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Alex Salmond used taxpayers' money to fund a "political vanity project", Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander has claimed.

The First Minister announced this week that he had referred himself to the independent panel of advisers on the Scottish Ministerial Code on his stance on legal advice over an independent Scotland's future in Europe.

A row erupted after Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed the SNP administration had only recently commissioned specific legal advice on the issue when Mr Salmond appeared to suggest such advice had been taken in an earlier television interview with the BBC's Andrew Neil.

MEP Catherine Stihler had previously submitted a Freedom of Information request to try to ascertain what legal advice, if any, had been given to the Scottish Government. Ministers took the case to the Court of Session to try to prevent the release of any information.

Speaking on the BBC's Sunday Politics Show, Mr Alexander said there are "immediate questions" for Mr Salmond to answer.

He said: "I think he has to answer the question why it was that he allowed thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money to be invested in paying lawyers to prepare a court case to prevent him releasing legal advice that it turned out didn't exist on Scotland's EU (European Union) membership.

"I think his accounting officer has questions to answer too. After all, there are rules about public finances in this country which means that you shouldn't just waste taxpayers' money on politicians' vanity projects. This is one of the most extraordinary episodes we've seen so far."

The First Minister said on Thursday that he would accept the findings of the investigation and hoped all MSPs would do the same. Mr Salmond added that the ministerial code had previously prevented him from saying whether or not his Government had sought legal advice on the matter.

A spokesman for the First Minister said: "Labour has form for rejecting the findings of ministerial code investigations. There have been five investigations since the SNP came to power. In each case, the First Minister was found not to have breached the code yet Labour either failed to accept the outcome or explicitly rejected the findings."

Scottish Conservative chief whip John Lamont said: "This row is not going to go away for the First Minister, no matter how hard he twists and turns. Referring himself for investigation is merely a smokescreen to deflect from the fact he has been less than straight with the Scottish people on whether a separate Scotland would automatically become part of the EU."

Salmond in 'vanity project' row

Alex Salmond used taxpayers' money to fund a "political vanity project", Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander has claimed.

The First Minister announced this week that he had referred himself to the independent panel of advisers on the Scottish Ministerial Code on his stance on legal advice over an independent Scotland's future in Europe.

A row erupted after Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon revealed the SNP administration had only recently commissioned specific legal advice on the issue when Mr Salmond appeared to suggest such advice had been taken in an earlier television interview with the BBC's Andrew Neil.

MEP Catherine Stihler had previously submitted a Freedom of Information request to try to ascertain what legal advice, if any, had been given to the Scottish Government. Ministers took the case to the Court of Session to try to prevent the release of any information.

 

Anti-terror officers are investigating the theft of a cargo of munitions from a freight train.

Ten packages containing what are reported to be anti-tank mines used by British troops in Afghanistan were believed to have been stolen while the train stopped in Warrington, Cheshire.

The North West Counter Terrorism Unit (NWCTU) say it does not believe at this stage the theft was terror-related. The Ministry of Defence-owned munitions do not pose a risk to the public unless they are tampered with, added the NWCTU.

Three of the packages, each with four separate plastic cases inside, remain outstanding after the other seven were found discarded near a railway line in the Folley Lane area of Warrrington.

The train left Longtown, Cumbria, at 11.30am on Wednesday and arrived at Didcot, Oxfordshire, where they were reported missing the next morning.

Officers are now appealing to anyone who may have seen the outstanding items to contact police. They are described as being rectangular plastic tubes, approximately 4ft (1.2 metres) in length. A co-ordinated investigation led by the NWCTU also includes the Metropolitan Police Service, British Transport Police and the MoD.

Assistant Chief Constable Terry Sweeney, from the NWCTU, said: "A number of inquiries are now being made by police officers into this theft and our main priority is to safely recover the missing items. At this stage there is nothing to suggest the theft is terrorist-related but due to the potential complexity of the investigation our inquiries are being led by counter terrorism officers.

 

Veterans of the Battle of El Alamein have gathered for a special service to mark its 70th anniversary.

The evensong at Westminster Abbey in London marked seven decades since the battle in North Africa, which was widely hailed as the turning point in the Second World War.

Around 40 British and Australian veterans, many of whom are now in their 90s, were part of a 500-strong congregation to honour those who fought in the 14-day battle.

More than 4,000 Allied servicemen lost their lives and almost 9,000 were wounded in the combat that saw General Sir Bernard Montgomery's troops defeat German general Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps.

Addressing the congregation, Chief of the General Staff Sir David Richards said: "The Battle of El Alamein was a turning point in the Allied fortunes in the Second World War, a victory that Churchill referred to as a bright gleam that caught the helmets of the soldiers, and cheered all our hearts.

"Men from all three services played their part, not least those from my own regiment, the Royal Artillery. I am very proud to be here today, paying tribute to them, and their example of courage and professionalism which today's armed forces constantly strive to live up to."

A statistics watchdog is investigating claims the Prime Minister breached rules by hinting that good news can be expected in Thursday's GDP figures.

Labour said David Cameron's assertion in the Commons that positive signs on the economy "will keep coming" was a clear reference to the keenly-awaited numbers.

They are widely expected to show that the UK economy has left recession by returning to growth after shrinking for three quarters in succession.

Selected ministers and senior officials get 24 hours' advance sight of sensitive official data - a practice the head of the UK Statistics Authority (UKSA) wants to ban or restrict.

A spokesman for the watchdog said it had received a number of queries about the Prime Minister's words, adding: "We are going to look into it."

 

The publisher of the Daily Mirror and The People has seen its shares fall nearly 10% after it emerged that claims of alleged phone hacking had been lodged against its newspapers.

Media lawyer Mark Lewis is dealing with phone hacking claims for four high-profile individuals in the first action to be launched against newspapers outside Rupert Murdoch's News International.

Former England football manager Sven-Goran Eriksson has filed a complaint alleging hacking at the Daily Mirror at a time when Piers Morgan was editor. Mr Morgan has repeatedly denied any involvement in the practice.

The three other claimants are Coronation Street actress Shobna Gulati, Abbie Gibson, a former nanny for the Beckham family, and Garry Flitcroft, the former captain of Blackburn Rovers football team, and they involve the Sunday Mirror and The People.

Parent company Trinity Mirror, which saw around £17 million wiped from its market value after the allegations emerged, said it had "not yet received any claims nor have we been provided with any substantiation for those claims".

It added: "As we have previously stated, all our journalists work within the criminal law and the Press Complaints Commission Code of Conduct."

 

West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Sir Norman Bettison "boasted" about smearing Liverpool fans in the aftermath of the Hillsborough disaster, a senior Labour MP has claimed.

Shadow transport secretary Maria Eagle claimed Sir Norman, who was a chief inspector with South Yorkshire Police at the time of the 1989 tragedy, revealed he had been asked to help "concoct" the force's version of events.

She used parliamentary privilege to make the allegations which were based on new evidence from a witness who discussed the disaster with Sir Norman.

Ms Eagle, a Merseyside MP, said Sir Norman had "always denied any involvement in the dirty tricks campaign". But she alleged he was behind the "black propaganda" campaign.

She quoted from a letter from John Barry, who was at Hillsborough for the FA Cup semi-final tie that led to the death of 96 Liverpool fans. The letter, written in 1998 to a solicitor for the Hillsborough Family Support Group, was copied to Ms Eagle in 2009 and she has been given permission to make it public.

Ms Eagle said Mr Barry was studying part-time at Sheffield Business School where one of his fellow students was a "middle-ranking police officer".

 

A police force already under scrutiny over its role in the Hillsborough disaster has said it will consider whether it will review its role in prosecutions arising out of the 1984 Miners' Strike.

A BBC documentary, due to broadcast on Monday night, features allegations that some police involved in prosecutions following the infamous violence at the Orgreave coking plant colluded when they wrote their statements.

The Inside Out programme has investigated the events following the arrest of more than 90 people at the plant in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, which saw some of the most shocking and memorable scenes of the year-long dispute.

Those charged with riot were later cleared after doubts were raised about police evidence.

The BBC said it has obtained copies of about 100 police witness statements which programme makers say show the extent to which officers used identical phrases to describe what they had seen.

Former Labour MP Vera Baird QC, who represented Orgreave miners in court, said: "I was frankly shocked by Orgreave. By the deliberate nature of putting together this case." Another barrister, Mark George QC, told the BBC: "It's very obvious in the Orgreave case that there was widespread collusion."

David Cameron has come under fire from fellow Conservatives in the aftermath of the drawn-out controversy over Andrew Mitchell's foul-mouthed confrontation with Downing Street police.

In a blow to the Prime Minister, who had backed his chief whip to remain in post, Mr Mitchell finally quit on Friday night after realising the row had cost him his authority among Tory MPs. The decision came at the end of a week of conversations with parliamentary colleagues in which many made clear they felt he had to go.

Home Secretary Theresa May would not deny on Sunday that she had been one of those telling him to resign, although hostility from a significant section of the newer 2010 intake of Tory MPs appears to have been as important to his decision as the views of Cabinet ministers.

Ministers hoped that Mr Mitchell's resignation would at last draw a line under the issue but criticism emerged on Sunday of Mr Cameron's handling of the issue and of the sense that the Government is lurching from one poorly-managed embarrassment to another.

Mr Mitchell's resignation came hours after Chancellor George Osborne was accused of trying to sit in a first-class rail carriage with a standard ticket, and in the same week Mr Cameron announced a fuel bill policy that his energy ministers appeared to know nothing about.

Conservative peer Lord Tebbit said the Government had allowed an impression of incompetence to set in. Writing in The Observer, the Thatcherite former minister said: "This dog of a coalition government has let itself be given a bad name and now anybody can beat it.

 

A jury trying Metropolitan Police Constable Alex MacFarlane, who admitted calling a black suspect a "n*****", has been discharged after failing to reach a verdict.

The defendant, a policeman for 18 years, was charged with causing racially aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress to Mauro Demetrio, 22.

The officer, 53, admitted telling Demetrio: "The problem with you is you will always be a n*****."

But he claimed it was not intended as racist abuse and he only used the term - which was recorded on the suspect's mobile - because Demetrio had done so first as he was taken into custody on suspicion of drink or drug-driving in east London on August 11 last year.

The jury of five men and seven women at Southwark Crown Court retired to consider its verdict on Wednesday.

After more than a day's deliberation, the jury foreman told Judge Michael Gledhill QC there was no manoeuvrability on reaching a verdict. The case will be retried on Monday with a new jury.

The trial had heard that Demetrio had become "abusive" to officers after he claimed to have been strangled and pushed up against the window of a police van following his arrest.

Demetrio was not charged following the arrest. He used his mobile phone to record the exchange with officers.

Ministers have been requested to face the Commons over the Prime Minister's surprise announcement on energy bills.

Commons Speaker John Bercow has granted shadow energy secretary Caroline Flint an urgent question on the plans, which Labour said are "unravelling by the minute".

David Cameron announced during Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday that energy companies would be required in law to give customers the cheapest available deal.

However, there was little detail about how such a scheme would work and the Department for Energy and Climate Change appeared to have been taken by surprise by the announcement.

"This is a policy unravelling by the minute," a Labour source said.