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Delay in sentencing Readings

A FORMER Shetland resident who was involved in attempts to set up an independent ambulance service in the isles, must wait to hear his fate after being found guilty of abusing two young children.

Christopher Readings, was due to be sentenced at the High Court in Edinburgh on Friday but judge Lord Brodie was told that the 44 year old had changed lawyers and wanted more time for them to prepare.

The former soldier was found guilty after a trial of forcing a 12-year-old girl to perform indecent acts while he watched - using a web camera. He was also convicted of attempting to rape the girl and committing a serious sex assault. Readings was also found guilty of sodomising a 13-year old boy and making him perform other sex acts.

The sex offences were committed at addresses in Shetland between May 2008 and January last year.

Readings - who remains in custody pending sentence - has since moved to a caravan park in Clifton Hampden, Oxfordshire.

Readings is due to appear before Lord Brodie again on 25 February.

Alan Massey visit to Shetland

THE COUNTRY’S chief coastguard Sir Alan Massey was quizzed by staff from the closure threatened Lerwick Coastguard station for two and half hours on Friday morning.

Prior to the staff meeting he met around 60 protesters who had gathered outside the station at The Knab to voice their opposition to plans that might either lead to the closure of the station or its downgrading to a daytime only operation.

Sir Alan’s visit to Shetland is part of his commitment to visit all coastguard stations in the country during a consultation period that may lead to a complete overhaul of the coastguard service and the closure of 10 of the UK’s 18 stations.

Under the proposals, Aberdeen would become the only full time coastguard station in Scotland.

Islanders are up in arms and argue that lives would be put at risk due to the unreliability of communications links with the UK mainland and the loss of valuable local knowledge should the station in Lerwick close.

Speaking after the meeting with 20+ staff, Sir Alan said that that he fully understood the concern of islanders and that he had asked the local staff to engage with the consultation process by putting forward their views to modernise the service.

He insisted that the status quo was not an option and that there was no alternative but to change the way the service is delivered.

“What we need to do now is properly evaluate what people are saying to us.

"We have encouraged the team here in Lerwick today to put forward their views on how we should bring this forward; and ideally constructive proposals that meet their worries and also deliver some of the benefits we are looking for.

"We have got to move forward with the coastguard service.

“It is not just about money; I can be absolutely certain about that, and I can assure people that I would not be doing anything that would jeopardise safety or put the lives of mariners at sea more at risk than they are already.

"I have that sort of background and that understanding,” the chief executive said.

Representing the PCS union, watch officer at the station Alex Dodge said they had had a robust and lively meeting.

“It was a full and professional debate. We raised several concerns about local knowledge, communication resilience and staffing issues amongst others.

“They certainly listened, but whether they heard what we were saying, I don’t know,” she said.

Earlier on Friday morning Sir Alan met protesters outside the station.

The chief coastguard was left in no doubt as to what campaigners thought of the plans with several of those present using the opportunity to address him directly.

They raised concerns over regular communication outages, the valuable local knowledge held by watch officers that could be lost, and the changing picture of sea traffic around the coast with larger vessels, more oil and gas exploration as well as renewable energy developments.

The chief executive replied: “The proposals we are putting forward are not set in concrete in any sense at all. We are listening to what people say, we are evaluating all the responses, and we are trying to come up with an answer that is best suited to the coastguards as professionals, but more to the point, for the public as users of the sea.

“I am very conscious that we don’t know everything, and it is extremely helpful to meet and to interact with people like yourselves. Thank you for what you are saying, thank you for what you are doing, I very much respect that you are out here today.”

Organiser of the Save our Station campaign, Lee Coutts, said afterwards: “This coastguard station is an integral part of the community.

“It is also important to keep it open because we have regular communication problems with the mainland.

“If there is a breakdown in communication as there has been in the past then we will left be blind, and there will be nobody watching the seas around Orkney and Shetland. That is a big issue. It is fundamental that there is cover, it really is important.”

Sir Alan arrived in the isles on Thursday afternoon after meeting coastguard staff in Aberdeen earlier in the day. On Thursday evening he met with Coastguard volunteers as well as Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael and local MSP Tavish Scott.

The MCA will host public meetings in Orkney and Shetland at the end of the month to gauge public opinion on its proposals. The consultation period ends on 24 March.

In brief for 10 February 2011

Police and fire consultation

SCOTTISH justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has launched a three months consultation into the future of police and fire services across Scotland.

The minister said that maintaining the current excellent standards of policing and fire and rescue work could not be done by sticking to the status quo.

“There is a growing consensus that the financial challenges we face due to the unprecedented cut in Scotland's budget will not allow us to do that without changing the way these services are structured.

"We realise that some of the options have raised concerns about local accountability surrounding larger regional or national structures. 

“As such, we are launching these consultations today so that the case for and against particular options can be made and we can build a consensus on the future of these vital public services,” he said

The consultation papers can be found at: and

Spray painted

POLICE are calling for witnesses to come forward after a car, parked in the Sandside area of Mossbank, was spray painted overnight from Wednesday to Thursday.

The force can be contacted at Lerwick on 01595 69 2110.

Proven turbines

DOMESTIC wind turbine manufacturer Proven Energy and local renewables engineers Shetland Wind Power have formed a close partnership, which commits SWP to exclusively sell Proven products in the small wind sector.

Shetland Wind Power's turnover has doubled every year for the last three years, a trend that is set to continue after the business was bought in a multi-million pound deal by Nevis Capital in December 2010.

SWP’s technical director Michael Anderson said: "We are confident that the Proven 35-2 will be the best wind turbine for many of our customers.

“It has recently achieved MCS certification, making its customers eligible for feed-in-tariffs and is the only wind turbine in its class to do so. This allows us to offer a quality product which can also provide a tremendous financial return.”

Fish welfare

THE NAFC Marine Centre in Scalloway is experiencing an uptake beyond expectation for a fish welfare training course developed by the fisheries college.

The two day course, initiated by the college’s business development manager Alan Bourhill, has been recognised by the RSPCA and so far been delivered to more than 200 delegates.

Mr Bourhill said that concern about the welfare of farmed fish was driven by a broad range of factors, including consumer and retailer awareness, legal, ethical, economic and scientific factors. 

"Our welfare course presents the latest knowledge about best practice and the well-established links that exist between welfare, health and product quality in a way that it easy for everyone to understand,” he said.

Romania trip

VOLUNTEERS from the Shetland to Romania Orphanage Project have said fundraising for their mission to Transylvania had now reached the 75 per cent mark and was ahead of schedule.

Nine volunteers, Jenny Wylie, Sandra Strachan, Val Farnworth, Mark Wylie, Jenny 
Teale, Amy Gair, Tracy Webb, Barry Darbyshire and Christine Jamieson will spend this summer in Romania to work in several orphanages.

Organisers said that they would be bag packing for customers at Tesco this Saturday, and ask anyone who wanted to help to contact Mark Wylie, 3 Andrewstown Terrace, Lerwick, or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Commission clears Sandy and Josie

SHETLAND Islands Council’s two senior politicians have been exonerated by the Standards Commission for Scotland over a complaint they made against a fellow councillor.

In October 2009 SIC convener Sandy Cluness and vice convener Josie Simpson submitted a complaint against Lerwick South member Jonathan Wills over comments he published about an investigation into former SIC chief executive David Clark.

Dr Wills’ comments concerned an investigation intohis allegations that Mr Clark had threatened him with violence, stating that the investigation process had been flawed.

Mr Cluness and Mr Simpson signed a complaint along with three senior officers – Mr Clark, services executive director Hazel Sutherland and chief legal officer Jan Riise.

Dr Wills was cleared of any wrongdoing, and issued his own complaint against the convener and vice convener for using public funds to pay for the complaint against him.

On Thursday Dr Wills wrote to Mr Cluness and Mr Simpson saying he had been informed by the Standard Commission’s chief investigating officer that the pair had not breached the councillors’ code of conduct.

He wrote: “I unreservedly accept his verdict that you acted ‘in good faith’, following ‘clear advice’, although my personal opinion remains that some of the advice you received was flawed and partial.

“You will note that the Chief Investigating Officer appears to agree with me when he says ‘one might expect’ such a complaint to be authorised by the council or one of its committees before being lodged with the Ethical Standards Commission.

“Such authority is, of course, explicitly required by the relevant regulations but you have yourselves already conceded that the complaint was not made on behalf of the council.

“I’m sure we can all draw lessons from this unpleasant episode and share the hope that nothing like it ever happens again in our council.”

Hassan jailed for drug dealing

A FOURTY eight year old Lerwick drug dealer was jailed for two years at the town’s sheriff court on Thursday morning having previously pled guilty to dealing amphetamine between March and August last year.
Ebrahim Abdula Hassan, of 65 Gilbertson Road had also admitted possessing of heroin and cannabis resin.
Sentencing Hassan, Sheriff Graeme Napier said that a lengthy prison sentence was the only possible outcome in this case.
He told the father of three that his starting point had been three years, but he was prepared to reduce that to two years because of his early plea, as well as his positive attitude in resolving the case against him.
“You are aware that you have been convicted of a serious offence and that with your record there was only going to be one outcome for involvement in supplying amphetamine in Shetland over a period of six months.
“However, in your favour I have to take into account the steps you have taken to bring your heroin habit under control and the attitude you now express towards this type of offending,” the sheriff said.
Hassan’s agent Gregor Kelly had earlier told the court that his client had been anxious to bring “matters to conclusion”.
He said Hassan had swiftly and rapidly descended into heroin addiction in March last year and then made the decision to start dealing amphetamine to feed his habit.
Police raided his home and that of a relative in North Road, on 25 August last year. They seized amphetamine with a street value of £7,650, more than £3,000 in cash, as well as heroin worth £462, and cannabis resin worth £10.
The drugs and £3,250 in cash have been forfeited.

Drug dealing couple face prison

A SHETLAND couple have been told they face prison after admitting their involvement in the supply of heroin last year.
Sentence on Kirsti Moncrieff and Carl Henry Dew, both of 7 Punds, West Baila, Lerwick, has been deferred for four weeks to allow time for the preparation of social inquiry, community service and restriction of liberty assessments.
Lerwick Sheriff Court heard on Thursday morning how police had acted on “specific intelligence” when officers raided their home at Sandside, Mossbank, on 2 July last year.
Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said 34 year old Dew came out of the bedroom when police entered the house.
He was able to throw a black package out of the window before being restrained and handcuffed. Twenty nine year old Moncrieff was also detained. Both were taken to Lerwick police station.
Police officers then carried out a systematic search of the house, seized 13.5 grams of heroin with a maximum street value of £1,250, and also found £245 in cash in Dew’s wallet, and £505 in cash in Moncrieff’s handbag.
Both denied any knowledge and involvement in the illegal drug trade. They appeared from custody before the court on 5 July last year, made no plea or declaration and were released on bail.
A few days later first Dew and then Moncrieff contacted police to make a full admission.
The fiscal told the court that Dew confirmed that he had sourced heroin from the Midlands to distribute to friends and also to feed his own habit.
Sheriff Graeme Napier told them that there was “a good chance” that they would spend a significant time in prison. Bail was continued until 24 February.

Bain faces prison for violent assault

A SHETLAND man who went berserk after drinking all day and left another man in hospital with facial injuries has been told he faces a long prison sentence.

Thomas Bain, formerly of 5 Whitelaw Road, Aith, admitted assaulting the man to his severe injury, permanent disfigurement and impairment during the early hours of 29 August last year.

Lerwick Sheriff Court heard on Wednesday that on the day before the assault, the 30 year old insulation engineer had been drinking heavily while alone in the house where he was living at the time, in Lerwick’s Hangcliff Lane.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said that after consuming a case of beer, a number of Bacardi Breezers and a bottle of wine, Bain left his home around midnight to join a “social gathering” a few doors away.

Bain left the party around 4am with two men to collect some more drink and go to his house. Mr Mackenzie said “seemed to be enjoying each other’s company”, but then a drunken argument broke out between him and his victim.

The fiscla said it was not a serious confrontation, but Bain became so angry that his victim started to back away and fell to the ground.

“The complainer going to the ground was the trigger for the accused to launch a protracted, sustained and violent assault, punching and kicking him repeatedly around the head and body,” Mr Mackenzie said.

He broke off the assault and neighbours woken by the disturbance told police they had heard the victim pleading for mercy and offering him cigarettes to placate him.

“The accused simply ignored these entreaties and resumed his assault. One can only assume it was exhaustion that caused him to finally break off and walk away,” Mr Mackenzie said.

The victim dragged himself to Lerwick police station from where he was taken by ambulance to Gilbert Bain Hospital, where he spent three days being treated for bruising and fractures to his nose and cheek bone. He was then sent to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary for reconstructive surgery.

Mr Mackenzie said the man is still unable to breathe properly and will need further surgery to his nose. He has also been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder and become introverted and isolated.

“This is a case where the injuries sustained by him can accurately be described as life changing to a significant degree,” the fiscal said. “It is unlikely he will ever be the same man he was before this incident.”

Bain had been tracked down in a Lerwick pub the following night and arrested.

Defence agent Tommy Allan said the incident had been caused by overconsumption of alcohol. Bain realised this was no excuse and he had not had a drink since 15 November, he said.

Sheriff Graeme Napier said that he had no choice but to send Bain to jail for a significant period due to the sustained, violent and unprovoked nature of the assault.

Bain was remanded in custody until 24 February when he will be sentenced.

Crash driver must re-sit test

A HAIRDRESSER who lost control of her car and smashed through a garden wall in Lerwick last year will have to sit her driving test once again.

On Wednesday Lerwick Sheriff Court heard how 19 year old Keri Brandish, of 32 Bosquoy Road, Kirkwall, was driving too fast down Gressy Loan, a steep hill which was extremely wet after a torrential downpour on 26 October.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said she braked as she reached the junction with Twageos Road, the wheels locked and she skidded across the junction into the garden wall with two passengers in the car.

Defence agent Tommy Allan said Brandish had passed her test 15 months earlier and as she was only insured third party, the insurance company would only cover the cost of repairing the garden wall. The £1,400 car on which she had just spent £500 was written off.

Brandish admitted careless driving and Sheriff Graeme Napier kept the fine to £200 because of the loss she had already incurred. However he did award six penalty points, which means she will revert to a provisional licence and must re-sit her driving test.

Jail for drug related theft

A LERWICK man who stole three portable music players to feed his drug habit was jailed at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Wednesday.

David McKinnon, of 35 Hoofields, admitted stealing the electronic equipment worth £640 from Tesco’s Lerwick supermarket on 7 November last year.

He also admitted being in possession of an aluminium foil-lined cardboard box designed for avoiding detection from the store alarms.

Procurator fiscal Duncan Mackenzie said the 28 year old was followed to the Clickimin Leisure Complex nearby where he was arrested.

Defence agent Leslie Green said McKinnon’s drug supplier had specifically asked to be paid for drugs with these items. He has since given up drugs but taken to drinking, the lawyer added.

After hearing that McKinnon had breached several court orders and served previous jail sentences, Sheriff Graeme Napier sent him to prison for four months.


In brief for 9 February 2011

Milk in a bottle

ISLANDERS will soon buy their local milk in plastic bottles rather than the old style cartons after the Scottish government awarded almost £60,000 to Shetland Farm Dairies, in Lerwick.

The grant covers half of the investment of £120,000 into the installation of a rotary plastic bottle liquid milk filling line as well as a ice builder.

The modernisation will allow the company to deliver all its milk in plastic bottles as of spring this year.

The installation of the ice builder to cool down cream, yogurt and buttermilk will follow later in the year.


FOUR budding politicians, all from the Anderson High School, have put their name forward to contest Shetland’s two seats in the Scottish Youth parliament.

The candidates, Barry Meheut from Quarff, Nicole Mouat from Scalloway, Emily Shaw from Lerwick, and Cameron Stevenson from Whalsay are currently busy writing their manifestos which will be distributed to schools and youth clubs as of the end of the month.

The elections to the youth parliament will be held online at a later date.

The council’s spokesperson for young people, Bill Manson said: “Well done to all those who have put their names forward. 

“It is good to see enough candidates to have a real contest without so many that the vote is fragmented.  Let the hustings begin.”

New COPE board members

LOCAL charity COPE Ltd has appointed John Tait and John Hunter, both from Scalloway, as new members to its board.

Mr Tait, a retired school teacher and businessman, most recently owned Whalsay Fish Processors.

Mr Hunter, a recently retired accountant, has wide experience of business and community development in Shetland. 

Board chairman Jim Smith said: “John Tait and John Hunter are respected throughout Shetland and beyond and I am delighted to announce they have joined our Board. 

The next few years are going to be challenging for any organisation and it’s essential that we have the strongest board possible in place to meet those challenges, support our senior management team and ensure we continue doing what we do best; creating and delivering meaningful work opportunities for adults with disabilities in Shetland”.

Tobacco register

RETAILERS in Shetland have been urged to prepare for new tobacco register which will came into force on 1 April.

Around 100 retailers in then isles are required to register to sell cigarettes under new rules designed to make cigarettes less available to under 18n year olds.

All retailers will be posted registration packs during the week commencing 7 March with instructions on how to register and will also receive a selection of signs for staff and customers that they can display within their stores.

Public health minister Shona Robison said: “I'd urge retailers now to make a date in their diary and ensure that they join the register from April 1 onwards."

Those found to be selling tobacco after 1 October without having registered could be fined up to £20,000 and sent to prison for six months.

Cowboy builders

THE BBC’s popular Cowboy Trap series wants hear from islanders whose lives and properties are in a state of chaos thanks to ‘cowboy’ builders.

Presenter Clive Holland said: “We’re looking for more stories from people who have been victim of bad workmanship that for example hasn’t passed basic building standards or work that has never been completed or botched with builders refusing to return and remedy the bad workmanship; or people who have paid money up front to the builder who hasn’t finished the job and walked off leaving the owner out of pocket.”

To get in touch with the programme’s production team contact Mentorn Media on 020 7258 6724 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Belly dancers go on stage

ACCOMPLISHED belly dancer Rocio Bolanos and five of her students are to present an evening of belly dancing at Lerwick’s Garrison Theatre next week.

Ms Bolanos, who lives in Shetland, is an experienced belly dancer and choreographer who has danced professionally for more than 13 years.
Her dancing is influenced by many styles and cultures including Bedouin, Andalusi, Egyptian and Lebanese.

On Friday 18 February, starting at 7.30 pm, she and her students Robina Barton, Fiona Grieve, Stella Nort, Zoe Smith and Linda Wiseman will present their programme Azafran to a wider audience.

She said: “I’m very happy to perform in Shetland again and in such a fantastic venue as the Garrison. This show will be a special event full of colour and music from different cultures. 

“Also this year is especially exciting because some of my students are participating in it. We’ve all had great fun preparing this performance and we’re all out to just enjoy it.”

Robina Barton said it had been great fun going to belly dancing classes. “Great music, great clothes and great exercise - just a feel good experience,” she said.

“Preparing for the performance has been a giggle and hopefully the audience will enjoy it as much as we do!”

Tickets are available at Shetland Box Office, at the Islesburgh Community Centre, telephone number 01595 745555 or online at

In brief for 8 February 2011

Privatisation grounded
ATTEMPTS to privatise the UK’s search and rescue helicopters have been halted after the Department of Transport and Ministry of Defence suspended the procurement process.
Private consortium Soteria had been named preferred bidder for the £6 billion contract which was intended to come into force next year.
But irregularities in the bidding process have now resulted in the suspension and a rethinking of the process.
In a statement the company said on Tuesday: “We remain confident that Soteria was designated as the preferred bidder for the SAR-H programme as a result of the value, expertise, dedication, excellence and exceptional technical solution that Soteria can provide in leading search-and-rescue efforts across the UK.
“Soteria is evaluating the government's decision and if given the opportunity is confident that it is capable of delivering the SAR-H programme and stands ready to work with the UK government.”

Pharmacy fears
MORE than 250 people unanimously opposed plans to bring a private pharmacy to Scalloway after hearing it would threaten the local GP surgery’s income.
A public meeting packed Scalloway public hall on Monday night when speaker after speaker called for NHS Shetland to examine planning applications from Norsepharm Ltd and the GP surgery at the same time.
NHS Shetland said they had been advised by Scottish government lawyers that they had to consider the Norsepharm application first as it came in before a second bid from doctors Paul and Philippa Veenhuisen of Melbyhealth Ltd.
However NHS Shetland chief executive Ralph Roberts said that the strength of feeling in the community would be passed on to the Pharmacy Practices Committee when it meets on 22 February to discuss the Norsepharm bid.
Monday’s meeting heard that the GP practice would lose one third of its income - £150,000 a year – if it lost the pharmacy, which would force it to reduce its service to the public.

Court action
Mossbank man Laurence Ball has confirmed that he has lodged civil action against NHS Grampian after doctors in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary removed a lung by mistake, more than five years ago.
The 60 year old former fire fighter was admitted to hospital in 2005 after doctors had diagnosed cancer in his left lung.
He had to undergo life saving surgery only to learn afterwards that he did not have cancer in the first place.
After years of out of court negotiations between Mr Ball’s legal team and that of NHS Grampian over the level of compensation, he confirmed on Tuesday that he was seeking a six figure sum.

School vandals
SHETLAND police are looking for witnesses who may have seen damage caused to the gate at Bressay primary school between 4pm last Friday and 8am on Monday.
The police can be contacted on 01595 692110 or 694544.

No Sleep ‘Til Yell
A DOCUMENTARY about the award winning Shetland Folk Festival is to be broadcast on BBC Two Scotland next Tuesday at 10pm.
Filmed during last year’s 30th annual event, No Sleep ‘Til Yell celebrates and captures the unique charm of Britain’s most northerly music festival.
The film features bluegrass, country and Indian classical as well as folk music from Sweden, Shetland, Scotland and Ireland. It also pays tribute to Shetland’s fiddling tradition of Shetland, largely nurtured by the festival’s co-founder Tom Anderson.
The half hour documentary will be available on the BBC iPlayer after it is broadcast.

Green energy firm to expand

THREE new high quality jobs are to be created by a Shetland based manufacturer with a track record in renewable energy technology.
Shetland Composites presently employs five staff, and has just received planning permission for a new 540 square metre workshop at the Staney Hill Industrial Estate, in Lerwick, twice the size of its current premises at Greenhead.
The company’s attempts to expand are being backed by Highlands and Islands Enterprise who have pledged £115,940 towards the £425,000 project. Shetland Islands Council will contribute £96,560.
The business began trading ten years ago and the majority of its work in the early years involved producing wind and wave devices out of glass reinforced plastic, primarily for universities and academic research institutions.
Over the years the company has maintained this work and diversified its product range into new and more commercial markets.
Shetland Composites is now a leader in the research, development and manufacturing of wave and tidal prototype devices, fish hatchery tanks, navigation lights/buoys, and storage containers/waste solutions.
HIE has been working with the company’s managing director Fred Gibson to realise his aspiration to grow the business enough to meet increasing demand for their large range of products.
HIE account manager Andrew White said: “Shetland Composites are an ambitious business with plans to expand their work and take on more staff.
“They are undertaking innovative projects which would benefit from the new workshop, allowing a production line to be set up for tanks, casings and turbine masts.
“It will also give them the capacity to bid for and deliver larger contracts in order to grow their company.”
The company’s premises will include space to engage in more research and development.
Mr Gibson said: “The new building will more than double our current capacity and will be more suited to high-end manufacturing.
“This will enable us to work towards business improvement standards and quality accreditations that are much sought after in our industry, as well as increasing our productivity.”
The SIC’s vice convener Josie Simpson added that the company was a “real success story” for Shetland.

Councillors invited on Sandness tour

COUNCILLORS in Shetland have been invited to visit one of the islands’ most remote communities to learn first hand what impact their proposal to close a tiny primary school would have.
During a public consultation meeting in Sandness last week, education officials were left in no doubt that the community unanimously opposes the closure plans under the council’s Blueprint for Education review.
The school’s parent council has now written to all 22 elected members urging them to visit the west side village on Friday.
Chairwoman Penny Armstrong said the parent council wanted to make sure councillors knew all the facts before they made such an important decision.
Councillors have been invited to come at 2pm on Friday for a short tour of the school and a presentation by pupils, after which they will be invited on a tour of the community and its main employer, Jamieson’s Spinning Mill.
“Parents, pupils, community members, employers and employees will be available to answer questions and provide information essential to your forthcoming decision,” the invitation says.

Union challenges coastguard cuts

THE MARITIME and Coastguard Agency has been challenged by the PCS trade union to prove its plans to cut coastguard stations would not put lives at risk.

The union has called on agency bosses to run a live test of its proposed centralised control system before its consultation about closing 10 of the UK’s 19 stations ends on 24 March.

The MCA announced the closure plans in December, saying centres in Solent and Aberdeen would be expanded.

The union, which represents 750 staff in the agency, has serious concerns about the loss of local knowledge and says ensuring proper emergency cover for our coastlines is vital.

The call comes as Sir Alan Massey, MCA chief executive, faced questions from the Commons transport select committee on Tuesday.

So far, 77 MPs have signed a parliamentary motion opposing the planned cuts, including four Tories and 10 Liberal Democrats. Lib Dem opponents include current president Tim Farron and former leader Menzies Campbell.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: “These cuts could literally be a matter of life and death. We are deeply concerned that closing these stations would leave our coastlines a more dangerous place to be.

“If the MCA and the government are confident in their assertion that the cuts won’t cost lives, they should be prepared to put it to the test. Without that, people will rightly conclude that officials and ministers haven’t successfully made their case and the consultation should be stopped.”

Jeremy Gautrey, PCS negotiations officer for the MCA, said: "What is clear from talking to coastguards from Shetland down to Falmouth is the level of anger among staff that these proposals have been drawn up with no consultation with operational coastguards or having been trialed in a live situation to test their resiliance."

Useful meeting with shipping minister

HIGHLANDS and Islands council leaders have described a meeting with shipping minister Mike Penning over the proposed cuts to coastguard stations as “very useful”.

The four conveners presented the MP for Hemel Hempstead with a 32 page dossier outlining why their communities were opposed to closing either Stornoway or Lerwick coastguard stations as well as the proposed withdrawal of the two emergency towing vessels (ETV) stationed in the northern isles and The Minches.

Under Lib-Cons coalition plans ten of the UK’s 18 Coastguard stations would close with Aberdeen being the only 24- hour station serving Scotland.

A second station monitoring the waters to the north and west of Scotland would be retained in Lerwick or Stornoway, but its operational hours would be reduced to “daytime only”.

The proposals have been met with disbelief and have united Scotland island and coastal communities in its opposition.

On Monday, the leaders of Shetland, Orkney, Western Isles and Highland councils received assurances from the minister that no decision had been taken and that the consultation on the future of Lerwick and Stornoway Coastguard stations were genuine.

After the hour long meeting, Shetland Islands Council convener Sandy Cluness said that they have had a sympathetic hearing during which the minster had been prepared to take on board much of the evidence presented in the dossier.
“The delegation presented the case very strongly, and emphasised to Mr Penning a number of the points outlined in our briefing paper. He expressed a desire to work with us in a constructive and creative way, and I welcome that.

"In addition to the commitment he gave late last year to visit Shetland, Mr Penning also agreed to visit the Western Isles later in the year. 

“The delegation appreciated that gesture as I think that only by going out to the two areas will he get a feel for the level of opposition there is to closure and how vital the service is.  The meeting was a very worthwhile exercise”, the SIC convener said.

The minister said he could not pre-empt the outcome of the consultation process and added that a final decision on the future of the two island coastguard stations would not be taken before the summer at the earliest.

In an interview with the local BBC station in Shetland, Mr Penning said: “My mind is still open on this, and the consultation is still open.

“I have not set a date for implementation because I want people to realise that we are studying what the consultations are; and safety will be paramount for me.”

Later this week, on Friday morning, the chief executive of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), Sir Alan Massey, will be in Shetland to hear staff’s concern at the Lerwick station.

He will also meet with local MP Alistair Carmichael and MSP Tavish Scott the night before.

A rally in support of retaining the coastguard station at The Knab is being organised by a local support committee.

Anti Viking Energy rally

OPPONENTS of the Viking Energy wind farm in Shetland hope for a huge turnout when they take to the streets of Lerwick later this month.
The march and rally under the motto ‘Save Shetland’s environment – Stop Viking Energy’ has been organised by Sustainable Shetland, the group opposing the planned development.
Viking Energy, a company in which Shetland Charitable Trust holds a 45 per cent stake, plans to build a 457 megawatt wind farm on the central mainland of the isles.
The plan to erect 127 huge wind turbines on blanket bog has sparked a huge controversy and polarised the community.
A planning decision from Scottish energy minister Jim Mather under section 36 of the Electricity Act is expected soon after councillors in Shetland voted in favour of the development, in December last year.
Organiser Kevin Learmonth said the rally had two objectives: firstly to remind councillors sitting as trustees on SCT to listen to the population; and secondly to get the message across to the energy minister that a majority of islanders were against the Viking Energy wind farm.
“Despite what councillors have told Mr Mather there is still huge opposition against this development in Shetland.
“We also cannot have confidence that our MSP Tavish Scott has given him the whole story and has represented the majority view,” he said.
He added that the government’s energy consents unit had received 2,300 objections to the development and 900 letters of support.
“We believe the overwhelming majority of people in Shetland oppose this scheme. Supporters are very much in a minority. Initial figures from the planning authority, the Scottish government energy consents unit, demonstrate this,” Mr Learmonth said.
He added that he hoped for hundreds of Shetlanders to turn out as this would send out a strong message to the authorities.
“A couple of hundred people in the streets of Lerwick would be the equivalent to a million in the streets of Cairo. The government has to take note,” he said.
The protest march on Saturday 19 February commences at 11.30am from Lerwick’s Market Cross and goes through Commercial Street and Harbour Street to the town hall, which will be open for teas and coffees, information stalls and debate.

Big names for Tall Ships

FOLK rock legends Levellers and Abba tribute band Björn Again have been confirmed as headline acts on the Holmsgarth stage, as part of this year’s Tall Ships Race visit to Lerwick.
Other music highlights during the four day maritime event are Phil Cunningham and Shetland’s own Aly Bain, Eat Dr Ape, Stagger Rat, Rock Salt and Nails, Fiddlers Bid, Catriona Macdonald as well as Oscar Charlie.
After the huge success of 1999, Shetland will host the tall ships this July for the second time
Brighton band Levellers is renowned as one of the best live festival acts around and will make their Shetland debut on Friday 22 July as part of their Levelling The Land Tour of 2011.
Björn Again is an internationally acclaimed show which celebrates the hits of the massively successful Swedish pop band Abba. Björn Again will hit the Holmsgarth stage on Saturday 23 July.
Fiona Dally, project manager of The Tall Ships Races 2011 - Lerwick, said: "We're delighted to announce Levellers and Björn Again as headliners for this summer's event.
"The Tall Ships Races 2011 - Lerwick will be a fantastic opportunity for our many visitors to experience the hospitality of the Islands as well as acting as a fantastic showcase for all Shetland has to offer.
"This year we hope to attract large numbers of spectators to enjoy the celebrations as well as enjoy some of the most beautiful landscape and scenery Scotland has to offer."
Tickets go on general sale at the beginning of March.

In brief for 7 February 2011

A TWENTY eight year old man with an address in Scalloway was disqualified from driving for two years at Lerwick Sheriff Court on Monday after pleading guilty to a charge of drink driving.
Csaba Steinbach, of Da Shore, was two and a half times the legal limit when he was stopped by police at Church Road, in Lerwick, on Sunday afternoon.
Appearing from custody before the court Steinbach was also fined £800.
Goalie wants station saved
SUNDERLAND and Scotland goalkeeper Craig Gordon has come out in support of keeping Shetland Coastguard station open.
The local community has initiated a massive campaign of support for the Lerwick station after government announced just before Christmas that it might have to close as part of a comprehensive modernisation programme.
Mr Gordon, who has family ties in Shetland, said: “I have family on Shetland and some very happy memories of visiting the Coastguard station in Lerwick as a child, so naturally I'm saddened to hear of its possible closure.
“I know that the weather can be so unpredictable and hugely unforgiving around the islands so the role of the Shetland Coastguard in protecting so many people from danger cannot be overstated.
“I wholeheartedly support the people of Shetland in their bid to retain its services."

Top gymnast
ONE of the world’s best gymnasts is to the grace the islands when she visits as a special guest of the Shetland Gymnastics Club next week.
Ukrainian Dariya Zgoba competed in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and has just retired from international competition at the tender age of 21 after five years at the top level.
Ms Zgoba has offered to help with coaching at the Shetland club and also intends to demonstrate various skills on floor and balance beam, as well as some basic skills on vault and asymmetric bars.
Shetland Gymnastics Club coach Mark Wylie said: “She will be a great inspiration to all our young gymnasts whatever she does, I’m hoping our coaches can learn a little extra too.”

SIC councillors sharpen the axe

SHETLAND Islands Council is gearing itself up to saving £8.4 million through cutbacks during the next financial year.

Closing schools, leaving posts vacant, cutting back on overtime, increasing charges and slimming down services will all contribute to seven per cent savings across the board.

Councillors have already agreed cuts of £7.85 million during a series of private meetings with senior staff over the past two months, which include closing six schools and major efficiencies in children’s services.

Proposals to save a further £550,000 will be debated on Thursday. Councillors have drawn up a list of options that total £1.68 million, from which they must choose where the axe will fall.

These options include deleting four currently vacant social car posts; rationing care at home packages; a 10 or 15 per cent increase in ferry fares; changes to the Whalsay ferry service; reduction in road repairs; stopping the gravestone repair service; charging for housing support workers and not providing free dog litter bags.

Once agreed the savings will help the council fill the £18.5 million deficit it faces in the coming year, as income from central government and the oil industry combine with growing service demands to squeeze public spending.

A further £8 million will be met through a £4 million cut in capital spending and by drawing £4 million from the SIC’s oil funded reserves.

The remaining £2 million will come from an increase in capital spending grant from the Scottish government.

This will be the most coordinated effort the oil rich authority has ever carried out to save money since the flow of wealth from Sullom Voe and its global investments started to dry up over the past decade.

New chief executive Alistair Buchan, who was brought in to discipline the authority following highly critical reports from local government watchdog The Accounts Commission, is leading a programme of fundamental change in the way the council operates.

He hopes that changes in senior management and committee structures will cascade down through the authority making it possible to run a much tighter ship in the years ahead.

Mr Buchan warned that as soon as next year’s budget is agreed, work will start on planning for the next two years where savings are likely to be even greater.

However Shetland remains far better off than any other local authority in Britain, its financial cushion from hosting the oil industry for the past 30 years allowing it to avoid the drastic cuts being experienced on the mainland.

The biggest proposed saving of around £1.5 million will come if the closure of six schools goes ahead this coming year, a process which is currently meeting staunch community resistance.

This saving is already open to question as the council has already agreed not to close one of the six schools, in Skerries, and the Scottish government has called in December’s decision to close Scalloway junior high school.

The communities in Uyeasound, Burravoe, North Roe and Sandness are fighting hard to keep their schools open and questioning the education authority’s claims about how much money the closures will really save.

Other savings already agreed include:

•£1 million less on buying in goods and services;

•Major efficiencies in children’s services saving almost £400,000;

•Not filling two posts at the Gremista landfill after staff retire;

•Making 30 retained burial officers redundant in 2012/13;

•Closing the public toilets at Grantfield and Clickimin, in Lerwick;

•Cutting back on winter road gritting and general road maintenance;

•Reducing the Foula ferry operation and cutting one return flight to Fair Isle;

There will be a reduction in evening classes, grants for business and recreation and overtime for cleaners and toilet attendants.

The grass cutting service and free compost bins will go completely and people will receive half the number of bin bags they do at the moment.

Investments are to be made in enabling people to work from home and there is a proposal to raise £10,000 by allowing advertisements to grace the inter island ferries.

The £100,000 being paid to the SIC by French oil and gas giant Total as they build their processing plant north of Sullom Voe oil terminal is also being added to the overall package.

Mr Buchan said the package was “a judicious balance between making progress while not severely disrupting the Shetland economy”.

He added that it would require resolve and close collaboration between councillors and officers to ensure the savings targets were met, and if any one measure was dropped it would have to be compensated for by something else.

He also warned that next year’s savings would be even greater, with £12.5 million already targeted for 2012/13, and £16 million in 2013/14.

The council will meet in March to discuss how to save £4 million from its capital programme.

Another oil spill threat

US OIL firm Hess is the latest company to acknowledge that Shetland could be smothered in oil if its drilling operations in the north Atlantic go wrong.

In its environmental statement for drilling the Cambo 4 well west of Shetland, Hess admits an oil spill in the deep Atlantic waters could be as bad as last year’s Gulf of Mexico spill, leaking 4.3 million barrels of oil into the sea over two and a half months.

Hess is planning to start a four month drilling operation in May. Their application is available in the Lerwick library and a decision will be taken on granting permission in the next few months.

The company says the risk of such an accident is very low, however if a blowout did happen Shetland would bear the brunt of the pollution while the oil could spread to the shorelines of Iceland, Ireland, Norway and the UK, as far south as Norfolk on England’s east coast.

Attempts to contain the resulting oil slick would be ineffective due to low temperatures, heavy seas and high winds, the company confesses.

Last month the House of Commons Energy and Climate Change select committee expressed concern that inadequate equipment and poor planning could delay attempts to cap a leaking well off Shetland and advised that “prevention was better than cure”.

Last year oil company Chevron admitted that a blowout in their Lagavulin field 100 miles north of Shetland could have a devastating impact on the marine environment.

Both Hess and Chevron claim that fish and sea mammals would be able to escape harm by avoiding any pollution.

WWF Scotland director Dr Richard Dixon said the report highlighted the need to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“This report once again highlights the dangers to the marine environment of drilling for oil in yet even deeper water. Oil companies simply have no idea how they would deal with a major deep water oil spill.

“Perhaps the most remarkable part of this study is that the company admit that the 10 day spill they have considered is far from the worst case. Given that the Gulf spill lasted 86 days, the authorities should rule this assessment as incompetent.

“A major accident could release many hundreds of times the oil spilt in the 1993 Braer disaster. Wildlife, fishing and tourism in Shetland and beyond could be devastated for many years.

"Last month a House of Commons report found that the current UK oil drilling framework falls short of providing the necessary safeguards to protect Scotland's marine environment in the event of an oil spill.

"Given the environmental imperative to end our addiction with oil, the focus of our energy policy must be on making a renewables revolution a reality, building on our tremendous natural advantages in geography, skills and ingenuity.

"Pursuing new oil would undermine the leadership role this country has built on tackling climate change and progressing toward a low carbon economy."

Conveners meet minister as rally planned

A RALLY to protest against plans to close the coastguard coordinating station in Lerwick is being staged outside the station on Friday morning during a visit from Maritime and Coastguard Agency chief executive Sir Alan Massey.

The vice admiral is visiting all the coastguard stations around the UK to meet staff and discuss the modernisation plans that would see Scotland reduced to a single 24 hour service in Aberdeen.

The current consultation to close either Stornoway or Lerwick and reduce the surviving station to a daylight only service has met huge resistance in both communities and beyond.

On Monday a delegation of council conveners from Shetland, Orkney, the Western Isles and Highland meets UK shipping minister Mike Penning to present a 33 page document outlining why the closures should not proceed.

Shetland Islands Council convener Sandy Cluness, who will lead the delegation, said: “As we’ve seen over the past few weeks, the communities affected by the proposed cuts are totally united in their opposition.

“I’m sure Sir Alan Massey will see further evidence of that when he comes up to Lerwick on Friday. 

“This afternoon provides us with a chance to put our case direct to the shipping minister. We will be strongly urging him to rethink the whole proposal.  As I’ve said before, where they are looking at cutting coastguard services in areas like these, they are effectively dealing with life and death.

“I note with dismay that Sir Alan Massey has said the coastguard service needs to be brought into the 21st century and that operations can be delivered more efficiently under these proposals.

“It’s quite clear that the importance of local knowledge and the fragile communications we suffer from here in Shetland aren’t being factored in at all.”

Organisers of Friday morning’s protest have asked as many people as possible to meet outside the coastguard station at The Knab at 8.30am and to bring placards if they can.

Sue Anderson, who is married to a coastguard officer, said: “Shetland waters are some of the most unpredictable and dangerous in the UK and Shetland coastguard covers a bigger area than any other coastguard station.

“Shetland coastguard also has a lot of local knowledge and local respect. People here would not hesitate phoning Lerwick coastguard if they saw something which might be of concern. Are they going to do the same thing with Aberdeen?

“This is putting people’s lives in danger. Sir Alan Massey should go off in one of our local boats for two weeks and then he would know what it’s like.”

Crabber breaks moorings in hurricane

AN ENGLISH crabbing boat broke free of its moorings in hurricane force winds gusting to more than 100mph while berthed in Scalloway harbour, in Shetland, during the early hours of Friday.

A group of sea cadets from Scalloway’s NAFC Marine Centre raised the alarm around 2am when they saw the Teignmouth registered Amadeus (TY7) breaking onto the Blacksness pier.

The Lerwick coastguard rescue team joined local harbour staff to help the six crewmen re-secure the vessel at a more sheltered berth within one hour of the alarm.

Their task was made more difficult because the ropes on board Amadeus were not strong enough to hold the boat in such strong winds, and new ropes had to be found.

The rescue team, including the Aith lifeboat, which was on standby, were then stood down.

Shetland Islands Council harbour master Roger Moore praised the “quick and professional response” of his staff in Scalloway, the coastguard and the NAFC cadets, saying they had undoubtedly saved the boat from ending up on the rocks.

Amadeus is a 24 metre modern crabbing boat that used to come to Shetland on a regular basis from its base in Brixham, in Devon.

It is understood this was its first visit to the islands for around a decade, after it caused friction with local fishermen for catching crabs without a licence from the local shellfish management organisation.

Gales disrupt life in Shetland

SEVERE gales across Shetland have disrupted travel with inter island ferries and flights suspended, along with airport operations Scatsta airport.

Flights in and out of Sumburgh have been delayed and none of the NorthLink ferries and freighters to and from Anerdeen

Three primary schools at Olnafirth, Whalsay and Tingwall did not open, and a fourth at Sandwick decided to close and send children home mid morning.

Workers living on the islands of Unst, Yell, Whalsay and Bressay were unable to get to work on the mainland due to the lack of ferries, leaving offices and businesses short staffed.

There were reports of slates coming off buildings and broken windows, but no one has been hurt.

Telephone and broadband services were hit by BT outages at Saxa Vord, Compass Head and Collafirth overnight, but all were operating by morning.

Pole fires caused power cuts overnight in Sandwick, East Burrafirth, Scatsta, Lochend, North Roe, Tingwall, Laxfirth, Strand and Gott, with extra engineers and linesmen deployed to carry out repairs.

Oil production vessel adrift

A FLOATING production vessel working east of Aberdeen has lost power and is drifting in gale force westerly winds with 114 crew on board.

Aberdeen coastguard is keeping a close eye on the Gryphon Alpha FPSO which is 110 miles east south east of Sumburgh.

The Sumburgh-based coastguard rescue team are on stand by in case they are needed to help evacuate the crew.

The Gryphon Alpha is the oldest FPSO working in Europe having come into service on the Gryphon oil field in 1993.