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Nicola Sturgeon says claims of conspiracy against Alex Salmond ‘absurd’

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she had no reason to want to “get” Alex Salmond as she dismissed claims of a plot against him as “absurd

Nicola Sturgeon apologises for ‘catastrophic’ error in Alex Salmond affair

Scottish First Minister said she had a “profound concern” that the debacle would prevent women from reporting similar claims in the future and that she ultimately bore the responsibility.

Nicola Sturgeon has apologised to the Scottish public for the “catastrophic” mistake at the heart of her government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations against former First Minister Alex Salmond.

The First Minister said she had a “profound concern” that the debacle would prevent women from reporting similar claims in the future and that she ultimately bore the responsibility.

Giving evidence to MSPs examining the affair, she said she was “very, very, very sorry” that more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money had been lost on the judicial review case.

She also gave a detailed account of her dealings with Mr Salmond during the investigation, which are the focus of a separate inquiry into whether she broke the ministerial code.

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Nicola Sturgeon faces calls to resign after Alex Salmond documents published

If the independent investigation judges that she misled MSPs and breached the rules, she is likely to be forced to resign, bringing to an end her decades-long political career.

It would also have profound implications for Scottish independence, with any successor unlikely to enjoy the level of popularity among the public earned by Ms Sturgeon.

The First Minister spent more than eight hours in front of MSPs at Holyrood, going into the events that led up to the collapse of the judicial review in 2019 in exhaustive detail.

As well as mounting a staunch defence of her conduct, she attacked Mr Salmond, sometimes growing emotional as she recounted the dramatic end of their 30-year friendship.

Taking responsibility

In her opening statement, Nicola Sturgeon apologised to the nation for what she described as a “very serious mistake” in the Scottish Government’s investigation into allegations into Alex Salmond, which ultimately led to the loss of a judicial review and £500,000 of public money.

Later, she said she had “profound concern” that the events might dent the confidence of other women in coming forward and that her government bore a “big responsibility” for this.

She was unable to say why nobody has resigned over the affair, telling MSPs that the process of “investigation and inquiry” is still ongoing two years later.

Her meetings with Mr Salmond

Ms Sturgeon was asked repeatedly about how she could have forgotten a meeting on 29 March 2018 at which she was first told of the harassment allegations facing Mr Salmond.

She said that at that meeting with Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, what stood out was “how worried” he appeared to be about the former First Minister’s welfare.

She also said she had harboured a “lingering suspicion” about such issues after an inquiry from Sky News the year before, so the suggestion did not come as a “massive shock”.

Asked if she agreed that her memory lapse sounded totally unbelievable, she said she could see why people might think this, but it “just happens to be the case”.

She also claimed that she believed another meeting set up for 2 April was “firmly in the personal and party space” given her concerns over Mr Salmond’s wellbeing.

She said she did not report it because she thought merely alerting civil servants that she knew about it could “compromise the independence” of the ongoing investigation.

Denying a plot against him

Ms Sturgeon dismissed suggestions that the allegations against Mr Salmond had been concocted, saying this was “not based on any semblance of fact or credible evidence”.

Asked about text messages sent between SNP officials discussing the case, which Mr Salmond has claimed proves the existence of a plot to jail him, she said she had seen some of them and that all they showed was a group of people trying to support one another.

She added that people were “upset” and “angry” in the wake of the charges being announced against their former leader. Mr Salmond was eventually cleared of all charges at his trial.

She claimed he was furious with her because she “refused to follow the age old pattern of allowing a powerful man to use his status and connections to get what he wants”.

Describing his behaviour towards women as “not always appropriate”, she noted that he had uttered “not a single word of regret, reflection or even simple acknowledgment of that”.

During her appearance, Ms Sturgeon was pressed on a series of meetings she held with Mr Salmond while the Scottish Government investigation was ongoing.

He has claimed she has repeatedly misled MSPs about a number of issues, including when she first knew about the claims, and has broken the ministerial code multiple times.

Much of the key questioning focused on why Ms Sturgeon had “forgotten” about a meeting on 29 March 2018 with Geoff Aberdein, Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff.

Mr Salmond has claimed she deliberately hid the meeting from MSPs because it undermined her claim that their second meeting on 2 April was about SNP business.

The distinction is important because while Ms Sturgeon was not obliged to declare a meeting on party matters, one involving Scottish Government business should have been recorded.

Ms Sturgeon said the earlier meeting had not stuck in her mind as she had already been aware of an allegation made about Mr Salmond in 2017, so it did not come as a “massive shock”.

She added that she had initially believed the second meeting was “firmly in the personal and party space” and that she did not disclose it afterwards because she did not want to influence civil servants conducting the investigation.

“I didn’t want to take the risk that they might be influenced, even subconsciously, by any assumption of how I might want the matter handled,” she said.

World News

Thy Kingdom Come to focus on refreshing Christians exhausted by pandemic

Thy Kingdom Come to focus on refreshing Christians exhausted by pandemic

01 MARCH 2021

THE global prayer movement Thy Kingdom Come(TKC) is to focus this year on encouraging and refreshing Christians who are wearied by the pandemicand worshipping online.

The resources for this year’s prayer event, from 13 to 23 May, will be unveiled in a webinar on Tuesday, and will include a children’s video series, Cheeky Pandas, with Bible stories, prayers, animation, worship songs, and interviews with special guests, including the Chief Scout, Bear Grylls; the CBeebies presenter Gemma Hunt; the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Brompton, the Revd Nicky Gumbel; and Pastor Agu Irukwu and Pastor Shola Adeaga, from Jesus House, London.

The video series will be the main content in the family prayer adventure map and app, as last year.

There will also be reflections from the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, and the Coptic Archbishop of London, Archbishop Angaelos, and a prayer journal written by the Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell.

The Thy Kingdom Come app, available in nine languages, will have audio content from 24-7 Prayer Lectio 365, with reflections from the founder of the 24-7 prayer movement, Pete Greig (Features, 12 April 2019); the Archbishop of Canterbury; and the 24-7 Prayer GB UK director, Carla Harding.

Resources will be available to support churches whether they are able to meet online, or face to face, the Thy Kingdom Come team has promised. Also, 100,000 copies of the prayer journal and the family prayer adventure map will be given away free to UK churches, in recognition of the financial strain placed on churches by the pandemic.

The project director, Emma Buchan, said that this year’s resources recognised that some people had struggled with “church at home” during the past year. “Where it has been such a challenging year for everyone, we really want TKC to inspire people in their relationships with Christ, to gather those who have found online Church challenging, and to resource children and young people in fun, spiritually nourishing ways.

“We hope and pray Pentecost is a time of great joy after what has been such a challenging season.”

Since its creation by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 2016, the global call to prayer from Ascension Day to Pentecost has been defined by mass gatherings, worship, picnics, and parties, and has attracted tens of thousands of people in 90 countries around the world. It was forced to move online entirely last year (News, 22 May 2020).

— CT

World News

TEXAS reopened !

Texas Drops Coronavirus Restrictions, Opens All Businesses 100%, Ends Statewide Mask Mandate


Texas is fully reopening and the statewide mask mandate will be rescinded this week, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday.

“Effective next Wednesday, all businesses of any type are allowed to open 100%,” the governor said at a news conference announcing an end to restrictions imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19. Abbott said declining hospitalization rates across the state and increased distribution of virus vaccines were reasons to end the coronavirus restrictions.

Texas is in a far better position now than when I issued my last executive order back in October,” Abbott explained.

He indicated that if a private business still wishes to limit its capacity or enforce other virus safety precautions, the business would be free to do so without a government mandate.

“It is their business, and they get to choose to operate their business the way they want to,” Abbott said. “At this time, however, people and businesses don’t need the state telling them how to operate.”

Under Abbott’s previous executive orders, Texas businesses were required to keep their occupancy at or below 75%. In areas where 15% of available hospital bed occupancy were taken up by coronavirus patients, legal max occupancy was reduced to 50%.

The new executive order will permit businesses to open at 100% occupancy, though it gives local officials in areas where COVID-19 cases are high the ability to implement “COVID mitigation strategies” at the local level.

“If COVID hospitalizations in any of the 22 hospital regions in TX rise above 15% of the hospital bed capacity in that region for 7 straight days, then a county judge in that region may use COVID mitigation strategies in their county,” Abbott said.

“However, under no circumstance can a county judge put anybody in jail for not following COVID orders,” he added. “And no penalties can be imposed for failing to wear a mask.”

As Texas moves to reopen, federal health officials are warning states that it is still too early to lift coronavirus restrictions as new variants of the contagious disease are not fully understood by health experts.

“Please hear me clearly: At this level of cases with variants spreading, we stand to completely lose the hard-earned ground we have gained,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Monday. “I am really worried about reports that more states are rolling back the exact public health measures we have recommended to protect people from Covid-19.”

According to the Austin American-Statesman, more than 3.5 million Texans have received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccine, amounting to about 12.7% of the state’s total population. Nearly 1.9 million people are fully vaccinated.

State Democrats are begging the governor to keep the statewide mask mandate in place.

“To prevent additional struggles and suffering, we need consistency and clarity, not carelessness and confusion,” said state Rep. Richard Peña Raymond in a letter addressed to Abbott. “If we all do our part to wear face coverings, we can ultimately get back to business and realize a return to normalcy.”

Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) applauded the governor’s decision.

“With greater access to vaccinations, better treatment options, and decreasing hospitalizations rates, the Texas approach empower citizens to exercise personal responsibility about their health in the fight against COVID-19,” Phelan said in a statement.

— cf