Nov 192021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Aberdeen’s Evening Express’ long-serving columnist Frank Gilfeather was defenestrated after his opinion column on nightclub spiking attacks made on women sparked outrage.

An 18-year-old student in Aberdeen believed she had been spiked with a needle in an Aberdeen club, and Police Scotland were investigating.

Gilfeather, a retired boxer whose strapline was ‘The column that packs a punch’, took exception to a proposed Thursday night boycott of clubs for a girls’ night in protest and a petition to search clubbers.

In a column filled with misogynist mockery, he wrote:

“…surely it is the responsibility of the individual to keep themselves safe?”

While such incidents have been reported across the UK, Frank dismissed data on such attacks as being ‘sketchy at best’ concluding women suggesting full body and bag checks don’t ‘live in the real world.’

Unsurprisingly there was anger on social media.

The 23 October issue of the paper carried a full-page apology for Gilfeather’s column in lieu of its normal letters section. In ‘Frank Gilfeather’s column – apology’ editor Craig Walker announced Frank’s departure as the ex-pugilist refused to renounce his position. Walker declared:

“We are deeply sorry that our usually stringent editorial processes – the same processes which meant the column was not published on our website failed in the case of the printed edition.”

Walker continued:

“We pride ourselves on the quality of the journalism we publish…”

and on being

“… a trusted and constructive part of public debate.”

Readers with long memories were unconvinced. Former EE editor Damian Bates’ contributions to public debate and quality journalism included numerous puff pieces for Donald Trump while omitting that his wife Sarah Malone was the tycoon’s employee.

In 2007 the tabloid carried the headline ‘You traitors – fury as councillors kick out Trump’s £1bn golf plan’ with the faces of Aberdeenshire councillors who dared to vote down Trump’s initial golf resort plans.

The Evening Excess may have apologised for publishing Gilfeather, but it has never owned up to its persecution of these councillors, years of duping readers about the Bates/Malone connection or freezing protest group Tripping Up Trump out of the public debate Walker claims the paper values.

Such was the outrage over the spiking portion of his column that its other content was overlooked. Opining on the ‘let’s find something to offend us crowd’ Gilfeather was apoplectic over news that the National Theatre of Scotland had banned the word ‘spooky’, Writing:

“… but best impose a ban – just in case. Don’t you just love the flakiness of it all?”

Alas, the NTS had confirmed the story was untrue as per the Scottish Sun on 21 October, the same day Gilfeather was published.

Perhaps the EE’s stringent editorial policies and fact-checking still have a way to go?

‘Flakiness’ is the word for it.

 

Oct 212021
 

Review and photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Sunderland art-rockers, Field Music, returned to Aberdeen after a 9 year hiatus to play to a receptive crowd at The Tunnels on Carnegie Brae. Having released their 8th studio album – Flat White Moon – last April the band would have been relieved to finally get the show on the road in support of it, with this date being the opening night of a full UK tour.

First up, however, was local musician Steven Milne.

The Little Kicks frontman was drafted in early that afternoon after original support act – Galaxians – were unable to perform.

Milne is at pains to point out this is his first live appearance in 19 months. Coupled with the late call up, it could have proved to be a recipe for disaster.

However, he is nothing but naturally talented and that talent shone through in his solo performance.

Sitting behind a keyboard, he was captivating and engrossing as he ran through a set of Little Kicks tracks and a cover version of The Blue Nile’s ‘Tinseltown in the Rain’.
And it’s a credit to his song writing skills that his own material more than held its own even beside the sublime Blue Nile track.

A new Little Kicks album is due for April and should be on everyone’s shopping lists.

Brothers Peter and David Brewis have released 8 albums in the last 16 years under the moniker Field Music and tonight’s gig showcases songs across that time span.

Swapping roles between vocals / guitar and drums, there’s a real chemistry and understanding between the two siblings.

The music, the humour – it’s all interchangeable and on the same level between and during tracks. They’re the anti-Gallagher’s in that respect – brothers in music with no friction or individual ambition tearing them apart.

But that’s where the comparison begins and ends – the Brewis brother’s music isn’t steeped in conservative, classic rock, like Noel and Liam are, but in art-rock futurism and forward thinking of bands such as Talking Heads or Scritti Politti.

The set itself leans heavily on the recently released ‘Flat White Moon’ but there’s a dive into their back catalogue, with tracks such as ‘A House is not a Home’ and ‘(I Keep Thinking) About a New Thing’ given an airing.

Personal highlight for this correspondent was ‘Disappointed’, a near perfect pop tune steeped in a light funk backbeat.

The late, great musical genius Prince once tweeted their track ‘The Noisy Days Are Over’ without comment to his millions of followers – and that says a lot.

If anyone could recognise good music, you’d expect it from someone like him.

And the crowd recognise it tonight – it’s a magnificent set that has them clapping enthusiastically and begging for more.

After a good few years without a visit North to the Granite City, it was a joy to see them here again – hopefully they return sooner than later.

Oct 202021
 

Review and photographs by Craig Chisholm.

Just over three decades ago, The Quireboys released their debut album ‘A Bit of What You Fancy’.

Tonight, they revisited their commercial high point with a date at the Lemon Tree in Aberdeen.

First however, the crowd are entertained by up-and-coming slide guitarist Troy Redfern, backed with drummer Finn McAuley and bassist Keira Kenworthy.

Redfern is a virtuoso guitarist.

His guitar fireworks are astonishing to watch, his fingers running up and down the fretboard fluidly and gracefully.

But it’s not just a show in histrionics and shredding, it’s raw, gritty, heartfelt blues filled with emotion and belief.

Watching him, you know that he believes in the music he is singing, that he feels it – and that’s important.

It shows authenticity and a love for the genre.

For him to light up the guitar, he needs a strong groove and foundation to sit upon and his rhythm section are more than up to the job – they provide a solid, thunderous backbone to Redfern’s solos and slide guitar masterclass.

Closing his half hour set with a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s classic ‘Voodoo Chile’ you can see he’s made some new fans in the audience, many of whom are queued up minutes later to meet him and purchase his music.

“It’s 7 O’clock and time for a party” as their song goes – well, it’s not, it’s 9 o’clock when they hit the stage, but the party is most definitely on.

It’s been over 31 years now since their debut album ‘A Bit of What You Fancy’ was released.

It was halcyon times for the band back then – the album hit no.2 in the charts, singles went Top 40. There were support slots with the likes of Aerosmith and The Rolling Stones, on the bill of the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington, appearances on Top of The Pops and huge headline tours of the UK, Europe and beyond.

But time moves on and tastes change – at the height of grunge in the early 90s, the band parted ways and went on an extended hiatus for a few years.

But The Quireboys are nothing but tenacious and not ones to shy away from a challenge.

Certain musical styles never go away either – and in the case of their bluesy, classic rock it’s a style that will always have its fans.

And the fans are out tonight as they revisit their debut, changing the running order to bring new focus on old songs and remind everyone why they had so much success with it.

The singles are all greeted with cheers – ‘7 O’Clock’, ‘Hey You’ and ‘There She Goes Again’ working the crowd on the frenzy and getting them dancing.

And there’s moments of poignancy and reflection such as the emotional ballad ‘I Don’t Love You Anymore’.

‘Whipping Boy’ is a particular highlight – low down and dirty slow blues, underpinned with some bass that reverberates through your soul.

The band seem to be enjoying it – lead singer Spike seems particularly happy to be on stage again after Covid’s shutdown of live music.

Between songs he’s humorous and friendly, speaking directly to members of the crowd, always with a twinkle in his eye.

He also seems to be slightly lubricated; shall we say – despite his quips about having not drank for 10 years.

But it’s Friday night and most of the crowd are on the same level as him and it endears him to them even more.

Once a song starts, however, he is back to being the professional showman and singer. Every song is nailed perfectly, not a note dropped or lyric forgotten. And his voice, that raspy, 20 fags a day sound is spot on.

Despite tonight being a celebration of the past, it also points that there’s a strong future for the band – their unique take on that classic Stones or Faces sound, rooted in the blues, R&B and Country will always have listeners. And with over a dozen albums behind them and the potential for a dozen more, so will The Quireboys.

Sep 282021
 

Duncan Harley reviews Slains Castle’s Secret History, a new publication by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker.

Slains Castle on the very edge of the Buchan coastline is a widely misunderstood edifice and a confusion of associations with Dracula do little to explain the history of the place.
This new book by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker is a gamechanger.

Readers of Mike’s previous books and followers of Dacre Stoker’s work – which includes Dracul, a Dracula prequel written in collaboration with J.D. Barker of Fourth Monkey fame – will already be aware of the Cruden Bay Dracula links.

But few however, will be aware of the true history of that Slains Castle we all love to associate with the Gothic Horror genre.

An extraordinary set of stories lie within these pages. Churchill visited as did Johnson and Boswell. The cutting off of the heads of dead Danes, an epic story of religious strife and a shambolic plan to surrender Scotland to the Spanish Crown inhabit this book. And the ‘tussle’ for the souls of the living takes centre stage.

There are tales of a French conspiracy to Anglicise Scotland and the role of the Earl of Errol in shaping Scotland’s future is explored in major detail. But no spoilers here.

This is in essence a history of Scotland as told through the lens of Slains. The castle itself dips in and out of the tale, and it’s only on page 197 that we get to the essence of the Dracula connection.

I would have preferred an earlier link if truth be told. And this perhaps suggests that the authors were conflicted in purpose. In part diary, there is however much to recommend in this book.

Spanning from 1164 to the present day, this take on the untold history of Slains is an important addition to the history, and the mythology, of North East Scotland.

With a foreword by Alan Hay – archivist of Clan Hay – Slains Castle’s Secret History, is published in paperback by Wild Wolf Publishing on 20th September and, if you’ll excuse the pun, is a book to get your teeth into.

Highly recommended. Five Stars.

Slains Castle’s Secret History by Mike Shepherd and Dacre Stoker.
ISBN: 979-8469387046

Feb 262021
 

It’s back to business for convicted sex-offender Aberdeen City Councillor Alan Donnelly. His suspension from his role as a councillor ends 3rd of March. Suzanne Kelly writes.

Alan Donnelly was convicted in December 2019 for a November 2018 sexual assault on a young male waiter while attending a civic function in his capacity as councillor

He was given interim suspensions on full pay before a Standards Commission for Scotland hearing was held which allowed him to continue as a councillor.

In November 2020, two years after the assault, Standards declared that a further four month suspension was all the stricture required.

Standards justified their decision saying Donnelly was cooperative, had no previous referral to Standards, and had not received a custodial sentence. The Standards hearing panel could have removed him had they chosen.

Donnelly’s first hearing date was postponed on health grounds His attempt to likewise put off his November 2020 hearing failed.

Perhaps not even Standards could justify another postponement on revelation that Donnelly had enjoyed several holidays while suspended.

In response to the hugely unpopular decision, a formal complaint was made to Ethics Standards in Public Life. Ethics’ role had been to issue a report to Standards before any hearing could be set.

The complainant asked:

  • Why did it take Ethics until June 2020, six months after Donnelly’s conviction, to issue a report?
  • Why did Ethics decide not to give the victim an opportunity to make a statement?
  • Does Ethics took sexual assault seriously?

Ethics found its officers acted properly. There is no avenue for appeal.

Ethics claims it had to determine whether Donnelly was perceived as being a councillor when attacking the young man at a social function.

Donnelly is expected at a crucial council budget meeting

Donnelly’s city council register of interests clearly reflected he attended in place of Councillor Lumsden.

Instead, Ethics waited weeks to hear what the venue managers thought.

ACC Councillor Jennifer Stewart was quoted in the local press saying the sexual assault ‘didn’t sound too bad’. The victim could have been approached for comment, but they were excluded from proceedings.

During its investigation, Ethics was so deluged with complaints about Donnelly it refused to hear anything further.
Had they not shut the public out, they might have learned of a 2001 incident.

While in an ACC social work post, Donnelly reportedly took a sex offender to a bar against rules and was disciplined for it. Standards might not have concluded Donnelly’s improper conduct was a ‘one off’ had this information been presented.

Apparently one sexual assault on its own is not deemed sufficient to stop someone serving as a councillor.

On the 10th of March, Donnelly is expected at a crucial council budget meeting. The meeting was originally set for March 3rd  – the final day of Donnelly’s period of suspension.

However, council business manager Ryan Houghton arranged a postponement, ostensibly relating to central government’s imminent budget announcement.

Donnelly is expected to vote with the reigning Labour/Tory coalition just as he did in 2020 in a meeting that took place the day before his suspension.

Donnelly was a Tory and part of said coalition until he went ‘independent’ coinciding with the sexual assault conviction.

The Labour councillors in this unholy alliance are suspended from the party for defying orders and aligning with Tories. To say that Aberdonians are looking forward to the May 2022 elections is an understatement.

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Feb 212021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

As seen in our earlier article https://aberdeenvoice.com/2021/02/acc-taxi-driver-grant-handling-to-be-investigated/ , central government is giving £1500 one-off grants to eligible taxi drivers who have lost trade during lockdowns. 

Edinburgh, Glasgow and other cities are distributing the funds to drivers who answer a series of questions online, submit ID, and supply bank account and sort code details.   

In Aberdeen, things are not quite so straightforward.

Aberdeen City Council’s handling of the grant is being reviewed by central government and data protection agencies following Aberdeen Voice’s investigations. 

Drivers here are told they can only apply electronically, must open a user account on the city’s website to access the application, and must submit a bank’s official statement showing a month’s worth of transactions.

A central government spokeswoman said: 

“The requirement for the bank details is an SG condition but that is just literally account number and sort code so people can be paid into their account.  Our guidance states that drivers must provide bank account details and local authorities can request appropriate additional evidence to determine eligibility.”

As a Glasgow city council spokesman we contacted added: 

“The webpage doesn’t say that transactions within the account have to be shown, only the name, address, account number and sort code. A bank statement with redacted transactions is therefore acceptable.”

A spokeswoman from the Information Commissioner’s office said unofficially that she would redact transactions if asked for a statement.

ACC will neither back down from nor explain its position. The type of statement an account holder can print off themselves is not accepted; the bank must issue an official statement to satisfy ACC.

Should anyone think it is not a big deal to hand a month’s worth of financial transactions over to ACC, AV is pleased to remind readers that in 2018 ACC was investigated for a massive data breach when it sent personal details such as salary and NI numbers to third parties. 

In 2019, it was reported by Jon Hebditch of the Press & Journal that the city’s computers were hacked no fewer than 15 MILLION TIMES.

Why does ACC need to see what a driver is buying and where they are spending their money?  

A driver approached us who sent in their unredacted bank details and they advise they have had two attempted identity thefts following their application.  Of course, this may be wholly coincidental, but it highlights the need for privacy.

Many banks, mobile companies, credit card companies will sometimes ask for details of a previous transaction in order to verify the identity of a phone caller.  Anyone who gets hold of a bank statement can make an identity theft bid.

Data protection laws say personal data must not be collected unless it is required for a specific transaction, and must be destroyed once it is no longer needed.  Once a driver proves who they are, their eligibility and their bank name, account number and sort code, there is no need for that driver’s financial transactions to be seen by anyone.

The question is, why does Aberdeen City Council think knowing a driver’s bank transactions is any of their business or relevant for issuing a grant once the driver establishes identity and eligibility?

Many drivers are understandably unhappy then that ACC wants sight of the applicant’s individual bank transactions.  Derek Davidson told AV: 

“I wasn’t aware transactions could be redacted. My understanding was that if you did this it could affect your claim being processed.”

Who in ACC will see this data and whether or not it will be destroyed as soon as it is no longer needed are unclear. 

What is clear is that ACC does not need to see any personal transaction details to pay people money they are due. AV is trying to get the council to remove this intrusive, potentially illegal invasion of privacy.

After several attempts by AV to get ACC to explain its invasive requirement, we have received a list of rules and regulations, and an assertion that central government did not specify how to handle the roll out. 

The city was asked if it will now follow Glasgow’s example (other councils allow redaction too, we understand) and let drivers conceal their individual bank transactions.  No answer to this simple question was offered.

If the city does reverse its policy, we will advise.  However, as ACC is dragging its feet since it was first approached, and we know drivers are in great need of the money, it may well come too late. 

An Information Commission Office spokeswoman commented:

“As mentioned we can’t give a judgement before knowing the full facts and being able to establish formally what information the council wants, how it is being used, what their privacy policy states etc.  If someone complains to us then we would look at the detail and possibly make further enquiries if necessary.

“As per our statement,  if people are concerned about how their personal data is used they can raise it with ACC and then the ICO.”
 
We urge anyone with data protection issues to issue a complaint both to ACC and the Information Commissioner – here is the link again to their complaints procedure:  https://ico.org.uk/make-a-complaint/, and here is ACC’s chief executive’s email address:  chiefexecutive@aberdeencity.gov.uk

AV will be happy to hear from anyone impacted by the issues arising.

Aberdeen Voice maintains that the city’s press office has the ability to check with every department, and could have learned more about the issue if it needed to. 
 
We will try to find out why it chose not to do so and why it is choosing to doubt AV’s story.
 
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Feb 092021
 

By Suzanne Kelly.

Many area taxi drivers are suffering.

Not only has lock down stopped most of the journeys people would have made, but the city’s draconian and Byzantine laws, which stopped city businesses making and receiving deliveries and which created arcane one-way traffic systems, prevented people from making swift in-and-out taxi journeys to buy essentials. 

Now the city seems to be fumbling on a new front.

The Scottish Government recently announced a scheme to help with £1500 one-off grants. 

The central government website says:

“If you are eligible for a grant your local authority will get in touch with you, starting from week commencing 18 January 2021.  You do not need to contact them.”

Derek Davidson, 57, of Bridge of Don, has been a driver for 21 years.  Mr Davidson told Aberdeen Voice:

“The grant will help drivers pay fixed costs such as car loans and insurance which were not included in the grants given by the U.K. government. The Scottish government were clear that these grants would be administered by the council and paid out by the 31st January.”

Three key points from the Scottish government website are: that an applicant’s council will need your bank details, that the scheme started week commencing 18 January, and that correspondence can be by phone, email or letter.

An Aberdeen City Council told Aberdeen Voice otherwise, claiming:

*  the scheme only started on 26 January.

*  an official bank statement be supplied – despite a driver’s private financial transactions having nothing to do with their eligibility.  A print out from logging into your account is not acceptable. 

Applicants should not need to supply more than their bank name, sort code and account number once they have proved they are eligible and submitted ID. 

This official bank statement requirement will also delay payments while applicants write to their bank to get an official statement (many banks convinced customers to opt out of paper statements long ago for environmental and cost-saving reasons).

ACC demands that all correspondence be handled electronically. 

As Mr Davidson points out – not everyone has email and not everyone has a home computer. 

Once an applicant gets the official statement from their bank, they apparently need to scan it to comply with ACC’s email only directive.

ACC seems to require drivers to open an account on the city’s website before they can even access the application form. 

(NB The Scottish Information Commissioner is looking into ACC’s attempts to make FOI requesters sign up – those who want to make requests should insist on the freedom not to sign up, and/or use the website whatdotheyknow.com to lodge FOI requests.)  

This extra layer of unnecessary bureaucracy will mean every time a user is logged in, a trail of what they have accessed on the ACC website will come to exist. 

Not everyone who does FOI requests or who wants to apply for a grant they deserve wants ACC to be able to know what they are looking at for instance. There is no legal requirement on those who want to correspond and do business by letter to fall in line with ACC.

If, as some correspondence sent to drivers indicates, avoiding paper, letters is somehow a Covid-19 safety measure, then surely school teachers and staff must not touch any paper either.

Mr Davidson said:

“I’m not sure why the council would need to see the drivers’ bank statements as it is an invasion of privacy in my opinion. All they needed was our sort codes an account numbers. It is also wrong that people are excluded if they don’t have an email address.

“The council undertook to administer the grants and should have had adequate procedures in place to ensure every driver was included. I’d be interested to know what happens to any unclaimed money.

In terms of eligibility, our tax records show we have been paying our way as taxi drivers and that should have been all the proof they needed for distribution of the grants.”

Central government advises it will look at how ACC is handling the administration of this grant.

ACC doubled-down when AV requested clarification on why they seem to diverge from the central government’s information on the grant.  A spokesman said:

“The terms agreed through Cosla and SLAED is for all Local Authorities to administer the funds through an online application process – every local authority has done so.

“The application form was published on the council website on 26 January [2021] and we contacted drivers the same day.

“Local authorities are required to be assured of the validity of any supporting information requested in determining eligibility for a grant.

“Every local authority requires details of the applicant’s bank statements to verify this is a legitimate applicant and not a third party using the licence and name of a driver. The Council has a privacy notice for the data handling process in respect to the scheme which is published on the website.”

AV will update further once central government advises. We will be happy to hear from any drivers who are impacted.

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Jan 222021
 

“Crazy how white Republicans got other white Republicans scared of Muslims and Mexicans when all along they needed to be scared of other white Republicans…”
– Cyrus McQueen, author, Tweeting Truth To Power: Chronicling Our Caustic Politics, Crazed Times, & The Great Black & White Divide.

“Anti-vax conspiracy theories and COVID-19 denial are gateway drugs that introduce well-meaning people to the far right. Before they know it, large numbers are hooked on QAnon.”
– George Monbiot

Trump spent decades inciting violence, culminating in rioting and deaths in Washington DC on 6 January 2021. Now he says he won’t condone violence (or is that what he’s really saying?)

Suzanne Kelly, Aberdeen Voice contributor and campaigner explains why the leopard has not changed his spots.

Armed, angry white men and women were invited by Trump to a rally in DC. Trump told the mob to march on the capitol and he’d be with them (he wasn’t).

The warning signs were ignored. The violence was pre-planned, orchestrated. The National Guard was held at bay. Five people are dead, more were injured.

Trump watched the violence unfold on TV; he would not speak to aids or answer requests to stop the forces he invoked.

His after-the-fact denunciation of ‘political violence’ is perversely being taken as a call to arms by the extremists – who are openly calling for more such events. His impeachment is essential; he is a danger to us all.

Signs of his disordered mental state, his contempt for people and the environment were visible at Aberdeenshire’s Menie Estate before his election. Aberdeen Voice, Tripping up Trump, Aberdeenshire councillors including Martin Ford, Debra Storr, Paul Johnston and film maker Anthony Baxter all could have attested this man was the last person to be put in charge of a multicultural country.

Aberdeen Journals Ltd told you Trump was going to bring 6,000 permanent jobs and millions into the local economy annually and ‘enhance’ the irreplaceable environment.

Fast forward, and there are less than 93 permanent jobs, the course is permanently in the red, and the unique SSSI areas are destroyed.

Aberdeen Voice’s many calls over the years to local and national officials and official bodies as to where he got the money for the purchase from fell on deaf ears.

Here are some of my thoughts on why Trump is in power, why people still believe him, and what we need to address in order to stop more carnage.

Trump: the most damaging, divisive president ever.

It takes honour and integrity to own mistakes and Trump has neither quality. His youth included allegations of draft-dodging (he was healthy enough despite alleged bone spurs to play collegiate basketball) and sending in ringers to take exams in his stead.

He is credibly accused of preventing non-white people from obtaining leases for his Manhattan properties. He wanted the innocent, framed ‘Central Park Five’ to be executed.

His fondness for capital punishment saw him reinstate the death penalty; as rights watchers will tell you, many US death row inmates were denied due process, have mental health issues, and some have been found to be innocent after their execution. Some were black – convicted on circumstantial evidence by all-white juries.

Trump has invoked violence many times, whatever he may be saying now.
Trump told an assembly of police that it was OK with him if they harmed suspects.

He called for hecklers at his rallies to be ‘roughed up’.
He called journalists – the very people tying to tell the truth about the man –‘enemy of the people’ and said they should be ‘roughed up’.

When I spoke on The O’Reilly Factor about my petition to ban Trump from the UK under our hate speech laws, I was cut off before making many of my points and with no warning: but the last point I got in was that Trump planned to execute terrorists and their relatives. I still can’t believe this didn’t shock more people.

America is supposed to stand for justice, not ex-judicial execution of innocent people.

Trump is a racist (the KKK endorsement of his 2016 bid for the presidency is a clue); he lacks empathy, and will deceive without remorse. He has no regard for law, fairness or human life. He frequently calls for violence and fails to speak out against it when it comes from the far right and the white supremacist: his lack of condemnation encourages them.

Hate speech, racism, neo-Nazism: how the ignorant, angry and easily-led are funnelled

Claiming Muslims should be banned from air travel ‘until we figure out what the hell is going on’, Trump threw unjust suspicion on Muslims, including the seven to 14 million Muslim Americans.

This was not a dog whistle; this was Trump prejudicially linking all Muslims to terrorism. Those who thought my desire to ban him for hate speech might do well to remember his ban which unfairly harmed many. And as any observer of American terrorism can confirm, most of America’s terrorists have been white males.

Hate crimes are at their highest levels for 16 years according to the FBI.

Responding to Trump’s many calls to hate and violence, people like William Celli decided to build bombs to target Muslims. Trump’s comments about Mexicans and Hispanics have led to many assaults; in one case two suspects told police ‘Trump is right’.

Trump fanatic and would-be bomber Cesar Sayoc targeted Democrats and CNN. His defence lawyers wrote that:

“in this darkness, Mr. Sayoc found light in Donald J. Trump.”

Sayoc ‘Found light’ in Donald; sadly, so do many disaffected people, opportunist evangelical preachers, the NRA, GOP climbers, and racist groups like the KKK.

David Duke is the ridiculously-titled ‘grand wizard’ of the KKK. It endorsed Trump as their presidential candidate, and Duke said the Charlottesville rioting which took Heather Heyer’s life was ‘a turning point’.

From the time Trump said of the white supremacist march ‘there are fine people on both sides’, he’d given a clear signal he would condemn neither violence nor racism. He deliberately fanned those flames, even if he didn’t manage to overthrow the government.

It’s Christianity Jim, but not as we know it.

There is no doubt that MAGA rallies created a community of like-minded Trump followers. These events called together every person who wanted a saviour, and the extremist evangelists used the far-right version of Christianity that these Trump acolytes had been raised on.

Artwork showing Trump as a Christ-like figure (as if); photos showing Trump surrounded by adoring televangelists – all this helped those who were already trained to be obedient to their preachers be obedient to the man their preachers endorsed and called saviour. It made Sayoc a terrorist.

The lunatic hypocrisy of claiming to be a follower of Jesus while simultaneously toting semi-automatic weapons, chanting ‘lock her up’, assaulting rally hecklers, and calling for death to the press doesn’t occur to any of these people. Their preachers are asking for donations, not soul-searching.

Here is a hilarious take on her absolute madness of Paula White 

Compliant? The evangelical child in some of these sects grow up believing by constant reinforcement they are the only people who will be saved, that the superior race is white, and the superior sex is male.

Home-schooling is prevalent, and I believe plays more of a part in the radicalisation of people than many will admit.

The girl children? Many are trained to be subservient like our rushed-through newest Supreme Court Justice Coney Barrett. For many extremist evangelists, girls are to get married, be servants and be fruitful and multiply. Sex before marriage is strictly out.

Arranged child marriages are common; tales of survivors of forced marriage can be found in harrowing accounts captured by Unchained At Last. 

All these QAnon extremists protesting about invented satanic child abuse? They need look no further than child marriage, legal in 46 states. When was the last time a QAnon protestor targeted this abuse?

Do these evangelists and Trump really believe one of their key recruitment planks – that all abortion is wrong? Trump asked his girlfriend to get one. Trump also raped Ivana per her written statement by the way. Very Old Testament.

If I had my say, every school age person would spend at least a few months in a non-home-school setting to mix with children of other backgrounds. Ensuring no one is schooled only in a vacuum might help end the vilification of other religions, other races and nationalities.

If nothing else, the evangelical girl child could be shown it is illegal to be married off against her will, and she can have a career other than as a mother.

And if I ran the world, there would be no marriages in America for anyone under 18, and all parties under age 21 would have to be seen alone before the ceremony to confirm they are not being coerced, and offered support if they are.

Women used as cleaners and evangelical baby-making machines are what perpetuates this extremely closed, insurrectionist-producing system, in my fact-based opinion. And people like the Haushultz family would not have any children in their care ever

Tele-preachers and the NRA also insist an AK is a ‘God-given right.’ The hell it is.

Gun culture: how the NRA fuels paranoia.

A Senate subcommittee declared the National Rifle Association to a Russian asset, awash with Russian money. NRA chiefs gave illegal operative Russian Marina Butina and Putin pal Alexander Torshin access to members of Congress.

What was once an educational tax-exempt organisation now pumps tens of millions of dollars into Congress, some of that from Russia.

It will not brook any changes to US gun law. NRA-funded Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell prevented the Senate from voting on bipartisan gun law bills. Did America’ founders know automatic weapons existed – yes, as the NRA says, claiming all guns should be legal.

Did the founders have weapons that could kill 58 and wound 527 others from a great distance as we tragically saw in Las Vegas? No.

Should every incel, every angry racist own an assault rifle?

The NRA says yes.

The parents and loved ones of the over 40,000 shot in 2019 and 2020 say no.

In terms of ‘cancel culture’ – gun deaths cancel thousands of voices each year, and Mitch McConnell cancelled the Senate’s right to even vote on the matter. If he were confident the American people and the Senate did not want gun laws changed, he would have let the two bills be heard.

There is supposed to be a well-regulated militia: instead we had teen Kyle Rittenhouse driven to a protest by his mother where he killed.

‘Do you wanna be in my gang?’ Psychological manipulation.

Lonely? Friendless? Not promoted at work? Involuntary celibate? QAnon wants You.

A whole world of similarly-damaged souls awaits and you will be welcome, whether or not you’re a preposterous self-styled shaman who live streams from mom’s basement. If you’re feeling the financial pinch, it can’t be because of people like Trump, paper billionaires whose many bankruptcies have sent small businesses to the wall; it must be because a woman or a non-white person ‘took’ your job.

It is easier and cheaper to get recruited by QAnon than it is to either get mental health help, get involved with making positive change, or make real friends in the real world. The USA needs urgent medical health care reform, the kind Trump has tried to dismantle.

I have done as much of a dive into this culture as I care to. In fringe websites the insurrectionists share whispers of violence to come on Biden’s inauguration day.

Some think Trump is the messiah. They are happy, some of them, to wear Nazi regalia – and in doing so align themselves with the horrors visited on adults and children alike, despite QAnon using the fictitious pizzagate child abuse conspiracy as a recruitment tool.

The message seems to be that Nazi concentration camps were either invented or the children abused and murdered on an industrial scale somehow don’t count (viz the detestable ‘Camp Auschwitz’ shirt and Nazi symbolism worn by the insurrectionists).

However, invent a child abuse scandal now 100% discredited involving Satan and Hilary Clinton, and crying people will take to the streets holding signs about pizza parlours and baby-eaters while sporting a swastika tattoo.

These people don’t seem aware Trump did all he could to catch teen beauty queens naked at his pageants, or that he’s accused of many cases of sexual assault. There is no logic, no joined up thinking.

These echo chambers that sprang up following Q Anon’s overdue defenestration from Twitter, YouTube, Facebook reinforce the camaraderie, the anger of these misfits. They goad each other into more and more extreme views and actions. Something needs to be done.

As I am writing, Reuters confirmed that the mob intended to ‘capture and assassinate’ members of Congress. We must find, arrest, try every single one of these people.

Hate Speech.

Enacting laws concerning hate speech – like the UN and many countries have will help stop the abuse which has led to violence throughout this country’s history.

This is nothing to do with freedom of speech. The right to free speech has many exemptions. The founding fathers foresaw some of the potential future misuses – but none of them can have dreamed of it being used to remind Jewish people of the horrors of Auschwitz.

Trump spurred me to try to ban him from the UK under our hate speech laws. As a New Yorker living in Aberdeen, watching this man being treated as a star made me feel ill.

I knew of his discriminatory policies, his greed, his xenophobia. I didn’t care if I looked like a fool. Over 586,000 people agreed with me and we got a debate.

Who knows? We might even have got the Home Secretary to apply the law to a billionaire that had already been applied to more than 100 other hatemongers.

In the end, the night before the debate, MP Paul Flynn, slated to chair the debate decided to call the press to slate my petition (without letting me know he was doing so). ‘We might make Trump a martyr’ he told me. Parliament did deliver a good smackdown – but the Home Secretary did not apply the law to Trump.

JK Rowling made a joke about the petition at a New York literary gathering.

I was invited to write a riposte piece, and I did so, even knowing all of Harry Potter fandom would attack me to support her. I wonder if she sees the difference between hate speech and free speech now; I’d like to hope so, having been the target of hate speech herself of late.

What I didn’t get is that in her books the magical government was being taken over and most people were afraid to stand up to the spread of hate speech, but there you go.

Every time someone flies a confederate flag; every town that has a memorial to a civil war figure who tried to preserve slavery is a declaration of hate to black citizens from white supremacists. Every glorification of those who slaughtered Native Americans is a hate crime. I can’t shake the feeling that while all this division rages, the billionaires are laughing at the rest of us.

Billionaires like Trump (wherever his money is actually coming from; happily, there are signs it may be drying up).

If a Native American child or an African American child cannot wear their hair in a way reflective of their culture in school, then why are we letting people wave symbols celebrating slavery or concentration camps in gestures designed to intimidate and provoke fear and anger? I don’t understand.

The speech turns to violence, and these symbols have power.

If anyone wants to cry how unfair it is Trump’s been removed from social media for repeated rule breaking, fake news and hate speech, think again. He’s deliberately gagged people with lawsuits, confidentiality agreements (even extending to cooks in Scotland) and used his massive press connections to mock and ridicule opponents from Biden through to farmer Michael Forbes.

Can we please make Justice blind again?

Some of the argument against doing so aside from Flynn’s Chamberlain-esque appeasement was ‘Trump may be president someday’.

This alarming use of future potential is seen in America, where it gets many privileged white male offenders released from serious charges eg Brock Turner.

What if we had banned him from the UK? Would the GOP still have seen him as being presidential material? Perhaps not. Would things have been worse had the UK banned Trump? Worse how? – I’d like to know.

We’re seeing more flawed illogic applied to the insurrectionists by their sympathisers in the GOP: ‘Don’t impeach Trump, it may make insurrectionists angry’.

They are already angry. And armed. The law is not supposed to care how rich you are or if applying the law equally to all will make white supremacists angry.

The self-styled shaman is being given the organic meals in prion he demanded because of his ‘religion’. Meanwhile, as noted by various Native American groups, when Native people wind up in US jails, they are absolutely laughed at and ignored.

Symbols of hate belong in the trashcan.

The confederate flag shows the bearer approves of slavery, and wants it back.

Statues of confederate generals towering over parks and town centres show deference to the people who tried to preserve slavery and contempt for descendants of slaves.

A swastika patch or tattoo, or a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ shirt shows the world the bearer hates everyone who’s not a Nazi.

A MAGA hat suggests the wearer wants to ‘Make America Great Again’. It shows support for a KKK-endorsed white supremacist who ridicules minorities and incites violence against virtually everyone who is not a white male. It is the symbol of the Trump rally, a sign you would suspend your logic and values (if any) to be part of a mob.

The far right, the conspiracy believer, etc have also commandeered symbols of the crusaders, arcane symbols and invented symbols. This is all part of the ‘I need to be in a crowd and be one of the mob’ mentality we saw running through the Capitol.

Can we chuck these and other such inflammatory, hate-provoking emblems now? Other countries have.

We don’t need miseducation.

If there were a better, balanced system of education that also taught tolerance and life skills (I mean, we even have people who now believe you can fall of the edge of our flat world), we would all be better off.

It would not be so easy to convince people that Bill Gates is a reptile from another dimension who is trying to forcibly inject nanobots and trackers by unleashing a fake virus scare.

When I was in school, I remember ages devoted to names and dates of the Revolutionary War. About a quarter of that amount of time was spent on the history and culture of the rest of the world. Mistake. It was later I learned of the atrocities committed against Native Americans (including by Lincoln) and slavery.

When we studied slavery in school – and this I remember to my dying day: we read two different accounts of women who had been plantation slaves.

One was entitled ‘Lordy Them was Awful Days’ and she told of being whipped and salt being rubbed in her wounds. The other woman said slavery wasn’t so bad: I kid you not. And then we moved on.

It was as if every coin has two sides – a flaw seen in current day news reporting.

Slavery does not have another side. We also had in our textbooks the horrific photos of lynched black Americans, with white people standing under them socializing. Did my teacher explain how horrific this was? If so, their words are lost on me though that photo remains burned in my head.

Do the confederate flag-wavers even know what the reality was for so many? Do they even want to? A better, complete education that shows America’s many flaws could help. Teach logic, how to frame arguments, critical thinking, and how not to be a racist.

What are we going to do today? Pending violence.

As mentioned, I’ve been going on these twisted far-right sites to see what is going on. These people do think, as reported in the news, that Trump wants more violence and has sent secret messages to QAnon in his latest word salad of a speech.

They and others point to his saying ‘I cannot emphasise that there must be no violence…’ as a call to arms.

With Trump having established that he is barely literate, we don’t know what he actually meant. Hilariously, he says he can never condone violence, despite having called for violence on many occasions.

However, the conspiracy theory force is strong with these insurrectionists.

Some claim he tapped out in Morse Code the letter ‘Q’. Really? The man can’t spell ‘coffee’.

These people are looking for signs. If you look for signs, the brain will find them even where they don’t exist. A decent education could have taught the ‘I saw the Virgin Mary in my slice of toast’ brigade how the mind works to create images and patterns, but there you go.

These people want a violent, bloody revolution. They want to take over America. They are using internet sites to make their plans. Many of them are police and/or former armed forces members (we need a Venn diagram of white supremacists who have been in the police and who have needlessly killed non-white suspects).

Some of their helpers are congresspeople. They cannot win, but they can certainly harm and kill.

Ignoring them and hoping they will disappear is not an option. I am not an expert, but I think my suggestions have some merit for the future. The present needs to be the focus now.

In my opinion, we need to: immediately declare QAnon, the KKK, other hate groups terrorist organisations and remove terrorism supporters from Congress. Any congressperson/police officer who gave the insurrectionists help must be removed from office and charged.

No one gets into Congress without going through the metal detector. No guns get into Congress.

Every single insurrectionist from Trump down to the last one needs to be charged with all applicable charge from sedition and insurrection through destroying federal property.

We need to shore up what the 1st and 2nd Amendments mean.

We need to change the laws so there are no more Kyle Rittenhouses.

Anyone who is in QAnon or the KKK is not fit to be in law enforcement or law-making, and needs to be removed from office. We need more scrutiny of how these ideas are getting into the heads of the violent, and address the root causes (extremist evangelism, poverty, poor education etc).

We cannot just forget this happened and heal without cleaning up the source of infection and getting rid of the poison. We need to have Biden and Harris stabilize our country and Make Hate Hateful Again.

Unfortunately, we need to do this about 80 years ago at a minimum. But let’s start today.

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Jan 102021
 

 Further to Part I of these two articles, when a stone wall in Wellington Brae started to crumble, Aberdeen City Council decided to arrange the repair work. The city went to SUSTRANS representing ‘we have a problem’ and it secured £200,000. By Suzanne Kelly.

In Part I of this series a timeline showed different stories as to who owned the land in question. Lawyer, and then councillor and finance committee convener Willie Young said at different times he didn’t know who the landowner was, or that his dad was the landowner.

The press reported that Young and his wife were the owners according to Registry documents.

In this part of the story, Aberdeen Voice comments on emails recently released by ACC as well as those previously leaked and published.

We also acknowledge the huge amount of work done on this issue by others including the Stop the Desecration of Marischal College Facebook page, and we include their recent synopsis of this bizarre tale.

The emails:

Below are images of some of the emails and commentary, both officially released and leaked, on ‘Wallgate’. Aberdeen Voice will be happy to receive further material and is continuing its Freedom of Information efforts.

I) ‘WE have a problem’ – on 3 February 2016 someone at ACC wrote to SUSTRANS to say ‘we have a problem’ and ‘our head of maintenance has advised there is no budget to carry out these repairs which could be £250,000…’

The recipient at SUSTRANS would have concluded that as the council says it has a problem, it has no budget, it is the party seeking repair funds, etc, that the responsibility for fixing the wall was the council’s.

The council keeps a spreadsheet showing every single property it owns; Aberdeen Voice has a 2012 copy and can confirm no entries exist on it for 2012 concerning Wellington Brae.

Was even this quick, simple search conducted before an email was sent to SUSTRANS from Aberdeen saying ‘we have a problem?’ Did anyone use the council tax rolls and contact the people living at the property to ask them about ownership?

It would be good to know how the author of this email to SUSTRANS decided to word their appeal- its tone is that the problem is Aberdeen’s.

There was no uncertainty over ownership expressed, just the assumption Aberdeen needed to find the money rather than a private landowner. It is also worth noting that the report brought to councillors to accept the money that was solicited from SUSTRANS in February was not presented to them until 24 May 2017 – fifteen months after the money was requested.

Will the email author’s line manager go back and check whether or not similar representations have been made to seek funds from external sources to repair properties that the city did not own?

How was the decision made to conduct the survey, to commission the in-house 12-page detailed Bill of Quantities report made in May of 2016 (which conveniently matches precisely the estimate for repairs presented to SUSTRANS in February), and who approved this budget to pay for a survey of benefit to private landowners?

II) Leaked email – Young is well aware of, and is briefed on, the approach ACC made to SUSTRANS. At least three different ACC personnel have, according to this email, been in touch with Young.

The writer says Young gave the verbal go-ahead for the project in his council role. Young is being asked for written confirmation.

We are still not at all certain why, with his legal background, Young apparently did not caution those on the project to cease any work until it was determined who was responsible for paying for the work at the moment he was approached for his permission.

Young asked for information to be re-sent to him in a paragraph: as the scheme involves SUSTRANS paying for the stonewall work, Young will have been in receipt of correspondence/data/reports/financials concerning SUSTRANS funding in the form of documents sent by email on a matter that concerns his family’s property.

Even if you disbelieve the authenticity of this email, Young later confirms officers approached him about the scheme – wouldn’t he have asked for some detail and background then, not least to find out why it was decided he was the landowner.

III) leaked email – According to this Young, who is addressed as Councillor, has the plans and is checking with his solicitor as to whether or not he owns the land.

IV) Leaked email – indicates Councillor Young issued a verbal instruction to proceed with the works at Wellington Brae 28 October 2016.

Many public and private entities have ethics charters and anything that could be a conflict of interest or potentially fraudulent or reputation-damaging must be raised, and if a decision to proceed is taken, this must be formalised and approved.

We note that Willie Young contacted ACC’s Monitoring Officer for advice – more on that appears later in this piece.

The question here is did no staff member or officer working on this project who were asking Young for approval as a private landowner think to raise any ethics/conflict of interest concerns?

Did no one question whether it was appropriate that ACC staff and resources were deployed to help private landowner Young (or his family) to obtain the SUSTRANS grant? Would this help be given to other private landowners who weren’t on the council?

We asked SUSTRANS to comment on the city’s ARS report which said:

“Sustrans funding would have been made available irrespective of who owned the affected land…”

We have have had no response as yet; this piece will be updated when they respond.

V) ACC recently-released email – The landowner has verbally given permission.

From mid-September 2016 it appears the city acted as if it were aware who owned the land – quite possibly they knew earlier looking at the leaked emails. Who is going to do the ‘rubber-stamping’ at ACC to approve this?

In a private organisation, seeking external sources of funding, issuing tenders and evaluating bids are meant to follow strict protocol, and any expenditure over a certain threshold is meant to be carefully scrutinized for internal control as well as external legal requirements.

Representatives of legal, finance and executive teams would all be expected to read detailed reports then either object or sign off before any such moves were made. This would extend from the first email sent to SUSTRANS through sealing the deal.

It is also noteworthy that the company initially appointed after the tender for the wall work went out of business and did not have much if any relevant experience. Perhaps Audit Scotland needs to visit Aberdeen’s procedures – again.

One further thought: a verbal agreement, in legal circles, is said to be ‘worth the paper it’s written on.’

VI) ACC recently-released emails from the latest FOI – How could the Head of Maintenance be ‘adamant’ there weren’t any funds? Couldn’t they have applied to Finance for either guidance on what to do or for more funds?

The path could have been closed until the new fiscal year opened – not ideal, but April was not that far off, either: during which time the mystery of who was responsible for the repair could have been determined.

Finance could have authorised emergency finance or an advance on the next quarter’s budget; You can think you have no funds for your department for important projects – but how can you be certain – or even ‘adamant’ you have no possibility of getting any finance without asking Finance to confirm?

In the private sector, such an approach would certainly lead to a member of the finance team asking the relevant questions – such as who owned the land.

VII) ACC recently-released email shows SUSTRANS awarding £200,000 on 25 November. Formal paperwork is coming – this will presumably require the landowner(s)’ signature(s). Who signed/approved for the landowner?

Young says:

Asked to comment to Aberdeen Voice on 14 October, Willie Young wrote (which was not received on the day, but re-sent when requested on 22 November):

“You ask if it was an ethical use of my position at ACC. As the freedom of information report and the Council enquiry report shows officers of the Council did not act within agreed protocols and this led to a situation where a report that should have come to committee did not appear.

“As for my position I was convener of the Finance committee and any report would have gone to the Communities, Housing and Infrastructure Committee not my committee so in answer to your question my ethics was never questioned by the Council nor was a matter ever passed to the Ethical Standards Commission, the monitoring officer for ACC is on record as saying that I did not have a conflict of interest.

“You ask when I disclosed to SUSTRANS that my family owned the wall, the answer to that is I never disclosed that my family owned the wall to SUSTRANS indeed this was not a matter for a Councillor it is a matter for the Council Officer.

“As the FOI shows the officer moved forward with discussions with SUSTRANS without involving Councillors. The Councils own report and the FOI clearly shows that the Council requested that this work was undertaken without speaking to the owner of the land and without being in a position to know who owned the land.

“Disappointingly this matter was not even discussed by Officers with the convener of Communities Housing and Infrastructure.  It was not for me to determine who owned the land it was for the Council to determine who owned the land and contact the land owner requesting permission.

“The report which went to council confirms the council failed both those tests.”

“In respect of your final question regard complaints I can categorically say without fear or favour that not one single person complained to me about the wall before or after Storm Gertrude.” 

The City’s Report should they have closed this case? Details hidden from public.

The Audit Risk and Scrutiny Committee reported on 26 September 2017 decided Young was ‘placed in a vulnerable position’; the Chief Executive apologised for this. This internal exercise resulted in a decision which reads in part:

6.18 “Sustrans funding would have been made available irrespective of who owned the affected land…”

4.67 “It was appropriate for Councillor Young to seek advice from the Monitoring Officer in order to address any perception that he was conflicted in his interests.”

4.68 “The Monitoring Officer has stated that based on the information available to him at the time, Councillor Young did not require to declare a conflict of interest because he had not been asked to make a decision as a Councillor on the works or the grant, but rather to provide his consent as a landowner.”

and paragraph 7.9 “Councillor Young’s actions did not contravene the ICT Acceptable Use Policy as the emails did not concern any confidential information, were not protectively marked, and had been addressed to Councillor Young.”

Questions arise:

6.18 quotes a claim that ‘SUSTRANS would have made the grant whoever owned the land’: Aberdeen Voice awaits SUSTRANS’ comment. Was a repair notice served on the land owner, if so when? Would a land owner approaching SUSTRANS have had to commission and pay for a detailed survey such as the one ACC had deployed resources to?

4.67, 4.68 – At what point did Young approach the Monitoring Officer – when did Young decide the perception of conflict existed and why did it exist for him? What did Young tell the Monitoring Officer that led to the conclusion there was no conflict of interest to address?

Did the Monitoring Officer proactively look at all the angles of this situation or just what Young presented to them? Why does the MO feel they have to say their conclusion was based on the information available to him at the time – has more information come to light, and if so, did it change this position?

7.9 – How is it ‘acceptable use’ of ACC computers, office and equipment to conduct business as a private landowner? These lines between councillor and landowner should never have been blurred. It is risible to think that using the address ‘Councillor’ automatically absolves Young.

Section 2 of the Audit Risk & Scrutiny report is withheld from the public for ‘data protection reasons.’

On the case: The ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal College’ Facebook page.

AV notes the Facebook page Stop the Desecration of Marischal College has been instrumental in researching the Wellington Brae saga. In the past it has shown that claims Mr Young made concerning the Marischal Square development were unfounded.

Young once claimed that if the unpopular project went ahead, the city would be penalised by developer MUSE to the tune of £100 million. Summoned to appear before the Standards Commission, he was cleared of lying on grounds the information given to him by officers was inaccurate.

Déjà vu. (Young apparently did not find the concept of a £100 million penalty to be extreme, and did not question the information he passed on to the public).

The ‘Stop the Desecration of Marischal College’ posted this summary on 22 November:

“Willie stated on Twitter today that no one from the council contacted the Wellington Brae landowner until August 2017. He added that it was shocking.

“What’s shocking Willie is between March 2106 and April 2017 you were aware the council had checked the land registry and believed (as per the records they obtained) that you were the landowner.

“What’s shocking is you were asked numerous times by various officers to confirm that you were the landowner and for whatever reason decided not to even though – as you said last week on this page – you were a lawyer by trade and skilled in commercial negotiations.

“What’s hard to believe, particularly after August 2016 when you were told Sustrans had agreed to fund £200,000 of repairs and after you were shown and asked to approve the landscaping of the land above the wall, that you didn’t mention this to your father over Sunday lunch.

“Knowing the wall’s maintenance was the landowner’s responsibility one might have thought a saving of £200,000 might be worth mentioning.

“What’s more the August 2017 contact date Willie assured is right, is in fact wrong. In April 2017 he confirmed to the BBC that his father owned the land in question.

“What is most interesting though is when asked if anyone was sacked Willie said ‘no, but they should have been.’

“There is little doubt the council’s governance could and should have been better but Willie has no one to blame but himself for not realising £200,000 of public funding to fix and landscape a wall and land his family owned would come back and bite him.

“To now publicly say officers should have been fired is not only a cheap shot but serves to minimise his own culpability in this whole sorry affair…”

  “You can’t help but feel if this had been anyone else’s wall the outcome would have been rather different.”

Nov 302020
 

When a stone wall in Wellington Brae started to crumble, Aberdeen City Council decided to arrange the repair work.

Rather than identifying the property owner and troubling them with a repairs notice, the cash-strapped city mysteriously decided to look to its own maintenance budget, and decided somehow that there were no funds.

Did those involved approach anyone connected with Finance to ask for emergency funding? Apparently not. Did they decide to determine who owned the land at that point and issue a repairs notice? Suzanne Kelly presents part one of a two part investigation.

As many Aberdeen homeowners can attest (including the writer), even a few slates falling off a roof or a damaged front garden wall can result in a warning letter from the city that repairs must be done.

The wall in question sat on privately-owned land and the stone wall collapse spilled over onto Wellington Brae cycle path: all the more reason why, some might think, a repairs notice should have been swiftly sent to the owners, who should have been identifiable from the Land Registry records.

This is the origin of ‘Wallgate’, a tale of council procedures being ignored, a simple matter of land ownership being hopelessly (unnecessarily) confused, leaked emails and more.

ACC officers first tried to identify and contact the property owners AFTER the money was sought from SUSTRANS the cycling/walking charity, on 3 February 2016.

Why didn’t ACC do what they have often done – identify the owners and hit them with a repairs notice?

The email author asserted that the cause of the wall crumbling was Storm Gertrude; others claim that the wall was in bad repair before then (Aberdeen Voice will try to find out whether any repair notices were served on the property, or whether any complaints had been made prior to the storm).

The city’s version of events can be found in this FOI (heavily redacted) and with comments in the Appendix to this two-part article.

As it transpired, then Finance Chief Councillor William Young apparently owned the wall – or maybe his dad – or maybe his wife – or maybe someone else.

For reasons hard to fathom, ‘Wall I Am’ was uncertain who owned the wall despite telling the press on 3 May 2017 he had sold property at Wellington Brae to his father in 1992, and despite apparently giving verbal permission for the repairs.

All will become clear – or not – shortly.

Whose Wall is It Anyway? – A time line.

Mr Young is adamant that he acted properly throughout. Would a lawyer and Councillor acting as Finance Chief/convener be expected to know whether or not he owns a property – or to act swiftly to find out whether he did if asked for permission to do with it?

If you sold your father land, would it slip your mind?

Here is a partial timeline showing dates of statements, sources, and who is apparently being treated as the landowner.

Much of this information has been published before, such as the leaked emails, but assembling this timeline illustrates how problematic all the conflicting ownership claims are, and the issues arising.

DateQuoteWho is said
to be the landowner?
IssuesSource
03/02/2016









‘WE have a problem’








EMAIL WORDED AS IF ABERDEEN CITY COUNCIL WERE RESPONSIBLE




Someone at ACC writes to SUSTRANS to ask for £250,000, wording the email as if the responsibility for repair had already been determined to be Aberdeen’s. The city’s later report does not appear to address this misrepresentation – a serious failing one might think. FOI-released email from ACC to SUSTRANS.






28/10/2016










“Following your conversation with our XX yesterday (27th October) re your verbal instruction to proceed with the works at Wellington Brae.”
WILLIAM YOUNG









Why did Willie give verbal instructions to proceed if he was as he said in 2017 unsure who owned it? Would a lawyer remotely risk acting like this? If he knew he was the landowner and was free to give these instructions, then he ‘misspoke’ in 2017 when he said officers ‘mistakenly believed’ he was the landowner.28/10/2016 Leaked Email 1.








00/00/00






















“A couple of months ago XX and myself [came] to see you about Wellington Brae. Please find attached. These show the extent of the works to be undertaken. My understanding from our meeting was that you would forward the plans to your solicitor to confirm whether you owned the area?”UNSURE






















Willie was to have checked with his solicitor and knew about the scheme ‘months ago’. If he acted promptly – and who wouldn’t to find out if they owned land or not? – then why is there still uncertainty to ownership implied in this email?














Leaked Email 2.





















00/00/00









“…we are looking for written confirmation that the works can proceed – can you reply with this confirmation?

WILLIAM YOUNG








How is the public supposed to know for certain which hat Young is wearing here, not least as he is taking meetings about privately-held land in his office by now according to the ACC report – land he is at points denying ownership of or expressing uncertainty whether he owns it?Leaked email 3. (To Cllr Young)







00/00/00









“… you would continue to be the legal landowner…”






WILLIAM YOUNG








AV has to ask why aren’t all the involved parties asking for complete cessation of negotiations until the question of ownership is 100% settled? If Mrs Young is also an owner as was claimed in the press subsequently, there is scarce evidence to show her approval was ever sought.Leaked email 3. (to Cllr Young)







26/04/2017














“The Land Register for Scotland lists William Young and his wife as landowners of the site.
Cllr Young said he was unsure who owned the land despite council officers telling him he was the land owner.
MR & MRS W YOUNG













Willie says he’s not sure who is the landowner; Land Register apparently says he and his wife are. Was Land Registry advised of the sale Willie made to his dad in 1992? What was the sale price? Were there any tax/stamp duty implications from the sale? Why was the Council not able to get this information?




Probe into £200,000 of public cash used ‘to fix Willie Young’s boundary wall’ – Evening Express






03/05/2017





















“The land in question does not belong to me. I sold land at Wellington Brae to my father, David Young, in 1992, and land in this area remains in his ownership.
“Late last year, I was approached by officers of the council, who mistakenly believed that land at Wellington Brae belonged to me.”
DAVID YOUNG





















This sale does not appear to be reflected in Land Registry records. We are meant to believe a man with a law degree did not know he owned the land and/or somehow the title transfer was not made.
Why would council officers have approached Young – through his councillor email/office – as being the owner?
Why didn’t Young immediately tell the officers he either wasn’t the owner or was unsure who was?






Willie Young confirms land at centre of row belongs to his dad
– Press and Journal
















03/05/2017



























“I told them I would ask my solicitor to check the title… and I have since confirmed that none of this land belongs either to Deeview Homes or to me personally.
“All I actually did was to respond to council officers who mistakenly believed I owned land there, to say that I was not sure of the position, and that I would ask my solicitor’s advice on the matter.
UNSURE



























While stating he sold land at Wellington Brae to his father in 1992, Young is simultaneously unsure about the title. ‘All he actually did’ also includes (according to ACC emails) giving verbal permission for work.




















Willie Young confirms land at centre of row belongs to his dad
– Press and Journal






















24/05/2017




















“The Council is in the process
of contacting the landowner to discuss the necessary agreements to access
and facilitate the works.”











UNSPECIFIED




















Eric Owens, Fraser Bell and Stephen Whyte reported to councillors requesting scheme approval. Councillors were presented with their report – without the ownership issue or Cllr Young’s potential ownership getting a mention. In private institutions this omission might be taken extremely seriously. As an aside, it is likely now a new fiscal year for ACC: would Maintenance still have had no budget? Why didn’t the report authors suggest getting the landowner to pay as an option? Councillors are often slated by the public, but they are only allowed to vote on what officers put before them.Wellington Brae – report to Communities, Housing & Infrastructure.















26/09/2017



















“Councillor Young did not require to declare a conflict of interest because he had not been asked to make a decision as a Councillor on the works or the grant, but rather to provide his consent as a landowner”



WILLIAM YOUNG
Willie Young referred to as landowner in this Audit Risk & Scrutiny report












Back to Square One: NB Willie had told the P&J on 3 May “Late last year, I was approached by officers of the council, who mistakenly believed that land at Wellington Brae belonged to me.”
Some would say the conflict arises precisely because Young is both a councillor and a private landowner, benefitting from council help with the estimate and securing finance as meetings were held in his council office and correspondence conducted through his council email. His title of Finance Convener, his position as a councillor all carried weight.
Aberdeen City Council ARS report

















14/10/2020



































“You ask when I disclosed to SUSTRANS that my family owned the wall, the answer to that is I never disclosed that my family owned the wall to SUSTRANS indeed this was not a matter for a Councillor it is a matter for the Council Officer. As the FOI shows the officer moved forward with discussions with SUSTRANS without involving Councillors.”










UNSURE



































If we accept the ARS finding that Willie was being contacted via his council email as the private landowner, it is unnecessary to talk about what his role was as a councillor. As a private landowner whose permission was required for the scheme (perfect word for it) went ahead, at some point SUSTRANS must have been made aware whose land it was they were putting c£250k of their money to work on and whether via intermediaries or not, Young must have been in the loop. Willie is right – councillors were not involved – but the landowner was – whoever that actually was. The landowner is mentioned in the 26 September email as having given verbal consent. The leaked emails show that Young was in the loop; the ARS report says he was giving his consent as landowner. If he never disclosed that ‘my family owned the wall to SUSTRANS’ it was nevertheless disclosed to the staff within ACC that ‘his family’ owned the land or they would not have sought his permission – permission which perhaps should have come from his father.Email to Suzanne Kelly from Willie Young 14 October 2020 (re-sent Nov 2020)





























Mr Young told AV:

“As the FOI (the most recent answered by ACC) shows the officer moved forward with discussions with SUSTRANS without involving Councillors.”

AV accepts this: what we have been questioning is who owned the land, why ACC was not pursuing the land owner to pay for the repairs, why Young was uncertain whether or not he owned land, and why he was being contacted as a private landowner (mistakenly or not) via his official ACC councillor email rather than a private one.

Aberdeen Voice continues this story in Part II – examining recently-released emails and leaked emails in further detail.

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