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A media enquiry by Sky News has led to questions over what Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon knew of bullying concerns surrounding the office of her predecessor Alex Salmond.
When we asked the Scottish Government for copies of its grievance procedure, officials mistakenly sent out their internal emails which detailed their handling of the request.
Opponents of the SNP administration have described the contents of the email chain as “media management that would make Vladimir Putin blush” and say it raises serious questions over what Nicola Sturgeon knew of alleged bullying behaviour.
The Sky News enquiry was for copies of the Scottish Government’s complaints procedure for employees before and after 2007, when the SNP took office.
We wanted to examine changes made when the so-called Fairness at Work code was introduced in 2010, following union concerns about bullying surrounding the office former First Minister Alex Salmond.
The civil servants’ FDA union says it raised complaints with the government about the alleged behaviour in Mr Salmond’s office and by other ministers. In evidence to the current inquiry, which is looking into the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment allegations against Mr Salmond, the FDA said that some civil servants had complained they were operating in a “culture of fear.”
The Scottish government’s permanent secretary Leslie Evans has told the same inquiry she did not recognise the union’s claims.
When the 2010 changes were made to the Scottish Government’s grievance procedure, Nicola Sturgeon was given a significant responsibility in handling complaints made against government ministers.
The Fairness at Work code included a new mechanism for employees to make complaints against ministers and any escalation would be dealt with by a panel of two people – the permanent secretary (most senior civil servant) and the deputy first minister, who at that time was Nicola Sturgeon.
The Complaints Against Ministers section, brought in following the union concerns, was unique to the Scottish Government.
Sky News made its request for copies of the Fairness at Work code. It prompted internal Scottish Government correspondence that shows:
• Our request was passed from the Scottish Government communications team to policy and special advisers, then to the offices of the permanent secretary and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon for approval.
• Policy and special advisers suggested that Sky News submit a Freedom of Information Request for the documents.
• The communications office drafted a list of “follow up questions” that would likely be asked by Sky News and “agreed responses” by policy and special advisers.
• The anticipated questions included: “Why was a section on Complaints Against Ministers added in 2010?”
• On the Complaints Against Ministers section, the proposed response states that “Ministers were consulted.”
The email chain was circulated to 39 recipients working in different government departments, many at a senior level.
Approval for the draft response was sought from the offices of the first minister and permanent secretary.
At the time we obtained the emails, the permanent secretary had given her approval but there is no written response from Nicola Sturgeon’s office.
It was in November 2017 that we submitted our request for copies of the government’s grievance procedure. The communications strategy we’ve seen was not, ultimately, enacted.
After Sky News had sight of its internal correspondence, the Scottish Government sent us the documents as originally requested.
The extent and apparent complexity of the government’s internal discussions about our enquiry have prompted questions.
Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, of the Liberal Democrats, told Sky News: “The response to this routine request for a set of documents is as suspicious as it astonishing.
“Why was it subject to an elaborate process of prepared Q&As that was pored over by special advisers and had to be cleared by the first minister herself?
“It’s a piece of media management that would make Vladimir Putin blush and it smells of an attempt to deflect and create a mist around what happened in 2010.”
“Did Nicola Sturgeon know about concerns over bullying in Alex Salmond’s office as far back as 2010? He was her close colleague and leader, you had the unions complaining and she was given a role in handling complaints against ministers.
“Did she ask why, and what was going on?
“And the phrase that really jumps out is ‘Ministers were consulted about the change.’
“If that was the case, are we really expected to believe that Nicola Sturgeon, then deputy first minister, was not?”
Sky News asked the Scottish Government if First Minister Nicola Sturgeon knew of bullying concerns around Alex Salmond’s office in 2010 and, if so, what action did she take.
A Scottish Government spokesperson replied: “The First Minister has provided written evidence to the committee, and looks forward to answering questions when she is invited to appear.”
In her written submission to the parliamentary inquiry into the handling of sexual harassment complaints against Alex Salmond, Ms Sturgeon states: “I had no general concerns at the time about Scottish Government culture from 2008-14, and certainly not about sexual harassment. However, government is a high pressure environment.
“Mr Salmond could be challenging to work for and, rightly, he demanded high standards. However, I was present on some occasions when tense situations had to be defused.”
Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond are expected to give oral evidence to the inquiry at some stage.
It was set up after a 2018 Scottish Government investigation into the complaints was ruled “unlawful” and “tainted by apparent bias” by a Scottish court and the taxpayer had to foot the bill for £500,000 in legal costs.
He has accused his successor of misleading Parliament and giving evidence to the inquiry that was “simply untrue.” An investigation is underway into whether or not Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code.
If that is found to be proven, it could threaten her political future.
She has strongly rejected Mr Salmond’s claims regarding her statements on the harassment investigation, accusing him of “spinning false conspiracy theories.”
Alex Salmond was acquitted of sexual assault charges against nine women following a criminal trial in March last year.
Analysis: This should have been a routine request – but it triggered a code red
By James Matthews, Scotland correspondent
The Scottish Government’s Fairness at Work code is no state secret, after all – it is widely available, not least to the hundreds of civil servants whose welfare it was created to protect.
Asking for a copy would seem to be at the straightforward end of media enquiries processed by St Andrews House.
The emails we’ve seen tend to suggest otherwise. Curiously, our request triggered a convoluted communications process that reeks code red.
Why should a request for documents have to go to the very top of government, to be signed off by the first minister herself? And not before a strategy had been devised that was hardly going to accelerate access.
It is a fascinating glimpse of the inner workings of a modern-day government media machine. It’s also a measure of the distance travelled from a simpler time of straight question and answer to second-guessing.
When we wrote “2010”, what did they read?
The year 2010 ties together union claims of bullying, ministers being consulted about a need for change and Nicola Sturgeon being given responsibility in a new procedure.
The first minister’s opponents read it as a list of awkward questions. Awkwardly, so might her own team.
Ulrika Jonsson is standing “tall and proud” with Stacey Solomon following an online comment about her having children by different fathers – and says she was always “stumped by the injustice” of her own “4×4” nickname.
TV presenter Jonsson, best known for her work on Gladiators and Shooting Stars in the 1990s, has four children with four different men and was infamously given the epithet by critics following the birth of her youngest.
Loose Women host and former X Factor star Solomon, 31, has two sons from previous relationships as well as a little boy with fiance Joe Swash, and responded when an Instagram user highlighted this online.
Commenting on one of her posts, the user said it “must be very sad having three different dads for your boys”.
Solomon replied to say her children “are the best thing that ever happened” to her.
In a newspaper column, Jonsson, 53, defended Solomon and criticised the double standards for men and women.
“The simple truth – which applies to both me and Stacey – is that we are good, caring mothers,” Jonsson wrote in The Sun. “We chose to have our children – we longed for them, regardless of the circumstances of their creation.
“We love them more than anything in the world. And we both nurture our children, keep them by our sides, care for and pay for them. We did not sow our seeds and disappear.
“We chose to take responsibility, to carry these creations in our own arms, sometimes with the assistance of others, sometimes on our own.
“I fail to see the issue with that. My children see themselves as whole siblings and are better adjusted than many other children I know.”
Jonsson also asked the question, “why don’t men ever get stick for it?”, and listed male stars who have had children with different women, such as Bob Marley, Rod Stewart, Jude Law, Liam Gallagher, Paul Weller and Eddie Murphy.
She said she was “stumped by the injustice” of her 4×4 nickname and said the intention was to “hurt and, above all, to shame a woman”.
She continued: “I didn’t particularly want to be associated with the label because I felt no sense of shame. At all.”
She recalled being criticised for her family life by a Loose Women panel 12 years ago and being introduced as 4×4 by a young Jack Whitehall after her stint in the Celebrity Big Brother house in 2009.
“So I stand tall and proud with Ms Solomon,” she said. “Who knows, had life taken yet another turn, I might have had more children by more men.”
At least one in eight people in England had had COVID-19 by December last year, new survey data estimates.
The figures for private households come from the Office for National Statistic’s COVID-19 Infection Survey in partnership with the University of Oxford, University of Manchester, Public Health England and Wellcome Trust.
They are based on the proportion of the population who are likely to have tested positive for antibodies to COVID-19, based on blood test results from a sample of people aged 16 and over.
Antibody data on infection in private households suggests that one in 10 in Wales had also been infected by December, alongside one in 13 in Northern Ireland and one in 11 in Scotland.
The ONS found “substantial variation” between regions in England, with 17% of people in private households in Yorkshire and the Humber estimated to have tested positive for antibodies in December, compared with 5% in southwest England.
Storm Christoph’s imminent arrival has triggered a major incident in South Yorkshire – ahead of strong winds, widespread flooding and snowfall.
An amber weather warning has been put in place by the Met Office until Thursday for central northern England which will affect the area across to Manchester, up to Leeds and Sheffield and as far south as Peterborough.
South Yorkshire is now preparing for potential flooding, according to Ros Jones, mayor of Doncaster.
She said in a tweet that emergency protocols had been put in place on Sunday, including handing out sandbags in at-risk areas.
Ms Jones added that the plans would be implemented alongside the area’s COVID-19 response, saying: “I do not want people to panic, but flooding is possible so please be prepared.”
Describing the situation as “volatile”, the Environment Agency has told councils to prepare for possible severe flooding, amid the prospect of torrential rain mixed with heavy snow.
Catherine Wright, acting executive director for flood and coastal risk management at the Environment Agency, said: “That rain is falling on very wet ground and so we are very concerned that it’s a very volatile situation and we are expecting significant flooding to occur on the back of that weather.”
She added that the Environment Agency would work with local authorities to aid in evacuation efforts in the event a severe flood warning is issued, adding: “If you do need to evacuate then that is allowed within the Covid rules”.
Overnight on Tuesday, heavy rain is expected to pound England, with the Met Office warning that some buildings could be flooded – causing damage.
A “danger to life” warning has been issued as a result of fast-flowing or deep floodwaters, while there is a “good chance” that some areas may be cut off.
In places such as the northern Peak District, around 70mm of rain is expected to fall, with 200mm possible in parts of the southern Pennines.
Most of Wales and northern England has a yellow rain alert in place into Wednesday, while a yellow weather warning for snow and ice is in force in Scotland between Elgin and Dundee and along the east coast from Wednesday afternoon until midday on Thursday.
As of Monday night, 10 flood warnings had been issued by the Environment Agency covering parts of Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, with another 109 flood alerts across northern England, the east and the Midlands.
On the roads, Highways England has advised drivers to take care, while the RAC said motorists should only drive if they absolutely need to.
The Sky News weather team said Storm Christoph would bring “non-stop rain” for some parts of the UK over the next couple of days, with Northern Ireland, northern England and Wales most at risk.
“There is a higher amber warning in force for parts of northwest England, the East Midlands and parts of eastern England where over 100mm of rain is expected across the higher ground and up to 200mm of rain in exposed areas. So, over a months’ worth of rainfall is possible for these areas in just a couple of days.
“Conditions will become drier on Thursday as Storm Christoph moves away, but flooding impacts are still to be expected for northern, central and eastern England as it takes a day or so for the rains to travel down to the rivers from the high ground.
“As the storm clears there may be some significant snowfall across inland areas of eastern Scotland too. The rest of the week will become cold again but with wintry spells at times, especially in the north.”
There were 17,751 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 8 January – up 7,682 on the preceding week, new figures show.
Of the deaths registered, 6,057 mentioned “novel coronavirus”, accounting for 34.1% of all deaths in England and Wales, according to figures from Office for National Statistics.
This was up by 2,913 deaths on the previous week.
The figures are affected by the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day Bank Holidays, whose registration was delayed.
Analysis: The latest figures come with a warning
By Adele Robinson, Sky correspondent
The highest weekly number of COVID-19 related deaths has been recorded in England and Wales since April.
6,057 deaths mentioning COVID on the death certificate were registered in the week ending the 8 January.
It is a rise of 2,913 on the previous week and the highest since the week ending April 24.
The Office for National Statistics warn that the figures should be “interpreted with caution” due to registrations being affected by festive bank holidays.
As always the death statistics do not provide an up-to-date picture of the current pandemic situation either.
Infections are starting to fall but this won’t be reflected in the number of deaths registered for a number of weeks.
They also don’t reflect the new lockdown measures which came into force at the beginning of January.
A British pilot punched the air with delight as he was discharged from hospital in Texas after being treated for coronavirus for 243 days.
Nicholas Synnott works for British Airways and was taken ill after arriving in Houston last March.
The 59-year-old was admitted to UT Health and Memorial Hermann Hospital in the city where he was placed on a ventilator and heart and lung machine.
He was treated there for eight months, with his wife Nicola, 54, by his side every day.
“Every organ of his body was affected by COVID-19. But yet, because his health was so good as a pilot prior to the illness, he could sustain all this and survive something as serious as this,” cardiologist Dr Biswajit Kar told ABC 30 News.
“We were firstly overwhelmed by the joy that someone this sick could make it.”
Mr Synnott was discharged before Christmas and is now back at home in Betchworth, Surrey.
Photos and video from the hospital showed him punching the air and hugging staff members as he walked down the corridor.
Mr Synnott told ABC 30 he was able to recover “with the support of my wife, and the thought of going back to my kids. It was a tough journey but, we’ve got where we are”.
The pilot said he would like to travel to Houston again to thank everyone who helped him and to visit the city’s zoo which he could see out of his window every day.
A new electric car battery that can be fully charged in five minutes has been manufactured for the first time on a normal production line in China, based on designs by Israeli company StoreDot.
The breakthrough could address a significant concern for electric car drivers – the fear of running out of power during a journey, marooning the vehicle for a couple of hours while it charges.
“A five-minute charging lithium-ion battery was considered to be impossible,” said StoreDot’s chief executive, Dr Doron Myersdorf.
“But we are not releasing a lab prototype, we are releasing engineering samples from a mass production line. This demonstrates that it is feasible and commercially ready,” Dr Myersdorf added.
The company produced 1,000 sample batteries with its manufacturing partner Eve Energy in China.
These samples, which are compliant with Li-ion battery certifications, were manufactured on a normal construction line and will be used to showcase the company’s technology to other companies.
So-called “range anxiety” is the “number one barrier to the adoption of electric vehicles”, said Dr Myersdorf.
Fast charging lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries is a significant problem for electronics manufacturers and developers, and companies from Samsung to Daimler have invested in StoreDot.
The company’s new batteries are designed differently to standard Li-ion ones, replacing the graphite with semiconductor nanoparticles based on germanium – though they hope to move to silicon in the future.
Because the speed of the charge is based on the battery rather than the charging point, StoreDot’s invention could have a significant impact on the adoption of electric vehicles, which are facing a bottleneck in countries such as the UK that have limited charging stations.
There are more than 30,000 points currently in the UK in over 11,000 locations, and around 10,000 charge points were added in 2019 alone.
But research by Deloitte suggests the UK will need to spend £1.6bn on 28,000 more public points for the estimated seven million EVs that will be on the road by 2030.
In 2019, there were 37,850 BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) registered in the UK – up 144% on the previous year, however they still only account for 1.6% of the market.
Hybrid electric vehicles – combing an electric motor with a petrol or diesel engine – are currently more popular, making up 4.2% of the market share, but they are set to be phased out along with petrol and diesel cars by 2035.
There were 17,751 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending 8 January – up 7,682 on the preceding week, new figures show.
The Office for National Statistics figures are affected by the Boxing Day and New Year’s Day Bank Holidays, whose registration was delayed.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has revealed he is self-isolating for the next six days after being “pinged” by the NHS coronavirus app.
In a video posted to his Twitter account on Tuesday morning, Mr Hancock – who on Monday afternoon fronted a Downing Street briefing on COVID-19 – said he would now be remaining at home at all times until Sunday
“Last night I was pinged by the NHS coronavirus app, so that means I’ll be self-isolating at home, not leaving the house at all, until Sunday,” he said.
“This self-isolation is perhaps the most important part of all the social distancing, because I know from the app that I’ve been close contact with somebody who’s tested positive.
“And this is how we break the chains of transmission. So you must follow these rules, like I’m going to.
“I’ve got to work from home for the next six days and together, by doing this, by following this and all the other panapoly of rules that we’ve had to put in place, we can get through this and beat this virus.”