctor Annie Evans.

“I don’t think anyone realises how difficult it can be.”

Annie also works as a representative for her year of junior doctors. She says an extra focus is being placed on support.

“When the number of deaths goes up, then there are more people that do die in the hospital. And sometimes that can be quite difficult, if you’re having to go in and see that, just because that’s not really why you go into medicine.

“So it can be kind of demoralising when you have to experience lots of death all at the same time.”

Training concerns

Doctors have raised concerns over access to training. Pressures of the pandemic have meant lectures can only take place online, and senior consultants can only do so much to mentor their junior colleagues.

Dr Colin Perry, head of education at NHSGG, agrees that there has been less access to training.

But he believes the experience of the past year will shape an entire generation of junior doctors.

“It’s been the most challenging year that they could have had,” he says.

“A global pandemic of a new disease none of us had ever seen before. And so normally when they would look to us for guidance, and I suppose advise on how to treat these diseases, we’ve had to learn with them about how this disease is developed and in the midst of all of that, this is unfortunately a disease that’s associated with a higher mortality than perhaps they would have seen in the wards.

“Certainly they have had to have deal with perhaps more difficult situations than they may normally have encountered.

“I think they will come out of this having learned a great deal very quickly. And I think that might be one of the lasting impacts of the pandemic.

“And I think that has also changed the way we look at junior doctors. We’re very aware of their needs to training and education, but we do look at them more now as able colleagues, and a great resource within the system.”


Scotland’s Six Nations clash with France postponed

The game, which was due to take place on Sunday, will now be rescheduled for a later date.

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The French team and backroom staff have been forced to self-isolate.

Scotland’s Six Nations Rugby match against France has been postponed after a coronavirus outbreak in the French camp.

The whole team and backroom staff have been forced into isolation following the outbreak.

The game, which was due to take place on Sunday, will now be rescheduled for a later date.

Scottish Rugby confirmed the news on Twitter.

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Organisers ordered daily testing before announcing on Wednesday that this weekend’s Stade de France clash would go ahead following a full sweep of negatives results.

But less than 24 hours later they have been forced to shelve the Saint-Denis showdown, with the entire Les Bleus squad placed into quarantine after the French Rugby Federation reported an 11th player had contracted the virus.

The news will come as a major blow to Gregor Townsend’s Scots, who fear they will be without 10 of their biggest stars if the game is moved to a date outside of the international window.

The Six Nations said in a statement: “The Six Nations Testing Oversight Group met today to review the situation in the French camp.

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“They unanimously recommended the postponement of the France v Scotland match. This will be ratified later today by the Six Nations council.

“We will be working on the rescheduling of this fixture and will communicate the date in due course.”

Scotland coach Gregor Townsend said: “While we fully accept the decision of the Testing Oversight Group to recommend postponing our match against France on medical grounds, it is disappointing not to be able to play this fixture on Sunday.

“We have had a good week with our players who were focused and ready to represent their country in Paris and continue our progress in this year’s Guinness Six Nations.

“Throughout this tournament, and the previous Autumn Nations Cup, we have worked hard to maintain strict Covid protocols which have enabled us to select our strongest possible teams for these important international fixtures.

“We will wait to see what options are available to play this match against France, but it remains our position that we want to have all our eligible players available to us for that fixture, so we can compete to the level we would have done this weekend.

“We wish all the French players and staff affected by Covid well in their recovery and look forward to playing them at a future date.”


‘Aviemore is based on tourism – we need clarity’

Concerns have been raised that businesses cannot adequately plan to reopen under the new measures.

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Businesses in Aviemore are calling for more clarity on reopening dates following the Scottish Government’s latest plans to ease Scotland out of lockdown.

On Tuesday, the First Minister set out the route out of lockdown at Holyrood, prioritising getting children back into education. 

Non-essential shops, bars, restaurants, gyms and hairdressers could reopen in parts of the country from the last week of April under the new guidelines.

Nicola Sturgeon added that the localised ‘levels’ system would return from the last week of April, which could see varying rules in different parts of the country depending on the number of local cases.

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However hospitality businesses have called for further clarity on the rules, as they feel they cannot adequately plan to reopen under the new measures. 

Mike Gale owns adventure business G2 Ziplining and says work that needs to be done to maintain the business has been put on hold as he cannot afford to bring staff back from furlough. 

He said: “At this time of year we need to be doing maintenance, safety checks and getting back to work. 

“But at the moment I need my staff to be on furlough because that’s the only income I’ve got, whereas they need to be back working. 

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“Whereas in England they can plan and they, as in the tourist industry, they can be up and running before us.

“Yet Scotland, up here in Aviemore, it’s based on tourism. We need to know.”

“Hospitality has been ignored,” added Scott Burns-Smith, owner of Ravenscraig Guest House.

“We’ve been working through this pandemic for the last 12 months now and we’re not seeing a clear road map out of this.

“Hospitality is in desperate need of more support, but essentially people in hospitality just want to be open.”

SNP remain on course for Holyrood majority – STV poll

Support for the party and independence has fallen slightly since the last poll.

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The SNP remain on course for a majority at the Scottish Parliamentary election in May, according to a new STV News/Ipsos MORI poll.

However, support for the party has slipped slightly, with the ongoing Alex Salmond inquiry making some voters think twice.

Backing for Scottish independence has also fallen in the latest poll – although 52% of the most likely voters said they would back separation from the rest of the UK.

Scotland goes to the ballot box on May 6, with the poll projecting that the SNP will win 72 of the 129 seats – nine more than now and giving them a majority of 15.

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The Scottish Conservatives would be the second biggest party on 26 seats, with Scottish Labour on 17, the Scottish Greens on nine and the Scottish Liberal Democrats on five.

Ipsos MORI polled a base of 1031 voters in Scotland between February 15-21.

Emily Gray, managing director of Ipsos MORI Scotland, said: “This latest poll from Ipsos MORI and STV News shows a fall in support for independence, and a corresponding increase in support for staying in the union – though Yes still has a four-point lead over No.

“That’s important for Scotland’s political parties, since independence is the top issue voters say will help them make up their minds about which party to vote for in May’s Holyrood elections.

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“At this point the SNP look on course to win a majority of seats, but the next few weeks are set to be challenging for the party, with the Salmond inquiry ongoing.”

Voting intention

Constituency vote

• SNP: 52% (-3 compared with November 20-26)
• Scottish Conservatives: 23% (+1)
• Scottish Labour: 15% (+1)
• Scottish Liberal Democrats: 5% (-1)
• Scottish Green Party: 3% (+2)
• Other: 2% (unchanged)

Regional list vote

• SNP: 47% (unchanged)
• Scottish Conservatives: 22% (unchanged)
• Scottish Labour: 14% (-2)
• Scottish Green Party: 8% (+1)
• Scottish Liberal Democrats: 6% (unchanged)
• Other: 3% (+1)

Salmond impact

The ongoing inquiry into how the Scottish Government botched its investigation into harassment claims against the former first minister Alex Salmond is affecting some voters’ thoughts.

Among a number of claims, Salmond says his successor Nicola Sturgeon breached the ministerial code. If that’s proved in a separate investigation due to conclude in the coming weeks, the First Minister would be under huge pressure to resign.

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The poll found that 36% of all voters and 21% of those who voted SNP at the 2019 general election felt ‘less favourably’ towards the party as a result of the Salmond saga.

Independence

There’s been a four-point reduction in support for Scottish independence since the last STV News/Ipsos MORI poll in November.

Backing for separation from the UK now leads 52-48 – a shift from 56-44 in the previous projection.

And while 56% believe an SNP majority in May should lead to a second referendum within the next five years, that’s down eight points from the previous poll.

Leaders

Nicola Sturgeon retains a sizeable lead in the satisfaction stakes, although her approval rating has fallen from 72% to 64% since November.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross’ popularity has increased, with 28% satisfied with his performance, up from 22%.

Willie Rennie of the Scottish Lib Dems and Patrick Harvie of the Greens both leave 35% of voters satisfied.

What matters to voters?

Voters were asked what issues they considered ‘very important’ when deciding which party to support.

  • Scottish independence: 44%
  • Education: 32%
  • Healthcare/NHS: 25%
  • Coronavirus: 20%
  • Managing the economy: 18%
  • Brexit: 12%
  • Environment/climate change: 12%

Man jailed for naming Salmond accusers on social media

The High Court in Edinburgh heard Clive Thomson named twice named woman on Twitter.

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High Court: Thomson jailed for six months.

A man who named women who gave evidence against Alex Salmond has been jailed for six months.

Clive Thomson, 52, breached a strict court order which prohibited the identification of the complainers who gave evidence at the former first minister’s trial last year.

The High Court in Edinburgh heard how Thomson, of Rosyth, Fife, named the women on Twitter on two different occasions in August last year.

Lady Dorrian – the judge who presided over the trial which resulted in Salmond being acquitted of all charges – passed the order during trial.

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Complainers in sexual assault cases cannot be publicly named in order to prevent their privacy being breached.

However, the defence industry worker ignored the order and named the women on the social media network.

The court heard that he knew that he wasn’t supposed to name the women but did so anyway.

He believed he was safe from prosecution because he was holidaying abroad at the time of one of the tweets.

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The court also heard that he also sought advice from other Twitter users about how he could get around the court order.

On Thursday, defence advocate Mark Stewart QC urged Lady Dorrian, Lord Pentland and Lord Matthews not to send his client to prison.

But Lady Dorrian said what Thomson did was so wrong that jail was the only option available to the court.

She said: “It is a very serious matter. There are very good reasons why complainers in sexual offences cases are given anonymity.

“The protection is extended by convention to complainers in all cases – not just the one which we are concerned.

“It so happens that the protection in this case was backed up by a specific order by the court to underline the importance and you knew that this order had been made.”

Salmond was cleared of 13 charges of sexual assault earlier this year. A further charge of sexual assault had previously been dropped by prosecutors.

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The former first minister had maintained his innocence throughout the two-week long trial which was held in March 2020.


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