• Catholic policeman's 1977 murder linked to UVF
    News
    The Guardian

    Catholic policeman's 1977 murder linked to UVF

    Teenagers throwing stones at the British Army during the Troubles in 1976. Sgt Joseph Campbell was killed the following year. Photograph: Alex Bowie/Getty ImagesThe unsolved murder of a Catholic policeman shot dead in Northern Ireland more than 40 years ago has been linked to a loyalist paramilitary group responsible for some of the worst atrocities of the Troubles.At the preliminary hearing of a legacy inquest into the 1977 killing of Sgt Joseph Campbell in Belfast on Thursday, a solicitor representing the Police Ombudsman told Justice Siobhan Keegan she would be disclosing files of sensitive material to the coroner’s office to assist their inquiry into the murder of Royal Ulster Constabulary sergeant and father of eight Joseph Campbell.Louisa Fee said the material had been gathered during Operation Newham, the ombudsman’s investigation into the activities of the mid-Ulster UVF and the Glenanne Gang, a loyalist terror group that included several members of British security forces and has been linked to 120 murders including the Miami Showband massacre.Rosemary Campbell, the police officer’s 84-year-old widow, has been campaigning for 40 years for government agencies to reveal details of her husband’s death. She told the Guardian she is hopeful the inquiry will finally deliver justice to the family.“It has been a horrible 42 years. It will be ground-breaking just to get the details of the truth. Everyone has a right to know how their loved one died,” Campbell said.Campbell was shot outside Cushendall police station on 25 February 1977. He had been warned in threatening phone calls that his life was at risk, and fellow police officers told senior figures in the RUC that loyalist paramilitaries had targeted him to be killed. Two murder investigations have failed to find his killer.The attorney general ordered a fresh inquiry into the murder in 2016 after being presented with evidence in a police ombudsman’s report that concluded Campbell’s murder could have been prevented by senior RUC commanders. The ombudsman also reported that his investigation was impeded by a lack of police cooperation.“My investigation was hampered by both the refusal of a number of retired senior police officers to cooperate and the loss of police documentation,” the ombudsman, Michael Maguire, wrote in 2014.“Police failed to act on information available to them and by doing so placed Sgt Campbell’s life in danger.”Maguire’s report states that “much of the investigative activity associated with this tragic event has been corrupted” before concluding he could not uphold the Campbell family’s complaint that police suppressed evidence indicating that the gunman was prolific loyalist killer and British military intelligence and Special Branch agent Robin Jackson, assisted by RUC officers. Jackson has been named as a key member of the Glenanne Gang.“The public interest in this case cannot be overstated,” said Fearghál Shiels, the solicitor representing the Campbell family.Jackson, known as The Jackal, is thought to have been responsible for more than 100 murders of mostly Catholic civilians. He was never brought in for questioning in relation to Campbell’s murder and died of cancer at his home in 1998.The Campbell inquest is one of more than 50 legacy inquest cases into almost 100 killings currently under way in Northern Ireland, which the lord chief justice Sir Declan Morgan has committed £55m to deal with over six years. The presiding coroner Justice Siobhan Keegan is currently holding preliminary hearings on all outstanding legacy cases to consider their readiness for hearing.Rosemary Campbell is separately suing the Police Service of Northern Ireland for its failure to prevent her husband’s death.“So much evidence has been hidden, papers have gone missing but at a public inquest surely some of this evidence will have to come out,” RosemaryCampbell said.Assistant chief constable, George Clarke, told the Guardian that the PSNI will cooperate fully with the coroner’s inquest“We [have] acknowledged that there were significant shortcomings in the RUC handling of information prior to the murder and in both subsequent police investigations into Sergeant Campbell’s murder. We have previously apologised for that and reiterate that apology.”The preliminary hearings of legacy cases will continue until 4 October.

  • Downing Street rejects Macron's two-week deadline for Brexit plan
    News
    The Guardian

    Downing Street rejects Macron's two-week deadline for Brexit plan

    Stephen Barclay said the ‘purist’ EU would have to ‘take risks’ with the Irish border for a deal to be struck. Photograph: Europa Press News/Europa Press via Getty ImagesDowning Street has refused to commit to tabling its Brexit plans for replacing the backstop within two weeks, branding it an “artificial deadline” despite a warning from the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, of the urgent need to bridge a wide gap between the two sides.A UK government spokesman said it would not recognise France and Finland’s joint request for a deadline of the end of September and would only table firm proposals when Boris Johnson was ready.Johnson was previously challenged in mid-August by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to come up with a solution within 30 days but the UK has not tabled anything concrete in the last month – with just six weeks to go before the UK is due to leave the EU.Varadkar warned on Thursday that for all the “positivity” in London in favour of a deal, “when it comes to the substance of the issue that needs to be resolved, the gaps are still very wide”.He was overheard telling a member of the public that he would see Johnson in New York for the UN general assembly and “try to get a deal”.A UK government spokesman said: “We have been having detailed discussions with the commission’s Taskforce 50 in recent weeks.“We have now shared in written form a series of confidential technical non-papers which reflect the ideas the UK has been putting forward. We will table formal written solutions when we are ready, not according to an artificial deadline, and when the EU is clear that it will engage constructively on them as a replacement for the backstop.”In response, EU officials warned that there seemed to be little appreciation in London of the lack of time available before the crunch summit on 17 October where any agreement would need to be signed off by the heads of state and government. “We are just going round and round,” said one EU source.Until this week, the UK had only formally presented versions of the withdrawal agreement with the backstop scrubbed out, while discussing its ideas informally in meetings.The government presented three “non-papers” on a single Irish agrizone, customs and industrial goods. Such documents are a way of floating proposals for discussion without the government committing to any position. Speaking to business leaders in Madrid, Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, said that the “purist” EU would have to “take risks” with the Irish border for a deal to be struck.As the government announced that he would visit Brussels on Friday to reopen talks with the EU’s chief negotiator, Barclay warned that “a rigid approach now at this point is no way to progress a deal” and that “the responsibility sits with both sides to find a solution”.“We are committed to carving out a landing zone and we stand ready to share relevant texts’”, he said. “But it must be in the spirit of negotiation with flexibility and with a negotiating partner that itself is willing to compromise.”He continued: “Great political leaders have always respected the need to take risks. Indeed it was General de Gaulle who said a true statesman is one who is willing to take risks.“Yet a refusal by the commission to accept any risk would be a failure of statecraft, and put at risk the future relationship of the UK and the EU because of a lack of flexibility, creativity and indeed pragmatism. Leadership requires more than remaining within a safety net.”The British government’s version of Brexit involves the UK ultimately leaving the single market and customs union, requiring the return of a range of checks on goods crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The “backstop” is intended as a standstill placeholder to ensure such checks do not have to be imposed between Brexit happening with a deal, and the start of a new free trade agreement yet to be negotiated between the UK and the EU.Theresa May's withdrawal agreement proposed keeping the whole of the UK in a shared customs territory with the EU during this period. An alternative idea involves only Northern Ireland staying in the EU’s customs territory. That would place a customs border in the Irish Sea. May described it as a threat to the constitutional integrity of the UK, but the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, has opened the current talks by proposing an all-Ireland agri-food zone. The suggestion is that he will seek to quietly build on that with further NI-only arrangements.Given an NI-only backstop was an EU proposal in the first place, the U-turn would be warmly welcomed in Brussels, although attempts to give the Northern Ireland assembly a veto on its continuation would not be acceptable, and the DUP would be unlikely to support the prime minister in such a move in parliament.If there is a no-deal Brexit, then there is no backstop.Daniel BoffeyThe two sides have starkly different visions of what the withdrawal agreement and the Irish protocol need to guarantee.The EU wants an arrangement that will secure frictionless trade on the island of Ireland to maintain the status quo, while the UK has sketched out a plan in which some checks on goods would be necessary, albeit facilitated by technology.Barclay described the EU approach as “purist” in seeking “to have no impact on the island of Ireland economy or north-south trade”.“This could only be achieved through never leaving parts of the single market and customs union, for any checks would fall foul of an alternative that involves no checks at all,” he said. “This is a false test.”The UK is proposing Northern Ireland stays under EU rules for agri-food but that there would otherwise be two regulatory zones on the island of Ireland.Barclay went on to say that the appropriate time for fleshing out how technology and facilitated customs systems would work to ensure peace and the smooth running of the all-Ireland economy was during the standstill transition period up to the end of 2020 after the UK had formally left the EU.Barclay, who has not held talks in Brussels since July, said the EU needed to recognise the “political reality in the UK”.He said: “The alternative to the backstop is not necessary until the end of the implementation period, which is December 2020.“Indeed this will be shaped by the future relationship, which is still to be determined. In short, why risk crystallising an undesirable result this November when both sides can work together until December 2020.”The Irish backstop proposed by the EU would in effect keep Northern Ireland in the single market and the whole of the UK in a shared customs territory until a future trade deal was negotiated that could avoid the need for border checks.Barclay said: “The EU risks continuing to insist on a test that the UK cannot meet and that the UK parliament has rejected three times.”He insisted that despite the Benn bill, which instructs the prime minister to seek and agree an extension of the UK’s membership of the EU beyond 31 October if a deal is not agreed, that this was “not an option for this government”.The Brexit secretary said the government would abide by the law but that “we will look at it closely and test exactly where we are”.

  • Concerns raised over prosecution of trafficked British children
    News
    The Guardian

    Concerns raised over prosecution of trafficked British children

    Children’s commissioner to talk with CPS about cases of young victims being charged rather protected. The children’s commissioner is raising concerns with the Crown Prosecution Service about young victims of human trafficking being prosecuted rather than protected, following a Guardian investigation. Anne Longfield said she would be speaking with the CPS about young British victims of human trafficking being charged and prosecuted contrary to guidelines. The Guardian’s findings came as part of an investigation into teenagers and children who have been forced to sell drugs in so-called county lines operations. The report identified a series of cases where the CPS has continued to take action against British children and young adults despite having a positive decision from the national referral mechanism (NRM). A referral designates them as a victim of human trafficking, or as strongly suspected of being a victim of human trafficking. Longfield said that at the moment the CPS does not have the balance right in terms of prosecutions of those exploiting children and organising serious crime, without penalising child victims. “I am very concerned about reports I’ve received from across the criminal justice system of more children being prosecuted despite an NRM decision to treat them as trafficked children, and yet I still come across cases where there are lots of warning signs but no referral has been made and the child is simply treated as a criminal,” she said. “Ultimately, the children involved in county lines, even where they’ve committed offences, are often the most vulnerable in society.” Her office said it had come across examples of action taken against children who have been given positive NRM decisions. It said there were more children in youth prisons because of this, adding that delays on NRM decisions were also making things difficult. Additionally, her office called for more legal proceedings against adults in these cases. A Guardian investigation found evidence that a teenage boy with a learning disability was prosecuted. He was convicted after being found in possession of drugs, despite the police finding threatening text messages on his mobile phones that showed he was being instructed by someone else. After he served his sentence, he was referred to the NRM and got a positive decision. The gang had, however, found and re-trafficked the boy. He was arrested again for offences relating to their drug-dealing operation. Despite the positive NRM decision and repeatedly explaining to the police the same gang had forced him to commit the offence, the CPS pursued a prosecution, but he was acquitted. James Simmonds-Read, of the Children’s Society’s exploitation prevention programme, said the decisions were the result of ignorance and bad judgement. The CPS has been approached for comment.

  • Charges dropped against man accused of PC Andrew Harper murder
    News
    The Guardian

    Charges dropped against man accused of PC Andrew Harper murder

    PC Andrew Harper died on 15 August. Photograph: Thames Valley Police/PAA 20-year-old man accused of killing the police officer Andrew Harper has had the murder charge against him dropped after spending a month in custody.Prosecutors said they were no longer pursing the case against Jed Foster, from Burghfield in Berkshire, who was arrested within an hour of Harper’s death on 15 August and charged four days later.On Wednesday, three teenagers were charged with Harper’s murder. Henry Long, 18, from Mortimer in Reading, and two 17-year-old boys, who cannot be named because of their age, appeared at Reading magistrates court on Thursday.They, along with Thomas King, 21, from Basingstoke, are also accused of conspiracy to steal a quad bike.The area’s chief crown prosecutor, Jaswant Narwal, said: “The CPS has discontinued the case against Jed Foster, 20, in relation to the ongoing investigation into PC Harper’s death in Berkshire. The CPS has now reviewed a full file of evidence from the police and concluded that there is not a realistic prospect of conviction. “The decision to charge Mr Foster was taken on the threshold test which is applied when a full file of evidence is not available.”Speaking outside court following his first appearance, Foster’s lawyer, Rob Jacques, said: “On behalf of him and his family he emphatically denies any responsibility or involvement in the horrific murder of PC Andrew Harper.”Foster’s mother, Jolene Hannington, protested her son’s innocence shortly after he was charged. She wrote on social media: “We will fight this and hopefully someone that knows the truth will come forward and tell the truth or live the rest of their lives knowing they let an innocent boy go away for something he didn’t do.”Harper, 28, who had recently got married, was killed near the village of Sulhamstead in Berkshire when he was dragged under a van while responding to reports of a burglary.

  • Parliament apologises for photographing rough sleepers
    News
    The Guardian

    Parliament apologises for photographing rough sleepers

    Contractor took photos of homeless people as they slept near palace of Westminster. Parliament has apologised to a group of rough sleepers who bed down close to the palace of Westminster after taking individual photos of them without their permission while they slept. About 20 people sleep rough in and around the tunnels connecting parliament to Westminster tube station. They woke last Friday to find a cleaning contractor employed by the parliamentary estate taking photographs of them. One man, a 45-year-old from Latvia who works on a building site, said he was astonished to be woken up by someone taking photographs. “A manager deliberately came and took photos of us while we were sleeping. There were about six of us sleeping upstairs and 12 of us downstairs,” he said. “We were so shocked about this. Downstairs in the tunnel leading to parliament is the best place in London for rough sleepers to sleep. It’s warm and it’s safe because there are lots of cameras around here. I don’t understand why pictures of us were being made. This was a proper mistake. We know they want to move us out and maybe that’s why they were taking our photos.” A House of Commons spokesperson said: “We apologise for any distress caused; this should not have happened and has been immediately stopped.” The homeless people previously all slept in one tunnel but the parliamentary estate effectively evicted them last month by installing shutters to mark parliament’s new boundary following a transfer of land from Transport for London. The new shutters prevented the group from sleeping there, so they are now spread out in various areas nearby. The House of Commons spokesperson did not explain why its contractors had taken photos of individual rough sleepers. “It’s a human rights breach to take photos of us while we’re sleeping,” said another member of the group of rough sleepers. “By moving us from the part of the tunnel we were sleeping in before, they’ve actually made the problem worse. Previously we were in one place; now people are sleeping in different places close to parliament. They want to get rid of us but I don’t know where they expect us to go. Parliament is empty at the moment because it has been suspended. Maybe we can all move in there for a few weeks!” It is understood that the parliamentary estate has instructed its contractor to stop the practice of taking photos of individual rough sleepers immediately and that all images of rough sleepers have been deleted after the Guardian raised the issue. There is concern among the rough sleepers about possible police and immigration enforcement activity. Previously the homeless charity St Mungo’s has worked with Home Office immigration enforcement teams to identify non-British rough sleepers, who in some cases were subsequently deported. A spokesperson for the Public Interest Law Centre, which brought a successful legal challenge against the Home Office policy to round up migrant rough sleepers, said: “There is a long history of criminalisation and enforcement against homeless people in and around Westminster. This incident further shows how authorities treat homeless people with contempt, dehumanising their very existence in the process. This government has promoted austere and hostile policies which have caused an exponential rise in homelessness and an increase in enforcement measures.” A spokesperson for the Labour Homelessness Campaign said: “Working closely with the Westminster rough sleepers, I know this is just the latest step in a trend of parliament refusing to treat rough sleepers with the most basic respect as human beings. If even parliament, with the eyes of the country on it, won’t guarantee any fundamental rights of homeless members of our community, that’s a sign of how unequal our society is in every respect.” Rough sleeping in the London borough of Westminster increased by 16% between April 2018 and March 2019. During that period, outreach workers recorded 2,512 people sleeping rough, compared with 2,165 the previous year. Last year two rough sleepers were found dead in underpasses near parliament.

  • Separating conjoined twins is a stressful, high-risk operation. It's why I went into medicine
    News
    The Guardian

    Separating conjoined twins is a stressful, high-risk operation. It's why I went into medicine

    For Dr Jane Herod, separating 19-month-old sisters Safa and Marwa Ullah was a complicated but amazing experience. I’ve been involved in thousands of operations as an anaesthetist, but none like the one that started on a seemingly ordinary Monday morning back in February. I was part of the team at Great Ormond Street hospital that separated very rare craniopagus (joined at the head) conjoined twins. I first heard about the case around a year ago. A pair of twins from Chārsadda, Pakistan had been born fused at the head, which is an incredibly rare condition. We got funding for the operation and the girls, Safa and Marwa Ullah, came over to London for treatment when they were 19 months old. It was a six-month process, with three major operations, to separate them. Conjoined twins are always rare, and ones who are joined at the head even more so. They’re really challenging cases and it’s a good opportunity for us at the hospital to work as a team. We were dealing with two patients rather than one, and it was a massive undertaking. More than 100 people were involved – from the nursing staff on the ward to those in the theatre, anaesthetic staff, healthcare assistants, radiographers, radiologists, the people who make the 3D models, medical physicists and more. The operation to separate conjoined twins is very high-risk. If they’re joined at the head, one twin has most blood vessels going into the head, while the other one has a lot of drainage. All the connections have to be divided separately and over a period of time, so the twins can develop a circulation for themselves. Before the last operation I felt a massive sense of anticipation and got an early night. I knew it was going to be a long, busy day and I wasn’t sure what time I’d be back home. We start work at 7.30am, and not one of those operations finished before 1.30am the next morning. One of them lasted for 24 hours. People who have never worked for 24 hours can’t understand how you concentrate for that long, but the human body is amazing. Your natural adrenalin keeps you going: it’s not sustainable for any longer and you can’t do mundanity for that amount of time, but this was a one-off occasion. A couple of nurses and I shared a cab home and we were monosyllabic; the next day I was absolutely exhausted. When the twins arrived in the theatre for the final operation they each had their own team looking after them. Everything from the outfits to equipment was colour coordinated, with red for one twin and blue for the other. Their mother said her farewells knowing that when she next saw them it would be 10pm and she would hopefully have two healthy, completely separate children. When you do an operation that you’ve done many times before you know what’s going on. This, though, was a new experience for most of us and the tension in the operating theatre was high. During the very long operation, there was one point in the middle of the night where one of the twins became very unstable and had a really strange heartbeat for about 45 minutes. That was stressful. If they went on to have a cardiac arrest and died, the other one would also die. That was very hairy and we sent the surgeons away until we reached a period of stability. I was thinking: ‘I really, really, really hope we get through this. I hope we’re not going to lose them. That would be devastating, just awful.’ Luckily they became stable again and we got the surgical team back in. When the last connection between the twins was separated there were two individual patients, and each twin was no longer dependent on the other for their survival. It was a momentous, amazing moment and the whole room felt it. It was a very weird feeling when I saw these children who came as a unit now as two individual people. As soon as they were separate, the surgeon put a swab on the open wound and they were transferred to another operating theatre. Everyone had this feeling of real excitement, awe and amazement. The twins’ day was done and they wouldn’t wake up until the next morning, but there was one important thing left for me to do. I walked into the family room to tell the mother everything was fine. She cried, which is understandable – we were all emotional. Her husband died when she was pregnant and it must be very difficult to be the parent of any sick child, let alone in another country where you don’t speak the language. This type of operation is not something you do every day. The NHS is quite a hard place to work at the moment and being able to do this was such a wonderful thing. This is what I came into medicine for and I’m so lucky to do this as a job. If you would like to contribute to our Blood, sweat and tears series about experiences in healthcare, read our guidelines and get in touch by emailing sarah.johnson@theguardian.com Guardian Jobs: see the latest vacancies in healthcare

  • John Major's lawyer attacks No 10 prorogation claims as 'misleading'
    News
    The Guardian

    John Major's lawyer attacks No 10 prorogation claims as 'misleading'

    Supreme court witnesses clash of two Tory PMs amid threats prorogation could be repeated despite verdict. Downing Street put out “misleading” statements about the prorogation of parliament and published excuses for Boris Johnson’s five-week suspension of the Commons that are “not the true reasons”, the supreme court has been told by a lawyer for the former prime minister John Major. The extraordinary clash of evidence between a former Conservative prime minister and the current one surfaced on the third day of an emergency supreme court hearing before 11 justices about whether Johnson’s five-week prorogation of parliament was lawful. Lord Garnier QC, a Conservative former solicitor general, intervened in the case on behalf of Major with a strongly worded attack on the trustworthiness of Johnson’s newly appointed administration. Downing Street, Garnier said, had been “misleading” in releasing announcements during the summer that initially suggested reports of an extended prorogation were ‘entirely false’. “Its effect was plainly to mislead,” he added. As to the cabinet minutes suggesting prorogation was necessary to prepare for a Queen’s speech and break for the conference season, Garnier said they were “not the true reasons”. The attack on the veracity of government statements by Major came as lawyers for the prime minister submitted defiant legal advice, threatening to suspend parliament again if the supreme court ruled Johnson’s prorogation unlawful. In a written submission, lawyers for the prime minster say that: “In the event that the court holds … that prorogation was unlawful, with the effect that parliament was not prorogued and remains in session [then] depending on the court’s reasoning it would still either be open or not open to the prime minister to consider a further prorogation.” The government statement also states: “If the advice is found to be unlawful, the prime minister cannot commit to take any more particular steps without knowing the terms of any declaration and the reasons for it.” The government declined to release its legal note, entitled Further Submissions on Relief, which asserts that it retains the power to re-suspend parliament. The document was tweeted out by Jolyon Maugham QC, of the Good Law Project, after it had already been referred to in court. Ministers are entitled to reconsider decisions that are deemed by a court to have been unlawful. It is highly unusual, however, for the government to declare in advance of a judgment that it intends to make the same decision again. In submissions to the high court earlier this month, Garnier obliquely compared Johnson to an estate agent, citing a 2009 New Zealand case of premium real estates involving a salesman who misrepresented a buyer as a genuine purchaser when in fact they wanted to resell the property for a quick profit. “It could hardly be suggested that the duties of the prime minister to the monarch are less than those of an estate agent to a homeowner,” Garnier noted. “Accordingly, if the court is satisfied that the prime minister’s decision was materially influenced by something other than the stated justification, that decision must be unlawful, irrespective of whether the unstated justification was itself legally impermissible.” The supreme court was also told earlier that the government’s failure to consider in its internal discussions on the five-week prorogation what happens in Northern Ireland was “gross” and “unthinkable”. Johnson’s “do or die” battleground language of heading for a no-deal Brexit, Ronan Lavery QC said, was being “played out” on what could become a “scorched earth policy” in Northern Ireland. But Lavery, who represented the victims’ rights campaigner Raymond McCord whose son was murdered by loyalist paramilitaries in 1997, was repeatedly interrupted by justices on the supreme court who questioned the relevance of his evidence about the dangers of a no deal. Lord Wilson, one of the justices, said he was “really worried” that viewers listening would gain the mistaken belief that the court was considering the virtues of Brexit. In a sharp judicial put down, Wilson told him: “Don’t abuse our politeness or Lady Hale’s [the president of the court’s] patience.” He was supported by Lord Reed who told the court: “Whether or not the withdrawal from the EU is a good or a bad thing is not an issue before us.” Another justice questioned the relevance of evidence from the government’s Yellowhammer report which set out the impact of a no-deal Brexit. Lavery told the court that McCord “speaks for the silent majority in Northern Ireland who want a peaceful and prosperous future”. In written submissions to the court, Lavery explained: “The only reason that Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom is by the consent of its people freely given in the 1998 Good Friday agreement referendum. Therefore, if the rule of law is being undermined by a prorogation with the illegitimate, unlawful or unconstitutional aim or purpose or facilitating a no-deal Brexit, the constitutional position of Northern Ireland itself in the United Kingdom is undermined by this prorogation. “Withdrawal from the EU in terms that are harmful and oppressive to the people of Northern Ireland … firstly undermines the principle of consent of the people of Northern Ireland by preferring the interests of English nationalism over the safety and welfare of the people of Northern Ireland. Secondly, it is a breach of the terms of the Good Friday agreement which states that it would be wrong for there to be any constitutional change in Northern Ireland without the consent of its people.” The Scottish government’s lord advocate, James Wolffe QC, argued that no substantive justification has been provided for the five-week prorogation which was unusually long. The hearing continues.

  • Sturgeon signals Queen should stay out of future Scotland vote
    News
    The Guardian

    Sturgeon signals Queen should stay out of future Scotland vote

    First minister implies call for help should be refused after Cameron sought intervention. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has implied the Queen should refuse to be drawn into a future vote on Scottish independence after David Cameron admitted he asked the monarch to intervene in 2014. Cameron confirmed in a BBC interview he had asked the royal household whether the Queen could “raise an eyebrow” about independence after an opinion poll put support for leaving the UK at 52% a few days before the referendum in September 2014. The monarch is supposed to be impartial but on the Sunday before the vote she told a well-wisher outside Crathie church near Balmoral: “Well, I hope people will think very carefully about the future.” Patrick Harvie, the co-leader of the pro-independence Scottish Green party, asked Sturgeon on Thursday whether the UK government could be trusted not to again seek the Queen’s help if a second independence referendum takes place. “Another referendum is coming, we all know that,” Harvie said during first minister’s questions. “Does the first minister think that we can trust that the head of state won’t once again be invited to interfere in the vote of a sovereign people?” Sturgeon replied that Scotland’s future “should always be a matter for the Scottish people”, and said support for independence and demand for another referendum was rising. She added: “Scotland does have a right to choose its own future and I think the revelations, if I can call them that from David Cameron today, say more about him than anybody else, and really demonstrate the panic that was at the heart of the UK government in the run-up to the independence referendum five years ago. “Of course that is nothing compared to the panic that is in the heart of unionist parties now about independence.” Anti-independence parties have refused to sanction a second vote, while some unionist politicians have floated a leave or remain option in a referendum. Sturgeon concluded: “They know they do not have the arguments against independence and they know that when Scotland is given the right to choose, Scotland this time will choose to become independent.” Cameron told the BBC that a YouGov poll putting the yes vote at 52% hit him “like a blow to the solar plexus” and led to “a mounting sense of panic”. He remembered a conversation with Sir Jeremy Heywood, the then cabinet secretary, who in turn spoke to Sir Christopher Geidt, the Queen’s private secretary at the time. Cameron said he was “not asking for anything that would be in any way improper or unconstitutional, but just a raising of the eyebrow, even you know a quarter of an inch, we thought would make a difference.” A source in the royal household told the BBC there was displeasure at Buckingham palace at Cameron’s disclosures. The source said “it serves no-one’s interests” for conversations between a prime minister and the Queen to be made public. “It makes it very hard for the relationship to thrive,” the BBC quoted the source as saying. Cameron was challenged about the Queen’s irritation on the BBC’s Jeremy Vine show, and admitted he may have said too much. But he said he had been trying to be honest. “I was trying to explain the frustrations there were when you had one side in the referendum saying we’re going to have a Queen of an independent Scotland and everybody is fine and dandy,” he said.

  • BBC to move more staff and services out of London
    News
    The Guardian

    BBC to move more staff and services out of London

    Director general wants to see broadcaster ‘embedded’ around UK but relocations can prove hard to sell. The BBC is planning to reduce its presence in London and move more staff and services to other parts of the UK. The public broadcaster employs a total of 19,231 staff – not including just over 2,700 at commercial arm BBC Studios – of which 52% are based outside the M25, which rings London. Tony Hall, the BBC director general, said while the corporation had made “enormous strides” in reducing its focus on the capital in recent years more needed to be done. “I want the BBC to be the organisation that is fully embedded and distributed around the UK,” Hall is expected to tell the Royal Television Society convention in Cambridge. “We’ve made enormous strides. A decade ago, a third of the BBC was based outside London and two-thirds was in London. Today, that balance is 50/50. We’ve moved from less than 10% of our network TV programmes produced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to 20%. “But I want us to think bigger. Imagine a world in which the BBC moved still more out of London. It would take time. But what an enormous creative and operational opportunity.” Hall has not disclosed how many employees, or which services, might be moved outside the capital or on what timeline. Currently, 34% of staff employed by the licence fee-funded BBC are based in England, excluding London, with 4% in Northern Ireland; Scotland and Wales host 7% each. The corporation’s biggest hub outside London is in Salford, Manchester, where its BBC North headquarters at MediaCityUK were opened in 2011. London-based departments including parts of Radio 5 Live, BBC Sport, Children’s, Learning and BBC Breakfast moved to the facility. The broadcaster also has large operational hubs in Glasgow and Belfast and significant production centres in Cardiff, Bristol and Birmingham. Moving London-based staff out of the capital has proved to be a hard sell. Channel 4, which is moving about 300 of its 800 staff out of London to locations including Leeds, has led up to 90% of employees in some departments to seek redundancy payments in preference to leaving the capital. The BBC received a similar proportion of refusals to move to MediaCityUK, while just 31 of 144 agreed to relocate to operations in Birmingham, which is home to services including half of the BBC Three operation and a youth team for BBC News. Relocating is also expensive and the BBC estimates the lifetime cost of the move to Salford, including operating costs for the site up to 2030, to be £942m. The National Audit Office criticised the BBC for overly generous relocation packages totalling £24m to entice London staff to move to Salford. Channel 4 has estimated that its move out of London will ultimately cost about £50m.

  • David Cameron says he 's**t' himself in hilarious 'This Morning' blunder
    Celebrity
    Amy West

    David Cameron says he 's**t' himself in hilarious 'This Morning' blunder

    The former prime minister was appearing on the show to talk about his upcoming political memoirs.

  • Class A drug use among young adults at 16-year high
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    The Guardian

    Class A drug use among young adults at 16-year high

    Eight per cent of people aged 16 to 24 have taken a class A drug in the last year – official figures. Class A drug use among young adults is at a 16-year-high, driven by increases in powder cocaine and ecstasy use, official estimates have revealed. Around 8.7% of adults in England and Wales aged 16 to 24 had taken a class A drug in the last year, equating to around 550,000 young people, the 2018/2019 Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) shows. This is the highest recording since the 2002/2003 survey and Home Office statisticians said it was a “statistically significant” rise compared with the 2011/2012 survey seven years ago, when a previous decline in class A use reversed and started to climb back up. The increase in class A drug use among young adults has driven their use among all adults – aged 16 to 59 – to the highest level since records began in 1996 at 3.7% or 1.3 million people. Powder cocaine use among young adults rose between 2011/2012 and 2018/2019 from 4.1% to 6.2%, while ecstasy use rose among this age group from 3.3% to 4.7%. Conviction for possession of class A drugs, which include heroin, crack cocaine and crystal meth, is punishable by up to seven years in prison, while those convicted of supply and production convictions can face life.

  • Record number of disadvantaged pupils get university places
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    The Guardian

    Record number of disadvantaged pupils get university places

    More than a fifth of 18-year-olds from low-participation areas of UK offered places this year. Record numbers of young people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK have won places to go to university this year, according to the admissions agency Ucas. More than a fifth of 18-year-olds (20.4%) from areas of the country with the lowest rate of participation in higher education have confirmed places at universities across the country, up from 19.4% last year. The rise was welcomed by the sector, which has been under pressure to widen access and increase diversity among undergraduates. The increase means 25,910 students from disadvantaged backgrounds have university places this year – up from 25,220 in 2018 – out of 495,620 students with a confirmed place on a full-time undergraduate course. The figures, which are based on analysis of university acceptance numbers four weeks after A-level results day, thus taking in last-minute placements via clearing, reveal that 33.8% of all UK 18-year-olds have secured places through Ucas this year. This marks another record in UK university admissions, with 239,460 acceptances – a 1% increase on last year despite the fact that there are almost 2% fewer 18-year-olds in the UK population as a result of a demographic dip. The figures reveal that the number of EU students, which has previously been a strong growth area for UK universities, has flattened out in the continuing Brexit uncertainty, with 30,350 confirming places through Ucas this year, similar to last year’s figures. In contrast, there has been a significant increase in the number of international students from non-EU countries securing places at UK universities this year. Ucas says a record 40,720 international students from outside the EU have been accepted on courses this year, a 6% increase on last year. This is due largely to a 30% rise in the number of Chinese students choosing to study in the UK. According to Ucas, the number of students from mainland China studying in UK higher education has more than doubled in the past decade. This year, however, UK universities are benefitting particularly from tensions between China and the US, which has meant Chinese students are increasingly looking for destinations other than the US for their studies. The figures show the use of the Ucas clearing system, which matches students without a university place to institutions seeking to fill courses, has grown significantly. Almost 66,000 students used clearing to secure their place, up almost 10% on figures for this time last year and nearly 16,000 of those were applying for the first time with their results in hand. This week the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, gave his backing to a review of university admissions, including a fresh look at whether school leavers should only apply for places after receiving their A-level results. Clare Marchant, the Ucas chief executive, said: “It’s fantastic to see so many students from diverse backgrounds getting the life-changing opportunity to study at our internationally renowned universities and colleges. “More people using clearing shows the increasing flexibility of the different routes students can choose to enter higher education.”

  • David Cameron: saying Queen 'purred down line' was terrible mistake
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    David Cameron: saying Queen 'purred down line' was terrible mistake

    Ex-PM tells Today programme he regrets comment made after Scottish referendum result. David Cameron has admitted it was “a terrible mistake” to announce the Queen had “purred down the line” after he phoned to tell her Scotland had voted no to independence. In a wide-ranging interview on the Today programme as part of the veteran presenter John Humphrys’ final show, the former prime minister also accepted “a big share of responsibility” for the situation the UK faces, but said there had been growing pressure throughout Westminster for a referendum on EU membership. On the day his memoirs were published, Cameron defended his time in Downing Street and listed a number of achievements, including Michael Gove’s education changes and Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare overhaul, but he conceded he should not have made the remarks regarding the Queen. “I don’t want to say anything more about this, I’m sure some people would think it may possibly even be that I have already said perhaps a little bit too much,” he said. The former Tory party leader added that his comments at the time – declaring the monarch had “purred down the line” to him following the no result – were a “terrible mistake” for which he apologised immediately. However, he said he did not ask the Queen for “anything improper” during the referendum on Scottish independence. Challenged over his stepping down following the UK’s decision to leave the EU, Cameron said he would not have been the person to deliver Brexit after campaigning for remain despite claiming he would have delivered the result of the 2016 referendum. He said he had not wanted to resign so quickly after the vote and hated giving the impression he was running away. However, he said he would have lacked the credibility a prime minister needs. Discussing the decision to hold a referendum, believed by many to have been an attempt to remedy divisions within the Conservative party, Cameron said it had come from “honest” motives, referenced “growing problems” with the EU and said there was an increasing appetite for a referendum in the UK. However, he noted: “Do I accept a big share of the blame for the difficulties that we face in our country, do I think about it every day, does it pain me to see our politics frozen and our society divided? Yes it does, and I do take my share of responsibility for that, of course.” He was then questioned further over accusations that the country had been left unprepared for a vote to leave the EU. “I don’t think there was a huge amount more that could have been done than setting out the alternatives, recognising then that I wasn’t the right person to take this country forward, and giving the next prime minister the chance to choose between those alternatives,” he said. Nevertheless, Cameron said he had fought hard during the referendum campaign and claimed the Labour leadership had not been committed. “I wasn’t the slightest bit complacent, I worked incredibly hard,” he said. He also expressed his sadness that prominent former Tories including Ken Clarke and Sir Nicholas Soames had been ejected from the party, but expressed his support for the current prime minister and said Boris Johnson’s focus must now be “100%” on getting a deal from Brussels. “There is still time for him to take the best path, which is get the deal, take it to parliament and try and win over people.”

  • John Humphrys ends Today career with swipe at Corbyn and Johnson
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    The Guardian

    John Humphrys ends Today career with swipe at Corbyn and Johnson

    Top politicians shying away from scrutiny, says journalist as he bows out after 32 years on Radio 4 programme. John Humphrys has bowed out as a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme with a swipe at both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn for refusing to be interviewed on the show. In his final programme after a 32-year stint presenting Today, Humphrys complained that top politicians were now shying away from tough scrutiny by broadcasters. Introducing Tony Blair, one of two former prime ministers to appear on his Today programme finale on Thursday, he said: “Jeremy Corbyn has not been interviewed on this programme for nearly three years. Boris Johnson hasn’t done a single interview with us since he became prime minister.” He added: “Increasingly, politicians are talking directly to the people via social media so they can choose the questions they answer without being challenged.” His remarks came after one of Johnson’s advisers dismissed the Today programme as a “total waste of time”. No 10 has sought to bypass the conventional media in favour of handpicked questions on Facebook. Humphrys asked Blair whether interviews on Today still mattered. “The Today interview should matter,” Blair said. Humphrys then asked: “When somebody like Boris Johnson refuses to appear on this programme, either during the leadership campaign or at any time since he became prime minister, what do you make of that?” Blair said: “When I first began as a politician, your ambition was to get on the Today programme. It probably means that he is anxious about a sustained and forensic analysis of what he’s trying to do.” Both Blair and David Cameron paid tribute to Humphrys while acknowledging their irritation with his combative interviewing style. Cameron said: “Thank you for 32 years of striking the fear into politicians like me every morning and asking us questions that we don’t always want to answer. Calling us to account is an amazing record. [Walter] Bagehot talked about the dignified and the efficient parts of the constitution. He didn’t tell us about the painful but necessary parts. I guess that’s where you come in.” Blair said: “Despite all the tussles we’ve had over the years, I respect the fact that you’re good at your job, and you’re on top of the facts. And the fact that I worry about doing an interview with you is a tribute to you, not a criticism. But sometimes interviewers can be too aggressive.” Much of Thursday’s programme was devoted to Humphrys and his long career at the BBC. It included archive clips, a Humphrys-themed puzzle, and much leaving banter with presenters and guests. Even the programme’s religious slot, Thought for the Day, which Humphrys once described as “deeply boring”, was turned over to the veteran broadcaster with a send-off from the UK’s former chief rabbi Lord Sacks. He described Humphrys as “one of the best of our times” and added: “British breakfasts will never be the same.” The programme also included a guest appearance out of retirement from Dame Edna Everage. The alter ego of Barry Humphries performed a risque poem in honour of Humphrys, which included these lines: “The Queen told me before you grow much older, her sword will descend upon the Humphrys shoulder. Her voice is quiet. It doesn’t really carry. She might have said John but she probably meant Barry.” The BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, also came into the Today studio to be interviewed. He thanked Humphrys on “behalf of all of us: the people who have loved working with you, the people who have put up with you at times too”. He added: “In all the stuff you read in the papers about the ‘rottweiler Humphrys’, you are also someone who handles interviewees who have been through traumas … with amazing sensitivity.” Politicians from all sides paid tribute to Humphrys on Twitter. In a final send-off at the end of the programme Humphrys thanked the BBC. He said: “There’s a lot wrong with it as an organisation and it is facing massive challenges from social media and changing behaviour, but I believe we need the BBC as much now as we ever have done. I simply cannot imagine this country without it.” He also came close to choking up as he thanked listeners, saying: “You really are the backbone of our country. You care about our democracy. I am more proud than I can say that you have put up with me for so long. “Today matters for tomorrow. And if that’s a rather corny way to end my years on the programme well so be it. And that’s it from me.” Fellow presenters past and present then applauded Humphrys as he hung up his headphones.

  • Labour student wing to fight party's decision to abolish organisation
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    The Guardian

    Labour student wing to fight party's decision to abolish organisation

    Critics say Momentum forces are behind ‘cynical’ attempt to scrap group seen as moderate. Labour’s 40-year-old student wing has vowed to fight the party’s decision to wind the organisation down, amid speculation that a general election may be coming within weeks. The chair of Labour Students wrote to the party’s general secretary, Jennie Formby, on Wednesday to say the decision taken by the national executive committee (NEC) has no justification and will be ignored. Jon Lansman, the Momentum chair who sits on the NEC and is an ally of Jeremy Corbyn, was behind the move. He claims the group needs reforming and had not paid its affiliation fees. However, critics suggested the move is a cynical attempt to shut down a “moderate” wing of the party. In Wednesday’s letter, seen by the Guardian, the group’s chair, Rania Ramli, wrote: “We have sought legal advice and been informed that there is therefore no justification for any changes in the status of Labour Students as a result of [the] outcome. “We will continue to operate as the legitimately affiliated student wing of the Labour party.” Labour Students said it will still host about 800 young members at its annual student disco at the party conference in Brighton, which gets under way on Saturday. MP Jess Phillips described the group as the “workhorses” of the 2017 snap election, but others claim the organisation’s reform is long overdue over issues of democracy and transparency. One disaffected university club president lambasted the group for “knee-capping” the ambition of young members. Ramli said the organisation had paid its affiliation fees in July this year. Its constitution was signed off by the previous general secretary in 2015 and a copy given to Katy Clark, who led Labour’s review of internal democracy. Ramli contacted Formby before the lengthy meeting of the NEC on 16 September to say the motion put forward by Lansman contained inaccuracies. In her letter sent on Wednesday, she wrote: “This was not presented to the NEC and members were denied any opportunity to debate or raise concerns regarding the legitimacy and accuracy of the claims being made. No changes or amendments were made in light of damning contradictory evidence.” NEC members voted five to 12 to pass Lansman’s motion, which asks Formby to devise a new organisation that would comply with the party’s rulebook. Joel Jordan, current president of the Southampton Labour Society, wrote for the blog LabourList that the group’s leading figures had made a career by “climbing the ladder that is Labour Students” and it had been “knee-capping the hopes of Labour students”. He welcomed the move as a triumph for party democracy. Several university Labour clubs, including at the University of Bristol and Oxford University, disaffiliated earlier this year from Labour Students in a bitter row over members not being able to vote in its elections in May. The implementation of a one-member, one-vote system agreed in 2016 has been fraught with difficulties, with accusations it left many people unable to cast a vote. Ramli said: “There were issues with it in terms of communication.” A Momentum source said: “It’s a victory for democracy that the rotten borough of Labour Students is finally being reformed. “There are 30,000 students in the Labour party and only 507 took part in their last election, causing many branches to disaffiliate.” They said it was right for the group to be overhauled. Former chairs of the group include the ex-Labour MPs Mike Gapes and Michael Dugher, deputy party leader Tom Watson and MPs Vicky Foxcroft and Ellie Reeves.

  • John Humphrys' highs and lows as he prepares to exit Today
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    The Guardian

    John Humphrys' highs and lows as he prepares to exit Today

    The veteran, who is to leave the programme on Radio 4, has had a memorable broadcasting career. John Humphrys is expected to bow out from presenting the flagship Radio 4 Today programme this week after more than 32 years. While the veteran’s interrogative interviewing style has been celebrated by some, he has also been criticised for wearing his “prejudices on his sleeve”. We look at the 76-year-old’s most memorable moments. Highs It was as Humphrys grilled Tony Blair about allegations a £1m donation to Labour from the F1 boss, Bernie Ecclestone, had led to motor racing’s exemption from a ban on tobacco sponsorship, that the new prime minister let slip a phrase that would come to haunt him: “I think most people who have dealt with me think I am a pretty straight sort of guy, and I am.” In 2010 Humphrys pressed WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to defend his decision not to return to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sexual assault. “Are you a sexual predator?” said Humphrys. Assange said it was a “ridiculous” suggestion, adding: “Of course not.” Asked how many women he had slept with, he famously answered: “A gentleman does not count.” The fact that George Entwistle survived only 54 days as the BBC’s director general in 2012 was partly attributed to an interview by Humphrys. Entwistle was forced to admit that he did not know about a Newsnight report that wrongly implicated a Tory peer in other allegations of sexual abuse. “The Guardian yesterday carried a front-page story, which we now know was right, that cast doubt, serious doubt, on the BBC’s Newsnight programme … You didn’t know that actually happened?” said Humphrys. “No, I’m afraid I didn’t,” replied Entwistle. In 2016, the then chancellor George Osborne was asked to explain how he had missed two of his three key economic targets and was on track to miss the third. “What’s a bloke got to do in your job to get the sack?” asked Humphrys, to Osborne’s apparent surprise. Lows After a news bulletin in September 2016, Humphrys told broadcaster Moira Stuart that she was the most “sensationally sexy lady” he knew, and that “the best thing we can do for the next few hours is make mad, passionate love in the basement”. He later said that it had been “a silly wisecrack”. In 2017, Humphrys sparked a backlash when he suggested “the scales have been tipped a little too far” in favour of victims in sexual assault cases. The same year he was criticised for asking former Tory leader William Hague, following claims of sexual misconduct at Westminster, whether a “witch-hunt” would lead to men being afraid to approach women. Humphrys was criticised when an off-air conversation with Jon Sopel, the BBC’s North America editor, which made light of the ongoing gender pay debate at the BBC, was made public. “I’ve handed over already more than you fucking earn but I’m still left with more than anybody else,” he said. Humphrys had been revealed to have a salary of £600,000-£649,000 in 2016/17. He subsequently took another salary cut. Earlier this year, Humphrys and the former Brexit secretary David Davis joked on air following a report about a man assaulting his wife before a tango contest. “I guess this is our last tango,” Davis said. ″It is indeed, but I promise not to punch you if you don’t punch me,” replied Humphrys.

  • The John Humphrys 'paradox': rottweiler or shy Welsh walker?
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    The Guardian

    The John Humphrys 'paradox': rottweiler or shy Welsh walker?

    The Radio 4 Today presenter steps down after 32 years, but colleagues still struggle to define him. On the morning of what would transpire to be his last day as BBC director-general, George Entwistle found himself in the Radio 4 Today studio facing John Humphrys. The BBC was already engulfed by the unfolding Jimmy Savile scandal. Now, a Newsnight report had led to Tory peer Lord McAlpine being wrongly implicated in a child sexual abuse case. “It was electric in that studio,” recalled co-presenter Jim Naughtie. “There were three of us sitting there, George, John and me. And I think all three of us knew we could see a man destroying his own job, on the spot. He was at sea. And it was a deeply uncomfortable 10 minutes. “It’s awkward interviewing a boss. John behaved with impeccable professionalism. But I was aware, because I know John, of his incredulity at what was happening. And George, whom we both liked, was so nervous. His knee was touching the table, and I could feel the vibrations of, literally, his nervousness, panic, fear, whatever it was.” He added: “And I remember thinking of it as a very good example of John, the professional. It was a model. Though, neither of us enjoyed the consequences of it.” Less than 12 hours after that devastating 2012 interview, in which Entwistle admitted he had been totally unaware that Newsnight was going to make such serious allegations, he had resigned. He had been director-general for just 54 days. For 32 years Humphrys, 76, who steps down this week, has been the BBC’s attack dog: the rottweiler-in-chief. Or, the “scrappy, scruffy mongrel terrier” to the public-school pedigree great danes of the Dimblebys, Vines and Stourtons of the corporation, to quote broadcaster Libby Purves. In recent years, that reputation for forensic brilliance has been complicated by claims that he has played a part in the rise of “gotcha”’ confrontations between politicians and journalists. He has also been described as a “ modern Alf Garnett” over claims that he betrays a dismissive attitude to proponents of progressive causes from the #MeToo movement to workplace diversity. In general, though, his political interrogations only draw complaints from their subjects. “His fearlessness and journalistic, interrogatory courage, which occasionally leads him astray, has been of incalculable value over a long period of time,” said former Radio 4 controller Mark Damazer. Humphrys is, says Damazer, “all wire and muscle. There is a tremendous amount of nervous tension in the performance. He is a coiled figure. I suspect it takes a lot out of him sometimes.” After Harriet Harman, social services secretary in 1997, emerged from a lively grilling over cuts to single parent benefits, Labour’s communications boss David Hill threatened a boycott of the programme over “the John Humphrys problem”. He interrupted Ken Clarke, as chancellor, more than 30 times on one occasion, leading Jonathan Aitken, then chief secretary to the treasury, to accuse him of “poisoning the well of political debate” with his “ego-tripping interviewing”. The late Robin Cook, the Labour foreign secretary, admitted he couldn’t sleep the night before facing Humphrys. Few other broadcasters attract such vitriol on social media as Harrumphing Humph, criticism that his Today co-presenter Justin Webb condemns as “ageist”. His gladiatorial style has been blamed for the diminishment of political discourse, assailing politicians in to seeking refuge in pre-cooked sound bites. Some contemporary concerns, like identity politics, and parts of popular culture, clearly leave him head-scratching and bemused, drawing complaints that he is the wrong person to cover the territory. “Fashion isn’t John’s area of expertise,” the Today editor Sarah Sands quietly admitted after Humphrys’ clash with former UK Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman, during what should have been a light item about London Fashion Week. Shulman later raged: “I was confronted by a grey-haired man in chinos hectoring me on the business I had worked in for a quarter of a century and which he never knew, nor cared, much about.” The worst of the car crashes have been as memorable as the Entwistle-style triumphs. Excruciatingly, the leaked audio of him asking the BBC’s North America editor Jon Sopel off air – “How much of your salary are you prepared to hand over to Carrie … I’ve handed over more than you fucking earn” – did little to diffuse the BBC gender pay gap row, sparked by the resignation of the China editor Carrie Gracie. From pay equality to #MeToo, transgenderism, and off-colour jokes about domestic violence and spousal abuse, he has been regularly slated as sexist and a downright dinosaur. The End Violence Against Women called on the BBC to “stop Humphrys doing these interviews”. Labour MP Jess Phillips requests not to be interviewed by him. Accused of being pro-Brexit and a Tory, he states that no one knows how he votes, nor that he has he aired party political views. His convictions on certain subjects, however, can be judged from the all-too audible and derisive snorts that punctuate his interviews. “On the core agenda of high politics and party stuff, I don’t think you are able to sit there, in the way some people do, and think, “John believes this, and John believes that,” said Damazer. Naughtie, who sat beside him in the Today studio for 21 years, described him as “something of a paradox”. “There is no doubt he enjoys the rottweiler image, and it’s not fake, he does get stuck in. That’s his nature. But you can’t, for a moment, think of that as being the whole man. It just isn’t.” Humphrys wants to “feel blood in the sawdust”, said Naughtie, so fired up does he become ahead of a big interview. “And he wants to operate in a prize fighters ring.” “There is nobody I have come across in our trade who listens more carefully to answers, looking for an opening. His ear for somebody who is starting to hesitate or waffle, or cover up is fantastically acute.” The son of a French polisher and a hairdresser, Humphrys, one of five, grew up in Splott, a working-class area of Cardiff. He left school at 15 to join the Penarth Times, moved to the Western Mail, then joined commercial television where he was the first journalist on the scene of the 1966 Aberfan disaster, when a colliery spoil tip collapsed, engulfing a school and killing 116 children and 28 adults. His BBC career has seen him as foreign correspondent in America and Africa. A short stint as diplomatic correspondent was followed by five years as a Nine O’Clock News anchor. When it switched to a two-presenter format – and amid reports that he was upset when given second billing to Julia Somerville – he decamped to Today. Described as a very private man, perhaps quite shy, he is not one for “prancing off to some party full of politicians”, and probably happiest when walking, “preferably in Wales”, or reading “which he does voraciously”, said Naughtie. He spent 10 years running an organic dairy farm in west Wales. “Taking on a cabinet minister is as nothing to handling three tons of kicking cow,” he once said. Stories abound of him berating producers and throwing things around the studio. “They usually missed and he always said sorry,” Webb said recently. Sarah Montague, who left Today for World at One shortly after discovering Humphrys, albeit presenting more programmes, was paid four times her salary – he subsequently took a massive pay cut – has confirmed that “he doesn’t suffer fools gladly”. For all his impatience at times, colleagues speak of his being very supportive. Working with him was “never dull and always exhilarating,” said Naughtie. “There were moments, warming up for the programme, where he would throw a wobbly about something. But it’s all part of the game; warming up to get into the ring.” He added: “I am fond of the old bugger, I really am.” Naughtie believes Humphrys’ stint in Africa had a profound effect, and away from the microphone he works tirelessly to raise money for the Kitchen Table Charities Trust, which he founded, and which offers grants to small organisations working in sub-Saharan Africa. Humphrys, who has three children from two relationships, has said himself that he believes it is finally time to step down from Today, though he will continue to present Mastermind. “I genuinely worry about what it is going to be like not doing the Today programme,” he told Montague on the World at One. “32 years is a very long time.”

  • Labour to review language of Tony Blair's clause IV amendment
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    The Guardian

    Labour to review language of Tony Blair's clause IV amendment

    Blair’s change was seen as a milestone moment, but Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour could alter it. Photograph: Getty ImagesLabour has promised to look again at clause IV of its constitution, which sets out the aims and values of the party, leading to speculation it could revert to its pre-Tony Blair commitment to socialism.The party’s ruling body, the national executive committee (NEC), said it will set up a working group to look at updating the language in the clause controversially replaced by Blair in 1995, in what was seen as a milestone moment for the direction of Labour.However, the NEC will only do so if a constituency Labour party (CLP) motion on the matter which has been tabled for the party’s conference in Brighton – which begins on Saturday – is withdrawn.A Labour source said it would be premature to say clause IV was being redeveloped but that the party would set up a group to consider its wording on the proviso that members of the Dundee CLP drop their motion.The Scottish activists want “the restoration of the pre-1995” version which includes the line: “To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.”Blair changed the 1917 wording as part of his New Labour vision, to instead talk of a “dynamic economy” to produce the wealth the nation needs. It was seen as a signifiant break from leftwing economic thinking.A Labour source said: “This is jumping the gun. The NEC is asking the proposers to withdraw the motion. If they do not, the NEC will recommend it is opposed.”Withdrawing the motion avoids it potentially dominating discussions at conference, which Labour’s leadership may find distracting from its main policy areas.However, the fact the NEC has decided it is willing to discuss the clause in certain circumstances is in itself a significant development for members who are keen to see the historic elements of the constitution return, such as a commitment to nationalisation.Labour is keen to stress that any changes to clause IV would be a rule change, and may not get the endorsement of the NEC, or in future be put to a vote of the membership at a party conference.The former Labour home secretary Alan Johnson told the Times that going back to the old version would be a “final triumph over Blairism” for the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn.He warned the former clause was a product of 1917 and would not be fit for today’s party.

  • Universal credit wait fuels poverty and food bank use, says research
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    The Guardian

    Universal credit wait fuels poverty and food bank use, says research

    The Department for Work and Pensions dismissed the Trussell Trust report as unsubstantiated. Photograph: Kirsty O’Connor/PAMinisters have come under renewed pressure to fundamentally overhaul universal credit after fresh research claimed that the welfare benefit’s built-in five week wait for payment fuelled claimant poverty and increased food bank use.The Trussell Trust food bank network said the minimum 35-day wait for payment endured by claimants after signing on to universal credit could have a rapid, devastating and long-lasting impact on their finances, housing security and mental health.Claimants unable to cope without income during the waiting period faced destitution, Trussell said. They were unable to afford food, frequently went without meals, failed to pay utility bills, ran up rent arrears and risked eviction.Food bank use had soared by a third in areas where universal credit had operated for a year, it said, drawing on data from 414 food banks. Demand for food parcels increased by 40% where universal credit had been in place for at least 18 months, and 48% where it had been established for at least two years.The research cited the case of John, a man with severe mental illness, who did not eat for nine days after being left with no income after claiming universal credit. His health had declined to the point where he “didn’t feel well enough to leave the house to get a food bank voucher”.Government measures to mitigate the negative effects of the five-week wait were either limited or failing, Trussell said. Repayable advance loans issued to claimants to tide them over simply created long-term difficulties for claimants as they paid them back, in effect leaving them “deciding between hardship now or later”.“Universal credit should be there to anchor any of us against the tides of poverty. But the five-week wait fatally undermines this principle, pushing people into debt, homelessness and destitution,” said Trussell Trust chief executive Emma Revie.The Trust called for a significant reduction in the five-week wait to ensure claimants were paid much sooner. “Universal credit is the future of our benefits system. As long as its design continues to pull claimants into financial hardship, it will not be the poverty-fighting reform [ministers] promised.”The scale of the problem was underlined by separate research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation which estimated that that two in five families set to move on to universal credit in future – about 2m households – will be unable to meet basic living costs during the five-week wait.The foundation said there was “nothing compassionate or just” about the five-week wait for an initial payment, which it described as “immoral.” It backed Trussell’s call to shorten it, saying that universal credit was forcing families to go to food banks when it should be helping to reduce the need for them.The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) dismissed the Trussell Trust report as unsubstantiated and based on unrepresentative data, and insisted its advance loans were working as intended. “It categorically does not prove that universal credit is the reason behind increased food bank usage,” a DWP spokesperson said.Shadow work and pensions secretary Margaret Greenwood said the five-week wait was wrong and advance loans were not the answer. “Labour will stop the rollout of universal credit and ensure that our social security system lifts people out of poverty and supports any one of us in our time of need,” she said.There are reports that the Labour party is set to announce that it will “scrap” universal credit at its annual conference next week. A year-long review of party policy is said to have recommended that it should adopt a policy of “transformative change” to make the benefit fairer.The design of universal credit built in a six-week waiting time for a first payment – later reduced to five weeks – to put claimants on to a monthly-in-arrears payment cycle, paid electronically, ostensibly to reflect the world of work. The benefits it replaces typically had a 15-day wait for payment.However, the designers seemingly failed to recognise that substantial numbers of claimants were used to one or two-week payment cycles, and few had sufficient savings to tide them over a lengthy period without income, making their transition to the new benefit an often traumatic struggle.Universal credit bundles together six working-age benefits into one monthly payment. It was originally due to be fully operational in 2017 but the current deadline is 2023, when about 7m people will depend on it. A devastating auditors’ report last year found it was unlikely to deliver planned financial savings or employment benefits.Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said the Trussell data echoed its own findings. “It’s clear, from the findings across the charity sector helping universal credit claimants, that the system is not providing everyone with the financial safety net people need,” she said.

  • 84% of care home beds in England owned by private firms
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    The Guardian

    84% of care home beds in England owned by private firms

    For-profit companies own 381,524 of England’s care home beds, thinktank finds. More than eight out of 10 care home beds are provided by profit-driven companies, including more than 50,000 by large operators owned by private equity firms, research reveals. Private companies now own and run 84% of beds in care homes in England used by older people, as local councils have almost totally withdrawn from a key area of social care they used to dominate. The disclosure of the private sector’s huge market share has raised concerns because some of the biggest operators have large debts, are alleged to use tax avoidance schemes and drive down staff pay. The Care Quality Commission (CQC) watchdog has said inadequate staffing levels at care homes can lead to elderly residents receiving poor-quality care. For-profit companies own 381,524 (83.6%) of England’s 456,545 care home beds, research by the IPPR thinktank has found, based on analysis of data from the CQC and Companies House, an increase on the 82% in 2015. “The state has abdicated its responsibility for providing care over recent decades. The private sector may have filled this gap but it consistently puts profits before people,” said Harry Quilter-Pinner, a senior research fellow at the IPPR and co-author of the report. Five large firms between them have 53,715 beds, almost 15% of the total, the thinktank found. HC-One Limited had 16,266 beds, Four Seasons had 11,856, Barchester Healthcare had 10,559, Sunrise Senior had 7,572 and Care UK had 7,462. All are owned by private equity firms apart from Barchester Healthcare, a public company which has its ultimate shareholder register in Jersey. “The fact that private equity-backed firms have taken over a significant share of the UK’s care provision, fuelled by debt and driven by the prospect of rising property prices and ever-lower care costs, puts our vital social care system at ever-increasing risk,” said Grace Blakeley, co-author of the report and IPPR research fellow. In contrast, 13% of beds are provided by the voluntary sector and 3% by local councils, which for decades were the main provider of residential care for vulnerable older people. “It’s shocking that so much of our social care is provided by large private providers who put profits before people and where too often the quality of care provided just isn’t good enough,” said Barbara Keeley, the shadow cabinet minister for mental health and social care. “Social care is in urgent need of reform and yet the Tory government has abandoned responsibility for the care needs of older people and working-age people and they have no credible plan to fix this crisis.” Ninety-one percent of councils have increased their use of private-sector care home beds since 2015 as alternatives have shrunk, the research shows. The IPPR analysed trends in bed use by 147 of England’s 151 councils. Overall, 133 of the 147 authorities had done that; just 14 had reduced their reliance on privately provided places. Kensington and Chelsea council in London saw the biggest increase in private use in that time, rising by 50.9%. The next largest increases were seen in Westminster (42.7%), Bracknell Forest in Berkshire (32.6%) and Tower Hamlets in east London (25.5%). Private firms have increased their domination of care home places over the past few years while the government has repeatedly cut core funding to councils for social care. While Whitehall spending has grown in recent years, the £21.3bn it gave to councils last year was £700m less than the £22bn it put into social care in 2010-11. Boris Johnson has pledged to end what many critics claim is the “scandal” of social care. Fewer older people receive help with basic tasks such as washing and dressing than in 2010 as a result of government cuts. The IPPR urged ministers to re-establish the state as a major provider of care homes by spending £7.5bn in order to provide up to 75,000 extra beds by 2030, with care provided by councils or other not-for-profit organisations, to help cope with the sharp rise in the number of over-75s and over-85s expected in the next decade. A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We expect everyone to be able to access high-quality, safe and compassionate care. Already 84% of providers are rated good or outstanding by the Care Quality Commission. “People who receive care and their families should be able to have confidence that their care provider has a sustainable future. “We have given local authorities an additional £1.5bn for social care next year, on top of their existing grants, to continue to stabilise the sector. The prime minister has said that the government will set out plans to fix the social care system in due course.”

  • David Cameron sought intervention from Queen on Scottish independence
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    The Guardian

    David Cameron sought intervention from Queen on Scottish independence

    David Cameron, as prime minister, with the Queen at a cabinet meeting in London in 2012. Photograph: WPA Pool/Getty ImagesDavid Cameron has revealed that he suggested to the Queen’s private secretary how the monarch could influence the outcome of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, before she went on to make an intervention that was widely seen as helping a faltering pro-union campaign.Cameron, as prime minister, was on a weekend break at the Balmoral estate in the Scottish Highlands in September 2014 when a YouGov survey put the campaign for Scottish independence in the lead for the first time.In the second part of a BBC series about his life in politics, which is to be broadcast next week, Cameron says the poll hit him “like a blow to the solar plexus” and led to “a mounting sense of panic”.He says: “I remember conversations I had with my private secretary and he had with the Queen’s private secretary and I had with the Queen’s private secretary, not asking for anything that would be in any way improper or unconstitutional, but just a raising of the eyebrow, even you know a quarter of an inch, we thought would make a difference.”The equivalent of a raised eyebrow came a week later when, outside Crathie Kirk, the church where the Queen attends Sunday services while at Balmoral, a woman disclosed in widely reported remarks that the monarch had offered a coded warning about the impending referendum, telling her: “Well, I hope people will think very carefully about the future.”While the Guardian has reported that Sir Jeremy Heywood, then cabinet secretary, and Sir Christopher Geidt, then the Queen’s private secretary, had discussed how she might register her concern at the prospect of a yes vote for independence while remaining “impartial”, Cameron’s remarks are an explicit admission that he sought intervention.The remarks are likely to be provoke the ire of Scottish nationalists.Pete Wishart, a Scottish National party MP, said there was no doubt the Queen’s remarks had an impact on Scottish voters, particularly those who had not decided which way to vote. “We knew Cameron was up to something at the time and for him to explicitly chronicle how he approached it, almost strategically, is almost beyond belief,” Wishart said.The revelation is potentially the most controversial element of the programme Cameron Years, the first episode of which will be broadcast on Thursday with a focus on the lead-up to the referendum on Britain’s EU membership.George Osborne, chancellor of the exchequer in Cameron’s government, is particularly critical of Cameron’s approach, saying: “David Cameron was just one of a number of British prime ministers who had fed this idea that we were different than Europe, that Brussels was to blame, and that the public ultimately had to have a say – and we’ve all paid a price for it in my view.”Osborne and Cameron have also spoken openly about the increasingly fraught attempts to convince Michael Gove to be on their side. Gove tells the programme that he felt “some of the conversations we had were attempts on his part to reassure himself that our friendship would mean that I wouldn’t stray from the fold”.Others involved in the Tory government at the time also speak of how the emotional ties due to the closeness of Cameron’s family with Gove’s family had an effect on decision-making, coming to a bitter head when Gove, then education secretary, was demoted. Gove was moved in the reshuffle of summer 2014 to the post of chief whip. Cameron says Gove had wanted to become chief whip and speaks of his surprise when the other sent him an email in the midst of the reshuffle saying that he did not want that job.David Laws, a Liberal Democrat minister in the coalition government, tells the programme that the consequences of the breakdown of the relationship between Cameron and Gove were enormous for the future of the country.“Quite simply,” he says, “we might never have had that referendum vote to leave the European Union without Michael’s demotion in 2014.”In a preview of the series this week, at the BBC, the executive producer Denys Blakeway said that during hours of interviews Cameron was asked if he felt any remorse over the EU referendum. The former prime minister chose deliberately, he said, to use the word “regret” instead.Boris Johnson had agreed to be interviewed for the programme but cancelled on two occasions, according to Blakeway.

  • Arlene Foster signals DUP shift on Northern Ireland border issue
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    The Guardian

    Arlene Foster signals DUP shift on Northern Ireland border issue

    Party leader indicates Brexit deal could include bespoke solution for the region. The Democratic Unionist party’s leader, Arlene Foster, has signalled it is ready to do a Brexit deal, indicating for the first time a willingness to accept a bespoke solution for Northern Ireland. She was speaking just hours before she held an “unplanned” meeting with the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, amid signs of a Brexit thaw between Belfast and Dublin. In a break with previous rhetoric where she has strongly opposed treating the region differently to the rest of the UK, Foster said the final deal would have to recognise Northern Ireland’s unique historical and geographical position and the fact it will be the UK’s only land border with the EU. Asked by reporters if it was possible to see Northern Ireland-only solutions that would not affect the constitutional link with Great Britain, she replied: “Well I hope so.” That, combined with other comments she made before a dinner with business executives in Dublin, will be seen as pushing the door ajar for a deal. The 45-minute meeting with Varadkar was fitted it in unexpectedly afterwards. “They discussed Brexit and the need for the restoration of devolution [at Stormont],” said the DUP. Foster reiterated the party’s opposition to the backstop that has continued ever since it was conceived as a fallback to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland, should trade talks following any Brexit deal fail to uphold the Good Friday Agreement. She made clear that her idea of an acceptable Northern Ireland-only solution was different to mooted proposals for a Northern Ireland-only backstop, which she said “would bring about customs [checks] between Great Britain and Northern Ireland and that is unconstitutional and undemocratic”. But she said the solution would recognise that Northern Ireland was unique and bespoke arrangements may be an option, something Sinn Féin has demanded since the referendum. “What we want to see happening is a recognition that we are on an island. We recognise the unique history and geography, I think to go back to my language of 10 August,” she said. “We have to recognise that we are in the UK and sometimes I think people forget that.” She said her party was looking for a “sensible deal” and it never wanted to inflict no deal on the region. “The presentation of the DUP as a ‘no deal’ party is wrong. People get very alarmed when they see that sort of rhetoric, We do want to see a deal but it has to be a deal that works for everybody,” she said. The backstop has the support of industry and farmers, who have said that no deal could have disastrous outcomes for Northern Ireland. The Stormont economy department has said it could cost 40,000 jobs. Echoing words of the party’s chief whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson earlier this week, she said the solution lay in a joint letter she co-authored with the late leader of Sinn Féin, Martin McGuinness, in August 2016, a document rarely referred to by the DUP in the past two years. The letter could be characterised as a plea for a soft Brexit. It envisaged a deal that would ensure new arrangements did not disrupt the peace process and accommodated the “particular significance for the agri-food sector and animal health” in border regions. It also noted it was critical that businesses were protected on the border and did not incur additional costs, suggesting the DUP could accept regulatory alignment if a Stormont assembly had a say in what EU rules would apply. In a separate interview with RTE, Foster said the so-called Stormont lock – a promise to consult the Northern Ireland assembly on any no-deal arrangements – was being misrepresented as a veto on future EU regulations. “We’re not looking for any control over the European Union, what we are looking for is control over what happens in Northern Ireland and I think that’s a very fair thing to search for,” she said. The DUP is hoping a shift in its position will be met with a compromise by the EU and the Republic of Ireland.

  • The harsh reality of underfunding at my hospital? Swept away for Johnson visit
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    The Guardian

    The harsh reality of underfunding at my hospital? Swept away for Johnson visit

    Boris Johnson sits with staff at Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone, London Photograph: Yui Mok/AFP/Getty ImagesI was one of the doctors who met Boris Johnson today. This was a highly staged press event in a newly refurbished hospital ward at Whipps Cross hospital where the prime minister met a few select members of staff and patients. This event completely brushed over the harsh realities of this chronically underfunded, understaffed and poorly resourced hospital.The hospital is held together only by the hard work and dedication of its healthcare workers but it cannot be sustained for much longer under these pressures.I’m so glad that Omar Salem [the man who confronted the prime minister on Wednesday about the hospital’s care of his daughter] said the things he did. He was just telling the truth about what it is like to be on the receiving end of poor staffing levels and under-resourcing.It was a shame some of the senior executives were trying to shut Salem up. But he got his point across effectively.It just wasn’t true that there were no press there. It was all being filmed. It was very staged.We were told yesterday that there was a special guest coming and nobody knew until this morning that it was Johnson. All the staff were lined up in a row in front of a team of camera crew and photographers. When I saw it was him I wanted to say something, but I didn’t want to lose my job.I’ve been thinking about it all day and felt I had to say something because NHS hospitals today can be unsafe places. Whipps Cross [in Leytonstone, north-east London] is particularly understaffed and under-resourced so people don’t get the care that they need as promptly as they need.And this visit was not reflective of the realities of working at this hospital. Johnson was taken to the nicest ward in the hospital; there were flowers on display and classical music was playing in the background. I wish the prime minister could have seen some of the other wards, which are nothing like what he saw today. He should come on a night shift and see how everything doesn’t function at two in the morning.I’m disappointed with the care I can give patients. I work in acute adult medicine and I constantly feel that I am doing a disservice to patients and their families.There aren’t enough computers and the ones we have got are very slow. So if you have a sick patient in the night you can often spend 20 minutes logging on to a computer. And then it can can take another 20 minutes trying to access the equipment and organise basic investigations.Discharges and diagnosis are often delayed by people waiting for scans. Patients who are medically fit to discharge are waiting in the hospital for social services to kick in. They end up being there for weeks. And then they can get hospital-acquired pneumonia.There are not enough staff on any level – nursing, physiotherapy, doctors. It is just chronically understaffed. The building is falling to pieces. It is either too cold or too hot. I could go on and on.I love medicine, but you just can’t do your job properly. You don’t have time to talk to patients or families. Everybody is really demoralised. There’s no point in complaining because you know nothing will be done.This is just what the NHS is like now.