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.

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.”

Ariana Grandes Positions: Album solid but doesnt sparkle say critics

Ariana Grande released her new album on Friday, and while it’s been broadly welcomed by critics, most agree the singer does not break any new ground.

The 27-year-old’s sixth album Positions is an upbeat affair, and sees her celebrating her new relationship with estate agent Dalton Gomez.

Several outlets, including The Evening Standard, The Telegraph and The Independent, awarded it three stars.

NME said the album “lacks the megawatt pop belters of previous releases”.

Reviewer Hannah Mylrea said in her own three-star review: “As an introduction to the next era of Grande’s career, it’s solid, but you can’t help but feel it’s missing some of her trademark sparkle.”

The Guardian’s Alexis Petridis agreed, writing: “Positions deals in polished professionalism, not pulse-quickening excitement.

“There isn’t an obvious standout track, nor is it the teeming smorgasbord of potential singles that constituted [her last album] Thank U, Next.

“Combined with the languorous pace at which Positions proceeds, the overall effect is of individual tracks bleeding into one long slow-motion shot.”

Grande is credited as a songwriter on all 14 tracks, while other contributors include Ryan Tedder and her long-term writing partner Victoria Monet.

“Positions is a loved-up wallow in every aspect of a newish serious relationship, from relaxed domesticity to worries about whether this one can really last, to extraordinary quantities of sex,” said David Smyth of The Evening Standard.

“Grande’s voice is a thing of great beauty, swooping and fluttering above a plush musical backdrop that’s dominated by violins and cellos this time.”

But while praising the vocals and the musical arrangements, he said the lyrical content left much to be desired.

“It’s often said that such a talent could sing the phone book and make it sound beautiful. Grande gives it a good go, rarely attempting to explore her situation in poetic terms.”

Several critics noted that Positions is the raunchiest musical offering of Grande’s career. The album and lead single’s title, coupled with songs such as 34+35 leave little doubt about what Grande is singing about.

“Ariana has one thing on her mind: sex. So much sex,” wrote Alim Kheraj of i-D. “The subsequent 13 tracks are some of the horniest songs that Ariana has ever released.

“All this romantic romping might be too much for some, especially given that we’re however many months into a pandemic that, for many of us, has put a pause on any amorous or intimate activities.”

The Telegraph’s Kate Solomon said: “Positions is not as immediate as the work Grande is known for, though it will find many fans.

“There are no tentpole hits, no obvious hooks and far too many words crammed into 14 relatively short and sometimes samey songs. But it explores new territory for the singer: new relationships, a new sound, a new sense of self.”

Grande’s previous two albums were both released after she had experienced high-profile personal tragedies.

Sweetener, released in 2018, was her first album since a terrorist attack at one of her concerts in Manchester, while Thank U, Next followed the suicide of her former boyfriend Mac Miller.

The new album sees her on more upbeat form, exuding a greater sense of comfort and confidence.

“Positions is about emerging on the other side – the sort of pop psychology redemption arc that Grande’s young, emotionally clued-up fan base will delight in,” wrote The New Statesman’s Emily Bootle.

In one of the most positive reviews, Bottle said there were “no dud tracks” on the record.

“What makes this album so confident and mature is its overt, practised sense of individual identity,” she said. “Ariana Grande knows exactly what she’s doing, which is creating era-capturing music.”

The personal nature of the lyrics was praised by The Independent’s Adam White, who said the album “sometimes feels like listening in on somebody’s Voice Notes, as Grande speed-sings through her most intimate confessions”.

“It’s why Grande has always felt particularly sympathetic,” he continued. “A true work-in-progress open about her melancholies and misfires.

“She’s likeable and compelling as an artist, even when she’s at her most creatively static, settling on what is comfortable rather than anything slightly dangerous. Like all of us this year, she probably just needs to get out of the house more.

“Lockdown probably didn’t help in terms of collaborators, with Positions seemingly recorded at home or over Zoom, comfort zones fully stayed in. There’s a touch of Spotify syndrome here too, with songs kept short and succinct to benefit playlisting.”

The album features guest spots from Doja Cat, The Weeknd and Ty Dolla $ign. But for Alexa Camp of Slant, it did not offer enough new ideas or innovation.

“Too many of the songs on Positions rely on the same mid-tempo trap-pop that populated Grande’s previous two efforts, particularly Thank U, Next,” she wrote.

“What once seemed refreshing in its minimalism is quickly starting to feel insubstantial. It might be time for contemporary pop’s reigning vocal acrobat to more fully commit to some new positions.”

Lord Janner inquiry: Alleged abuse investigation was cover-up

Police investigations into allegations of child sexual abuse against Lord Janner amounted to a “cover-up”, an inquiry has heard.

A lawyer for some of the alleged victims told the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) he was shown “deference and preferential treatment” because of his position.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and officers involved denied this.

Lord Janner himself denied abuse charges before his death in 2015.

The former Leicester MP had been facing trial for 22 child sexual abuse offences.

The inquiry, which is on its final day, will not decide if he was guilty, but will look at how authorities reacted to multiple allegations of indecent assault and buggery, dating back decades.

Despite a number of earlier investigations, he was not charged until Leicestershire Police launched Operation Enamel in 2012.

Will Chapman, representing 13 complainants, said during one of those previous investigations that statements from two complainants were “dismissed”, which “points to something much darker”.

He told the chair Alexis Jay: “You should call this what it is: a cover-up.”

Nick Stanage, who also represents 13 complainants, said the overall impression from the evidence was of “a police force that… didn’t make the effort”.

He added: “The institutional touching of the forelock well into the 21st Century is foolish and discreditable.

“The evidence shows an unjustifiable, unexplained and suspicious reticence properly to investigate Lord Janner.”

Leicestershire Police accepted Lord Janner “could and should” have been investigated more thoroughly.

But lawyers for former senior officers denied being swayed by his position.

A representative of the CPS also said there was “no evidence of preferential treatment” on their part.

Lord Janner’s family have always maintained his innocence.

Their lawyer, Daniel Friedman, said: “Unless you are prepared to look at the evidence that caused [decision makers] to take the view [that the evidence could not produce a successful conviction in court], then you will be rubber stamping a revisionist history without reading the primary sources.

“You will exacerbate the myths about Janner rather than ground the public in legality.

“When complaints were made, it was right they should have been investigated. If a case called for an answer, he should have been interviewed when he was able to defend himself.

“Where that didn’t happen as it should have, it was not his fault.”