Derry and Strabane: Council votes not to celebrate NI centenary

Unionists have described a Derry City and Strabane District Council vote against marking the centenary of Northern Ireland as “a retrograde step”.

The motion was passed at a meeting on Thursday.

It means the council will not participate in any commemorative or celebratory events next year.

Northern Ireland was created in 1921 following the partition of Ireland.

DUP MLA Gary Middleton said the vote was a “huge blow for community relations”.

“This is a retrograde step which should disappoint anyone focused on mutual respect and understanding,” he said.

Mr Middleton added: “Regardless of anyone’s viewpoint, the centenary of Northern Ireland is a significant milestone in our shared history.”

The motion, proposed by independent councillor Gary Donnelly called on council not to commemorate or celebrate any event in relation to the centenary of NI 2021 given “the injustice of partition”.

It passed with 27 votes for and 10 against.

Speaking at the council meeting DUP councillor David Ramsey said council is being asked “to take a stand which to my eyes and the eyes of many, is sectarian”.

Ulster Unionist councillor Darren Guy said the vote was “senseless”.

“This council prides itself on inclusiveness and equality,” he said.

“There is no inclusiveness in this proposal”.

The board of the pro-union North West Cultural Partnership group said it is seeking an urgent meeting with the chief executive of the council to discuss the issue.

In a statement, it said: “We will be tabling our views on the actions of councillors in approving a motion… which threatens to position the pro-union community as cultural and historical outcasts within the city and council area.”

It said it will also raise the matter with representatives of all political parties, the communities minister and the Northern Ireland Office.

At Thursday’s full council meeting, all SDLP and Sinn Féin representatives voted in favour of the motion.

Sinn Féin councillor Mickey Cooper said council should pursue funding for community groups wishing to mark the centenary, but said council should not “corporately hold any events celebrating partition”.

SDLP councillor Martin Reilly told the meeting the many people in the council area who wish to mark the centenary should do so.

“But I also agree that council should not be supportive of partition.”

Events in NI, Great Britain and further afield are being planned to commemorate the centenary of the creation of Northern Ireland.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously said the centenary should be celebrated in a “sensitive” way.

Covid: Birmingham shisha cafe shut down after second breach

Police have closed a shisha cafe after finding about 150 people inside, days after the venue was hit with a £10,000 fine for Covid-19 breaches.

Officers forced their way in to Kasablanca in the Highgate area of Birmingham at 01:00 BST on 24 October.

Video posted on YouTube shows officers forcing entry to the smokers’ lounge on Moseley Street, with shrieks audible as they disperse the crowds.

The venue had broken restrictions earlier this month, police said.

Birmingham and the wider West Midlands combined authority area has been widely predicted to move to tier three “very high alert” measures as soon as the end of next week, as infection rates continue to rise.

In a separate incident, the owner of a venue in Smethwick, West Midlands, has been fined £10,000, after hosting a wedding celebration for more than 70 people.

Ch Supt Andy Beard said: “It’s unacceptable that these businesses continue to flout the law, putting lives at risk and increasing the risk of infections as this deadly virus continues to spread.

“This is a difficult time for everyone, but we won’t be able to control this pandemic and return to a sense of normality if this continues to happen.”

Closed-down venues have their orders reviewed every week by the local authority and owners must prove they are complying with the law before reopening, the force said.

Family of soldier killed by elephant in Malawi query his care

The family of a British soldier killed by an elephant in Malawi have queried why it took more than three hours for him to be seen by a paramedic.

Mathew Talbot, 22, from Great Barr, West Midlands, was on counter-poaching patrol in Liwonde National Park in 2019 when he was charged by the animal.

His family also questioned why he was not airlifted to hospital sooner.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said it had accepted all recommendations in a report over his death.

Steven and Michelle Talbot said it took “nearly 10 months” before they had answers to questions, such as “why was Matt not airlifted out as soon as they knew how seriously he was injured?”

Of the day their son, who served with the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, was injured, they asked: “Why were service personnel not allowed to use their weapons to fire warning shots?

“Why did they not send the company paramedic to Matt as he had life saving drugs and equipment ?”

They added it was “some three-plus hours before the paramedic saw Matt”, but acknowledged that “combat medics who were with [him] did the best they could do with limited resources”.

They also said he “was so happy to have been chosen to go to Malawi and take part in such an honourable task helping to protect our wildlife”.

The MoD said a panel made 30 recommendations “to enhance safety and prevent reoccurrence of this tragic incident”.

Brig Ben Cattermole, Commander 11 Brigade, said the MoD accepted the report’s recommendations “including robust training to better assess the risk of animal attack and fully rehearsing medical procedures”.

He stated the MoD would review the coroner’s findings when available and the Army’s sympathies remained with Gdsm Talbot’s family and friends.

The report said there was a contract for a set number of flying hours for a helicopter and the vehicles were “a scarce resource in this part of Africa” meaning “this asset covered several parks”.

It stated that soldier who was positioned in a tree “was unable to adopt a stable firing position and his direct line of sight was partially obscured by foliage”.

It also noted: “Gdsm Talbot received the best level of medical care he could have possibly been given under very challenging circumstances.”

Triple-murder suspect arrested in country lane

A murder suspect who was wanted in connection with three deaths has been arrested.

Anthony Russell, 38, was being sought after a mother and son were killed in Coventry and a woman was found dead on grassland in Leamington Spa.

Julie, 58, and David Williams, 32, were found at separate flats in the city on consecutive days earlier in the week.

The third victim, 31-year-old Nichola McGregor from Leamington, was found on Thursday.

Mr Russell was found in a car parked in Staffordshire at about 04:00 GMT, West Midlands Police said.

The red Ford C-Max car, which police said was stolen in a “car-jacking” in Leamington on Wednesday, was found in a lane in the village of Rolleston-on-Dove, near Burton upon Trent.

Mr Russell is also being held on suspicion of stealing the car.

“The deaths of three people in the Midlands region this week have been shocking and devastating for the families involved,” Assistant Chief Constable Mark Payne said.

“We are grateful to everyone who has assisted with our appeals for information, but although we have a suspect in custody, our investigation must now establish exactly what has happened.”

The force launched an appeal to trace Mr Russell following the deaths of Mr Williams, who was found at a flat in Riley Square at about 23:30 on Monday and his mother, Julie, who was found at an address nearby the day before.

He was linked to Ms McGregor’s death after her body was discovered in grassland on Newbold Comyn, Leamington Spa, at about midday on Thursday, although police did not reveal how they were connected.

Following the discovery, police launched an appeal for help to trace Mr Russell, who they said was a rough sleeper known to frequent the Coventry and Warwickshire areas.

Rhodes parasailing deaths: Tributes paid to teenagers

Tributes have been paid to two British children who died, and another who was seriously injured, in a parasailing accident on the Greek island of Rhodes.

Cousins Michael Connelly (known as Mikey), 13, and Jessica Hayes, 15, from Northamptonshire, died on Wednesday.

Michael’s brother James, 15, was seriously injured when their parachute rope snapped.

The family said they were “devastated” by the loss, which leaves a hole “that will never be filled”.

Two people connected with the parasailing speedboat were arrested.

The boys’ school called the news “tragic” and said it had “shocked the community”.

The teenagers were on holiday with their parents when the accident happened at about noon local time near Lindos.

A spokesperson for the family said: “We are devastated by the loss of Mikey and Jessica. Mikey was an incredibly charismatic, loving and popular boy, and the world is a poorer place without him in it.

“He has left with his beautiful cousin Jessica, who was adored by everyone who knew her.”

Michelle Newman, principal at Kinsgwood Secondary Academy in Corby, attended by Michael and James, said: “We are all incredibly saddened by this tragic incident and the passing of one of our much-loved pupils, Michael Connelly, and his cousin Jessica.

“Mikey was a wonderful pupil, a friend to us all, and a fantastically positive member of our school community.”

Mikey was a member of Genesis Theatre Schools, based in Corby.

Posting a tribute on its Facebook page, the company wrote: “We are heartbroken at the news that pupil Mikey Connelly has died yesterday in a tragic accident on holiday in Greece… along with his cousin, and his brother is currently fighting for his life.”

They described the 13-year-old as “a rare, exceptional talent in acting and so, so funny”.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We are supporting the family of two British people following their death in Rhodes, and are in contact with the Greek authorities.”

Covid: Carlisle in late move into tier two restrictions

Carlisle is to move into tier two coronavirus restrictions from Saturday, the government has announced.

Households in the city will no longer be allowed to mix indoors in any setting from midnight.

The leader of Cumbria County Council said the government had taken it by surprise, causing “confusion and chaos”, and described communication of the move as an “omnishambles”.

The Department of Health has been approached for comment.

Pubs and restaurants will also have to close at 10pm as part of the tier two high alert level.

Carlisle recorded 262 new cases in the week to Monday, giving an infection rate of 241 cases per 100,000 people, against the English average of 225.

Stewart Young, leader of the county council, tweeted he was “astonished to read in the press” Carlisle’s level would be raised “when we were told only this morning that there would be further discussions next week”.

In a later interview with BBC Radio Cumbria, he said: “I’ve never had a day like it. We understood the agreement was we’d keep it under review and have further discussions on Monday so that was the position as late as this morning.

“Then we were all caught unaware because the government suddenly announced we were going into tier two at midnight so everybody was scrabbling around to find out what happened.”

Mr Young said the government then informed the council it had made a “mistake” and would reverse the decision, only for another email to arrive shortly after, confirming the move to tier two would happen after all.

Mr Young, who also represents the Upperby ward on the city council, added: “It’s literally been changing from minute to minute. That’s confusing for everybody and that’s not good.

“What we want is clarity so people know what they’re supposed to do and can follow the rules.”

The city now appears on an updated list of tier two areas on the government’s website after being added at about noon.

Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, described the lack of clarity from the Department of Health as “about par for the course” and warned businesses would struggle with only “pretty poor” grants available to help them.

Covid-19: Bleak future as traders prepare for tier 3

As 2.3 million people prepare for tier three Covid restrictions in West Yorkshire, businesses in the region have described their “bleak” outlook.

Traders from all five of the county’s local authority areas have told the BBC they are preparing for business to be halved overnight or being forced to close.

Under the tier three – very high alert – rules, there can also be no mixing of households indoors or outdoors, including in private gardens.

The rules begin from 00:01 GMT on Monday, with casinos, soft play, adult gaming centres, betting shops and car boot sales closing, as well as pubs and bars not serving substantial meals.

Nomadic Beers has been supplying cask beers to pubs in Leeds and beyond for the past three years, but lost all trade overnight when the pubs closed in March.

Mike Hampshire, who runs the brewery’s taproom, was in a WhatsApp group messaging other local traders on Thursday when he realised a tier 3 announcement was imminent.

“We had cleaned down the brewery, sanitized everything, made sure the posters and the QR codes are up, set all the tables up two metres apart, it was a full day’s work,” he said.

“To do all of that only to find out we’re going into lockdown is just super-frustrating.”

The taproom, which opened in July and can serve 42 people with social distancing, will be calling last orders on Saturday.

Business cashflow is expected to instantly fall by 40%.

“It feels like we’re being targeted. If I walk into a supermarket the experience is not the same at all, there’s loads of people milling around, some without masks, there’s no track and trace,” he said.

“They feel like an unsafe environment, but we’re jumping through hoops to make ours safe and we’re being forced to close.”

An additional tier three rule for West Yorkshire is the banning of shared smoking equipment in hospitality venues, which is a concern for Share One shisha lounge in Huddersfield.

Baghtiar Shateri, the owner, said there was “no point operating” after the rules kick in.

“People come for the shisha, the other bits like teas and coffees just accompany the shisha, they don’t come especially for them – there isn’t a business there now,” he said.

The rules state shisha venues can continue to operate without smoking equipment, but Mr Shateri feels he won’t cover his overheads without the bar’s main attraction.

He continued: “We’ll still have bills to pay, electricity, rent, staff costs – everything that comes with day-to-day running.”

New research recently shared by the BBC shows 10% of play centres in the UK have shut permanently since August, with Wakefield’s Happy Days concerned it could have to follow suit.

The business, which has been open for eight years, spent £1,000 on signage, cleaning equipment and safety measures, but is closing once again from Monday.

Amber Cooke-Thomas, who runs the play centre, said: “We’d just got up and running, the public had just got confident in coming and obviously we’re back to square one where we were in March.

“It’s not making money, we’re just losing money as it doesn’t even cover the overheads – it’s hard, really hard.”

The government has promised a further financial package of more than £59.3m for the region, but the play centre feels it is “50-50” as to whether it will gain further support.

“This is our busiest time of the year now with the rain and the weather, and I’m grateful we’ve been open during half term, but the future looks very bleak,” she said.

Covid-19 rates in Bradford have continued to rise despite local lockdown measures introduced in July, but stricter tier three rules mean some businesses are having to transform themselves.

Daniel Horsman runs the independent Jacobs Well pub – one of the oldest in the city, From Monday it will become Bradford’s newest pie house.

“We’re not normally food focused, we’re normally wet-led, so having a lot more food is presenting a lot of obstacles and staffing might have to change,” he said.

The pub said it was down about 20% when compared to pre-lockdown takings, with Mr Horsman’s ambition of starting renovation work currently on hold.

He said: “It’s going from running a pub to running a restaurant and I’ve got no experience of that. It’s a very weird feeling and I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”

Harveys of Halifax has been a landmark for shoppers in the town for almost 100 years. In 2020, the department store has had to make the first redundancies in its history.

The new measures for tier three will not change how the business is run, but managing director Tracy Harvey is concerned it will cause another dent in consumer confidence.

“We are still seeing customers who are determined to still go out, particularly single and older people who have missed being able to come to us throughout the year,” she said.

“It’s still a small minority of people who would be coming in if things were normal; we’re looking at about a 50% reduction in footfall.”

With people in West Yorkshire advised not to travel outside their local authority area, the store is concerned the additional restrictions will mean it misses important tourist trade in the run-up to Christmas.

She added: “We’re just doing the best we can under the circumstances that we’re under. We’re learning to react very quickly, adapt as much as we can and just try to remain positive.”

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