Tesla shrugs off pandemic as sales hit new record

Tesla has recorded a fifth quarter in a row of profit, as sales of its electric cars accelerated to a new record despite the pandemic.

The firm said it made $8.7bn in revenue in the three months to September, as deliveries rose 54%.

The firm said it still hoped to meet its goal of delivering more than 500,000 vehicles this year but warned this had “become more difficult”.

Analysts also warn the firm faces mounting competition.

So far, Tesla has delivered fewer than 320,00 cars to customers this year – but nearly half of those – 139,593 – came in the three months ended 30 September.

That was up 54% from the prior quarter and 44% year-on-year.

This helped lift the carmaker to a quarterly profit of $311m – more than double what it made during the same period last year.

The firm’s successful streak – at a time when many other automakers have been hit by disruption – has not gone unnoticed by investors.

Shares in the firm have more than quadrupled in value since the start of the year – and climbed higher in after-hours trade on Wednesday.

The firm now boasts the highest market value of any carmaker in the world – despite selling far fewer vehicles than older rivals such as Toyota.

Nicholas Hyett, equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said that while the firm enjoyed “a significant first mover advantage” in the electric car market, it faced mounting competition.

“As the world’s most valuable car company by market capitalisation Tesla’s current [share] price builds in a massive eventual market share.

“Fending off companies that have been manufacturing cars at industrial scale for years, as well as overseas start-ups, will be a big ask when the giants of the industry start to put R&D budgets to work on closing the electricity gap.”

Tesla has unveiled a host of ambitious plans recently, including starting production of its own batteries, as it prepares to face increased competition from other carmakers, many of which are increasing their focus on electric offerings.

It hopes to start production at its new factory in Europe, outside of Berlin, in 2021, it said.

Michael Jackson: Court dismisses lawsuit from accuser James Safechuck

A US judge has dismissed a lawsuit from one of Michael Jackson’s accusers, who claimed Jackson’s companies allowed the star to abuse him and other children.

James Safechuck has said the singer started abusing him when he was 10.

In 2014, he sued MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, and has alleged they “were created to, and did, facilitate Jackson’s sexual abuse of children”.

But the judge dismissed the case, saying the companies didn’t have a duty of care for Mr Safechuck.

Mr Safechuck was one of two men who accused the late pop star of abuse in last year’s Leaving Neverland documentary.

In his lawsuit, he said Jackson abused him hundreds of times at his homes and on tour in the late 1980s and early 90s.

MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures were set up by Jackson to run his career. But in the lawsuit it was claimed: “The thinly-veiled, covert second purpose of these businesses was to operate as a child sexual abuse operation, specifically designed to locate, attract, lure and seduce child sexual abuse victims.”

Mr Safechuck also featured with Jackson in a Pepsi commercial and often appeared on stage with the singer.

Mr Safechuck’s lawyer Vince Finaldi told BBC News: “He was an employee that was working on behalf of them as a dancer and entertainer on the stage with Michael.

“Because he was a minor, and he was an employee working for them, they had a duty to protect him. That’s our argument.”

California judge Mark Young disagreed, saying the companies weren’t directly responsible for causing emotional distress, and were not able to control Jackson, because he controlled the companies and everyone they employed. Corporations cannot be direct perpetrators, he said.

Mr Safechuck, who is seeking unspecified damages, will appeal.

Jackson vehemently denied the abuse. Mr Safechuck (a child at the time) reportedly gave a witness statement defending Jackson when allegations against the singer first emerged in 1993.

Mr Finaldi is also representing Wade Robson, who appeared in Leaving Neverland too, in a separate lawsuit, which is expected to reach trial next summer.

Leaving Neverland director Dan Reed is reportedly making a sequel about the pair’s legal battles. Deadline reported on Wednesday that Jackson’s companies had taken legal action against the film-maker.

Jonathan Steinsapir, representing MJJ Productions and MJJ Ventures, declined to comment on the latest ruling.

Purdue Pharma to plead guilty in $8bn opioid settlement

The maker of OxyContin painkillers has reached an $8.3bn (£6.3bn) settlement and agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges to resolve a probe of its role in fuelling America’s opioid crisis.

The settlement with the US Department of Justice resolves the most serious claims against Purdue Pharma.

But the firm still faces thousands of cases brought by states and families affected by abuse of the painkiller.

Purdue called the deal an “essential” step to wider resolution of the matter.

“Purdue deeply regrets and accepts responsibility for the misconduct detailed by the Department of Justice,” said Steve Miller, who joined Purdue’s board as chairman in July 2018, shortly before the firm sought protection from the litigation by filing for bankruptcy.

The settlement with the DoJ must receive court approval to go forward.

The judge overseeing the bankruptcy case will be weighing how it will affect negotiations with other states and cities that have filed lawsuits against Purdue, many of which have already objected to the terms.

They say it lets the company and its owners, the Sackler family, off too lightly for their roles creating a crisis that has claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans since 1999.

“DoJ failed,” said Massachusetts attorney general Maura Healey after the settlement was announced.

“Justice in this case requires exposing the truth and holding the perpetrators accountable, not rushing a settlement to beat an election. I am not done with Purdue and the Sacklers, and I will never sell out the families who have been calling for justice for so long.”

Justice Department officials defended the deal as “significant”, saying that the department would forego much of the $8bn in fines, allowing the money to be directed to other creditors in the bankruptcy case – such as the communities ravaged by opioid abuse that have sued the company.

They said they continue to review possible criminal charges against executives at the company and the Sackler family, which owns the company.

“This resolution does not provide anybody with a pass on the criminal side,” Rachel Honig, federal prosecutor for New Jersey said at a press conference.

Under the terms of the settlement, the firm will admit to conspiring to defraud the US and violating anti-kickback laws in its distribution of the addictive painkillers.

Those included payments the firm made to healthcare companies and doctors to encourage prescribing the drugs, which were ultimately paid for by public health programmes.

The Sackler family has also agreed to pay $225m and give up ownership of the firm, which would reorganise as a new “public benefit corporation or similar entity” – an idea backed by Purdue.

All but $225m of a further $2bn punishment would be directed to the new company for use addressing the epidemic.

The DoJ settlement also includes a $3.54bn criminal fine and $2.8bn civil penalty, which will compete with other claims in bankruptcy court – such as those made by communities affected by the opioid crisis.

Critics of the plan want to see the company sold and greater effort made to recover money from the Sackler family. Court documents revealed last year that the family had transferred more than $10bn out of the company between 2008 and 2017, as scrutiny of its conduct increased.

Brexit: UK ready to welcome EU to continue trade talks

The UK is “ready to welcome the EU team” to continue negotiations over a post-Brexit trade deal, says No 10.

The two sides’ chief negotiators, Lord David Frost and Michel Barnier, spoke on the phone earlier after talks stalled last week.

After the conversation, Downing Street said the pair had “jointly agreed a set of principles for handling this intensified phase of talks”.

They warned it was “entirely possible that negotiations will not succeed”.

The statement added: “It is clear that significant gaps remain between our positions in the most difficult areas.

“But we are ready, with the EU, to see if it is possible to bridge them in intensive talks.”

Both the UK and EU are calling on each other to compromise ahead of the looming December deadline for a deal.

Key areas of disagreement between the two sides include fishing rights and post-Brexit competition rules.

Shortage of poultry workers could hit Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner could be ruined this year as supplies of traditional turkeys could run out, an industry body says.

The problem is a shortage of skilled workers to process the meat, according to the British Poultry Council (BPC).

It said 1,000 EU workers were needed to stop Christmas supply from collapsing, and urged the government to exempt them from quarantine rules.

“The great British Christmas cannot survive without access to non-UK labour,” said boss Richard Griffiths.

He said there is a dearth of UK workers with the right training and qualifications to slaughter and process the nine million turkeys reared for Christmas.

“Turkey producers are heavily reliant on licensed and trained EU workers with specific farming, processing, and butchery skills.

“These skills cannot be replaced without a lengthy training and recruitment period.”

The seasonal turkey industry reckons it needs to bring in at least 1,000 skilled workers for the 2020 Christmas period.

But workers won’t come to Britain if they are forced to quarantine for 14 days before starting work, it said.

The type of skills turkey production requires are not available among UK workers, according to the Council.

Workers need to have been trained specifically in Watok – Welfare of Animals at Time of Killing – and licensed to kill or slaughter animals, which means holding a certificate of competence from the Food Standards Agency.

“It will be unfeasible to train and up-skill UK workers within the short window available,” Mr Griffiths said.

The poultry industry estimates it takes someone at least 12 weeks to attain basic slaughter and knife skills.

Mr Griffiths warned that if the seasonal vacancies are not filled it will have a significant impact on the production and cost of food.

“That will pose a risk to affordability and potentially force people to go without food this Christmas,” he said.

The British Poultry Council has asked the government for an urgent exemption for non-UK poultry workers from quarantine restrictions.

The proposed exemption would cover seasonal workers coming from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia at the end of October 2020.

The BBC has contacted the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office for comment.

David Starkey: Police end investigation into interview with Darren Grimes

Police have dropped their investigation into an interview in which historian Dr David Starkey made controversial comments about slavery.

Dr Starkey made the remarks on YouTube to conservative commentator Darren Grimes, who was also investigated.

The historian accused the police of a “misconceived, oppressive” attempt to curtail freedom of expression.

He has previously apologised for saying in June that slavery was not genocide because “so many damn blacks” survived.

“It was a serious error for which I have already paid a significant price,” he said last week.

“I did not, however, intend to stir up racial hatred and there was nothing about the circumstances of the broadcast which made it likely to do so.”

The Metropolitan Police opened the investigation at the end of September, almost three months after an allegation of a public order offence was passed to them by Durham Police.

Last week, the Met said a senior officer had been appointed to review the investigation.

In a statement on Wednesday, Cdr Paul Brogden said: “It is the duty of police to assess and, if appropriate, fully investigate alleged offences and the public would expect us to investigate an allegation of this nature.

“We conducted initial inquiries to establish the full circumstances and sought early advice from the CPS. Having had the opportunity to review this, it is no longer proportionate that this investigation continues.

“We have made direct contact with the individuals involved and updated them on this decision.”

In response, Dr Starkey said: “The investigation should never of course have begun. From the beginning it was misconceived, oppressive and designed to misuse the criminal law to curtail the proper freedom of expression and debate.

“This freedom is our birthright; and it is more important than ever at this critical juncture in our nation’s history.” The outcome was also “a personal vindication”, he added.

Writing on Twitter, Mr Grimes described it as a “vexatious charge” that had involved the “unprecedented use of the Public Order Act to regulate speech & debate”.

During the original discussion, Dr Starkey told Mr Grimes that slavery “was not genocide” because “otherwise there wouldn’t be so many damn blacks in Africa or Britain would there? An awful lot of them survived.”

The subsequent outcry led Cambridge University’s Fitzwilliam College, Canterbury Christ Church University, The Mary Rose Trust and publisher HarperCollins to cut ties with him.

But figures from former home secretary Sajid Javid to ex-Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron and former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald of River Glaven criticised the investigation into Mr Grimes as a threat to a free media.

Southall: People feared dead after King Street gas explosion

People are feared to have been killed in a suspected gas explosion at a shop in west London, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) has said.

The blast happened in a hair salon and mobile phone shop on King Street, Southall, just after 06:30 BST.

Four adults and a child are known to have been rescued by firefighters. Police said one man was found injured.

LFB said it was unable to confirm whether anyone had died in the explosion, as a search continues.

The Metropolitan Police said the blast was not being treated as suspicious and was believed to be a gas explosion.

The force said: “A large explosion was found to have taken place inside a shop.”

Station Commander Paul Morgan said: “Our crews continue to search the property using specialist equipment including the use of urban search-and-rescue dogs.

“The explosion caused substantial damage to the shop and structural damage throughout.

“It is a painstaking and protracted incident with firefighters working systematically to stabilise the building and search for people involved.”

A further 14 adults and two children evacuated themselves from nearby properties after the blast.

LFB was called at 06:38 and sent about 40 firefighters to the scene.

It advised people to avoid the King Street area while the search continues.

A London Ambulance Service spokeswoman said paramedics had treated and discharged one person.

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Alexander Stern: Canoeist found body in River Thames

The body of a man who had been missing for nearly three months was found in a river by a canoeist, an inquest has heard.

Alexander Stern, 36, from London, was last seen at the Bull Inn pub in Sonning, Berkshire, on 11 January.

His body was discovered on 4 April in the River Thames near Charvil, Berkshire, police said.

Reading Coroner’s Court was also told a post-mortem examination failed to determine a cause of death.

A full inquest is due to be held on 4 January 2021.

Senior Coroner for Berkshire, Heidi Connor said: “The deceased was found in the River Thames within the Berkshire jurisdiction.

“It would appear his body was found by someone out using a canoe.”

Mrs Connor added: “I would like to record my condolences to his family and friends at this time.”

A number of search operations for Mr Stern, who according to reports is the son of stationery tycoon and Ferrari collector Ronald Stern, had taken place prior to his body being found.

Police previously said Mr Stern was last seen on CCTV as he left the Bull Inn with a suitcase in the direction of Sonning Bridge.