Thursday briefing: More flood misery to come

Warren Murray
Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Top story: Defences buckle under force of water

Hello, Warren Murray with the Guardian’s best offerings for Thursday morning.

Residents evacuated from properties in Ironbridge due to flooding are facing further misery with more wet weather impact expected today. A yellow weather warning of snow and ice has been issued for much of the Midlands including the river Severn in Shropshire where flood defences were buckled and breached by the pressure of water. Flooding along parts of the Severn, which remained close to its highest levels in some areas, is likely until at least Sunday, the Environment Agency has said.

The water overwhelmed the flood barriers at Ironbridge, in Shropshire, leading to an emergency evacuation and prompting concern that the world heritage site would suffer serious damage. Further down the river, at Bridgnorth, there was flooding in some areas that had not been inundated for a century. Water also breached the temporary flood barriers in the Worcestershire town of Bewdley, causing homes there to be evacuated. Across England this morning there are 92 flood warnings in place, meaning flooding should be expected, and 132 flood alerts, meaning possible flooding.

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Trump on coronavirus: don’t worry – Donald Trump has put the vice-president, Mike Pence, in charge of the US response to coronavirus. In a lengthy address last night Trump sought to reassure Americans that the risk to them remained “very low”. “Whatever happens, we’re totally prepared,” Trump said. Soon afterwards a person in northern California was confirmed to have contracted Covid-19 without travelling outside of the US or having contact with a confirmed case. Trump’s stance was starkly at odds with close ally Australia, which has enacted an emergency response plan that could include mass vaccinations and quarantining people in sports stadiums if necessary. “There is every indication the world will soon enter the pandemic phase of the virus,” said Scott Morrison, the prime minister. In the UK, officials fear it could take just 72 hours for an outbreak the size of Italy’s to take hold. The WHO has warned against using the term “pandemic”, which it says falsely indicates the spread can no longer be contained. The latest developments, as ever, at our live blog.

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Tout kit on ticket site – The ticketing website Viagogo provides tools that experts say make it easier for ticket touts to commit fraud, evidence obtained by the Guardian has shown. The portal appears to make it possible to deploy similar techniques used by two touts jailed for fraud this week after being exposed by the Guardian. One of the counts of fraud related to “speculative selling”, when touts advertise tickets that they do not yet own. Viagogo’s “inventory manager” feature, a toolkit available only to touts, appears to make speculative selling possible. The Labour MP Sharon Hodgson said the Guardian’s findings should prompt action from regulators and law enforcement. Viagogo said it would remove listings and fine or block sellers if it was notified they did not comply with its rules but did not comment on its inventory manager tools.

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Oxford child indecency case – An Oxford university lecturer has been suspended after he pleaded guilty to three counts of producing indecent photographs of a child. Philosophy tutor Peter King published a controversial paper on the ethics of child pornography in 2008. He is due to be sentenced next month. Oxford crown court confirmed that King pleaded guilty to three counts of making indecent photos of a child between 2010 and 2018, involving thousands of images. He also admitted to one charge of possession of a prohibited image of a child. King’s defence lawyer declined to comment.

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Police delays let paedophiles off hook – Investigators are giving back to suspected paedophiles phones and computers that possibly hold child abuse images because officers do not have the time or technology to search the devices, says a report from the inspectorate of constabulary. It found children are being put at risk by lengthy delays in investigations – in one case inspectors found 100 days passed after police were notified that a 10-year-old girl had been receiving indecent images from three men, with no effort in the meantime to find the perpetrators. “In some of the most concerning cases we have found that in addition to delays a lack of technology has resulted in prosecutions being discontinued, and, perhaps most troublingly of all, devices returned that may have contained indecent images,” the report says.

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Black and White ball – The phone tycoon David Ross, who arranged Boris Johnson’s £15,000 Caribbean holiday, and Jay Rutland, a businessman banned from City trading for “market abuse”, are among 11 Conservative supporters who helped organise the party’s fundraising ball, the Guardian has learned from leaked documents. At the Battersea Evolution club on Tuesday the PM and ministers rubbed shoulders with wealthy supporters. Tickets are £15,000 a table and the annual event raises millions. One donor paid £60,000 for gold and silver versions of the Brexit Day coin and a signed copy of the withdrawal agreement. The auction also included a game of tennis with Johnson and lunch with the justice secretary, Robert Buckland – in a prison restaurant. Electoral commission figures show that Johnson’s party raised more than £5.67m in large donations – amounts of more than £7,500 – compared with £218,500 given to Labour in the run up to the general election.

Today in Focus podcast: Convicting Weinstein

After a jury returned a guilty verdict on two of five charges against Harvey Weinstein, the movie producer is now awaiting sentencing. Guardian US reporter Lauren Aratani discusses covering the trial and what the verdict means for the #MeToo movement. And: the latest in the coronavirus outbreak.

Lunchtime read: Why your brain is not a computer

Reverse engineering a computer is often used as a thought experiment to show how, in principle, we might understand the brain. So in 2017, a pair of neuroscientists did the experiment on the MOS6507, a chip from the late 70s and early 80s that enabled computers to run video games such as Donkey Kong and Space Invaders. Despite the powerful methods they used, and the availability of a clear explanation for how the chip works, things did not go as expected – the study failed to detect the hierarchy of information processing that occurs inside the chip.

As the scientists put it: “Ultimately, the problem is not that neuroscientists could not understand a microprocessor, the problem is that they would not understand it given the approaches they are currently taking.” The metaphor of the brain as a computer has for decades been the dominant metaphor in neuroscience – but could this idea have been leading us astray all along?


Kevin De Bruyne said Pep Guardiola had surprised even his Manchester City players with his tactical approach to the stunning 2-1 Champions League last-16 first-leg win at Real Madrid. Juventus’s hopes of reaching the last eight suffered a blow when the Italian champions slumped to a 1-0 defeat at Lyon. Ryan Kent rocked Braga as his winner enabled Rangers to climb into the Europa League’s last 16 after a 1-0 second-leg win in Portugal. Maria Sharapova, who won five grand slams and could freeze a room with her aloof grandeur, has retired and will be remembered as the ice queen of tennis, respected more than loved inside the game.

The Six Nations has been plunged into chaos after Ireland’s match against Italy was called off by the Irish government because of fears over the spread of the coronavirus. The opening three races of the Formula One season are also coming under increasing threat of cancellation, one of many top sporting events at risk from the outbreak. David Beckham expressed his hope that Major League Soccer can challenge the supremacy of the European leagues within the next decade. And Australia’s T20 World Cup preparations continue to go from strength to strength after David Warner and Steve Smith enjoyed a triumphant return to Cape Town, piloting the tourists to a 2-1 series victory over South Africa.


Boris Johnson has been told to “go big or go home” if he wants to level the investment playing field between Britain’s north and south. Bob Kerslake, who headed the civil service from 2011 to 2014 but is now leading the UK2070 commission into regional inequality, said transport investment would not be enough. The government needed to be bolder, he said. Asian stocks have sold off again overnight amid continued concerns about the impact of the coronavirus. The FTSE100 looks set for another bad day with futures pointing to a drop of 2.15% at the open this morning. The pound is buying $1.293 and €1.185.

The papers

The royals go viral on several fronts today. Metro has a picture of “the dashing duchess” – that’s Kate coming out of the blocks at a SportsAid event. But the splash is “Royals’ school in virus alarm” – four of George and Charlotte’s schoolmates are being kept home after an Italy trip. The Express version: “Virus scare hits Prince George’s school”.

The Times joins in the Kate-shows-Meghan-how-it’s-done coverage with nearly the same pic as the Metro, just a few frames later. Its front-page lead – “Universities to withhold offers until after A-levels” – is about proposed reforms (our version leads with calls for a year’s free tuition where students are the first in their family to attend university).

In the Guardian the splash is coronavirus: “UK warns against mass panic as race to halt outbreak intensifies”. Similarly the Telegraph says: “Schools and offices urged not to panic about virus”. No such concerns at the Mail: “NHS braces for virus mayhem” – its front-page pic is someone sunbathing in Tenerife with a surgical mask on. The i and the FT both lead with how the virus is gathering pace outside China. The Mirror says “Get a grip … you drip” – meaning Boris Johnson, who is shown at the “£25billion” Tory fundraising ball when the paper thinks he should be tackling the floods and viruses.

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