Doctor Who: Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole to leave companion roles

Bradley Walsh and Tosin Cole will make their final appearances as the Doctor’s companions in the Doctor Who special on New Year’s Day, the BBC has revealed.

Walsh said viewers should “expect a lot of poignancy” from the episode.

The pair have been at Jodie Whittaker’s side since 2018. Cole said it had been “an honour” to play Ryan opposite Walsh’s Graham and Whittaker’s Doctor.

Titled Revolution of the Daleks, the special will also see John Barrowman return as Captain Jack Harkness.

Barrowman said it was “great being back” and that returning to the show had been “like going home”.

Walsh and Cole made their Doctor Who debuts at the start of Whittaker’s first full series as the time-travelling Time Lord.

They went on to appear in two series as well as the 2019 special Resolution, which also featured the villainous Daleks.

Walsh said it was “amazing” to be “only one of a few people on the planet” to have battled the Doctor’s long-time robotic nemeses.

The comedian and host of game show The Chase said he had “absolutely loved” being on the long-running sci-fi programme and would miss “everyone and everything” involved.

Meanwhile, Cole said filming his last scene had been “emotional”.

Barrowman, who has played Captain Jack in both Doctor Who and its spin-off Torchwood, said the Daleks were the show’s “quintessential” villains.

“They are never to be underestimated as they will always find a way to survive, which is exactly why they have survived over centuries,” he added.

Cole said: “Working with the Daleks is sort of like working with Doctor Who royalty. You have to respect them because they are so iconic.”

The Christmas special will see Mandip Gill resume her role as companion Yasmin, while Chris Noth returns as business tycoon Jack Robertson.

It will also see Dame Harriet Walter make her Doctor Who debut alongside Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, of Utopia and Misfits fame.

“We’ve crammed this year’s Doctor Who festive special with an explosion of extraordinary acting talent,” executive producer Chris Chibnall said.

Unilever explores four-day working week

Consumer goods giant Unilever plans to test a four-day working week in New Zealand, giving staff a chance to slash their hours by 20% without hurting their pay.

The Dove soap, Marmite and Lipton tea owner said it was exploring what the results could mean for Unilever “on a broader scale in the future”.

The trial comes as the pandemic has shaken up work practices.

“The old ways of working are outdated,” the firm’s New Zealand boss said.

Nick Bangs, managing director of Unilever New Zealand, said the goal of the test was to “measure performance on output not time”.

Covid-19, which has led many of his 81 staff to work remotely, played a “catalytic role” in the decision to experiment, he added.

“Essentially, this is about a holistic understanding of how work and life fit together, and improving mental and physical wellbeing,” he said.

“We look forward to sharing the lessons from this trial with other Kiwi businesses, in the hopes of influencing others to reflect on their own ways of working.”

Since the pandemic struck this year, many firms have introduced remote working and more flexible hours, arrangements they say are likely to linger even after concerns about the virus abate.

But interest in a shorter working week pre-dates the virus.

In 2019, Microsoft Japan reported a sales boost of 40% when it reduced the working week there. New Zealand estate planning firm Perpetual Guardian provided inspiration closer to home, Mr Bangs said.

Unilever’s trial will run from December 2020 to December 2021. The firm is working with Sydney’s University of Technology (UTS) Business School researchers to measure how performance fares.

Unilever, which employs more than 150,000 people globally, has been active in New Zealand for more than 100 years. Its operations on the island are focused on import and distribution. All 81 employees there are eligible to participate.

Pat Finucane: Politicians react to public inquiry decision

Politicians have reacted to the government’s decision not to initiate a public inquiry into state collusion in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane.

NI Secretary Brandon Lewis said he had taken the decision due to other review processes needing to run their course.

He said he understood the disappointment of the Finucane family but explained his decision was based on what is in the public interest and to allow “proper due process”.

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney

The Irish government was “disappointed” the opportunity was not taken to establish an inquiry without further delay but noted the secretary of state has not ruled out holding an inquiry, Mr Coveney said.

“There is an undeniable onus on the state to do everything possible to restore public confidence through a process that fully meets relevant international standards and obligations of effectiveness, independence and transparency,” he said.

Mr Coveney said he had “made clear that it remains the position of the government that only through a full and independent public inquiry will a satisfactory resolution to this case be found”.

“We will study the detail of the announcement by the secretary of state in full.

“We will also ask to meet again with the Finucane family to hear their perspective and concerns. We will then be engaging further with the UK Government on this case.”

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh

Louise Haigh said the decision was a “painful setback to the Finucane family” who “just want the truth”.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald

Mary Lou McDonald said only a full inquiry “can get to the truth”.

DUP MP and Commons Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

Jeffrey Donaldson said he welcomed the decision by the Secretary of State and also condemned Mr Finucane’s murder.

“What we really need is not some special attention to any one case, but a holistic approach to legacy that enables all innocent victims to have access to truth and justice”, he said.

Alliance Party deputy leader Stephen Farry

Stephen Farry said it was “a very poor decision”.

“The Finucane case in particular raises serious questions regarding the rule of law, actions of the state and accountability,” he said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

Colum Eastwood said he “absolutely did not thank” the secretary of state for his statement, which he described as a “disgrace”.

He said he had “failed miserably” to do right by the Finucane family.

TUV leader Jim Allister

Jim Allister said the announcement was to be “welcomed”.

“My thoughts are with the countless victims who don’t have hours of broadcast media time and acres of newsprint devoted to their loved ones,” he said.

Llanelli man who filmed himself speeding jailed

A man who live streamed himself on Facebook while driving dangerously has been jailed.

Justin Dean Jones, of Panteg, filmed himself several times driving at excessive speeds and racing other cars in Llanelli.

Footage shows he reached up to 120mph (193km/h) on the A484 Loughor link road, while overtaking other drivers.

A member of the public sent Jones’s Facebook videos to Welsh road safety partnership GoSafe.

The 30-year-old, who was charged with three counts of dangerous driving, was jailed for two years and a month.

Jones was also disqualified from driving for five years and two months.

Footage from between 2 July and 14 July shows Jones using his mobile phone to film himself at the wheel while speeding in a Vauxhall Astra and a BMW X5 in 30mph zones.

In one video, Jones was seen overtaking other vehicles on pedestrian crossings.

Jones, who was holding the phone in one hand while driving, can be heard on the videos boasting about the performance of the vehicle, according to Dyfed-Powys Police.

An anti-social behaviour destruction order has been granted for the Astra and the BMW.

Sgt Ian Price, of Go Safe, said the sentence was “a clear message” that this type of behaviour is unacceptable.

Covid: Virus under control but vigilance needed – Hancock

England’s national lockdown has helped to bring coronavirus “back under control” but vigilance is still needed, the health secretary has said.

Matt Hancock hailed the restrictions a success and said infections in England dropped by about 30% in the last week.

The lockdown ends on Wednesday and will be replaced with tiered restrictions.

Mr Hancock stressed the need for the regional system, saying “while we can let up a little, we can’t afford to let up a lot”.

Speaking at a Downing Street news briefing on Monday, he said people following the lockdown rules meant “we’ve reduced pressures on the NHS, we’ve brought down the number of coronavirus cases, we’ve got this virus back under control.”

He added: “The success of our collective efforts means that from Wednesday, everyone in England, even those in tier three, can have some greater freedoms – but we don’t have much headroom.”

Mr Hancock pointed to a major study from Imperial College London that has suggested that the number of infections has fallen by a third since the lockdown was introduced a month ago.

However, the health secretary called for vigilance and said the country could not risk Covid cases rising again as we head towards Christmas.

Prof Stephen Powis, national medical director of NHS England, told the same briefing that it was “crucial” to have infection rates under control ahead of January, when the NHS is at its busiest.

He said he was “confident people will act sensible over Christmas” – when restrictions are to be relaxed for five days – and the country will go into the new year with the number of infections staying down and falling.

Prof Powis also said that the NHS had “started to turn the corner” as the number of people in hospital with coronavirus is falling, but said it was “critical” that cases remained low.

He said: “We have the evidence that infection rates are now falling and have been falling during this period of lockdown.

“And we are now just beginning to see that translate through into hospital admissions, which have been falling, and into the overall number of people in hospital which in recent days has started to turn the corner, and is now falling.”

Mr Hancock pointed to the government’s newly-published impact assessment in needing the toughened tiered approach in England, following criticism from some Tory MPs.

He said it “clearly” demonstrated the move was “necessary to avoid a much worse outcome”, and called for vigilance.

Asked whether Conservative backbenchers considering voting against the government’s proposed new tier system for England during a Commons vote on Tuesday are being irresponsible, Mr Hancock said he urged all MPs to vote for the measures.

He said the tiered system was the “best way to avoid a third lockdown” and the “most proportionate way to take the action that we need to keep people safe, and to stop the NHS being overwhelmed”.

He repeated the government’s earlier pledge to roll out mass community testing in tier three areas, including testing people without symptoms, after the lockdown ends.

He said mass testing had successfully brought down infections in Liverpool – where 300,000 people were tested for Covid-19 – and would give tier three areas a “faster way out of the toughest restrictions”.

Mr Hancock appealed to anyone who was offered a test to take one, as “you might just save a life”.

However, health leaders have warned that mass testing plans in England threaten to be a “distraction” from other priorities such as the rollout of a vaccine.

Mr Hancock said mass testing and vaccination needed to “run alongside each other”, which had already been happening in vaccine trials to find out if people who are vaccinated have caught Covid-19.

Community testing is being seen as a crucial development to get the UK through winter until the vaccines arrive.

This refers to the use of rapid testing to spot asymptomatic cases – people who do not have symptoms.

It is what the government was referring to as the “moonshot” programme a few months ago.

Local authorities are being given access to these tests to try to root out the virus among people who do not know they have it.

It was one of the tools that Liverpool has used over the past month or so during which infection levels have been reduced three-fold.

Councils across the country are likely to offer it to people in neighbourhoods with high infection rates and to target high-risk workplaces like food factories.

Nationally it is being used to test care home visitors and help university students return home for Christmas.

But despite the optimism among ministers, there are words of caution.

These tests were never intended for community use like this.

They may only pick up three quarters of positive cases, dropping to a half if carried out by untrained people.

The government is pushing the boundaries.

That may be understandable in a pandemic, but the effectiveness of this programme is far from certain.

Mass coronavirus testing of students, so they can safely return home for the Christmas break, has already begun at many UK universities.

Mr Hancock urged students to take a test if they are offered one but defended the fact that the scheme is not mandatory.

Meanwhile on Monday, the government recorded another 12,330 daily coronavirus cases and a further 205 deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

Caffè Nero rejects bid from billionaire Asda brothers

Coffee shop chain Caffè Nero has rejected a takeover bid from the billionaire brothers behind petrol forecourt business EG Group.

The Issa brothers, who are also buying the grocer Asda, made the offer on Sunday ahead of a key meeting between the coffee chain and its creditors.

Caffè Nero is seeking approval for a rescue deal that would see its rents cut after sales slumped in lockdown.

It dismissed the bid as “opportunistic” and vowed to go ahead with its plan.

The chain – which owns 650 own-brand stores and 150 Harris & Hoole coffee shops – has been hit hard by the reduced footfall in city centres during the pandemic.

This has forced it to seek a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) – a type of rescue deal that could see some of its stores shut and rents cut on others.

Insiders had said Caffè Nero, which employs 5,000 people, would be an obvious extension to the Issa’s EG Group business.

EG runs 6,000 petrol forecourts in Europe, the US and Australia, and already has brand partnerships with the likes of Starbucks and KFC.

Under the bid, which was first reported by Sky News, Caffè Nero’s landlords would also have been paid in full for any rental arrears.

However, in a statement Caffè Nero criticised the approach as a “clear intention is to disrupt the CVA process”.

It added the move could be a precursor to the Issa brothers “opportunistically acquiring the company at a later date”.

The company said: “Importantly, the group’s external lenders have indicated their support for the CVA process.

“The lenders are aware of the approach referred to above and have not requested a change in strategy and shareholders have undertaken to reject the offer.”

In September, a consortium of Zuber and Mohsin Issa and private equity firm TDR Capital won the battle to buy Asda from its US owner Walmart.

It means the grocer will return to majority UK ownership for the first time in two decades.

The Blackburn-based brothers were both made CBEs after the news.

However, questions have been raised about the Issa brothers’ finances after EG Group’s auditor, Deloitte, suddenly quit in October and was replaced by KPMG.

At the time Deloitte did not say why it had stepped down, but EG Group said the auditor had signed a “clean audit” for EG Group’s 2019 financial accounts and there had been “no disagreements on any auditing or accounting matters”.

Later in October, agency Moody’s downgraded the EG Group’s credit rating, criticising the firm for failing to improve its financial reporting and management processes.

One of its concerns was the way the group reported its £8bn of debt, which Moody’s estimates to be 11.4 times its underlying earnings.

EG Group said it “strongly” disagreed with Moody’s decision, adding that the downgrade “doesn’t reflect the continued, wide-ranging investment in strengthening the business and the significant progress made over the past 12 months”.

Belfast man pleads guilty to child sexual offences

A 32-year-old man from Belfast has been jailed for six years and three months after pleading guilty to sexual activity with a child.

The incident took place in June 2019, when Ciaran McAuley dragged the schoolboy down an alleyway.

He then sexually assaulted and threatened him.

McAuley appeared at Belfast Crown Court on Monday where he was deemed a “dangerous offender”.

The court was told he had just been released from custody for similar offences when he targeted his victim.

Judge Stephen Fowler also imposed an additional period of six years on licence, and said the extended sentence was appropriate to protect the public from further offending.

The convicted offender later told a probation officer that he felt attracted to the schoolboy and ‘chose’ to offend.

McAuley attended court via a video link with Maghaberry prison, where he pleaded guilty to seven offences.

The offences included an adult causing or inciting a child between 13 and 16 to engage in sexual activity; sexual activity by an adult with a child between 13 and 16, and breach of a Sexual Offences Prevention Order.

The incident happened at around 7pm on June 21 2019, when the boy had been walking along the Ormeau Road.

The 14-year-old was in his school uniform and had been listening to music on his earphones when he was approached by McAuley, who then dragged him into the alleyway.

Mr Henry said the scared schoolboy was crying and started hyperventilating, with McAuley telling him to “be quiet or I’ll hurt you”.

McAuley then forced sexual activity and later kissed the boy on the cheek and threatened to kill him if he told anyone about what had happened.

The prosecutor said the schoolboy contacted his family who then collected him from Ormeau Road and informed the PSNI.

Police attended the nearby hostel which houses sex offenders and after speaking to staff, McAuley was arrested and admitted his guilt.

After hearing of the defendant’s previous criminal records for similar offences against children, Judge Fowler described McAuley as a “repeat offender” who was “sexually attracted to children” and who displayed “persistence and determination”.

Detectives from Police Service NI’s Public Protection Branch welcomed the sentence handed to McAuley.

PSNI Detective Constable Grant said “This was a terrifying ordeal the victim endured… The fear and terror he must have felt is unimaginable, and I want to thank him for having the courage to report what happened. He has been incredibly brave and shown tremendous resilience following what was an extremely traumatic ordeal”.

McAuley also admitted a grooming offence which dated back to 2014, when parents of an 11 year old boy had made complaints to police about him.

As he passed sentence, Judge Fowler cited the alleyway incident as a “serious attack on a child by a persistent paedophile”.

He deemed McAuley as dangerous due to the risks he posed to the public and said “it is clear he is sexually attracted to young boys and is unable to control these feelings”.

As McAuley has been deemed dangerous, he will not be automatically released on licence after completing half his sentence. Instead, he will be assessed by the Parole Commissioners, and may not be suitable for release until he has served the whole term.

Once released, he will spend an additional period of six years on licence and will be subject to recall to prison during that period.

Pat Finucane case: A murder with collusion at its heart

The murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane in 1989 is one of the most notorious of the Troubles.

At its heart is collusion between state forces and loyalist paramilitaries, one of the battleground narratives when it comes to addressing the past.

The government has previously appointed individuals to examine the killing, but nothing has provided his family with the full disclosure it believes only a public inquiry can deliver.

It is a case that has never gone away.

Pat Finucane, 39, was murdered at home in February 1989.

He was shot 14 times by two masked gunmen from the loyalist paramilitary Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in front of his wife, who was wounded, and three children.

One of those children, John, is now Sinn Féin MP for North Belfast.

At Pat Finucane’s inquest, the police refuted the claim by his killers that he was in the IRA.

What led to his murder was the fact he was a well-known defence solicitor who frequently acted for high-profile IRA members. He also represented loyalists.

While arrests followed his killing, the police investigation was later found to have effectively ceased within months.

In 1989, Metropolitan Police Commissioner John Stevens was appointed to investigate claims of collusion between state forces and loyalist paramilitaries in numerous killings.

His investigations lasted 14 years and, in Mr Finucane’s case, he identified the involvement of two agents within the UDA, Brian Nelson and William Stobie, who are both now deceased.

Nelson worked for the Army and was involved in targeting Mr Finucane.

Stobie, a police informer, provided one of the guns.

The inquiry report said the attack could have been prevented and found collusion evident in many ways.

At the Weston Park political talks in 2001, the government agreed to hold a public inquiry, if recommended by a retired Canadian judge it appointed to examine the case.

Judge Peter Cory issued a report in 2004, stating there was “strong evidence” of collusion, including MI5 being aware Mr Finucane was under threat, and found an inquiry was necessary.

But its establishment was delayed on two fronts – the prosecution of Ken Barrett, identified by the Stevens’ Inquiry as the gunmen’s getaway driver, who had been recruited as a police informer after the murder – and new legislation covering public inquiries, which allowed ministers to restrict evidence.

In 2011, the government changed course on its commitment to a public inquiry and tasked Sir Desmond de Silva, a former UN war crimes prosecutor, to hold an independent review.

He had access to documents not made available before but did not speak to Nelson’s handler on medical grounds.

His report prompted then Prime Minister David Cameron to apologise for “frankly shocking levels of collusion”.

As well as agent involvement, it found police took no action to act on threat intelligence regarding Mr Finucane and justice was obstructed.

But there was no “over-arching state conspiracy”, the report said.

Read more on the de Silva report.

Mr Finucane’s widow, Geraldine, has engaged in repeated legal action in a long campaign for a public inquiry, believing, on the basis of what Judge Cory indicated to her privately, collusion in the murder went as high up as Cabinet level.

In 2019, the UK Supreme Court found there had never been an adequate investigation, but stopped short of ordering a public inquiry, ruling it was for the state “to decide what form of investigation is required.”

A year passed, prompting another court case, aimed at forcing the government to address the Supreme Court’s findings.

In October 2020, a lawyer for Northern Ireland Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis, told a court that a decision would be made before the end of November on whether or not to hold a public inquiry.

Microsoft files patent to record and score meetings on body language

Technology giant Microsoft has filed a patent for a system to monitor employees’ body language and facial expressions during work meetings and give the events a “quality score”.

A filing suggests it could be deployed in real-world meetings or online virtual get-togethers.

It envisions rooms being packed with sensors to monitor the participants, which could raise privacy concerns.

Microsoft is already under fire over a separate “productivity-score” tool.

That feature was introduced last year but came to prominence only after a public demo at a corporate event.

It allows managers to keep track of individual workers’ use of Microsoft’s Office 365 software – including Outlook email and the Teams meeting and Excel spreadsheet apps.

Microsoft points out the facility is not enabled by default and suggests its primary goal is to identify IT shortcomings.

But critics say it is effectively an employee-surveillance tool.

Companies do not always make use of patents they register.

But they often reveal ideas in development before they appear in commercial products.

Details of the “meeting-insight computing system” were filed in July, ahead of being made public this month.

They say the sensors could record:

They also suggest employees’ mobile devices could be used to monitor whether they were simultaneously engaged in other tasks – such as texting or browsing the internet – as well as to check their schedule to take into account whether they had had to attend other meetings the same day.

All that information would then be combined with other factors, such as “how efficient the meeting was, an emotional sentiment expressed by meeting participants, [and] how comfortable the meeting environment was”, into an “overall quality score”, Microsoft says.

The patent also suggests the technology could be used to identify problems that can make meetings ineffectual.

For example, if too many people were packed into a room or if the location becomes uncomfortably hot in the afternoon sun.

“Many organisations are plagued by overly long, poorly attended, and recurring meetings that could be modified and/or avoided if more information regarding meeting quality was available,” the patent says.

But one privacy campaigner suggested the system would be “invasive” and a “major step back for workers’ rights”.

“This type of employee surveillance software obstructs diversity in workplaces by operating on the false premise that there is a uniform, normative way that people work optimally,” Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said.

“A lot of surveillance tech is marketed as ‘innovative’ but in reality is astoundingly retrograde.”

A Microsoft representative said it applied for “many patents” to protect its engineers’ work

“However, the application of a patent doesn’t necessarily indicate that the technology described will be implemented in a product,” they added.

It comes as the Trades Union Congress (TUC) releases a report into the use of technology in the workplace – including when artificial intelligence (AI) starts to take on management functions.

The report “looks at exactly these types of technologies and the dangers they pose of unfair and discriminatory outcomes for workers”, TUC policy officer Mary Towers said.

“In particular, we advocate more worker consultation and transparency over when technologies like facial recognition and speech recognition are used and how they are being used to make decisions about people at work,” she added.

Pat Finucane: No public inquiry into Belfast lawyers murder

A public inquiry into state collusion in the murder of Belfast solicitor Pat Finucane will not take place at this time, the British government has said.

Mr Finucane was shot dead by loyalist paramilitaries from the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in February 1989.

His family had fought a long campaign, involving numerous legal actions, in a bid to have London fulfil a commitment given 20 years ago to hold an inquiry.

Several examinations of the case found state forces colluded in his murder.

NI Secretary Brandon Lewis said he had taken the decision due to other investigative processes needing to run their course.

He discussed the outcome with Mr Finucane’s family at 16:00 GMT, shortly before outlining the details in the House of Commons.

“I am not taking the possibility of a public inquiry off the table at this stage, but it is important we allow ongoing PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland) and Police Ombudsman processes to move forward,” he said.

But Mr Finucane’s widow Geraldine said the government’s decision “makes a mockery” of previous rulings.

“The proposal falls so far short of what it required in this case that it beggars belief,” she said in a statement on Monday.

“It makes a mockery of the decision by the UK Supreme Court and the forthright comments of Belfast High Court. It is yet another insult added to a deep and lasting injury.”

The government had been forced into taking a decision by two legal actions – one involving the UK Supreme Court in February last year.

The Supreme Court found there had never been an adequate investigation into the murder, but stopped short of directing a public inquiry, ruling it was entirely a matter for the government.

Further government information including details that were not presented during the Supreme Court case have now been published, said Mr Lewis.

Mr Lewis said the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) also intends to begin a review process into the murder of Mr Finucane early next year.

He said this was an important development and a factor in determining the next steps in the case.

A public inquiry had been supported by the Irish government, Labour and four Northern Ireland political parties – Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance and the Green Party.

In his role as a defence solicitor, Mr Finucane had represented both loyalists and republicans, including prominent members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA).

The claim made by his killers, that he was a member of the IRA himself, was rejected by the police and strongly denied by his family.

The 39-year-old was shot 14 times by two gunmen who burst into his north Belfast home during a family dinner in February 1989.

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