Royal Navy’s newest ship joins fleet at Highlands ceremony

HMS Spey was built at BAE Systems in Glasgow and left Clyde shipyard last October for sea training.

RAF submarine-hunting Poseidon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth carried out a flypast and the Band of the Royal Marines Scotland played to mark the occasion. Royal Navy via Royal Navy
RAF submarine-hunting Poseidon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth carried out a flypast and the Band of the Royal Marines Scotland played to mark the occasion.

The Royal Navy’s newest ship has been commissioned into active service at a ceremony in the Highlands.

HMS Spey is the fifth and final ship of the new generation of River Class offshore patrol vessels being built under the current naval contract.

The 90-metre long ship can accommodate a Royal Navy Merlin helicopter on its flight deck and has room on board for up to 50 embarked Royal Marines.

HMS Spey was built at BAE Systems in Glasgow and left Clyde shipyard last October for sea training.

HMS Spey was at Invergordon in the Highlands (Royal Navy/PA)
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On Friday, the ship and its 45-strong crew were commissioned into the fleet in a ceremony at its affiliated town of Invergordon.

Later in the year HMS Spey will carry out security operations in the far east.

The ship’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Commander Ben Evans, told guests at the ceremony: “For many here today this is the first time they would have seen the newest ship in the Royal Navy, and we are ensuring that the day is celebrated as safely as possible.

“I am proud to be here today with my amazing ship’s company. They have achieved so much and worked so hard to get us to this important milestone.”

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RAF submarine-hunting Poseidon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth carried out a flypast and the Band of the Royal Marines Scotland played to mark the occasion.

HMS Spey Commanding Officer Lieutenant Commander Ben Evans during his speech (Royal Navy/PA)

Scotland Office minister Iain Stewart said: “Introducing the Clyde-built patrol vessel HMS Spey into active service once again shows that not only does defence play a crucial role in the security of the United Kingdom but it also contributes to Scotland’s prosperity through employment and investment.

“HMS Spey will always have a close bond with her affiliated town of Invergordon, but her foreseeable future is in the Indo-Asian-Pacific region where she will be deployed as part of the Royal Navy’s role in global Britain.”

Defence minister Jeremy Quin said: “Today marks a significant milestone for the Royal Navy’s second generation of River Class vessels, as HMS Spey prepares to join her four sister ships to provide essential maritime security for the UK.”

Her sister ships include HMS Forth, which is patrolling the Falkland Islands, and HMS Medway, which is in the Caribbean,  HMS Trent which in Gibraltar and HMS Tamar which will join HMS Spey in the Indo-Asian-Pacific later this year.


Johnson snubs Sturgeon invite to discuss Covid recovery

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had invited Johnson to meet at her official Edinburgh residence, Bute House.

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Boris Johnson won't be meeting Nicola Sturgeon during his visit to Scotland.

Boris Johnson has snubbed an invitation from Nicola Sturgeon to meet during his visit to Scotland this week.

The First Minister had invited Johnson to meet at her official Edinburgh residence, Bute House, to discuss the UK’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

However, the Prime Minister has replied to Sturgeon in a letter – posted on Twitter by a Sky News journalist – instead aiming to focus on wider discussions at a later point.

In his letter, the Prime Minister said: “As I noted when we last met, I am keen to arrange an in-person meeting with you and the other first ministers and deputy first minister to build on the constructive discussions we had earlier this summer.

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“We agreed then that we should establish a structured forum for ongoing engagement between the Government and the devolved administrations to deliver tangible outcomes in the interest of people throughout the UK.

“There is much for us to discuss as all parts of the UK work together on our shared priority of recovering from the pandemic.

“I understand our officials have made good progress on the details of this since we last spoke.”

Johnson added: “I am particularly keen that we work closely together on the vaccination booster campaign this autumn which will be crucial as we continue to tackle the pandemic.

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“The UK Government has procured millions of vaccines for the entire United Kingdom and we look forward to working with the Scottish Government as we roll out booster jabs in line with JCVI’s advice.

“The UK Government is working closely with the devolved Scottish Government on a variety of different issues.

“I know that you have been meeting regularly with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, but I look forward to meeting with you soon and working together in the interests of people in all parts of our country.”

Sturgeon acknowledged in her own letter on Monday she and Johnson “differ politically”, but stressed the Scottish and UK governments must “work together where we can”.

It comes after she confirmed most of Scotland’s remaining coronavirus restrictions are to be scrapped from Monday – which she hailed as “perhaps the most significant date so far” in the pandemic.

From August 9, Scotland will move “beyond level zero” with the removal of most restrictions such as physical distancing and the size of social gatherings.

The Scottish Government has been contacted for comment.

Most Covid restrictions to end next week – but masks remain

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement in a statement to the Scottish Parliament.

SNS Group

Almost all of Scotland’s remaining Covid-19 restrictions are to end from Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

In a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, the First Minister said that a number of mitigation measures will remain in place.

Sturgeon said that the lifting of restrictions on August 9 would include an end to social distancing and limits on the size of social gatherings.

However, the wearing of face coverings in some public spaces will continue, with Sturgeon saying that they are “likely to be mandated in law for some time to come.”

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Secondary school pupils will be required to wear face masks during lessons when schools return, as well as one-metre social distancing, which will be reviewed six weeks into the new term.

The requirement to self-isolate after close contact with a Covid-positive person will also be dropped in Scotland if a negative test result is received, whilst the use of vaccine passports for access to some events are under consideration.

Contact tracing of positive cases will remain, pubs and restaurants must continue to collect customer details and home working will continue to be advised.

Sturgeon said that while the Government expects the return of large scale events, for a “limited period”, organisers of outdoor events of more than 5000, and indoor events of more than 2000, will have to apply for permission to their local authority.

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Despite the easing of restrictions, the First Minister urged people to continue to take care and caution.

She said: “This change is significant and hard-earned. The sacrifices everyone has made over the past year-and-a-half can never be overstated.

“However, while this move will restore a substantial degree of normality, it is important to be clear that it does not signal the end of the pandemic or a return to life exactly as we knew it before Covid struck.

“Declaring freedom from, or victory over, this virus is premature.

“The harm the virus can do, including through the impact of long Covid, should not be underestimated. And its ability to mutate may yet pose us real challenges.

“So even as we make this move today, care and caution will still be required, and that is why I want to focus now on the protections and guidance that will remain in place after August 9.”

Sturgeon also did not rule out the re-imposition of coronavirus restrictions if needed in order to keep the country safe.

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“We all hope – I know I certainly do – that the restrictions we lift next Monday will never again have to be re-imposed. But no-one can guarantee that,” she told the Scottish Parliament.

“This virus remains a threat – and as we enter winter, it may well pose challenges for us again.

“So as we have done throughout, the Government will seek to take whatever action is necessary to keep the country safe.

“But as has also been the case throughout, we all have a part to play in keeping the virus under control.”


Covid jabs for 16 and 17-year-olds ‘could be approved in days’

Labour has said the government must have a plan to roll out coronavirus vaccines to the age group.

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Vaccine: Labour have said the government must have a plan to vaccinate the age group.

Labour has said the Government must have a plan to roll out coronavirus vaccines to 16 and 17-year-olds following suggestions experts were about to approve the move.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was “veering towards expecting” the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) would soon outline updated guidance for young people having the coronavirus jab.

Speaking to MSPs on Tuesday, Sturgeon had suggested the decision could come as soon as Wednesday.

She said: “We are waiting on JCVI advice. When I say ‘we’, I am obviously referring to the Scottish Government, but the UK, Welsh and Northern Irish governments are in the same position.”

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Sturgeon said the four chief medical officers across the UK had written to the JCVI asking them to look again at vaccination advice for young people.

She said: “First, as a priority, I am particularly hopeful that we will see updated recommendations for 16 and 17-year-olds.

“I am hoping for – possibly veering towards expecting – updated advice from the JCVI in the next day or so.”

The JCVI has so far ruled out the mass vaccination of healthy children, but under existing guidance young people aged 16 to 17 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious Covid infection should have already been offered a jab.

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Children aged 12 to 15 with certain conditions which make them vulnerable to coronavirus can also access the vaccine, as can those aged 12 to 17 who live with an immunosuppressed person, such as a parent or grandparent.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty previously said there was a balance to be struck between vaccinating young people who do not tend to suffer severely from the virus, and ensuring their lives were not disrupted.

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “With the JCVI apparently about to give the green light to vaccinating 16-year-olds, ministers need to ensure plans are in place to roll out this vital next stage of vaccination while ensuring parents have all the facts and information they need.”


Microwave sterilisation ‘could speed up ambulance cleaning’

Engineer came up with the idea after sterilising his newborn son's baby bottle in the microwave.

Scottish Ambulance Service via SAS
Cleaning: New technique could help speed up ambulance cleaning, scientists say.

The process of cleaning ambulances and hospitals could be dramatically sped up by a new microwave sterilisation technique developed by scientists in Scotland.

Microwave engineers, infectious disease specialists and polymer scientists from the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University and the University of Strathclyde have teamed up as part of the research.

Currently it can take around 30 to 40 minutes to disinfect a single ambulance with conventional chemicals – taking vehicles out of action for long periods and putting pressure on emergency services.

However the new method uses electromagnetic waves, antennas, sensor beacons and a liquid layer to rapidly heat up and sterilise surfaces – which can all be done from a safe distance rather than touching anything during cleaning.

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The team was led Dr Symon Podilchak, a professional engineer and senior lecturer of radio frequency technology from the University of Edinburgh and an honorary associate professor at Heriot-Watt.

He said: “I got the idea over a year ago when sterilising baby bottles for my newborn son using a microwave oven. It was when the Covid-19 pandemic was just starting in the UK in early 2020.

“I realised that if bottles could be sterilised in just a few minutes and were safe for a newborn child then it was possible to scale the technique for infected surfaces.

“However, significant research was required to determine the relative distance between the surface and the antenna whilst ensuring safe power levels.

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“I also figured out that it would be better to target and focus the microwave beam to the areas most likely to be affected.

“To do this, I reused a technique that I originally developed for charging mobile phones wirelessly.”

He then connected with Professor Marc Desmulliez, a chartered engineer and physicist from Heriot-Watt University who previously developed a microwave powered, open-ended oven.

This device was able to deactivate a live coronavirus (strain 229E) at a relatively low temperature of 60 degrees celsius in just 30 seconds.

Prof Desmulliez said: “The beauty of this new technique is that the surfaces sterilised are not being degraded which was one of the key challenges found with using UV light or aerosol techniques.

“The resulting microwave device can also be portable, and this means it can be applied in multiple other applications beyond ambulances and operating theatres.

“It could be used to sterilise dinner tables in restaurants or clean train or airplane tables and seats prior to welcoming new customers.”

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The team funded the initial research themselves using existing lab equipment and goodwill, and they are now seeking funding to manufacture a device that can be installed in ambulances as a proof-of-concept demonstration.

Their study is published in the IEEE Journal of Electromagnetics, RF and Microwaves in Medicine and Biology.

Ministers urged to back right to recovery to tackle drug deaths

More than 1300 people died in Scotland last year as a result of drugs misuse.

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Angela Constance made a statement to the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday.

The Scottish Government has been urged to “be bold” and back a proposal to ensure that those struggling with addiction or substance misuse are guaranteed access to treatment.

The call was made by Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross, whose party has raised the proposal under their new ‘right to recovery’ Bill.

It seeks to enshrine in law the right to addiction and recovery services, including short and long-term residential rehabilitation.

Addressing the Scottish Parliament on Tuesday, Scotland’s drugs policy minister Angela Constance indicated that the proposal would be given “serious and fair” consideration, but stressed the need to see the detail of the legislation.

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In a statement, Constance also announced funding for a new national facility for families affected by drug use, with £250m to be invested over the next five years.

It comes after statistics published last week indicated that 1339 people died in Scotland last year as a result of drug misuse – the highest annual figure on record.

Ross raised the issue during a statement on the actions being taken to reduce the number of drugs deaths in Scotland.

“Words are not going to solve this crisis, people need action and they expect to hear from the First Minister,” he said.

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“For the seventh year in a row, drug deaths have peaked. Our drug death rate is close to four times higher than any other country in Europe.

“In Scotland, if you live in a poorer area, you are 18 times more likely to die from drugs. Behind all those shocking statistics are lost loved ones and broken families.

“When is the First Minister and this government going to wake up? When will she stop abandoning our communities? When is she going to listen to those on the frontline?”

He continued: “We published our proposal for a right to recovery Bill and it’s with Parliament’s team being prepared for its launch.

“It’s being developed by frontline experts to guarantee everyone gets the treatment they need. It’s backed by seven recovery organisations and apparently, SNP MSPs.

“It would cut through the broken system and save lives. People who’ve lost family members and close friends to drugs deserve a straight answer.

“So, if the First Minister won’t won’t come to Parliament today and give a commitment, will the minister?

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“Quite simply, will the Scottish Government be bold? Back our Bill.”

Constance said that she would not give a blanket commitment to the Scottish Conservative leader.

She responded: “I know that Mr Ross has not been in this Parliament as long as I have been and I appreciate that he may not know me very well.

“But, I don’t play games and I’m not remotely interested in playground politics.

“With respect to his proposal to enshrine the right to treatment, let me be clear once again – I will of course, as will the First Minister, give serious consideration to any proposition, serious and fair consideration.

She continued: “With respect, I have to say to Mr Ross I have still to see the Bill, I am not going to give him a blind or blanket commitment.

“It is my job to look at the detail because scrutiny works both ways and bearing in mind, I have made a number of detailed commitments around investment and delivery to this Parliament and of course have the Government’s manifesto to implement.

“(If) Mr Ross wants me to implement his idea and his manifesto commitments, it’s imperative that I see the detail of that work.”

Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “The minister is right to say that this is Scotland’s national shame, but she must recognise it is the Scottish National Party’s shame too.

“We need urgent action to save lives. We can’t ignore the link between Scotland’s higher drugs death rate and our suicide rates.

“We need a coherent strategy and a plan from this government.”


Teenage skateboarder Sky Brown makes history at Olympics

The 13-year-old becomes Great Britain’s youngest Olympic medallist after taking bronze in the women’s skateboard park event.

Ezra Shaw / Staff via Getty Images
Sky Brown made history by winning bronze in the women's skateboard park event.

Thirteen-year-old Sky Brown has become Great Britain’s youngest Olympic medallist after taking the bronze medal in the women’s skateboard park event at the Ariake Urban Arena in Tokyo.

In a remarkable finish, Brown kick flipped her way into the history books by posting a score of 56.47 in her third and final attempt to come in behind Sakura Yosozumi and her 12-year-old Japanese counterpart Kokona Hiraki.

Yosozumi, 19, topped the podium with a score of 60.09, while Hiraki’s 59.04 proved enough for her to claim silver – eclipsing Brown to become the youngest Olympic medallist in 85 years.

Brown’s achievement is all the more stunning considering the fractured skull and broken bones she suffered during a horrific fall in training last year.

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Born in Miyazaki, Japan, to a Japanese mother and British father, Brown competed at the US Open in 2016 at the age of eight, and first elected to compete for Great Britain in 2018.

She arrived with plenty of profile, having won the US version of Dancing With The Stars: Juniors in 2018, and expressed her ambition to achieve the almost unprecedented feat of competing in two sports – skateboarding and surfing – at the Games, something from which she was subsequently dissuaded.

In 2019, Brown finished third at the World Skateboarding Championship, and the following year she effectively secured her Olympic qualification by picking up a bronze medal at the Park World Championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Last month, she warmed up for the Games by winning gold in the prestigious X Games, although neither of her key Olympic challengers, Okamoto and Hiraki, were present.

Calls for clarity on Northern Ireland Protocol plans

Angus Robertson says tensions between the UK Government and the EU are of 'great concern'.

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Roberston: External Affairs secretary calls on UK government to provide clarity on issue.

The Scottish Government has called for more clarity on UK ministers’ plans to renegotiate the Northern Ireland Protocol.

External affairs secretary Angus Robertson said tensions between the UK Government and the EU were of “great concern”.

Brexit minister Lord Frost has called for significant changes to be made to the protocol, saying “we cannot go on as we are”.

Robertson is due to meet with Lord Frost on Wednesday.

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Ahead of the meeting, Robertson said: “The ongoing tensions between the UK Government and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol are of great concern.

“The entire issue could worsen the already damaging trade impact on Scotland of the UK Government’s hard Brexit, and have wider ramifications for EU-UK relations, including further eroding trust.”

He said a recent UK Government Command Paper on a new way forward for the post-Brexit deal “gambled” with Scotland’s EU trade.

Robertson continued: “Lord Frost needs to explain to Scotland what the rationale is behind the UK Government’s high risk and potentially provocative strategy, and provide reassurance that a damaging breakdown in relations can be avoided.

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“Scotland is already suffering from the damaging economic impact of Brexit and being removed against our will from a market around seven times bigger than the UK.

“We need to do everything possible to avoid making that damage even worse, which is why I will be urging Lord Frost to ensure that the UK Government proceeds in a spirit of collaboration, not conflict, with the EU.”

A UK Government spokeswoman said: “It’s clear that the Protocol is not working in its current form and significant changes are needed to ensure that it is sustainable for the future.

“The protocol is causing disruption to the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland – companies are stopping delivering to Northern Ireland, there are growing difficulties with medicines supplies, and products are disappearing from supermarket shelves.

“We have set out our proposals to resolve the serious issues with the Protocol in exhaustive detail in our Command Paper.

“The EU need to engage with us urgently on these issues – we are ready to move forward in a constructive way.”

FM: Football clubs still need permission to host large crowds

Organisers of outdoor events of more than 5000 and indoor events of more than 2000 will have to apply for permission.

SNS Group via SNS Group / STV News
Clubs will have to continue applying for permission to host major crowds.

Sporting bodies and clubs will have to continue applying for permission to host major crowds despite Scotland moving beyond level zero of coronavirus restrictions.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced the Scottish Government was temporarily keeping some mitigations in place when most legal Covid-19 regulations are removed from next Monday.

Sturgeon said: “While we expect to see the careful return of large-scale events we will, for a limited period, keep in place the processes through which organisers of outdoor events of more than 5000 and indoor events of more than 2000 will have to apply for permission.

“This is allowing us and local authorities simply to be reassured of the arrangements to be in place to reduce the risk of large-scale gatherings.”

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Current restrictions remain in place for this weekend’s fixtures, which mean clubs need to apply to local authorities for permission to host crowds of more than 2000.

Celtic will host 24,500 fans for their cinch Premiership game against Dundee on Saturday.

Despite Scotland moving beyond level zero on August 9, the pandemic is not over, Sturgeon has said.

The First Minister told MSPs on Tuesday: “This change is significant and hard-earned. The sacrifices everyone has made over the past year-and-a-half can never be overstated.

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“However, while this move will restore a substantial degree of normality, it is important to be clear that it does not signal the end of the pandemic or a return to life exactly as we knew it before Covid struck.

“Declaring freedom from, or victory over, this virus is premature.”

Hibernian CEO Ben Kensell said the club wants to get a full crowd back at Easter Road as soon as possible.

“We want to welcome back fans as safely as we can, which is very important, number one priority for us,” he said.

“But actually, we want to get a full crowd back in as soon as we possibly can for obvious reasons, to support the team on the pitch, but actually for financial and commercial reasons as well.

“But there’s no better place than a sold out or packed Easter Road to cheer the lads on.

“So, from my perspective, it can’t come soon enough. But we’ll wait for the guidance and then we’ll act appropriately.”


Nightclub guidance on face masks ‘yet to be finalised’

The First Minister announced on Tuesday that most legal restrictions would be in removed in Scotland from Monday.

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Guidance on whether face masks will have to be worn in nightclubs has not yet been finalised, Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs.

The First Minister announced on Tuesday that most legal restrictions would be in removed in Scotland from August 9 as cases continue to fall in the wake of the successful vaccine rollout.

But the mask mandate, Sturgeon said, would continue in some form for some time to come in the same indoor settings. However, nightclubs have not been open throughout the pandemic and therefore mask wearing has not been legally required.

When asked for clarity on the issue by Labour MSP Pauline McNeill, the First Minister said: “I think it is important that we have similar mitigations in all indoor settings.

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“But we will be engaging with the night time industries sector about exactly how we would hope, as they are able to reopen from Monday, they will ensure that the right mitigations are in place and what will be expected of them as well as what we would encourage them to do.”

The First Minister said she had been having discussions in recent days with the sector and it was clear that some restrictions – with the strong allusion being she meant face coverings – would “make no sense” in nightclubs, adding: “Even if a nightclub was technically allowed to open, it would make it really impractical.

“As we finalise guidance for the reopening, we will make sure that we don’t skimp on appropriate safety measures, but we will be mindful of the practical realities in settings like nightclubs.”

Sturgeon also took the opportunity to urge anyone returning to clubs after Monday’s reopening, in particular younger people, to get vaccinated.

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“If you intend over the next few weeks to go back to a nightclub, and who could blame you for that, please make sure if you’re over 18 you’ve got your vaccine before you do,” she said.

“That will help protect you.

“We want people to be able to responsibly enjoy things again, but protect yourself as you do.

“You’ll be reducing the risk of becoming ill and you’ll be helping to protect others as well.”


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