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Comment: Energy drinks are the “Wild West” of the soft drinks industry

June 11 2016

As part of The Courier's Can It campaign calling for a ban on energy drinks in our schools, here we hear from Malcolm Clark, co-ordinator of the Children’s Food Campaign run by Sustain. The alliance for better food and farming has led calls for a “sugar tax” and improvements in school food. With the Courier’s ‘Can it’ campaign and schools’ and politicians’ response, it is great to see a fightback against the prevalence of energy drink consumption among under-16s. Despite manufacturers’ pledges to clean up their act, energy drinks are still the Wild West of the soft drinks industry: often shockingly and unnecessarily high in sugar and caffeine, and marketed heavily to older children and teenagers, using teen sports stars to promote their brands. Teachers increasingly approach us with their concerns about pupils coming in to school with (or having consumed) energy drinks. Health professionals too are worried as consumption of energy drinks by children and adolescents is strongly associated with risky behaviours, such as the use of alcohol or smoking. At the same time, we’re also starting to hear from teens themselves, frustrated at being bombarded by marketing for energy drinks, especially when taking part in or following their favourite activities and sports. Schools should not be afraid to introduce policies restricting pupils from bringing in energy drinks (and their only slightly better ‘cousins’, sports drinks) on to school grounds, in the same way as they can – rightly – decide to have a closed site at lunch time to limit pupils’ access to junk food. The Scottish campaign group Responsible Retailing of Energy Drinks has been at the forefront of trying to get shops to pledge not to sell these drinks to under 16s – a policy which we’d like to see major retailers adopt. And the UK government’s introduction of a sugary drinks levy from 2018 should help to lower sales of some of the most sugary varieties as well as encourage companies to reduce the sugar content. But there’s still much more that needs to be done. The Committee of Advertising Practice is currently consulting on the marketing of less healthy food and drink to children, yet their proposals won’t do much to dent the techniques favoured by energy drinks companies. Both the Scottish and Westminster governments need to step in to ensure much tighter restrictions. And then there’s what local authorities, commercial operators and entertainment venues can do to promote access to free drinking water in public spaces and places where children congregate. For example the Children’s Health Fund has used the first tranche of money received from restaurants adopting a voluntary levy on sugary drinks to support schools and community groups, including one in this region, to increase access to tap water and will shortly announce further support for such initiatives. For more on our campaign, click here.


SSPCA brought to court for Fife centre safety breaches

May 11 2017

The manager of a Fife animal rescue centre died following exposure to a deadly lung disease after a string of safety breaches by the SSPCA. Sandra Bonar was diagnosed with Extinsic Allergic Alveolitis (EAA) in 2000 and died in 2010 from complications associated with the condition. It is caused by exposure to avian allergens from birds’ droppings and feathers. Ms Bonar had been manager at Middlebank Wildlife Centre in Fife run by Scotland’s major animal welfare charity, the SSPCA. The charity has admitted failing to protect the wellbeing of its own workers for years and was brought to court as a defendant for the first time in its 178-year history. Depute fiscal Gavin Callaghan said Ms Bonar had been diagnosed with EAA and died in 2010 “from complications associated with EAA”. However, the charity has not been convicted of causing any actual harm to employees, as was pointed out by defence QC Peter Gray, who also highlighted the “vital public service” the SSPCA performs. Mr Gray said the society was “a conscientious employer” and that the breaches of health and safety obligations were “wholly out of character”. “It has a good safety record and took robust steps to address its admitted failings. It was not a deliberate breach or a breach made with a view to cost-cutting,” he added. Middlebank, which closed in 2012, was widely praised for its work in the rehabilitation of injured animals such as oiled birds, rescued from the sea. But a series of inspections carried out by Fife Council’s environmental health department and the Health and Safety Executive, found shortcomings. Between 2006 and 2012, staff at Middlebank were put at risk of contracting EAA and sufficient safeguards were not in place to prevent or control exposure. Although the charges admitted do not include causing any actual harm to employees, Dunfermline Sheriff Court heard Sandra Bonar succumbed to issues around the condition. Inspectors found a string of failings, including workers not being supplied with the appropriate protective equipment such as face-masks and overalls. The SSPCA admitted offences committed on various dates between November 1 2006 and April 30 2009, and between July 1 2011 and April 30 2012, at the Dunfermline centre. It breached health and safety procedures by failing to take suitable measures or assessments to prevent or control the exposure of employees to hazardous substances. It failed to provide personal protective equipment, including respiratory suitable gear and air ventilation, filtration or extraction systems. Between November 1 2006 and November 12 2008, it failed to provide suitable health surveillance arrangements to enable it to fully monitor its employees for any harmful effects of exposure to avian allergens and did not provide adequate training for employees were exposed to avian allergens. Sheriff Craig McSherry deferred sentence until 17th May. Founded in 1839, the SSPCA is the only animal charity in the UK recognised as a reporting agency to the Crown Office and its inspectors can enforce animal welfare law.

Angus & The Mearns

Montrose “murder” victim could have survived, court told

December 13 2016

A Montrose mother-of-three lived for about an hour after being hit on the head and could have survived the initial blow, a neuropathologist told a murder trial. Dr William Stewart said there was bruising and bleeding to the right side of Kimberley MacKenzie’s brain and signs of brain swelling. But with immediate medical attention, she could have lived. Dr Stewart was giving evidence at the trial of Steven Jackson and Michelle Higgins at the High Court in Glasgow. The couple deny murdering and dismembering Ms Mackenzie in Montrose on October 27 last year. The trial previously heard Ms MacKenzie had been hit on the head at least 11 times with a blunt object and stabbed about 40 times. Dr Stewart told the jury that he examined the brain last December. He said, in addition to the bruising and bleeding, there had been a segment of bone which looked like it had been “embedded on impact”. The court was told Dr Stewart examined sections of the brain to determine how long Ms MacKenzie had survived after the initial blow to her head. He said: “We use experience and data to produce a timeline. “The textbooks would suggest changes would take three to four hours, however my conservative estimate would be an hour or slightly less than an hour.” He then said that, with medical intervention, the head injury was “potentially survivable”. Defence QC Donald Findlay, representing Mr Jackson, suggested that changes in the brain caused by decay could account for his findings and suggested that Ms MacKenzie died shortly after being injured. Dr Stewart replied: “This is by no means a brain which masked the changes.” Jackson, 40, and Higgins, 29, are accused of murdering Ms MacKenzie by repeatedly striking her on the head, neck and body with a hammer or similar instrument and striking her with a knife in Market Street, Montrose, on 27 October last year. They are also accused of attempting to defeat the ends of justice by dismembering her body using a saw, knives and a screwdriver and wrapping parts of her body in bin liners and bags and hiding them in bins in Market Street, Patons Lane, Chapel Street and William Phillips Drive, all in Montrose, between October 27 and November 4 2015. The trial before judge Lady Rae continues.


EXCLUSIVE: NHS staff suspended amid claims of maternity drugs tampering “scandal”

November 15 2016

Politicians have called for an urgent probe amid allegations a midwife stole drugs meant for expectant mothers. Police were called to Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy last week following claims powerful painkillers were removed from bags used to administer epidurals to women in labour. It is understood at least three members of staff have been suspended over the matter. One has appeared in court. Despite the serious nature of the charges, NHS Fife has insisted the public has not been put at risk. Calls have already been made for an immediate and thorough investigation in a bid to instil confidence in the scores of women who may have been given epidurals using the affected bags. Fears have also been expressed that NHS Fife could face hefty compensation bills if the allegations are proven. A source said concerns were first raised about the staff member around three months ago. “A consultant anaesthetist raised concerns about epidural bags,” they said. “One bag was found to be short of one of the ingredients – fentanyl. “There should be 250ml of fentanyl in each bag but 150ml had been taken out of each one. “At least two staff are supposed to prepare the bags but she always insisted on doing it by herself. Questions are now being asked as to how this was allowed. “There are potential contamination issues and the potential for lawsuits.” The Courier understands video surveillance was used by police during their investigation. Both Scottish health minister Shona Robison and Chief Constable Phil Gormley are aware of the accusations. Scottish Labour’s deputy leader Alex Rowley described the issue as very worrying and called for the immediate attention of the authorities. “Firstly, we need to find out what the implications of these allegations are, then what action needs to be taken, and thirdly to learn any lessons,” he said. The Mid Scotland and Fife MSP added: “I hope the Scottish Government will give the assurances that everything which needs to be done is being done.” A woman has appeared in private at Kirkcaldy Sheriff Court on a petition alleging theft and reckless endangerment.   Hefty compensation bills if allegations are proven NHS Fife could face hefty victim compensation bills if the allegations are proven, according to the solicitor for patients who received contaminated blood during the 1970s and 80s. Patrick McGuire, a partner with Thompsons, said an employer is responsible for any wrongs of their employees. He said a series of scenarios would need to be examined to ascertain whether or not there is any damage to the health of pregnant women or indeed their children in these cases. “It certainly looks like there is the distinct possibility there could be very large numbers of injured women who will, should they choose to go down that road, have a right to compensation,” said Mr McGuire. “It is obviously impossible to say how much that would be. “You would need to establish if people have been affected by this, been injured by this and I can imagine the obvious scenarios which present themselves. “If patients are not receiving the correct amount of solution, how did this affect labour? Was it prolonged or more painful? Did it affect the unborn child? “Were there unnecessary operations? Would the birth have been easier or more natural if the appropriate medication had been delivered? The NHS could be facing a not insubstantial compensation bill for what can only be described as a scandal if what is alleged in court is found to be true.” Mr McGuire advised anyone who thinks they may be affected to turn to their GP in the first instance before trying to find out if the accused was party to any of their treatment. He offered his company’s services to anyone struggling to find answers. Mr McGuire’s firm has helped the families of 34 hospital patients who died after an outbreak of Clostridium difficile at Vale of Leven Hospital, hundreds of people infected by HIV because of contaminated blood, and mums and dads whose baby ashes were incorrectly disposed of. He said: “If I was a senior executive in this health board, or the cabinet secretary for health, I would be worried first and foremost about how it happened and how long it went on for. “We need to have trust in the NHS and the people who serve the NHS. The vast majority of people are public servants who do an incredible job.” Call for full-scale inquiry A call has been made for an official inquiry to be launched into the possibility of contamination taking place as a result of any alleged wrongdoings in the hospital. Willie Rennie, the Liberal Democrat leader and North East Fife MSP, urged the local health board to assure mums who could potentially be affected. He also urged a probe to take place into the circumstances surrounding the allegations as soon as possible. Mr Rennie said: “The health of the mothers who have been through the maternity ward must be the first priority. “NHS Fife must do what is necessary to provide them with the assurance that they need. “If there is any risk from contamination, we need clarity and confidence quickly. This midwife deserves to be regarded as innocent until proven guilty. “There are a host of questions that the public will be expecting answers to. “However, I am sure everyone will understand that the NHS Fife management need time to get on top of these matters whilst keeping the maternity ward operating safely. “Yet an inquiry into the circumstances would seem appropriate at the earliest opportunity.” It is likely such a call would gain cross-party support at Holyrood, given Alex Rowley, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, has also backed similar action being taken by authorities. Senior government figures updated The allegations made their way to the top of the Scottish Government, with senior figures from Health Secretary Shona Robison down being made aware of the circumstances. Sources within the civil service said there has been internal panic about the allegations becoming public but officials sought to play down any internal tension. In a short statement, issued late last night, it was confirmed that ministers have held talks with officials at the health board about the potential ramifications of the incidents and what has been done to tackle any issues. A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We are aware of this incident and NHS Fife has sought to assure us that there is no risk to the public, and the board has taken the appropriate and necessary action. “However, it would be inappropriate to comment further while a police investigation is under way.” 'No risk to the public' NHS Fife has given an assurance that the public is not at risk as the police probe continues. In a brief statement, a spokesman for the board confirmed the alleged theft but declined to comment further due to the ongoing investigation. The spokesman would not confirm whether anybody had been suspended as a result of the allegations. He said: “We can confirm that the police are investigating an alleged theft from Victoria Hospital. “We are unable to comment during a live police investigation but can offer assurances there is no risk to the public.” It is understood the alleged thefts have not been discussed at board level, either in public or behind closed doors.  


Madison Horn murder review branded a “whitewash” by family

April 16 2017

A probe into the death of murdered Fife toddler Maison Horn has been branded a "whitewash" by her family. The grandfather of the Kelty two-year-old used the third anniversary of her killing at the hands of her mother's ex-boyfriend, Kevin Park, to condemn the inquiry into the circumstances. A significant case review was ordered by the Fife Chief Officers' Public Safety Group which featured officials from the local council and health board, Police Scotland and Fife Child Protection Committee. It found the death could not have been predicted, even though the convicted thug was known to the authorities when he beat Madison to death while babysitting her in 2014. Madison's grandfather, Thomas Haldane, from Lochgelly, said 29-year-old Park should have been better-monitored by the authorities because of his history. Mr Haldane, 57, said: "How can they not have some form of responsibility for what happened to Madison? "I've never got an answer to that but chances are I probably never will. It's a whitewash. They're exonerating themselves. "They knew what was happening with him. Madison wasn't supervised when he was staying in the house. "They weren't doing anything about it. I think something should have been done to prevent it. "I think if they had kept him under surveillance it would have kept him switched on." Alan Small, independent chairman of Fife's child protection committee, said when the review was published: "The review has concluded that Madison's death could not have been anticipated. "There was no evidence to suggest that any agency was aware of any concerns about her well-being and neither she, nor her mother, were known to social work services." Responding to Mr Haldane's request, he said the review was "independent, thorough and comprehensive." Park already had 38 convictions when he killed tiny Madison, inflicting 65 injuries including a fractured skull but the probe found there was no proof he had previously harmed the youngster. He was jailed for life after the court heard he hit Madison's head off a wall, punched and stamped on her and may even have beaten her with a pool cue in the frenzied April 2014 attack. Ordering he serve at least 22 years, Judge Michael O' Grady QC said what he had done was "wicked beyond all imagining."  


Man caused motoring chaos in Fife

May 16 2016

An uninsured teenage driver led police on a 12-mile jaunt through northern Fife — then forced motorists to take evasive action as he performed a dangerous overtake. Bryan Laird, 18, of Yeaman Street, Forfar, made off from Cupar and didn’t stop until he had reached the Tay Road Bridge. Along the way, he almost collided with other vehicles in a saga which was branded “dangerous” at Dundee Sheriff Court. Laird was spotted by police driving a car which had no insurance at Bank Street, Cupar, at about 6pm on April 23. After stopping at a footpath in such a way police thought was unsafe, Laird then drove along the A92 towards the Tay Road Bridge, Although there was no suggestion he exceeded the speed limit at any point, he approached the Wormit junction and overtook vehicles while approaching a blind bend. The manoeuvre forced him to brake and other drivers also had to brake sharply to avoid a collision. All traffic was then brought to a halt and police approached Laird. He admitted having no insurance or a driving licence and said: “I just like driving.” Laird admitted driving a car dangerously by failing to comply with traffic signs and overtaking on a blind bend when it was unsafe to do so, causing other drivers to take evasive action to avoid a collision on April 23. He also admitted driving without insurance and driving without a licence. Sentence was deferred until June 10 for reports and Laird was disqualified meantime.


Alarm over build-up of red algae scum at Swannie Ponds

June 2 2016

Stobsmuir Ponds have turned a vivid red colour due to a build-up of scum lying on the surface of the water. Alan Maich, chairman of the Friends of Swannie Ponds, said he believed it was due to a chemical reaction in the water caused by bird waste and bacteria released from decomposing bread. He said: “It happened last year as well – but much later in the year. “Local residents have got in touch. It’s pretty unsightly. “There’s been some comments and concerns over the swans at the pond. I was sent a picture showing one of the swans covered in the red scum. They feed in it and so it gets on them. “Although apparently it’s not going to harm them, it doesn’t look very nice. “It’s a combination of two things – one is the bacterial reaction while the other is an insufficient inflow of water. “The bottom pond has a good inflow and there’s no scum on it – but I’ve been trying to get the council to turn the other on for ages. It’s not got very good pressure but it would be better than nothing.” Maryfield councillor Lynne Short said local residents shouldn’t worry. She added: “I know the colour is pretty vivid and the pond is looking very dramatic but so far everything suggests that it is safe. “We genuinely don’t think at this stage that it is going to cause a safety issue for human, animal or plant life. “I was up the other day and have taken samples for testing, so hopefully it won’t be long before we know what is turning the water red.” She said she had also been in touch with Scottish Water to see if they could shed any light on the scarlet waters of the Swannie Ponds. A Dundee City Council spokesman said: “We know that there is a type of algae at the pond. “As far as the council is aware, there is no associated public health risk. “We have advised the SSPCA of the situation.”


Doctor denies killing Dundee woman with drugs

October 24 2016

A doctor has denied killing a woman after allegedly supplying her with drugs. Katy McAllister faced the accusation at a short hearing at the High Court in Glasgow. The 30 year-old is charged with the culpable homicide of Louise McGowan in May last year. It is alleged at two addresses in Dundee – including a tattoo parlour – she “recklessly and unlawfully” supplied “controlled and potentially lethal drugs”. These include tramadol, temazepam and codeine. The indictment states Miss McGowan, also of Dundee, “ingested” the drugs and died a day later. McAllister also faced a string of other allegations. These included a charge that she stole quantities of the class C drug Midazolam from Ninewells Hospital in Dundee between June and August 2014. Prosecutors further claim she did “supply or offer to supply” drugs to a number of individuals. Mark Stewart QC, defending, pleaded not guilty on her behalf. Judge Lady Rae adjourned the case until a further hearing later this year. Bail for McAllister, of Dundee, was continued.


Video: Fife serviceman missing since the weekend

September 28 2016

An RAF serviceman from Fife has disappeared after a night out with friends in East Anglia. Corrie McKeague, 23, who is based at RAF Honington, was last seen in Brentgovel Street in Bury St Edmunds at around 3.20am on Saturday. The gunner has not been seen or been in contact with anyone since, although CCTV footage appears to show he briefly slept in a doorway before getting up and moving away. The location of the doorway is several miles from his home. Suffolk Constabulary released a brief CCTV clip of Mr McKeague on Wednesday night. The National Police Air Service helicopter has been deployed to help with searches and police have appealed for anyone who may have seen him since, or who may have information about his whereabouts, to come forward. Police are also asking dog walkers or anyone who may be in the countryside around Bury St Edmunds to get in touch if they notice anything unusual. Mr McKeague is described as white, 5ft 10in tall, of medium build, with short light brown hair. He was wearing a light pink polo shirt and white jeans at the time he was last seen. A police spokesman said: "Officers are concerned for his welfare and are asking anyone who may have seen Corrie, or anyone who has any information on his whereabouts, to contact the duty sergeant at Bury St Edmunds on 101."

Angus & The Mearns

Police failed to find body in small Montrose flat, murder trial hears

December 2 2016

Police officers searching for a missing woman in a single-bedroom flat failed to find her butchered body lying in the bath, the High Court in Glasgow has been told. A search of murder accused Steven Jackson’s home was conducted without a single officer opening the door of his bathroom to look inside. The body of Kimberley Mackenzie was within, according to witnesses. It has emerged that four police officers carried out searches at Jackson’s home in Market Street, Montrose. Each admitted they had failed to open the bathroom door, with the officers blaming “miscommunication” and “distraction”. During two visits on the same day, they looked under a bed, opened cupboards, searched behind curtains in the living room and poked around the kitchen. The failure to enter the bathroom left presiding judge Lady Rae bemused and she questioned the methods used by Police Scotland. Having heard evidence from three officers it fell to Montrose PC Debbie Ironside to answer for the failings. Lady Rae asked the officer what it meant to search a house, adding “ do you mean just part of the house?”. The officer replied: “It means all of the house. I will search half of a property and a colleague will search the other half.” Lady Rae replied: “Is there some special system because you are the fourth officer that did not search the bathroom. The witness said colleagues “did usually communicate” but admitted that had not taken place on that occasion. PC Ironside admitted her attention had been drawn, midway through her search by a number of heavy duty black bags, half-filled with unknown but bulky contents and a chainsaw. The jury heard she and a colleague had accepted the explanation offered by Jackson, who told them: “There’s nothing to worry about. It belongs to a friend. There’s not even a motor in it.” The officers did not search the bags and did not to complete their search of the flat. The court heard how during the multiple visits by Police Scotland Jackson had been calm and unflappable and officers undertaking what was, at that time, a missing person inquiry had found nothing untoward. But during a return visit on November 4, as the search for missing Ms Mackenzie continued, officers were assaulted by the smell of death as they knocked on the door. PC Garry Smith said when he arrived with his colleague PC Michael Woodburn, they were aware of “a smell you would associate with a dead body” from the communal stairwell. Incense was being used to mask the smell. Moments after their arrival at his flat on November 4, Jackson had admitted killing his former partner Kimberley MacKenzie, PC Smith said. He told the High Court in Glasgow Jackson had made a series of admissions that began with his knowledge of her killing and his part in her death, before detailing her dismemberment and the disposal of her body in bins across Montrose. PC Smith said Jackson — identified in court as a drug dealer — confided in the officers that Miss Mackenzie had visited his flat and offered sex in exchange for drugs. That was overheard by co-accused Michelle Higgins, a heroin addict and his current partner, who had been in the flat’s single bedroom. He said she had run from the room with a hammer and had struck Miss Mackenzie “six or seven times in the head”. PC Smith continued: “He told us that he had finished Miss Mackenzie off by cutting her throat using a yellow-handled saw.” He was confessing at such a rate, the court heard, that the officers had trouble keeping up with their notetaking. He admitted cutting Miss Jackson’s body into numerous pieces in the bathtub. The parts were then placed in black bags, one of which burst and spilled blood on the living room floor. PC Smith said: “He said that he had cut her arms at the wrists, at the elbows and the shoulders, that he had cut her head off and cut her torso in two. “He had also cut her thighs off.” The body parts, he told the officers, had been placed in nearby bins on the street. He later admitted some parts had been moved to a house elsewhere in Montrose. CCTV footage was shown of Jackson and Higgins pulling suitcases through the streets between two locations named in charges. Jackson, 40, and co-accused Michelle Higgins, 29, are on trial at the High Court in Glasgow. They deny murdering and dismembering 37-year-old Kimberley Mackenzie at Jackson’s flat in October last year. It is alleged they cut up Miss Mackenzie’s body and put her parts into bins at Market Street, Paton’s Lane, Chapel Street and William Phillips Drive. Jackson and Higgins are also alleged to have cleaned and bleached the walls of the flat and disposed of a bloodstained rug. Both deny murder. The trial continues.