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Strathclyde Police

The High Court in Glasgow <em>Picture: Stephen Sweeney</em>

The High Court in Glasgow Picture: Stephen Sweeney

In 2008, Charles Lavery, the former Sunday Mail chief reporter, broke the world exclusive that Malcolm Webster would face murder and attempted murder charges after a global police investigation. Here he examines the case and his dealings with a mild-mannered sociopath.

“I did not kill Clare. I loved Clare. I would never harm her. I’ll give you an exclusive interview when the police realise I’ve simply been the victim of a series of unfortunate accidents. I don’t blame you, you’re only doing your job. The truth will out.”

He spoke the words with a ringing confidence, a man sure of his own innocence who would allow the authorities to establish that innocence in the fullness of time. It didn’t quite go to plan.

Last Thursday, Malcolm John Webster was found guilty of murder, attempted murder, poisoning and fraud by a jury of his peers. It was the longest criminal prosecution of a single accused person in Scottish legal history. And he went to the cells still believing he was an innocent man. He will always be right, and we lesser mortals will always be wrong.

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Webster wept, silently, in the holding cell underneath the High Court as guards wandered past for a sly look.

Thursday 19 May 2011 was a sunny day in Glasgow, but architects of the city’s new high court building hadn’t given a thought to incorporating windows in the basement, where the guilty were gathered.

Webster, a white, middle class, 54-year-old nurse, was finally truly troubled. He had sat in the dock for some four months in total, with barely a frown.

A jury had just returned guilty verdicts on all counts. The tears, perhaps for the first time in his life, were real. He had shown no emotion as the verdicts were read out. He would be going to prison for a very long time, yet the news registered hardly a flicker.

Mr Anyone, the polite charmer who had the clipped, dulcet tones of a BBC Radio 4 presenter, had drugged and murdered his first wife, fooled Scottish police into believing it was an accident, then used to the same modus operandi years later as he attempted to dispatch a second wife on the other side of the world.

His third victim-to-be was warned by detectives her life was in immediate danger after Webster bought her a £6,000 platinum engagement ring and convinced her to sign over her worldly goods. He was still married to his second wife at that time.

The three women had two things in common: they were nurses and they were all of independent means.

Clare Morris died on a quiet country road in Aberdeenshire, in the passenger seat of the family jeep, stupefied by drugs as fire raged around her. The man she loved and had only recently married had staged a car crash and packed the boot with petrol canisters.

An off-duty cop who stopped to help asked Webster three times if there was anyone else inside the car when she found him lying on a grass verge having seemingly crawled from the vehicle.

Chillingly, this practised deceiver waited until the flames prevented anyone from getting near the vehicle before he “remembered” his wife was inside.

In the weeks before the “accident”, several insurance policies had been taken out by Webster. He pocketed £206,000, packed up and left Scotland. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, and in spite of rumblings of disquiet among some officers, police closed the file as an accident.

He moved to Saudi Arabia and began a breathtaking spending spree which saw him plough through the money in just six months. But Webster was unperturbed. He had his next victim firmly in his sights.

Felicity Drumm, like first victim Clare, was a nurse who had moved to Saudi to work. She fell for Webster, and was particularly struck by a softness around him whenever he spoke of his tragic first wife, who he said had died in an horrific car smash. It was why he was in Saudi, trying to forget, he told her.

They moved back to Felicity’s home town of Takapuna in New Zealand and married there. On the second day of the honeymoon, Webster began introducing drugs to her food. It had worked four years previously on first wife Clare, so why change the formula?

The one thing Webster did not anticipate was Felicity surviving the inevitable car crash. Doctors found sedatives in her bloodstream and Webster headed for the airport. By the time New Zealand police issued arrest warrants, he was long gone. They now faced a worldwide probe to catch their man, and he was no easy prey.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this polite predator was his ability to snare the women he did. After fleeing New Zealand, Webster resurfaced on the west coast of Scotland, in Oban, where he worked as a medical orderly.

He met consultant’s daughter Simone Banerjee and they quickly became an item. He even took her to visit his first wife’s grave. By this time, three separate police forces were involved. Grampian Police had re-opened a cold case review of the crash that killed Webster’s first wife, after police in Auckland alerted them to the copycat near miss with second wife.

Grampian told Strathclyde Police there was a “person of interest” living in their force area, who they wanted monitored.

What happened next is unprecedented in a police investigation of a would-be serial killer. So concerned were officers monitoring Webster that they decided to warn Simone Banerjee about the new man in her life.

Detectives had learned that Webster and Simone planned to take part in a yacht race. Alarm bells deafened the cops. They knew it was a perfect setting for murder. They even asked the local harbourmaster to alert them if Webster’s yacht left its mooring.

Simone Banerjee was visited by two detectives and told that the man she had just become engaged to, and had signed over her worldly goods to, posed a serious threat to her life.

Called an Osman warning, the letters are usually only handed to gangsters involved in tit-for-tat shootings over drugs and turf wars. Police are duty-bound to warn anyone of impending danger if they receive intelligence that a life is at risk.

So it was that Simone Banerjee was handed a letter detailing concerns for her safety and stating that Webster was still married to Felicity Drumm.

She confronted him the following day. He packed a small bag within half an hour, printed off a document that reverted her estate back into her name only, and walked out of her life. Officers were in her street, unsure how Webster would react.

At that time, the simply astonishing Malcolm Webster had already realised the game would soon be up. He was aware of the New Zealand warrants and had written to the embassy in an effort to have them overturned.

So, as Webster sat crying in the basement of the High Court at Glasgow, he wasn’t crying for his victims, or from deep remorse or regret. He was crying for himself.

As guards below the High Court packed his belongings into a clear bag and noted each item – the watch, the belt, the wallet and its contents – Webster balked at only one thing: his new iPhone.

He was carrying £800 in cash in the back pocket of his trousers, and offered it to the Reliance guard to turn a blind eye to the phone he couldn’t bear to part with. His offer was refused. Months earlier, just as the trial was about to get underway, Webster had busied himself on the web asking all manner of questions about his new toy and its capabilities.

He joined forums and members answered his “newbie” queries. Here was a man who was more upset at losing a phone than he had been when interviewed by police over a murder, an attempted murder, and several fire-raisings and poisonings. His standard response to detectives during all interviews was “no comment.”

He was a man who administered drugs to stupefy and used fire to cleanse, all for one goal: his love of money.

Webster had the cars, the homes, a yacht and Range Rover. He killed first wife Clare and cashed in over £200,000 in insurance policies. He bought the baubles he had never had as a child. The money was gone from his account in less than six months. One detective described it as like “watching a running tap, sometimes £3,000 a day would just go from the account.”

That was in 1994. Seventeen years later, after squandering hundreds of thousands of pounds of other peoples’ money, he sat alone, awaiting transfer to HMP Barlinnie in Glasgow, a guilty man. He was in a place where his £800 in cash couldn’t help him. He was about to go to a new world, a prison existence where money is not the currency. A world unknown to him or most of his class, where cigarettes, drugs and mobile phones are the hard currency in a violent barter system.

And so he cried. After decades of deceit, from his scouting days where his fellow scouts labelled him “pyro” due to his penchant for fire-starting, to his killing for cash, his fire-starting and thefts.

He feigned cancer, even shaved his head and eyebrows – but the tears, according to one of the country’s top criminal profilers, were not for his victims or because of his actions.

He was crying because he had been caught. A sociopath with no ability to feel remorse for others, a black widower who used women, caring wealthy women, to fund the lifestyle he believed he deserved.

That lifestyle started early for Webster. As a 17-year-old, awkward teenager in Guildford, he was outside the norm, a young man who would be seen wandering the streets at all hours of the day and night, alone, musing.

He wasn’t a classic loner, he moulded himself into what he was meant to be at any given time, and even as a gangly, good-looking youth he managed to find himself a girlfriend, a first love. He was 17 and she was just 15.

Her father was a wealthy man, with a chain of nursing homes dotted around Surrey. He felt sorry for Webster when they were introduced, and gave him a job helping at one of those homes. It was here that Webster honed the skills that would lead him to the riches he so coveted.

Almost 32 years later his first love, now a married mum-of-two, sat her elderly father down in the lounge of his home and revealed a secret she had carried in her heart for over three decades. She had been Webster’s first victim.

She had endured a secret abortion aged just 15 and been bullied into keeping it from her family. When news of Webster started to break around the globe, she knew it was only a matter of time before her secret became common knowledge.

She was Webster’s first victim. She was not the last.

He is an ordinary man capable of extraordinarily bad things. And he doesn’t care what you think about that.

Follow Charles Lavery on Twitter: @charleslavery

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<em>Picture: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos</em>

Picture: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos

By Stewart Weir

Manchester, red or blue, had cause for celebration today. A point secured at Blackburn winning United the Premier League title, a goal at Wembley enough to give City their first FA Cup win since 1969. So all happy, then.

Well, not everyone. The last ten minutes at Ewood Park was a bit of a farce, as United settled for the point they needed and relegation-threatened Blackburn for the point they wanted. It was reminiscent of several years ago when Rangers won the title at Easter Road (or, more accurately, Celtic lost it at Fir Park) when Hibs didn’t want to concede another goal or they would have missed out on Europe and Rangers weren’t interested in adding to Nacho Novo’s strike.

City’s win over Stoke City gave them their first pot since the League Cup in 1976. Seems like yesterday!

Of course, if I’d spent £350 million assembling a team, and my goalscorer Yaya Touré was on £220,000 a week (mental arithmetic says that’s £10m a year, which is mental), I’d be expecting to not only win the FA Cup, but the Premier League, the Champions League, the Eurovision Song Contest, Horse of the Year Show, Crufts, a Grammy or two, an Oscar, the US presidential election and the National Lottery at least several times over.

Maybe that shows how easy pleased some people are…

It was billed as “Helicopter Sunday”, a day when the ever-changing drama unfolding in Kilmarnock and the Parkhead area of Glasgow deemed air travel as the quickest form of transport.

But the reality was that the SPL could have saved themselves a small fortune in aviation fuel and delivered the silverware to Rugby Park on foot.

Those who had wondered all these years what was actually said in Celtic’s pre-match huddle will be keen to know that, on Sunday, the final words were “Rangers are one-up!”

Not true of course, as the games kicked off simultaneously just to add to the occasion, with the outcome also known simultaneously less than seven minutes later. The title was going back to Ibrox for a 54th time, making it three-in-a-row, and a fitting send-off for Walter Smith.

Kyle Lafferty, much maligned at times, grabbed the match ball with a hat-trick, taking his tally to seven goals in the last six games and maintaining his record of scoring on the last day of the season, just as he did at Tannadice and Easter Road.

Playing away on the final, title-deciding day of the season in three consecutive years? That might be considered cause for a conspiracy in some places.

Lafferty’s goals were important. But arguably no more vital than those from Kenny Miller who hit 21, a phenomenal contribution when compared to the SPL’s other goal machines, especially given that he only lasted half a term before bailing out of Ibrox for Turkey.

Celtic did pick up a trophy on Sunday evening, when Emilio Izaguirre – who already had the Scottish PFA and Premier League awards on his mantelpiece – was similarly honoured by the Scottish Football Writers’ Association. Better than Allan McGregor over a season?

I don’t think so. Not even by a point…

Honestly, you wait for one bus to run over a trophy, then two come along in the space of a few weeks.

Copying the example set by Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos, who managed to get the Copa del Rey lodged under a double-decker, Ajax goalkeeper Marteen Stekelenburg fumbles the Eredivisie plate with similar consequences. Admittedly, it does look like a very ornate wheel trim, but there was no need to do this to it.

Stekelenburg is a target to replace Edwin van der Sar at Old Trafford, which could force his transfer fee up by a few million. Not because he’s worth it, but with the number of trophies United win, insurance cover could be astronomical…

An historic day. Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, visits Dublin – which, by chance, would also host the Europa League final the next day.

Not the usual thronging crowds around for a royal visit, and what did go on was kept in check by the Garda. Of course, if you look at the bigger picture, their job was made a lot easier, not by a lack of interest, or detailed intelligence, or assistance from their British counterparts, but by PSV Eindhoven.

Elsewhere, there appears to be some consternation emanating out of Rugby Park over the number of Rangers fans who filled the stadium for Sunday’s game.

I assume they were Rangers supporters, based on the attendance being 16,173 against a season’s average of just 6,427 (figures courtesy of the SPL’s own website).

Kilmarnock expressed regret at the number of away fans present in home sections at Rugby Park, putting their unhappiness down to safety, segregation and security issues.

It should be noted this had nothing to do with Kilmarnock being unable to charge Rangers supporters, who had bought empty “Kilmarnock” seats, an extra fiver. Of course it didn’t…

And talking of Old Firm fans, Celtic manager Neil Lennon urged supporters to stop offensive songs, saying: “In recent times, there has been a re-emergence, from a small minority, of some of the singing and chanting which is simply not acceptable.”

These songs have at times been inaudible to the human ear and can usually only be picked up by TV and radio effects microphones around the pitch.

BBC Scotland’s Bigotry, Bombs and Football documentary, scheduled for the following evening, highlighted the measures being taken by Strathclyde Police, and both Rangers and Celtic, to curb sectarian behaviour.

Reporter Reevel Alderson revealed that in three years, across their entire area, Strathclyde Police have arrested 800 people for sectarian behaviour. In the past seven seasons, Rangers have banned 548 supporters for a similar offence, and in the past five seasons, Celtic have banned six season-ticket holders for sectarian or offensive behaviour.

Does this mean that (a) Rangers should police Strathclyde, (b) Neil Lennon has drawn attention to a problem that doesn’t exist, or (c) Mark Twain (or was it Disraeli?) was right about lies, damned lies and statistics?

Talking of Strathclyde’s finest, their long-running investigation into alleged match-fixing allegations against snooker players Stephen Maguire and Jamie Burnett is at an end.

Bookmakers alerted authorities to “irregular betting patterns” around the match, which took place during the UK Championship in Telford in November 2008. They had taken numerous bets on the outcome of the match being 9–3 in Maguire’s favour.

Maguire won by that margin. But suspicion was raised by a black missed by Burnett which would have made it 8–4.

And since then, both players have been subjected to scrutiny, rumour-mongering and innuendo.

But all of that should now be put to bed. A Crown Office spokeswoman said: “Following a full and comprehensive investigation the case was reported for the consideration of Crown Counsel who, after careful consideration of all facts and circumstances, decided there is insufficient evidence to justify a criminal prosecution.”

I spoke to both players ahead of the recent world championship, where it was plainly obvious that neither had anything to say, other than how sick they were, because they had nothing to say in the first instance.

I’m guessing here, but after two-and-a-half years, and regardless of the online accounts across Scotland opened on a particular day, you would have thought something would have come to light – if there was anything to come to light.

I’m sure it’s purely coincidental that this news comes just a week after Taggart was made redundant.

Even so, you have to wonder what the game’s governing body is scheming up when WPBSA chairman Jason Ferguson said; “We are treating this case very seriously. We will now be given access to the evidence connected with the case, and our disciplinary committee will review that evidence thoroughly.”

And who do they have on that committee. Hercule Poirot, Jack Regan, Miss Marple?

Or do World Snooker want to bid against Rangers to police Strathclyde?

And it’s congratulations to Gary Anderson for winning his first televised PDC title, landing the Premier League with a 10–4 final win over world champion Adrian Lewis at Wembley.

Given the venue, and given the reception Lewis got in Glasgow a few months back, I’m sure he glanced over his shoulder a few times to see if there were any advanced divisions of the Tartan Army making a pilgrimage back to their old haunts.

Brilliant as Anderson did in winning, and in finishing runner-up to Lewis in the world championship final, it’s sad he maybe isn’t getting the recognition he deserves.

If you asked most punters to name a Scots darts player, how many would answer “Jocky Wilson”? But then again, he did make it big.

London 2012 organisers reveal that they have received more than one million requests for seat tickets for the Olympic men’s 100 metres final – yet only 8,000 will get to carry the Olympic torch for a mile on its journey around the UK. So further enhancing our reputation of being a nation of armchair sportsmen and women…

Tweet Stewart Weir with thoughts and comments, @sweirz

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The Copa del Rey – a bit bashed <em>Picture: Erik1980</em>

The Copa del Rey – a bit bashed Picture: Erik1980

By Stewart Weir

Semi-final weekend in the respective premier knockout cup competitions either side of the border, with one tie holding a slight advantage when it came to national interest. And you’ve guessed – it wasn’t Motherwell–St Johnstone.

On a day when Wembley was filled with the blue and red of Manchester, Hampden looked somewhat sorry only a quarter-filled – or, more noticeably, three-quarters empty – with the “hordes” from the shires of Lanark and Perth.

Motherwell deservedly won 3–0, with Saints ‘keeper Peter Enckelman the unfortunate recipient of the “Estate Agents Award”, presented to the man who did most to sell a semi.

But while Jamie Murphy and John Sutton scored crackers, you couldn’t help but notice the empty seats around Hampden, which raises the question – as ever – of why a match like this is ever taken to the National Stadium.

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Justification for building it appears to be the only answer. Because with just under 12,000 deciding the big day wasn’t that big in reality, Tynecastle or Easter Road would have made much better sense.

In the south, City shocked United. The next day, Aberdeen and Bolton were just shocking.

From Steeltown to Steel City. I know it began yesterday, but given that it lasts a mere 17 days, there was always going to be time to catch up with the action from Sheffield and the Betfred.com World Snooker Championship.

Saturday brought two big stories. One came before a ball was potted in anger, and was so big it even made the front page of the Scottish Sun. It was the collapse, or near-collapse, of 110sport, snooker’s biggest management stable and a twice-former employer of mine. Indeed, in healthier times, I once was a board director there.

It is a sad state of affairs, which is about all I’m willing to say on the matter as I am restricted for space, something that won’t be a problem when my tale comes out in book form. Take that as the first plug.

Damned or doomed, 110sport’s demise was of their making, nothing to do with events conspiring against them, bad luck, chance or fate.

And certainly not a curse – although the second big snooker headline from the weekend could fall into the category.

No first-time winner of the world title had ever successfully defended the title in Sheffield, hence “the Crucible Curse”. And as if by magic, or other powers we cannot explain, title holder Neil Robertson crashed out, beaten 10–8 by Judd Trump, who this year looks to be fulfilling the potential everyone knew he had.

Speaking to Stephen Hendry last week, he believed Robertson could have been the one to break that trend. But he also conceded that few, other than the person who returned the cup from the previous year, could appreciate the enormity of the task and the expectation around being champion – because regardless of who you are, what you’ve done or how well you are playing, all anyone wants to mention is the dreaded curse.

So the next first-time champ, whoever you may be, be afraid… be very afraid!

Sunday also saw Mandy Fisher, who founded the World Ladies Billiards and Snooker Association 30 years ago, resign as chairman, chairwoman or chairperson (delete where applicable).

Fisher, 49, began the women’s circuit in 1981 and her commitment has been the main reasons it has survived this long. That said, it has always been the very poor relation in the snooker family. While the winner of the world title (an event open to men and women) pockets a quarter of a million, ladies winner Reanne Evans won just £1,000 for retaining her world title in 2010.

“Mandy’s heart was always in the right place,” said former WLBSA secretary and tournament director Jane O’Neill, “[but] there were always the knockers.”

Which many give as the reason why women can’t play…

And still in Sheffield, Barry Hearn, the Don King of snooker, unveils announcement after announcement for next season.

A ranking event staged in Australia in July (on the back of Robertson’s success), a World Cup in Bangkok, a biennial event where Scotland will be defending champions (and holders since 1996 when since the tournament has been absent never mind bi-anything), and a new format for the Premier League as it becomes a World Snooker event,

Sky Sports will broadcast an event for the next three years, prize money on the circuit will rise to over £6m (although it was once above that) and there will also be the Brazilian Masters, with traditional rules, namely unwaxed balls…

Hearn did however threaten that he wants players to come forward to record a new version of the Chas ‘n’ Dave “classic” Snooker Loopy, which reached number six in the chart 25 years ago.

Who will step up? Hopefully not some clown.

I can also exclusively reveal the song might be revamped to include an instrumental halfway through, just in case Ronnie O’Sullivan doesn’t turn up for his verse.

And the sale of Rangers takes another twist after the club’s chairman, Alastair Johnston, questioned the ability of would-be owner Craig Whyte to fund the reigning Scottish champions to the level required.

Whyte has been reportedly trying to purchase David Murray’s 85 per cent stake in Rangers since last November, thus wiping out their debt with Lloyds Bank.

However, Johnston and some of his fellow board members also want to see money spent on the team.

“Based on the documents we have only been able to review within the last week,” Johnston said, “we are disappointed that they ultimately did not reflect the investment in the club that we were led to believe for the last few months would be a commitment in the purchase agreement.

“Given the requirement to repay the bank in full under the proposed transaction, there appears to be only a relatively modest amount of money available that would positively impact the club’s operations, especially as it relates to an urgent requirement to replenish and upgrade the playing squad.”

As much as he is disappointed, there isn’t a queue outside Ibrox willing to part with £30-odd million to be then told what they should and shouldn’t be doing with their money.

Indeed, there is only one other offer on the table – this sees Rangers FC being exchanged for an apple, a kite (in good repair), a dead rat and a string to swing it with, 12 marbles, part of a Jew’s-harp, a piece of blue bottle glass to look through, a spool cannon, a key that wouldn’t unlock anything, a fragment of chalk, a glass stopper of a decanter, a tin soldier, a couple of tadpoles, six fire-crackers, a kitten with only one eye, a brass door-knob, a dog-collar (but no dog), the handle of a knife, four pieces of orange-peel and a dilapidated old window sash.

That bid offer comes from a Mr T Sawyer, USA. Negotiations are ongoing, although they say there is nothing of significance in the last item listed.

On the field, Rangers ease past an equally dilapidated Dundee United 4–0. So easy was it that striker Nikica Jelavić had to amuse himself in other ways.

And this week’s competition is: from Paul Mitchell’s commentary, what would you pay good money for?

And as if nothing ever happened, Paul McBride QC will not now face legal action from the Scottish Football Association after expressing regret over recent criticism.

McBride had attacked the SFA after Rangers trio Ally McCoist, Madjid Bougherra and El-Hadji Diouf escaped further bans for their part the “Debacle of Parkhead XXVII” (as you can tell, there have been a few over the years).

McBride had represented Celtic boss Neil Lennon over his disciplinary charge and had accused the SFA of bias, publically stating they were “the laughing stock of world football” and “had been shown to be not merely dysfunctional and not merely dishonest but biased”.

Then he changed his mind, mentioning in his excuse note that he recognised “that offence has been taken to my remarks by the Scottish Football Association as an organisation, its council and its staff, and for that I express regret. I have a lot of respect for many individuals within the SFA…”.

What brought about that change of mind isn’t clear. Legal action, or of being reported to his bosses, who could say? Or did the threat of a parcel bomb just focus things a wee bit more?

I should say, I am not making light of what is a serious matter, and particularly dangerous series of events, least of all for the poor buggers collecting and delivering our post. But I’m surprised no one from the cry wolf brigade hasn’t commented on the potential of a conspiracy, given the Royal Mail have been entrusted with the safe passage of these unsafe parcels.

Terrorist officers from Strathclyde Police have conducted searches and enquiries into who is behind these threats, and have focused extensively on Ayrshire – where despite using ultra-modern and groundbreaking profiling techniques, they have been unable to track down the perpetrators as everyone in that area shares the same DNA…

And in the wee small hours, Real Madrid return home from Valencia to triumphant scenes where the city celebrates their winning of the Copa del Rey after beating arch-rivals Barcelona 1–0.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s extra-time header gave Jose Mourinho his first trophy as Real Madrid coach. But it was more about what happened on the team coach – or, more accurately, what happened under it – that made this particularly memorable.

It brings back memories of other cup celebrations gone wrong, like the night in 1988 when Dean Richards and John Jeffrey took the Calcutta Cup for a walk down Rose Street.

Of course, Sergio Ramos will be reminded for evermore about dropping that cup off the bus.

But what is the best case of dropsy after a cup final? Steve Morrow, Arsenal’s League Cup goalscoring hero, takes some beating – or rather took a beating.

Two days to go to the final Old Firm game of the season and Strathclyde Police chief constable Stephen House believes everything from three league points, to the climate and a day off work could brew up mayhem in the west of Scotland.

“It’s a Bank Holiday,” House said, “it is the last meeting of the season – which is crucial for a result – and the weather forecast is hot. That means people will be drunk and they will get injured or raped, assaults go up and so does domestic violence.

“We do not see the clubs as the enemy. We do not blame Celtic or Rangers for the violence. The people who are responsible are those who use knives, fists or whatever other weapons on their fellow human beings.”

And I don’t disagree. I have seen the frightening aftermath of an Old Firm game first hand. But I’ve seen similar scenes throughout the country when there is not a Celtic or Rangers top to be seen.

Not meaning to trivialise in any way the concerns of some, but I do wonder on occasions whether all this reported serious crime is down to the factors the chief constable details, or the fact the same gentleman has vowed to put 1,000 extra officers on the streets.

More cops doing their job usually means more arrests and more frightening statistics. And more calls for more resources for more of the same and more overtime next time.

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Graffiti in Derry's Bogside, 2009 <em>Picture: Ardfern</em>

Graffiti in Derry's Bogside, 2009 Picture: Ardfern

By Charles Lavery

As “Agent Carol”, he faced down danger on a daily basis and once leapt through a third-floor window to escape a Irish republican hit squad.

He saved countless lives and wrote a book about his exploits which spawned a movie starring Sir Ben Kingsley – and he publicly disowned the film.

He is single-handedly responsible for stopping at least 45 IRA bomb and assassination plots in the province and on the UK mainland, and he has the scars to prove it, especially after a failed hit 12 years ago which left him with six bullet holes in his body.

So why is Martin McGartland, MI5’s main asset in Belfast between 1987 and 1991, still feeling like a dead man walking while terror kingpins turned politicians talk of peace in Northern Ireland? And why is he fighting for answers from a police force tasked with tracking down his would-be assassin?

So strained are relations between McGartland – the victim of a planned IRA hit in broad daylight on a Whitley Bay street – and Northumbria Police, that he now has to ask questions about the inquiry via Freedom of Information requests, which are routinely batted back by the force and labelled “vexatious.” And he’s the victim.

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You can understand his vexation. McGartland was an asset like no other to the security forces in a troubled Northern Ireland in the days when peace was a pipe-dream and Good Friday divided the community long before the agreement of the same name united it.

It is testament to how effective he was as an agent that, some eight years after his leap of faith to escape his torturers, they came knocking again, to finish the job as he got into his car parked outside his supposed safehouse on a quiet English street.

A three-man hit team from Glasgow was waiting. The gunman shot him six times as he sat in the driver’s seat and calmly walked away. McGartland remembers thinking the inevitable had just happened, but also that “I must not die this day.” He knew the people he betrayed had very long memories, and an even longer reach.

Now 12 years later, and despite DNA, cartridges, a getaway vehicle and the weapons all having been found, nobody has been brought to book. Police also have a taped answerphone message left by a man with a Glaswegian accent who called to ask about buying the very van the hit team used. In the words of McGartland: “One of those clues on its own could solve a case. All of them together is a godsend for a detective and very very rare in any assassination.”

But the man who wrote Fifty Dead Men Walking – named in reference to the number of lives he saved in the province – can see the irony in his situation. It was a prosecution brought by Northumbria Police in 1997 that brought the IRA hit team to the door of his safehouse.

McGartland had been given a false identity, and a new £100,000 home in the wake of his hasty retreat to the UK mainland. Six years later, Northumbria Police took him to court after a routine traffic stop-and-search discovered two passports in different names, each bearing his picture.

The jury took 15 minutes to return a not guilty verdict after McGartland explained exactly why he had them, but the damage was done. His address had been read out in court.

Two years later, as he felt the thump of bullets tear his body apart, he thought about the number of times he had pleaded with the authorities to be rehoused.

Agent Carol today is a 41-year-old teetotal non-smoking father of three with a road map of war stitched across his body. He walks with a limp, cannot fend much for himself and relies on trusted friends to help him with the daily challenges he faces, like getting up, dressed and showered. He is in a safehouse somewhere on the British mainland and is still “on” 24/7.

The smallest deviation from the normal routine of his neighbours can trouble him. A different postman or one too many electricity reading requests can send his mind and heart racing. And all this while across the water there apparently exists a peace process and a standing-down of active operations by republicans. McGartland says he knows better.

The last attempt on his life came during a ceasefire and raised questions in the houses of parliament in both London and Belfast as unionists argued that republicans were still active in the terror trade.

The under-car booby trap that claimed the life of a young cop in Omagh on Saturday was the type of device McGartland routinely flagged up to his handlers. He saved countless people from the fate that awaited Ronan Kerr, the 25-year-old Catholic officer murdered by dissident republicans in what McGartland believes is the first of many strikes.

And he claims the Police Service of Northern Ireland [PSNI] and MI5 are struggling to recruit new agents in the province, thanks to the way they have treated former agents like himself.

“Who would put their lives on the line nowadays when they can read what happens to those who did?”, McGartland says. “I can’t go home and the IRA are supposed to be a former terrorist group. Nobody is hunting down my attackers and nobody in authority seems to care. That has a direct impact on recruiting agents and that’s one of the reasons this attack happened. It will not be the last and they will succeed on the mainland. Several attempts have already been thwarted, but they will succeed.”

McGartland’s scars are physical and psychological and he has been diagnosed as suffering the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Little wonder. Then he battled Britain’s demons, today he is battling his own.

He hasn’t seen his children, or any member of his family, for two decades. Both his mother and sister have undergone life-threatening operations and he couldn’t even contemplate flying home to be with them. Like him, they battled through.

He believes Northumbria Police already know who shot him, but have been ordered not to act on that information. DNA recovered at the scene, he believes, has narrowed the hunt to one well-connected family whose genetic fingerprint is already stored in police and security service files.

But arresting the man responsible has already been ruled out, McGartland claims, as it has the potential to damage an increasingly fragile peace in the province. Recruitment is underway, say sources in Northern Ireland, and recent events would appear to bear that out, with an increase in attacks on police and government property.

“I don’t care that the hitman came from Glasgow,” McGartland says, speaking from his new safehouse. “I don’t care that it was a Scottish team that planned it, but I do care that I am still on the run and they are doing nothing with the evidence they have.

“I am convinced that the police know the identity of the person who shot me. I also believe that person was identified as a result of familial DNA and that Northumbria Police have known the identity of the gunman for many years but have been told not to act on political grounds.

Northumbria Police declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police did confirm that the Northumbria force has not liaised with them in connection with the inquiry.

“There is a wealth of evidence in this case,” McGartland says. “Two guns were recovered, the van was recovered, an answerphone message was recovered and spent cartridges were recovered from the scene along with DNA. They are wilfully turning a blind eye to such a serious attack and refusing to admit IRA involvement even after 12 years.

“That attack has changed my life forever and left me with serious physical and psychological injuries which continue to deteriorate as time passes. All I have ever wanted was answers to straightforward questions and some justice.

“I have also been diagnosed as having very serious and chronic PTSD as a direct result of the shooting. I rely on others for help. It’s difficult for me to be separated from family and loved ones, more so if there are funerals and weddings which I am unable to attend.

“It has now been 20 years since I left Northern Ireland. I don’t miss it but I do of course miss my family. I look at the reasons why I am in this situation and they will always be etched in my mind forever. The IRA intended to murder other human beings and I did what I could to prevent them from doing so.

“I have never taken drugs nor drank alcohol but I can tell you that when I prevented an IRA attack which resulted in lives being saved, it was the most powerful, euphoric and emotional experience I have ever felt. I have never come close to the same feeling at any other time in my life and I know I never will.

“Those who let me down within the British government or the security services will never ever make me regret anything I did in Northern Ireland. The truth of the matter is, if I could do it all over again I would do so in a heartbeat. I did not do it for the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary], MI5 or the British government, I did it because it was the right thing to do.

“I have three children in Northern Ireland. I have been unable to make any contact with them or have any kind of relationship with them for obvious reasons, but also because small-minded people would cause them problems and possibly even serious harm, so it is best for all concerned to leave things as they are.”

It’s easy to see why reports on Agent Carol placed him as the number one source for the security services in Belfast. There were so many “operations” he can’t actually remember all of the bombings and assassinations he helped prevent.

“In recent months,” he says, “I and others drew up a list of IRA ‘operations’ which I prevented during the four years I worked in Northern Ireland and we calculated no fewer than 45. These included planned shootings of individual British soldiers, police officers and others, large bombs planned for Belfast city centre, under-car booby traps, gun attacks and bomb attacks on large groups of British soldiers and police officers.

“The Omagh bomb [in 1998] was 500lb of homemade explosives. Some of the bombs discovered by me before they could be used were double that amount and there was one which the IRA planned to attack a convoy of UDR [Ulster Defence Regiment] soldiers with that was going to be between 1,000 and 1,500lb of explosives.

“I have never said how many I believe were saved as a result of the ‘operations’ I prevented, but I have absolutely no difficulty in stating that I believe it is in excess of 50.

“The above does not take into account the huge sums which were saved to the British taxpayer that would have been paid out in compensation for damage caused to property and also injuries and deaths resulting from such attacks had they been successful.

“The sacrifice made by me and others was significant. Myself and people like me made what I would regard as an important contribution in Northern Ireland. I feel we have simply been forgotten about and I also feel that we have had absolutely no recognition at a time when the gunmen and the bombers are quite clearly being rewarded.”

McGartland had no involvement with republicans prior to being signed up as an agent by MI5 in 1987. He was 17. They recruited him and moulded him into what they wanted, then put him in the areas of Belfast where he could feed back. The plan worked.

He was no Provo brought in from the cold, he was a product of security services counter-intelligence, wrung dry and left to die there. Only he didn’t.

In recent days, a former Scots soldier, Michael Dickson, was ordered to be extradited from the Czech Republic to Germany. He is wanted in Germany for a mortar attack against Osnabrück barracks in June 1996. He has been on the run since.

The PSNI named Michael Dickson – a former Scots soldier wanted in Germany for a mortar attack against Osnabrück barracks in June 1996 – as a suspect in the 1999 Whitley Bay shooting. But McGartland says he was told some years ago that Dickson does not match the DNA profile of his attacker.

And so his war goes on. He is a clever man, this Agent Carol, Martin Ashe, Martin McGartland, or whatever his name is now, he won’t tell. And he has this message for Northumbria Police and the security services: “Why are you turning a blind eye to terrorism in your own country while at the same time claiming you are fighting terror in other parts of the world?”

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Useful when watching the news <em>Picture: Bennie J Davis III</em>

Useful when watching the news Picture: Bennie J Davis III

By Stewart Weir

On most Saturdays, Soccer AM is our breakfast show of choice. Actually, it’s my choice and everyone else conforms.

In the aftermath of the Old Firm debacle, there have been interviews galore on the matter. One featured on Sky Sports News, with assistant chief constable Campbell Corrigan of Strathclyde Police giving his take on things.

You can almost hear the words of some wee camera bod saying “Oh, it will be fine.” Except it wasn’t, as you can see.

Great IT skills in evidence. More worrying is that someone, somewhere, promoted this chap to this position…

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And Saturday ends in front of the box. Oh, the exciting life I lead.

Now, I don’t know the viewer demographics for the late-evening new bulletin on BBC1, but I think “Aunty” believes it is watched only by Usain Bolt, cats, and the odd Time Lord with the Tardis already warmed up.

They used to say: “Match of the Day follows (except for viewers in Scotland, who can watch The Beechgrove Garden), so if you don’t want to know the scores, look away now.”

But last weekend, Sean Fletcher’s preamble went something like: “Match of the Day follows so if you don’t want to know the scores time to leave the room Arsenal drew with Sunderland nil–nil…”.

Maybe the Beeb thinks that while we may shop for our TVs at Comet, Currys or Rediffusion, we buy our furniture from Martin-Baker, manufacturers of ejector seats …

More than a decade ago, I was hiring staff for a big, new, shiny online adventure. Remember, this was 2000. So the wording for the advert read along these lines: “Now if you know your sport, and can spot the difference between Stephen and Colin Hendry…”.

Both leaders in their field, both blond, both Scots, both well-known. A natural question to ask.

So imagine my surprise, and mirth, when I came across this offering from the web version of the Sunday Express, and what it was eventually changed to after a day or so:

There but for the grace of God and all that. Oh, and certain web editors need not apply…

Over the weekend you may have missed the momentous decisions taken by IFAB, the International Football Association Board, when they had their annual get-together in Wales, with the deep-thinking Sepp Blatter in attendance.

Firstly, snoods – a fashion accessory no footballing would-be can be seen without in this chilly “mind yir wee chest out there” weather – have been banned for next year.

“The IFAB agreed that in relation to Law 4 – Players’ Equipment, the wearing of snoods should not be permitted,” said football’s law-makers.

The second big decision was that goal-line technology won’t be tested for at least another year.

I’ve got it wrong over the years. The F in FA obviously stands for Fashion, not Football. Unless FA begins in F and ends in All…

The Old Firm shame summit meets at St Andrew’s House in Edinburgh, where the outcome is to censure both Celtic and Rangers (in alphabetical order) or Rangers and Celtic (in order of red cards and championships) sufficiently harshly that there is every chance we could have a re-run of this momentous knuckle-rapping exercise some ten or 20 years from now.

Scotland’s first minister Alex Salmond stated it would be “a council of despair” if matches had to be played behind closed doors at any time in the future, one of the possible measures considered to tackle public disorder in and around the Glasgow derby.

“That would be acknowledgement that this problem cannot be tackled, cannot be defeated, cannot be overcome,” said the first minister.

Now, if the polis think they’ve got bother knowing where 50,000 or 60,000 are going to be for three hours of an afternoon, they might find their resources slightly stretched if that horde was running wild while an Old Firm game was being played only for a TV or radio audience.

Was calling in UN forces an option in these discussions? Of course not – they wear blue helmets. Conspiracy!

Having used his bus pass to get there and a free-entrance ticket to Exeter racecourse to enjoy a day’s at the horses, Steve Whiteley ended the day £1.45 million richer after his £2 Tote jackpot accumulator came romping home.

The final winner was a 12–1 shot called Lupita, whose jockey Jessica Lodge, I was interested to read, had never come first despite having had 28 rides previously. Make of that what you will.

While you can argue who is the best fighter of a generation, or of a nation, or pound-for-pound, debate about where people rank over the generations is more difficult.

So trainer Billy Nelson’s suggestion that his fighter, Ricky Burns, will soon become renowned as Scotland’s greatest-ever boxer was sure to spark a heated debate.

Better than Benny Lynch, Ken Buchanan and Jim Watt? Better than Jackie Paterson, Walter McGowan or Paul Weir? Enough to start a fight in an empty house. Something another former world champion, Scott Harrison, possibly could do.

Burns’ manager Alex Morrison quickly distanced himself from Nelson’s comments. “Billy Nelson has done a terrific job with Ricky and has improved him to different levels,” Morrison said. “But he should remember that is where his role ends and let Ricky do his talking in the ring.

“He does not need pressure like this put upon him. My ambition for Ricky is that he leaves the ring like Jim Watt did, with his health, money, popularity and looks intact.”

Sadly, something Scott Harrison hasn’t managed. For boxers, sometimes their biggest battles are away from the ring.

Rangers return home with a scoreless draw against PSV Eindhoven in the bag. The Gers had won there in 1978, and did the same again in 1999, when Jörg Albertz blasted them to a Champions League victory, a game I witnessed.

On the way out of the stadium that night, I was intrigued by one auld fella saying that was three times he’d been in Eindhoven and won.

I could only count two, so I asked when the other contest had been.

“1945, son…”.

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<em>Picture: 3EyePanda</em>

Picture: 3EyePanda

The nation’s stateless leaders were absent from parliament yesterday. Eck was with Fudd, Annabel and Tavish at Holyrood Palace. What a comical crew. The Pope must have thought they were the entertainment: “I am zo looking forward to ze Tory lady dancing. Yum-yum!”

Back in the national nuthouse across the road, undertakers committed suicide, clowns wept and children hid, as Johann Lamont (Lab) creaked forward, like someone from a Tim Burton horror animation. Johann is so grim she makes the sun cry. Goths fear her, and a team of cosmetic surgeons armed with road-drills and pick-axes would struggle to put a smile on her coupon.

She was standing in for towering statesman Elmer Fudd as Labour leader. But, really, you can’t have someone like that leading things. It’s not just the grimness. Johann belongs with Margaret Curran, now an MP (no wonder Buddhists say the world is not real; on this evidence, it can’t be), standing with crossed arms and their hair in curlers, having a stairheid rammie.

She really ought to have had a fag hanging out of her mouth as she blamed unemployment in Scotland on what she called with Tolstoyan literary genius “the Salmond Slump”. Unbelievable. Let’s be objectively clear about this: if you believe the economic woes of Scotland are the result of the powerless SNP Government, you really need to up your dosage. Only a moron, hypocrite or liar would swallow this crap (hello, and we’ve just been joined in the studio by the Scottish electorate).

It’s such monstrous, economically illiterate, democratically disingenuous tripe. It’s risible beyond reason, a porkie so fat that it bursts the gut and protrudes over the trousers. It is clear, objective and shameless nonsense.

And yet the psephologically suicidal SNP government does little to rebut it, wedded as it seems to be to showing everyone that it is in charge. Memo to the Nats: you’re not in charge. They won’t let you be in charge. The jannie has just hurriedly handed you his brush – and is now blaming you for the mucky floors.

Nicola Sturgeon was standing in for the First Eck, and she did a good job in remaining calm and airily dismissive of La Lamont’s moon-pulled fol-de-rols. But she insisted on acting as if the Nats had much influence over the economy, boasting about more jobs being created. This news just in, Nicola: that hasn’t got much to do with you either. These forces are largely beyond your control. If the bad news isn’t your fault, the good news isn’t either.

As an afterthought, at least, she did point out the massive cuts that had been planned by Labour, and called for full fiscal responsibility. But that should be at the front of the independence-minded brain not the back.

Johann hunched bitterly, and the clown buttons on her Tory-blue jaickit birled roond and roond, as she prepared for another intellectually acrobatic leap, this time accusing Nicola personally of cancelling “Garrul”, the Glaswegian cause celebre and hugely expensive rail link that Labour wants at a time of cuts.

Nicola brushed off this rhetorical spittle, though her half-heartedly repeated call for full economic powers did raise a problem for First Ministers or their deputies: what do you do when questions are so dumb that you can hardly be bothered answering them? There’s a sense in which these efforts can bring everyone down, and the trick must be to rise above it and pretend your opponent is a worthy foe.

Tory Murdo Fraser, standing in for Annabel Goldie, is at least one such. Bright, humourous and seemingly free of bitterness, he painted the following word-picture: “Deputy presiding orifice, as we speak, the pipes and drums are playing, the crowds are lining Princes Street, Saltires are waving in the air.” Lovely stuff, and here came the punchline: “I do hope the First Minister will not be too disappointed when he learns they’re not there for him.”

Boom, as it were, boom. Great stuff. And at least Murdo doesn’t have that horror of the Saltire that former leader David “Union Flag forever” McLetchie forever betrays.

Murdo’s question was about the rising cost of quangos, to which Nicola dissembled about how the Nats had cut ministerial posts and top civil service salaries. Fair points. Didn’t quite answer the question, though.

Mike Rumbles was standing in for Tavish Scott as Lib Dem leader, prompting a mad rush for the exits. Mike is really one of these guys best sitting at the back shouting inanities.

With soothing indulgence, Nicola promised to mention “an issue close to Mike Rumbles’s heart: dentistry”. Mike flashed a toothy grin, which was anatomically reassuring since his question had given the impression he was talking out of his arse. He wanted Nicola to give Eck marks out of ten for all his administration had done for the North-East of Scotia.

Nicola wisely resisted the temptation and averred: “In the spirit of humility for which we are renowned, we will continue to appreciate that there will always be more we can do.”

“Why wasn’t the North-East taken seriously?” Mike asked seriously.

Nicola retorted: “Mike Rumbles has come to the chamber today with the clear objective of making his leader look good.” And, she averred, he’d succeeded.

In answer to a question from Nat back-bencher Brian Adam, Nicola took the opportunity to point that two out of every three pounds of the coming cuts had been planned by Labour. She seemed more annoyed about it now, adding: “Johann Lamont would do well to remember that.” Fat chance.

However, it was Labour’s ludicrous confusion over alcohol policy that finally reduced them to the gutter yesterday. As everyone knows, they opposed the Nats’ minimum pricing policy merely out of tribal spite and have desperately been trying to cobble together credible alternatives ever since. Their latest ploy has identified caffeinated alcohol as the real problem about which something should be done. Everyone else says: “But it’s all alcohol, you donkeys, caffeinated or otherwise.” It’s enough to drive Scotland to drink.

Nicola reminded floundering Richard Simpson (Lab) that Strathclyde Police Chief Superintendent Bob Hamilton had told the health committee earlier: “We don’t attend many violent disturbances outside coffee shops. It’s the alcohol consumption – of whatever brand or make – that gives us the greatest concern.”

It seems obvious, but Labour clearly have a caffeine fixation. Nicola repeated, as if addressing a particularly dimwitted child: “It’s the alcohol. And it’s about time that Labour, and in particular Richard Simpson, who – as a doctor – should know better, woke up to that fact.”

Of course, you don’t need alcohol to foment a disturbance, as FMQs proves every week. But I thought deputy presiding orifice Trish Godman’s policy of naming MSPs in rebukes worked well. I’d like to see admirable presiding orifice Alex “Hercules” Fergusson resume this practice when Big Eck returns next week, and the Labour bile flows once more like torrents of decaffeinated Buckie.

Glasgow coat of armsIt is hard to look at the line of extraordinary scandals which has trailed out of Glasgow City Council this year with anything other than utter bewilderment.

What on earth is going on there?

It is almost as if the political leaders of Scotland’s biggest city – those who should be setting an example in terms of public life for the rest of the city – have gone into collective meltdown.

Each revelation has been bizarre and newsworthy on its own but it is worth putting them altogether, only then does a true picture emerge of what can only be described as a crisis.

This is what has happened:

  • In February 2010, the gathering expenses furore at Strathclyde Partnership for Transport forces the resignation of chair Alistair Watson and chief executive Ron Culley.
  • In March 2010, Steven Purcell, the high-profile Labour Council leader resigns in the midst of a breakdown. He admits previous use of drugs and of being a potential blackmail target by Glasgow gangsters.
  • Controversy surrounds the publicly-owned company City Building, set up by Glasgow Council, and its donations to the Labour Party.
  • July 2010. Labour councillor Ruth Black is sacked over financial irregularities at the council-funded gay and lesbian centre run by her.
  • August 2010. Labour councillor Gilbert Davidson is arrested and charged for inappropriate behaviour towards fellow councillors. It is claimed that Davidson sent offensive voice mails and text messages to former Lord Provost Liz Cameron. Davidson is suspended from the Labour group.

These bald facts are bad enough in themselves but, in many ways, they mask the real depth of the problems. The SPT controversy, for example, is much bigger than that simple line above suggests.

It has always appeared to be a disturbing example of waywardness with expenses and an apparent disregard for taxpayers’ money which the public will no longer tolerate.

Likewise with Mr Purcell’s resignation. It was much bigger and more important than a single paragraph would suggest.

He was a high-flier, a potential MSP, MP and even potential party leader. He was seen as the future for Scottish Labour yet his career disintegrated completely and publicly.

It would be wrong to link each one of these events to any other. There are isolated – and some are individually tragic – in their own way.

But, taken together, they suggest that something is wrong in the council and something is wrong in the Labour group.

It might be a lack of leadership. It might be a disregard of the public that has seeped in as a result of being too long in office. It might just be power and the lack of any effective checks on that power.

Whatever it is, something appears to have gone decidedly off the rails.

Here is what Sandra White of the SNP had to say about it. “Nothing really comes as a surprise now when it comes to Glasgow’s Labour council. It seems that every second day a scandal appears in a newspaper.

“The abuse of power that has went on in the city is truly outrageous. The Labour Party have been milking the people of Glasgow for all they are worth.

“The Labour Party need to admit that there are wide-ranging and serious problems at its core, they must clean up their act, and stop taking the people of Glasgow for granted.

“For decades Labour politicians have been serving themselves instead of the people and now they are finally being found out.

“There is absolutely no doubt now that there must be a full independent investigation of the goings-on at Glasgow City Council.”

A spokesman for Glasgow City Council Leader and Labour councillor Gordon Matheson responded by saying: “The SNP have been demanding inquiries into alleged corruption at the council since March and both Strathclyde Police and Audit Scotland have said there is nothing to investigate.

“That is because there is no corruption at Glasgow City Council.

“This council is continuing to provide the services the public expects, we are still emptying the bins, educating Glasgow’s children and helping to care for the elderly.

“Glasgow City Council is among the top councils in Scotland and we’re getting on with the job that the people of Glasgow elected us to do.”

In some ways, Councillor Matheson is right. The council is continuing to empty the bins and educate Glasgow’s children. He is also right to dismiss the idea of a whole-sale investigation, that would not achieve much because there is nothing to link each individual event to any other.

But what Councillor Matheson is not able or not willing to address is the sense that there is something amiss with his Labour group. The events may be unrelated but something must be going wrong for so many Labour councillors to get into trouble all in the course of a few months.

If any manager in any company or organisation in the world experienced the sort of year Councillor Matheson has witnessed, he or she would surely start looking inwards to see what was wrong.

Maybe it is a lack of leadership, maybe it is complacency, maybe it is electoral laziness. Maybe it is a combination of all three.

What is sure, though, is that Glasgow City Council can go on emptying the bins and running the schools but, if these sorts of scandals keep happening, those daily achievements won’t matter a jot to the people of the city.

They want their bins emptied and their schools run as a matter of course. But they also want their civic leaders to show a good example and represent their city in the best of ways. That certainly does not seem to have happened this year and Labour will hope it changes next year otherwise they will really suffer when the people get their say in 2012.

Strathclyde Police logoScotland’s children’s champion has called for the country’s largest police force to scrap a pilot scheme which arms beat police officers with Taser guns.

Tam Baillie, Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, said there were no restrictions or safeguards to protect under-18s from being subjected to the 50,000 volts that a Taser gun delivers. His call to suspend the pilot immediately follows warnings last month from Amnesty in Scotland, which said it was unlawful.

“Beat officers are being equipped with these potentially lethal weapons with no safeguards in place to protect children and no firm evidence of the physical and mental impacts of their use on under-18s,” said Mr Baillie.

“Tasers are potentially lethal – they have been linked to hundreds of adult deaths – and the UN has made it clear that their use on children is unacceptable.

“Arming beat officers with Tasers brings them into our communities, making them part of everyday life, and risks them being used in situations when lesser force would suffice. Police and Scottish ministers cannot wait until there is a Taser tragedy involving a child to take action on this.”

A spokeswoman for Strathclyde Police confirmed the pilot had started on 20 April in two areas, Glasgow city centre and Cambuslang. “There are 30 officers trained in using Tasers, so at any one time there might be four [with Tasers] on duty,” she said. “The pilot project will last until October and will be independently evaluated.”

<em>Picture: Michael Coghlan</em>

Picture: Michael Coghlan

By Allan Laing

A total of 77 murder cases remain unsolved by police in Scotland, ranging from the three female victims of the serial killer Bible John in Glasgow in the 1960s to the mysterious shooting of Nairn banker Alistair Wilson on his doorstep in 2004.

But the list includes murders which go back a lot further than the Sixties. The oldest case still on a Scottish force’s books is that of Janet Henderson, a young woman hacked to death with an axe in the kitchen of her brother’s farm at Forgandenny in Perthshire 1866.

The number of unsolved killings came to light after researchers from BBC Scotland asked the country’s eight police forces how many murder investigations they still had open on their files. Most of the 77 cases were post-1975, the last time Scotland’s police service was restructured.

However, Tayside Police had two unsolved murders still on their books which dated back before the First World War. Janet Henderson’s was one of them; the other was that of Jean Milne, a wealthy 65-year-old spinster found battered and stabbed to death at her home in Broughty Ferry in 1912. Detectives initially arrested her former lover, a Canadian, but later released him when his alibi checked out.

Strathclyde Police, Scotland’s biggest force, said it had 53 cases still open but only those murders carried out since 1975 were kept on its central database. However, it did offer the BBC details of killings carried out before then as a result of a cold case review into unsolved murders of women ordered by the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland.

The review, carried out for ACPOS by Lothian and Borders’ then deputy chief constable, Tom Wood, covered, among other cases, the Bible John murders in Glasgow and the World’s End murders in Edinburgh.

In 1979 two 17-year-old girls, Helen Scott and Christine Eadie, were raped and murdered after a night out in the capital. They had last been seen alive in the World’s End pub in the city’s Royal Mile. Some 30 years later, a 62-year-old man, Angus Sinclair, was tried for their murder, but the case collapsed.

Lothian and Borders Police has six unsolved murders, according to the research, including the World’s End victims. Only two forces, Central, and Dumfries and Galloway, said they had no unsolved murder cases.

While the killers’ identity in many of the open murder cases remain a mystery – even to the officers investigating them – in others detectives are sure they know exactly who carried out the crime. They just don’t have enough evidence to bring them to justice.

In addition, Scottish forces are also still looking closely at two convicted serial killers – Peter Tobin and Robert Black– both of whom are suspected of carrying out other murders north of the Border.

In November, 2006, after Tobin was found guilty of the murder of Polish student Angelika Kluk, Strathclyde Police launched Operation Anagram in a bid to analyse a timeline for the killer’s movements and share information with other UK forces which would enable them to see if he had links to other unsolved murders.

Tobin has also been convicted of the murders of 15-year-old Bathgate schoolgirl Vicky Hamilton and 18-year-old sixth former Dinah McNicol from Essex.

Lorry driver Robert Black, from Grangemouth, was found guilty in 1994 of the kidnap and murders of three young girls, five-year-old Caroline Hogg, 10-year-old Sarah Harper, and 11-year-old Susan Maxwell. In the 1980s. Like Tobin, police suspect that he carried out more killings.

Strathclyde Police logoThe SNP have asked the police to investigate the Steven Purcell affair, it emerged this morning.

John Mason, the SNP MP for Glasgow East, revealed today that he and Councillor James Dornan, the SNP leader in Glasgow council, have written to Stephen House, the Chief Constable of Strathclyde Police, asking the police to look into issues surrounding the shock resignation of Steven Purcell as leader of Glasgow City Council earlier this month.

Mr Mason wants officers to investigate allegations that Mr Purcell might have opened himself to potential blackmail because of his alleged drug use and whether individuals or organisations gained improper advantage from the council construction quango City Building – a Purcell initiative.

Mr Dornan is also writing to justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, asking him to investigate allegations that City Building spent money at fund-raising events for the Labour Party.

Mr Mason said the resignation of Mr Purcell – following his well publicised breakdown and his short stay in a drink and drugs rehabilitation – had raised serious issues about the way Glasgow City Council conducted its business.

The SNP MP said there were too many unanswered questions and he was asking the police to get involved to make sure the answers came out.

Mr Mason said: “We have had a series of extremely serious allegations in the media over the past two weeks, including new reports over the weekend, and people in Glasgow deserve to have all of these issues properly investigated.

“This is no longer about the personal tragedy of Steven Purcell, or even how recent events are impacting on the running of the city. The issues reported in the media go well beyond that, which is why I am now referring the matter to Strathclyde Police.”

Mr Purcell resigned as leader of the council on 2 March this year after suffering a breakdown. He was treated briefly at Castle Craig rehabilitation clinic in the Borders before standing down as a councillor.

He is believed to have flown to Australia to get away from the media and political storm caused by his resignation.