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In brief – 8 January 2010

Lantern alert

SHETLAND coastguard yesterday (Thursday) reminded people setting off Chinese lanterns into the sky to let them know, in case they are mistaken for flares.

The call came after the Lerwick lifeboat was called out after a red flare was seen over Mousa on Wednesday evening around 6.30pm. Nothing was found at the scene, but on their way back at 10pm the lifeboat crew saw several Chinese lanterns over Brei Wick, off Sound.

 

Geography lesson

SHETLAND MSP Tavish Scott gave the Scottish government a geography lesson after it emerged that the isles have yet again been omitted from an official website.

The severe weather warning page on the Traffic Scotland website at http://www.trafficscotland.org/weather/index.aspx does not even show the isles in a box to the right of Aberdeen.

The former transport minister said: “I know that central belt government struggles with anywhere north of Stirling, so it looks like Shetland will have to re-print the famous tee shirt with Scotland in a small box of the east side of Whalsay.

“This is simply not good enough and I will be asking the government to change it immediately,” he said.

 

Old boilers

NORTHERN isles MP Alistair Carmichael has urged UK and Scottish ministers to work together to ensure that his constituents will benefit from the Boiler Scrappage Scheme.

Under current arrangements only households in England and Wales will receive grants of £400 to replace their G-rated boilers.

Mr Carmichael said: "Orkney and Shetland suffer some of the worst winters anywhere in the UK, the current weather being a case in point.

“It is unacceptable that those places which are forced to spend the most on heating their homes will be ineligible for this scheme.

“It is important that ministers both sides of the border work together to ensure resources are found so that local people can also benefit from the scheme, which should reduce energy consumption, save bills and help the economy.”

 

Ferry chief retires

LAWRIE Sinclair, chief executive of the David MacBrayne Group, which includes ferry operators CalMac Ferries Ltd and NorthLink Ferries Ltd, will retire at the end of June.

Mr Sinclair had led the company’s successful bids to provide lifeline ferry services for both the northern isles and the Clyde and Hebrides.

He said: “My time with CalMac has been one of the most challenging and rewarding times of my life, and I leave with very mixed feelings.

“However I do believe that as we approach the retendering of the contracts for both the northern isles and Clyde and Hebrides ferry services, the time is right to pass the baton onto someone else to take the David MacBrayne Group forward.”

£1.5 million for rural Shetland

RURAL  projects in Shetland were celebrating after the Scottish government injected £1.5 million into the isles from the Rural Priorities scheme, part of the Scotland Rural Development Programme.

Around 40 projects received cash under the controversial scheme, which has been criticised in the past for being too small and difficult to access.

Amongst the beneficiaries are Burravoe Pier Trust, on Yell, who are to get £57,000 towards creating a small caravan park beside the pier.

The 20 year old group has already built a 35 metre fishing pier, a 24 berth marina and a small boat slipway. Now they will add four caravan plots plus a toilet, shower and laundry block to benefit the local community and enhance the visitor experience on Yell.

The award winning nature reserve and garden run by Da Gairdins Environment Company on four crofts at Sand, in Shetland, was awarded a grant of £18,670 to improve visitor access.

The money will be spent creating a turning area for cars, upgrading a path running across the land and managing the different ecosystems to benefit local wildlife.

Folk festival line-up takes shape

SHETLAND Folk Festival celebrates its 30th birthday with an “eclectic and innovative” mix of new and well known visiting musicians from around the world.

The mammoth event that has earned an unrivalled reputation across the world of folk music will feature 14 guest bands, split between festival veterans and newcomers, hailing from Scotland, USA, India, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, France, Slovenia and England.

Returnees include Sweden’s leading acoustic outfit Väsen, Simon Thoumire and Ian Carr from Scotland, as well as the ever popular New Rope String Band.

Amongst the new faces will be a four-piece ensemble based in India and Germany called Ahimsa, fusing Indian Carnatic music and jazz; the USA’s Foghorn Stringband playing their interpretation of old-time American stringband music; and the multi-award winning Scottish folk trio Lau.

Scotland will be further represented by Session A9 and Orkney favourites The Chair, who will play an “inter county” gig tackling one of Shetland’s top bands, probably Fullsceilidh Spelemanslag.

Also from Sweden come three singing sisters called Baskery, who describe their music as “high voltage”, “killbilly”, “banjo punk” and “mud-country”, with “stunning harmonies, original compositions, distinctive character and unafraid punk attitude”.

Slovenia will be represented by Eva Hren and Sladcore, who merge their folk heritage with jazzy undertones, ethno-folk, pop and even heavy rock.

Ireland is represented by The Unwanted, three Sligo based musicians including Cathy Jordan of Dervish, combining Irish and Appalachian traditions; the gypsy jazz of the Paradiso Jazz Quartet; and up and coming band Mórga, who revive the sounds of the great traditional Irish bands of the ‘70s.

Local acts include Fiddlers’ Bid, Hom Bru, Fullsceilidh Spelemannslag and Maggie Adamson & Brian Nicholson.

The festival starts on 29 April and ends with the famous “foy” on 2 May. After early sell outs in recent years, extra capacity is being organised for the opening night concert at Lerwick’s Clickimin Leisure Complex, and a special children’s concert is being set up.

Several local businesses have stepped in with sponsorship support, including Baker Tilly, Delta Marine, Greig Seafood Hjaltland UK Ltd, LHD and Shetland Catch, with more sponsors being sought.

Festival membership goes on sale on 22 January with membership forms available on the festival’s website www.shetlandfolkfestival.com , where there is more information about the visiting acts with sound samples.

Ordered to pay back friend

A LERWICK man who admitted stealing £300 from a friend was ordered to pay the money back, at the town’s sheriff court yesterday (Wednesday).

David Miazek, of 7 Breiwick Road, was arrested this week after failing to appear in court on an undertaking last October.

Appearing from custody, Miazek yesterday admitted he had promised to look after the money for a friend on 9 October at his home and failed to return the cash.

The court heard that the 27 year old had already paid back £150 and honorary sheriff Arnold Duncan imposed a compensation order to cover the rest of the missing money.

Mossbank man faces sex charges

ONE OF the leading figures behind moves to set up an independent ambulance service in Shetland last year appeared in Lerwick Sheriff Court yesterday (Wednesday) charged with a number of sexual offences.

Christopher Andrew Readings, aged 43, of Mossbank, appeared in private from custody on a petition and made no plea or declaration. He was committed for further examination and released on bail to an address in England.

Gagging appeal refused

SCOTLAND’S highest civil court has refused to grant Shetland councillor Caroline Miller an interim interdict to gag her fellow councillor Gary Robinson and Shetland News from commenting on her business and council activities.

On 23 December Lerwick North councillor Caroline Miller instructed her Edinburgh-based lawyers Morton Fraser to seek an interim interdict in the Court of Session against Mr Robinson and the island news agency.

Her move followed public outrage at reports that she had received rental payments owed to her husband’s company Judane (Shetland) Ltd, which itself owes more than £600,000 to the council’s investment agency Shetland Development Trust.

On 9 December councillors agreed to waive two thirds of that loan, though no official explanation for that decision has yet been made. Only three councillors voted against the decision.

It emerged the following week that Mrs Miller had received rental payments owed to Judane, even though she describes herself as an unpaid consultant to the company.

On 16 December Shetland News reported that Chris Hodge, who was renting out the company’s redundant knitwear factory, had paid £21,530 to Caroline Miller trading as Northern Isles Knitwear between January and November 2007, the year she was elected to Shetland Islands Council.

The website also quoted councillor Robinson’s call for an investigation into the matter.

On 17 December Morton Fraser, who represent Judane, Mrs Miller and her husband Frank, wrote to councillor Robinson and Shetland News saying their clients considered the article to be defamatory.

On 21 December Shetland News reported that a Lerwick resident, who wished to remain anonymous, had complained to the Standards Commission over the affair, claiming that she was in breach of the councillors’ code of conduct.

Two days later Shetland News received a letter from Morton Fraser saying Mrs Miller was seeking “an interim and full interdict against your newspaper…as a matter of urgency”. A similar letter was sent to councillor Robinson.

Yesterday (Thursday) the Court of Session said the interdicts had been refused. Douglas Milne, of Morton Fraser, said: “The application was lodged and the judge has not granted an order. I am taking instructions from Mrs Miller.”

Neither Shetland News or councillor Robinson were in court to defend themselves against the application, and no explanation for the refusal has been given.

Yesterday councillor Robinson said: “I am pleased with the ruling. I never believed I had made any defamatory or untrue statements and the judgment of the court appears to back that up.”

A Shetland News spokesman said: “Lawyers do not normally find it hard to obtain an interim interdict, so the fact that we were not present to defend ourselves demonstrates how weak Mrs Miller’s case must have been.

“It remains of the greatest public interest that a local councillor has financial involvement with a company which not only owes the Shetland Development Trust £600,000, but which councillors have apparently agreed to relieve of two thirds of that debt for reasons that remain unclear, at a time when the community’s resources are under tremendous strain.

“In our eyes it is astonishing that Mrs Miller has not only refused to answer any questions from the media about her involvement with Judane, but has sought to stop us from asking those questions in the first place and to stop councillor Gary Robinson from commenting on her behaviour.

“We would suggest that Mrs Miller refrains from spending large sums of money instructing her lawyers to gag us, and instead provides us with the answers which people in Shetland have the right to hear.

“Shetland News always seeks to maintain professional standards of journalism and will corroborate any information before it is published on our website.”

Mrs Miller failed to respond to requests for a comment from Shetland News, but speaking on BBC Radio Shetland last night she said that a statement would be coming soon.

“Due to the enormous public interest in this whole affair I think it’s only right and proper that the Shetland public know the full truth of the matter,” she said.

“Unfortunately at the moment due to legal issues between certain parties I can say nothing at all, but as soon as I am able to, you will be knowing the full story.”

Police name crash victim

POLICE today (Thursday) named the woman who died in a car accident in Shetland on Wednesday as 71 year old Patricia Angela O’Sullivan, a retired school teacher from North Wales.

Mrs O’Sullivan was killed when the car she was in left the single track B9071 between Parkhall and Skeld in snowy conditions, tumbled down an embankment and landed on its roof in a burn.

She had been visiting her daughter Clare and her family, who live in Reawick, on Shetland’s west side, over Christmas and New Year.

The car was being driven by her daughter’s partner Jim Nuttall and she was with her husband Denis. Both men were airlifted by coastguard helicopter to Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick after the alarm was raised at 11am. The local GP from Bixter and firemen from Lerwick and Brae also attended.

Denis O’Sullivan was so seriously injured that he was flown by air ambulance to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary last night for treatment to his leg. Mr Nuttall was discharged from hospital in Lerwick on Thursday.

Five officers from Northern Constabulary’s road policing unit, in Dingwall, are examining the scene to find out if the bad weather was the reason for the crash, which is thought to be the first to result in a fatality in Scotland during the wintry weather. A report will be submitted to the procurator fiscal.

Conditions on Wednesday morning were clear and bright, but there were occasional snow showers and side roads were slushy in places despite being gritted.

Mrs O’Sullivan was a regular church goer at Our Lady of the Rosary Catholic Church, in Buckley, with her husband Dennis.

Her friend Joan Glendenning said: "She was visiting her daughter. I knew her from church and we worked together sometimes at Our Lady Of The Rosary. She's a lovely lady, she worked as a teacher at St Mary's Primary in Flint.

"Her family must be devastated. She was a brilliant team member, I'm so upset. They're a lovely family, she was a very good friend."

Police inspector Ross MacKillop, of Lerwick, said that he could not comment on the cause of the accident until a full investigation had been carried out. Diversions remain in place until 5pm this afternoon. 

NHS Shetland praised the emergency services and the local GP who attended the scene and dealt with the accident so swiftly.

Director of clinical services Simon Bokor-Ingram said: “This has been a devastating tragedy for those involved in this accident and for their family.

“We have excellent emergency services in Shetland and I am extremely grateful for the way in which they and the general practitioner from Bixter responded so quickly and worked so hard to provide the immediate care that was needed at the time.”

Willie’s back in post

SHETLAND Islands Council assistant chief executive Willie Shannon returned to his post this week after an absence of four months.

Mr Shannon had been on leave since early September after his job was “deleted” without consultation by SIC chief executive David Clark.

The 47 year old said this week that he looked forward to working with SIC convener Sandy Cluness and all the other councillors.

Mr Cluness welcomed Mr Shannon’s return, saying that he would be “doing what he did before”.

Meanwhile the council is advertising for a new head of capital programming, a role which was added to Mr Shannon’s portfolio in December 2008, after the council approved the new post last month.

Mr Cluness said he had not yet heard when the local government umbrella group COSLA would be responding to the council’s request for assistance with “performance monitoring”, following the hiatus at the authority over the past few months.

Audit Scotland have also yet to set a date for sending their Controller of Audit to the islands to investigate how the council has been run for the past few months, after qualifying the SIC’s accounts for the fourth year running and commenting on “high profile relationship issues” between councillors and the chief executive.

Council’s retain control of aquaculture

SHETLAND Islands Council is to retain control of aquaculture management after a narrow victory in the Scottish Parliament saw amendments to the Marine Bill fall.

Labour MSP Elaine Murray had hoped to transfer control of fish farm licences to a central authority, but her move was defeated by 59 votes to 63.

Shetland MSP Tavish Scott said: "I was pleased that the minister recognised that the current system is right and that Liberal Democrat and SNP MSPs defeated this centralising move, which the Labour and Conservative parties wanted to impose."