Explained: New-look UEFA qualifying route for Scottish sides

Rangers, Celtic, St Johnstone, Hibs and Aberdeen will be Scotland's entrants in European competition next season.

UEFA will run three European competitions next season. Alan Harvey via SNS Group
UEFA will run three European competitions next season.

As St Johnstone lifted the Scottish Cup on Saturday, they didn’t just hoist aloft the last silverware of the season but also finalised Scotland’s entries into European competition.

Next season sees five Scottish teams embark on a continental adventure, with a new format meaning the sides will start in qualification for three competitions as UEFA add the new Conference League to the mix.

In theory, the change to the structure, along with Scotland’s improved co-efficient and rise up the rankings, should make it easier for our teams to qualify for the group stages and play more games.

Each will have a different starting point and set of challenges, as well as potential consolation prizes, in the months ahead, so we’ve looked at each in turn and laid out the road to glory.

Rangers

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(Rob Casey via SNS Group)
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The path to the Champions League group stage has traditionally been a tough one for Premiership winners, with Celtic’s qualifying process in recent years seeming to start just a moment after the previous season ends.

Instead of the repeated hurdles of four qualifying rounds, Scotland’s improved standing means the champions now only face two two-legged ties to reach the elite stage.

Rangers enter the competition in the third qualifying round and they’ll learn their first opponents when the draw is made on July 19, with first-leg games on August 3/4 and the return match a week later. The team will be in the ‘Champions Path’ so can only face the winners of other leagues, meaning they’ll avoid the third-placed side from Ligue 1, among others competing at this stage.

Make it through that tie and only a play-off stands between the Scottish champions and the group stages. Matches will be played on 17/18 August and 24/25 August.

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What if it goes wrong?

A defeat in the third qualifying round would see Rangers go straight into the Europa League play-off round to compete for entry into the group stage of the second-tier competition. Fail in that and the Ibrox side would still have European competition, going into the Conference League groups.

Making it through to the Champions League play-off but being knocked out of the top competition would see Steven Gerrard’s side go straight into the Europa League group stage.

Celtic

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(Photo by Craig Foy / SNS Group)

After a disappointing season where Celtic let their grip on the title go after nine successive seasons, there was one tiny consolation. Scotland’s improved standing means that this season’s Premiership runners-up still get a crack at the Champions League.

As you might expect, the task of reaching the group stage and taking on the likes of PSG and Manchester City is a little more difficult for Celtic’s new boss than it will be for Steven Gerrard. The Parkhead side start a round earlier, entering in the second qualifying round and go through the ‘League Path’.

Celtic are guaranteed to be among the seeds when the draw is made on June 16, with plenty of time to study their first opponents with the first game on July 20/21 and the return leg a week later.

From there it’s straightforward. Make it through the second and third qualifying rounds, then the play-offs and it’s Champions League football until Christmas at least.

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Exit at the first hurdle and it’s into the third qualifying round of the Europa League. Fail there and there’s a third chance of staying in Europe via the Conference League play-off. Reach the Europa League play-off round and defeat means Conference League group stage football is the final consolation.

Exit in the Champions League third qualifying round or the play-off and it’s straight into the Europa League groups.

St Johnstone

Craig Williamson via SNS Group
(Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

The new set-up means Scotland’s only direct entrant into the Europa League is the Scottish Cup winners. St Johnstone were already assured of a place in Conference League qualifying but their victory at Hampden means they move up a level and take the Europa place instead.

It had been assumed, based on projections for next season’s European competition, that the Scottish Cup winners were guaranteed to enter qualifying at the play-off stage. That would guarantee European football until Christmas since losing the play-off would mean going straight into the Conference League.

As things stand, that isn’t the case. The most recent access list the Scottish FA received from UEFA shows our cup winners as entrants in the third qualifying round and they haven’t at any point said a play-off place was guaranteed.

Final placings and seedings for all three of the competitions are still subject to change though, not least because the Europa League and Champions League finals have still to be played.

UEFA say they won’t finalise the listings until the beginning of June so there could yet be a positive twist in the tale for Callum Davidson’s side after a hugely eventful season. But for now, St Johnstone are looking to the draw on July 19.

It looks like the Perth side will be seeds for the third qualifying round, which is played on August 5 and 12. Losing at the first challenge would see the team drop to the Conference League play-off. Win, and it’s through to the play-off round and a shot at the group stages and millions in revenue along with matches against some big European names.

The big difference this year is the consolation prize for falling at the play-off stage – defeat at that stage would see St Johnstone go straight into the Conference League group stage and play European football through until Christmas.

Hibernian and Aberdeen

Ross Parker via SNS Group
(Photo by Ross Parker / SNS Group)

Scotland’s improved co-efficient gives the Premiership two places in the newly-created tournament. The Conference League is designed specifically to give sustained continental competition for teams who find the top end of the game out of reach financially these days, but there’s still plenty on offer in terms of prize money and potential glamour ties.

Both Scottish sides enter in the second qualifying round and have a third qualifying round and a play-off to negotiate if they want group games. It won’t be easy, and there will be bigger names dropping into each round as teams get knocked out of the Europa League, but the task on paper should be easier than the Europa League qualifying challenge that’s been a struggle for our representatives over the last few years.

Lose at any stage and there’s no safety net this time. Win and each stage will bring prize money, ticket sales and potential TV money that could help with progress at home as well as abroad.

All to play for.

Family of four seriously injured after explosion rips through home

At least one house was completely destroyed after huge blast at housing estate in Ayr on Monday night.

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Four members of the same family are in a serious condition after their home was destroyed by a huge explosion in Ayr.

A mum and dad and their two children were all inside the house when the blast happened on Monday night.

Police said on Tuesday that a 43-year-old woman and a 16-year-old boy are currently being treated at Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

A 47-year-old man has been taken to Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow and an 11-year-old boy is being cared for at the Royal Hospital for Children.

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They all suffered serious injuries during the blast in the Kincaidston area of the town, which was heard for miles around.

The other residents of the houses affected by the blast have all been accounted for.

Drone footage taken on Tuesday morning showed extensive damage to properties in Gorse Park. At least one house has been completely destroyed.

Residents have been evacuated from the area and two rest centres have been set up to assist those affected.

Katielee Arrowsmith via SWNS
Several properties have been destroyed after an explosion in Ayr.
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Chief inspector Derrick Johnston, area commander for South Ayrshire, said: “This is a complex incident and a number of different agencies are working together to establish the full circumstances of what happened.

“Our thoughts are with the family and everyone within the local community affected by this. A joint investigation with Scottish Fire and Rescue Service is being carried out.

Emergency services were called to the scene on Gorse Park at around 7.10pm on Monday, police said, adding that local road closures were in place and the public were advised to avoid the area.

Councillor Chris Cullen from South Ayrshire Council said: “It’s absolutely devastating what’s happened, it’s not something you expect.

“You come home, you cook your tea and next thing ‘boom’ there’s an explosion beside you. There’s a lot of people who are just totally shook, didn’t know what was happening.”

‘You come home, you cook your tea and next thing ‘boom’ there’s an explosion beside you.’

Councillor Chris Cullen

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Ambulance Service said: “We dispatched a number of resources to the scene, including three specialist operations vehicles, six ambulances and an air ambulance.”

Euan Bryson, who lives in the adjacent housing estate, tweeted a video showing a fire engine on a smoke-filled street in the aftermath of the explosion.

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He said: “(It) was chaotic. There was personal property and rubble all over the scene.

“The video below doesn’t even do the smoke justice. Could scarcely make out peoples’ faces.”

Another resident told STV News: “It was like an earthquake. I thought (my wife) was up the stairs and I thought she fell. The next door neighbour said it was an explosion.”

Gas distribution company SGN was helping emergency services.

A spokesman said: “Our engineers are currently assisting the emergency services to ensure the immediate vicinity is made safe in our role as the gas emergency service.”

STV News
Damaged car following explosion in Ayr.

The fire service said there were still two appliances at the scene at 10.30am on Tuesday morning.

Scottish Fire and Rescue Service area commander Ian McMeekin, the local senior officer for East, North and South Ayrshire, said: “Our thoughts are with everyone who has been affected by this incident.

“This has been an extremely complex and challenging incident which significantly damaged multiple properties in the area and resulted in the evacuation of other nearby homes. We will remain in attendance for some time as we work with our partners to ensure the area is safe.

“A joint investigation alongside Police Scotland will be carried out in due course to establish the full facts and circumstances.”

Siobhian Brown, the MSP for Ayr, Prestwick and Troon, urged people to avoid the area.

On her Facebook page, she wrote: “Our thoughts are with those affected in the Kincaidston area as we hear reports of an explosion.

“Please avoid the area if you can and let the emergency services do their jobs.”

Secondary pupils still required to wear face coverings in school

The Scottish Government said it had made the decision following advice from senior clinicians.

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Covid-19: Secondary pupils will still have to wear a face covering at school.

Secondary pupils will still be expected to wear face coverings in classrooms as they return to school after the October break.

The students, as well as staff in both primary and secondary schools across Scotland, will also have to wear a mask in communal areas and when moving around the building.

On Tuesday, the Scottish Government said it had made the decision to keep the existing Covid-19 safety mitigations in place following advice from senior clinicians.

The chief medical officer, Dr Gregor Smith, advised that a more cautious approach would allow more time for 12 to 15-year-olds to take up the vaccination.

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Education secretary Shirley-Anne Somerville said: “In recent weeks we have seen the previous sharp decline in Covid-19 case numbers starting to level off, and that is why we have decided to adopt a cautious approach and maintain safety mitigations in school for the time being.

“Progress with vaccinating 12-15-year-olds has been remarkable and is already over 40%.

“However, this was only rolled out a few weeks ago and allowing further time will mean that that encouraging figure rises even higher.

“This decision is based on advice from senior clinicians and takes account of the most recent data. We will continue to monitor case rates on a weekly basis, with a view to lifting restrictions at earliest possible time. 

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“While I fully understand that this will be disappointing news for some young people and their parents, as has been the situation throughout, the safety of children, young people, and all education staff remains the overriding priority.

“There is no room for complacency and we must all continue to remain vigilant to reduce the spread of Covid-19.”

Teachers’ leaders welcomed the move.

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the EIS, said the union had “argued for great caution in any easing of school mitigations, especially in light of continuing high levels of infection and the incomplete rollout of vaccinations for pupils”.

Mr Flanagan added: “The priority is to keep schools open but as safe as possible, so this delay from the Scottish Government, with regard to easing mitigations, is welcome and will allow, also, more time for ventilation challenges to be met ahead of winter.”

MSP Oliver Mundell, the Scottish Conservatives’ shadow cabinet secretary for education, said the move will “come as a massive disappointment to pupils and parents given the SNP strongly indicated that masks in classrooms would end after the October break”.  

He added: “Scotland’s schools should have been a priority for the SNP but with face masks in classrooms remaining, young people have once again been sent to the back of the queue.

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“These glaring inconsistencies will be difficult to comprehend for pupils and parents, especially with such an incredible uptake of the vaccine in 12-15-year-olds.

“Pupils, parents and teachers need to see a plan from the SNP for a return to normal learning as soon as possible.”

Taxi driver who sexually abused young boy he drove to school jailed

John Walls preyed on his victim starting when he was just aged 11.

© Google Maps 2020
The crimes spanned between March 2016 and September 2020.

A taxi driver who regularly abused a young boy he drove to school has been jailed for four years and eight months.

John Walls preyed on his victim starting when he was just aged 11.

The married 59-year-old cabbie worked for a firm in the Dumfries area who had a contract with the local council.

This involved Walls taking the boy to and from the child’s school and home.

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Walls later admitted what he had done during a “family summit” with relatives.

He was sentenced on Tuesday at the High Court in Glasgow.

Walls had previously pled guilty to charges of sexual assault and rape.

Lord Clark told him: “This was deplorable abuse which must have caused lasting distress for this vulnerable young boy.”

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Walls, also of Dumfries, will also be supervised for a further three years on his release.

The crimes spanned between March 2016 and September 2020.

Prosecutor Kath Harper told how Walls targeted the child when they were alone in his taxi.

She added: “The boy has found it difficult to estimate the number of times this conduct occurred.”

When the victim moved school, Walls continued to keep in touch including on social media.

Walls would meet him in his taxi and stop at various places in Dumfries to again abuse him.

The boy’s mum eventually became worried when she clocked the pervert siting in his cab near her home.

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She later spoke with police before her son told a teacher he had been preyed upon by a taxi driver.

Lorraine Glancy, defending, said Walls had made no comment when initially quizzed by police.

But, the advocate went on: “It would appear the shame and remorse – that he continues to display – was apparent when he got home and he told his wife.

“His wife then summoned other relatives for a family summit and, therein, he made full and frank admissions.”

Lord Clark told Walls the jail term would have been seven years, but for the guilty pleas.


Third health board calls for military assistance ahead of winter

NHS Grampian has made a formal request for military assistance amid growing pressure on the health service.

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Pressure: NHS Grampian has made a formal request for military assistance.

A third Scottish health board has requested help from the armed forces as it faces staffing shortages ahead of winter.

NHS Grampian has made a formal request for military assistance as the health service faces growing pressure as a result of coronavirus and the backlog of care built up during the pandemic.

Last week, the British Army was called in to help NHS Lanarkshire and NHS Borders, with a total of 86 personnel deployed for a three-week period.

Soldiers are also helping the Scottish Ambulance Service vehicles under a separate arrangement.

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An NHS Grampian spokeswoman confirmed a request for military assistance had been made and the health board was awaiting a response.

Staffing pressures mean acute services – such as emergency departments, surgeries and diagnostics – in the NHS are operating at capacity.

Following the request for support last week, health secretary Humza Yousaf said the armed forces would provide additional capacity.

He said: “With increasing levels of social mixing and close social contact, it is expected that this winter Covid-19 will circulate alongside respiratory viruses, such as flu, adding to the winter pressures usually faced by the NHS.

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“This military support will allow both boards to support existing staff to reduce waiting times, enhance care and provide a better experience for our patients.

“As always I would like to thank all those involved in our healthcare systems for their continuing hard work and dedication over this particularly busy time.”

Scottish Conservative health spokesman Dr Sandesh Gulhane said the latest request showed the government’s support for the NHS was inadequate.

He said: “We are not even near the peak winter period yet we have three health boards requesting urgent military assistance.

“That is a direct result of Humza Yousaf’s delays and inaction.

“His flimsy NHS Recovery pamphlet and belated winter plan for our health service are simply not cutting it.

“More and more patients are paying the price for his lack of leadership.

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“Support from our UK armed forces is hugely welcome and will hopefully ease the pressure on my colleagues on the front line.”


Record number of Scots spending 12 hours or more in A&E, figures show

The number of patients spending more than half a day in accident and emergency has reached its highest level ever.

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Latest A&E figures.

The number of patients spending more than half a day in accident and emergency has reached its highest level ever, with more than 600 people waiting 12 hours or more in the first full week of October.

While the Scottish Government’s target states 95% of patients should be seen and either admitted, transferred or discharged within four hours, in the week ending Sunday October 10 just 71.3% were dealt with in that time.

That exactly matches the record low achieved the previous week.

Meanwhile, the most recent weekly figures from Public Health Scotland show of the 25,335 people who attended at A&E 1,871 of them spent eight hours or more there.

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That includes 612 people who spent 12 hours or longer waiting for treatment – the highest number since weekly records began.

The three island health boards: NHS Shetland, NHS Orkney and NHS Western Isles, all managed to treat more than 95% of A&aE patients within the four hour target time.

But no mainland health boards managed to achieve this and in NHS Forth Valley just four out of 10 (41%) of patients were dealt with in this time.

It comes as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic continues to put the NHS under pressure, with a number of health boards having called for the army to help them deal with staff shortages.

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Health secretary, Humza Yousaf, recently announced an additional £300m for the NHS but warned, despite this, the service still faces an “incredibly difficult winter”.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Covid pandemic has inevitably affected A&E attendance and the pressure is being felt across the UK.”

She said that A&E departments in Scotland had performed better than those in the rest of the UK for more than six years, adding: “Our NHS staff have faced unprecedented pressures over recent weeks as they work tirelessly and consistently to respond to the pandemic whilst continuing to provide vital treatment and optimal patient care.

“As part of the NHS Recovery Plan we have committed £27m towards the Redesign of Urgent Care to ensure people receive the right care, at the right place.

“To minimise pressures as much as possible this winter, we’ve recently announced £300 million of measures to help increase NHS and social care capacity in our hospitals and reduce delayed discharges.

“In the meantime, we will continue to work closely with those sites facing the greatest challenges to ensure rapid recovery plans are in place and are in contact daily.”


Second man charged after human remains found at children’s park

William Leiper's body was discovered at the scene of a fire in Househill Park in the Pollok area of Glasgow.

Police Scotland
William Leiper, 31, was found dead on Wednesday, August 4, 2021.

A man has been arrested and charged in connection with the death of a man whose charred remains were found at the scene of a fire in a Glasgow park.

William Leiper’s body was found in Househill Park, near to Hartstone Road in Pollok, at around 7.35am on Wednesday, August 4, 2021.

On Tuesday, Police Scotland said a 25-year-old man had been charged in connection with the 31-year-old’s death.

He is due to appear before Glasgow Sheriff Court.

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On August 14, ten days after the discovery of Mr Leiper’s remains, a 40-year-old man was arrested.

Jude McPhie appeared at the court charged with murder.

He made no plea and was remanded in custody.


Horses ‘will give police heads up’ if COP26 trouble breaks out

Police horses have been in training for the climate summit, which is likely to attract large-scale protests.

STV News

Police horses will play an “invaluable” role in warning officers of potential trouble during the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow.

Mounted units have been taking part in training exercises as they prepare for the two-week summit, which begins on October 31 and will be attended by the likes of US President Joe Biden and the Queen.

Police Scotland horses will be joined by others from across the UK and, with protests expected, could be deployed at any time.

Chief inspector Cath McNally, head of specialist operations, told STV News that police horses bring a “calming presence” to high-pressure, crowded situations.

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“Their height advantage is really useful for those of us on the ground and particularly for those of us in a command role,” she said.

“We’re relying upon them to almost give us an early heads up if there are any issues within the crowd or if there are perhaps counter protesters coming towards us.”

Mounted police officers are allocated their own horse, which they work with most days to ensure familiarity.

PC Hannah Chalmers, who has been with the unit for ten years, believes the relationship between officers and horses is about trust.

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“They have to trust us and we have to trust them,” she said.

Steve Welsh via SNS Group
Police horses are often used to help control crowds at football matches.

“We don’t want to put them in the position that they’re going to panic, or we’re going to put either them or members of the public or ourselves in any danger.

“You wouldn’t do that until you know the horse inside and out.”

Horses and riders go through public order, equitation and hazard training to prepare for the types of scenarios they are deployed to.

PC Kirsteen Watson, from Police Scotland’s mounted unit, said: “We try and simulate the noise and show the horses some smoke to test what they’re going to be like and to try and desensitise them.

“We’re just hoping for a safe and secure event for obviously all our horses and our riders.”


Doddie Weir frustrated by slow progress finding MND treatments

Former Scotland rugby player has published a new diary charting his battle with the muscle-wasting condition.

STV

Rugby legend and MND campaigner Doddie Weir has been left frustrated by the lack of progress in finding treatments for the devastating disease.

The former Scotland player believes the speed at which Covid vaccines were developed shows what can be achieved when the scientific community comes together.

Weir – who set up a foundation called My Name’s Doddie – has published a new diary charting his five-year battle with the muscle-wasting condition, which currently has no known cure.

He told STV current affairs show Scotland Tonight: “There are quite a lot of frustrations there and we are trying to change that.

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“There is quite a bit of hope around the corner because there are trials starting in Edinburgh. The book reflects that a little bit, that things happening right now are quite good.”

Weir, 51, reveals in his book, Doddie’s Diary, that he is now having to become more reliant on help from other people.

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Doddie Weir, left, in action for Scotland in 1993.

“I think there is quite a bit of progression with MND so I need a lot more help to walk,” he said. “I had a bad fall in February. I lost my confidence in walking, so I need someone to hold on to me while I walk.

“But at the end of the day, this December (I’ll have been) diagnosed for five years, so there’s no need to grumble – get up and get on and enjoy it while you can.”

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Weir, who made 61 appearances for Scotland and also turned out for the British Lions, was asked what motivates him to get up in the morning.

“The motivation for last week has been my wife’s birthday,” he said. “The next thing we are looking at is probably Christmas and my son’s 21st.

“Along the way, it’s trying to raise awareness. That was the thought from day one – ‘when you’ve got a problem, go find a solution’. And I think that still stays the same to this day.”


Woman attacked five people after being removed from bar’s dancefloor

Julie Crummer assaulted three bouncers and two police officers at Arta in Glasgow city centre in November 2019.

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Court: Julie Crummer was sentenced on Tuesday.

A woman described as a “highly trained kick-boxer” assaulted five people in a bar brawl.

Julie Crummer attacked three bouncers and two police officers at Arta in Glasgow city centre on November 2, 2019.

The 38-year-old lashed out after being told to leave the bar while heavily intoxicated.

Crummer chewed door steward Clare Kilduff’s fingers for 60 seconds, breaking her skin, and also left her with a fractured jaw.

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Police noted that Crummer was a “highly trained kick-boxer who used her skill in the commission of the offences”.

She pled guilty at Glasgow Sheriff Court to the five assaults, one of which was to Ms Kilduff’s severe injury.

On Tuesday, Crummer, of Falkirk, was ordered to undertake 225 hours of unpaid work and was put under supervision for 12 months by sheriff Valerie Mays.

She was also tagged for 135 days, keeping her indoors between 9pm and 7am except for December 25 and 31 this year.

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Crummer was also made to pay Ms Kilduff £400 in compensation.

The court earlier heard that Crummer had been at a concert before heading to the bar.

Prosecutor Victoria Keel said that Crummer was “heavily intoxicated” and “annoying other customers”.

Crummer was warned about her behaviour and banned from buying alcohol at the bar.

She was then removed from the dancefloor by the door stewards but punched Ms Kilduff on the face in the process.

Ms Keel added: “When at the reception area, she began to fight with staff, assaulting Ms Kilduff by biting her left ring finger for approximately 60 seconds.

“She lashed out at other members of staff and assaulted them, including elbowing Niall-James Gillon to the stomach and face.”

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A 999 call was made and officers arrived to see Crummer struggling with the door stewards.

Crummer attempted to kick out at police and she was handcuffed.

She then kicked the officers’ legs as they tried to put her in a cell van.

Ms Kilduff was taken to Glasgow Royal Infirmary meantime for treatment to a red and swollen face, the bite to the ring finger which pierced the skin.

Ms Keel added: “An x-ray showed a fracture to her right jaw.”

Door steward Andrew Raeburn had a swollen left jaw and tissue damage.

Joanne McMillan, defending, told the court that Crummer is “extremely sorry and is ashamed of her behaviour”.

The lawyer added: “She doesn’t accept the reference to being a kick-boxer.

“She did a charity boxing match some years ago but this is the only time she said and doesn’t know where this originates from.”


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