Man blames dog - and sheriff takes his lead

NOT quite a shaggy-dog story from Shetland, but it ranks up there with the old schoolboy excuse, "Please, sir, the dog ate my homework."

But a mutt did indeed take the rap at Lerwick Sheriff Court yesterday for a man breaching a tagging order imposed by the court earlier this year.

John Presley Neill, 24, told the court that his dog had chewed through the electronic tag attached to his ankle while he was asleep.

Amazingly, Sheriff Graeme Napier seemed to accept Neil's claim, but somehow never inquired if, by any chance, it was called Old Shep.

Neil had earlier blamed his hound-dog for causing the accident which landed him in court in the first place, for driving without due care and attention, in Lerwick last October.

At the time, he told the court that the dog had jumped into his lap while he was driving, causing him to collide with a crash barrier.

Sheriff Napier chose not to punish him for breaching his nine-month tagging order, and, in a judgment worthy of Solomon, made a scapegoat out of the dog - something Professor Ian Wilmut and the Roslin Institute haven't even been able to do.

Sheriff Napier added there should be no temptation for either man or dog to "get rid of the tag".

Neil said it would not be a problem: "I have now got rid of the dog."

• GORDON Brown seemed rather to enjoy toying with the boy George when the young Tory shadow chancellor had his first outing yesterday.

"It is always a pleasure to meet a new shadow chancellor," Gordon grinned. "I have welcomed seven so far."

Brown wished former shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin well, as "he has chosen to spend more time with his merchant bank".

Meanwhile, someone must have a word with George Osborne (13). He referred to Ed Balls, MP for Normanton, as Gordon's "mini-me", whereas everyone knows that's Nigel. Young Osborne has some distance to go to match Michael Heseltine's magisterial dismissal of another New Labour economic wheeze. "It's not Brown, it's Balls."

• SO MUCH for the touchy-feely Scottish Parliament, with its consensual chamber as opposed to Westminster's combative benches.

MSPs are being offered free lessons in the art of axe-throwing. Not at Holyrood, but at the Scottish Treefest on 12 June.

The parliamentary hack-pack, especially sketch-writers like our own Fordyce Maxwell, should watch their backs. But you never know, it might be just the thing to finally split the coalition.

When the choke was on Ewan

EWAN McGregor, unlike shyer actors, not only has a propensity to get his "nadgers out", as he himself has so succinctly put it, but he positively revels in it.

However, Ewan has surprised cinematologists somewhat with his confession about the most emotional, if unerotic, scene so far in his career. Curiously, it was not with leading ladies such as Nicole Kidman but during the Stars Wars saga.

Ewan admits he got "carried away", with not a nadger to be seen, and became "choked up" during a scene with the dustbin-like robot, R2D2. And here were we thinking Michael Jackson was weird.

But Ewan pointed out: "He made me remember what it was like to be seven and watching those films. It was quite a moment."

Before we sink even further into the mire of Neverland, let's move on to a further confession that riding round the world on a motorbike was not as hairy as his Star Wars appearance. His bouffant beard in the new film has attracted unfavourable reviews. "It's not a big, fluffy beard really, more like a goatee," protests the ever-youthful Ewan, who somehow has to show that Obi Wan Kenobi is ageing towards Alec Guinness.

Why they're Poles apart

THE rearranged seminar organised by the Scottish Parliament's Cross Party Group on the Scottish Economy on "Is Scotland an attractive place to live and work?" finally took place yesterday. (The last one was postponed because of strike action by civil servants.)

One of the highpoints was when Alex Neil explained that he had a friend, a senior director in a Scottish construction company, who had recently recruited builders from Poland. Alex asked him why he had gone to Poland to recruit builders.

There were three reasons: First, the Poles showed up to work the day after an Old Firm match.

Second, the Poles turned up to work on a Friday even if they had been paid on a Thursday.

And third, the Poles didn't say they would work until 7:30 in the evening but actually finish at six and then have to come in and work on a Saturday.

• SENTIMENTAL Stalinists can be reassured that the spirit of Uncle Joe still lives on in the former Soviet states. Scotland Under 21's upcoming fixture with Belarus will take place in ... the Tractor Stadium.

Jay high-fives the jury

THEY are obviously less formal in Californian courts than in, say, Shetland. Our man in Hollywood tells us that Jay Leno was high-fiving with the jury at the Michael Jackson trial.

The chat-show host's respect for the law was unabridged as he regaled viewers later on that evening on the Tonight show about his experience as a witness. "There was one kinda embarrassing moment. When I took the stand, they asked me to point out the defendant and I pointed out LaToya," Jay joshed, referring to Jacko's sister (above).

Jay also dismissed rumours that Jackson might leave the country, perhaps for Africa, if acquitted.

"He wants to disappear in Africa? Africa? He has a better chance of disappearing in Sweden."

As always, he signed off in the best possible taste. "Well, after - what? - 12 weeks of trial, Michael Jackson's attorneys have finally admitted that Michael slept with children but it was about love, not sex.

"It just goes to prove that that line works for all guys."

Tommy on course to miss Hampden

AFTER last weekend's denouement in Motherwell and Leith, Tommy Gemmell, of Lisbon Lion fame, has understandably decided to spend Saturday in Musselburgh rather than at Hampden. The only Scot to score in two European cup finals, Tommy will watch the other Scottish Cup at Musselburgh Racecourse, the 60,000 VC Bet Scottish Sprint Cup.

Meanwhile, a sign of the footballing times when there are so few Tommy Gemmells around. A "No Ball Games" sign has been erected on the green in Menoch Drive, Kingspark, Glasgow, outside the home of the late Jock Stein (right). Sacrilege.

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