Jo Sheen: Three arrests over woman missing for 11 months

Three people have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder a woman who has been missing for almost 11 months.

The last known sighting of Jo Sheen, 44, was when she travelled from Fareham to Southampton with a friend on 5 December.

Hampshire Constabulary conducted detailed searches around Empress Road in Southampton in August.

Three men, aged 29, 50 and 63, have now been arrested and remain in custody.

Officers said they were treating Ms Sheen’s disappearance as a murder investigation.

“Joanne is still missing and her body has not been recovered,” the force said.

Ms Sheen, who has no permanent address, car, or bank account, was officially reported missing on 22 February after no-one had heard from her for months.

She is described as being about 5ft 1in tall, slim, with long dark brown hair.

Police launched their first appeal in April and are continuing to appeal for information.

Coronavirus: Return to hybrid Parliament in lockdown, says Labour

Labour is calling for a return to hybrid parliamentary proceedings as England re-enters coronavirus lockdown.

It comes after several unions representing Parliament’s staff wrote to Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg asking him to allow MPs to vote online.

They say a return to the hybrid model would “reduce the very real risk of a widespread outbreak in Westminster”.

Mr Rees Mogg said it was important that MPs were present to properly scrutinise the government.

Shadow Leader of the House Valerie Vaz said some MPs are “excluded from voting” when they are complying with coronavirus rules. “That is not only bad for their constituents but bad for democracy,” she said.

Referring to the online voting system used in the previous lockdown, Ms Vaz said: “There is one simple way of dealing with this and I ask the Leader of the House to think very seriously in this very grave time that we go back to remote voting.”

Mr Rees Mogg said measures were already in place to allow MPs who cannot attend Parliament to vote by proxy. He said the measures “had the consensus across the House.”

Some MP have been granted a proxy – when another MP votes on their behalf – because they are clinically vulnerable to the virus.

Mr Rees Mogg said he was hoping to expand proxy voting to all members, regardless of whether they can attend Parliament.

But he added that it was “important that members are here” because they have to ensure that coronavirus legislation is properly debated, that constituency issues can be raised, and Brexit legislation is introduced by the end of the transition period on 31 December.

He said that the full range of parliamentary activities had not been possible under the earlier fully-hybrid proceedings.

Earlier on Monday, a group of trade unions wrote to Mr Rees Mogg expressing concern for parliamentary staff.

The letter, sent by Ken Gall, the president of the Trade Union Side, adds: “The current arrangements, which require greater physical attendance by MPs, their staff and parliamentary employees, have already caused concerns – including among some MPs – about potential risks.

“Figures also show that the number of staff with Covid sickness absence are rising and staff – having seen the government taking prompt action in response to rising cases nationally – will expect Parliament to respond similarly.”

According to Parliament’s website, the Trade Union Side exists in the House of Commons to provide effective industrial relations.

Garry Graham, deputy general secretary of Prospect, which represents some of Parliament’s professional staff, said: “Requiring MPs to travel to Westminster just so they can vote in person is ludicrous.

“Not only is it encouraging unnecessary travel across the country, it means more staff are required to commute into the Parliamentary estate every working day.”

He added: “Thanks to the hard work and expertise of our members hybrid proceedings worked well during the last lockdown and there is no reason they can’t again.”

Mr Graham warned that failing to return to the hybrid model “risks infections getting so high that Parliament has to shut altogether. It’s time for Jacob Rees-Mogg to put the safety of parliamentary staff first and return to hybrid operations, including remote voting, while it is still an option.”

The general secretary of the PCS union, which also represents some parliamentary staff, echoed the sentiment.

Mark Serwotka said a failure to bring back the hybrid model would “show the government has scant regard for the health and safety of parliamentary staff who keep our democracy running.”

Coronavirus lockdown: Blackpool Illuminations switched off

The Blackpool Illuminations are being switched off at midnight on Wednesday because of the four-week lockdown.

The month-long national lockdown is due to come into force on Thursday until 2 December, but may last longer.

The lights display is suspended until further notice but Blackpool Tower will remain lit, Blackpool Council has said.

The illuminations were due to shine for an extra two months this season, until 3 January, to aid the town’s tourism trade hit by Covid-19 restrictions.

There has been a drop in infection rates in the resort, according to government figures, with 371.5 cases per 100,000 population in the week up to 30 October, down from 518 per 100,000 the previous week.

“It is hugely disappointing… but given the restrictions due to come in place on Thursday there is no real alternative,” Labour councillor Gillian Campbell, cabinet member for tourism and culture, said.

“Corona heroes” switched on this year’s Illuminations in a virtual ceremony at Blackpool Tower’s ballroom on 4 September.

The council said Blackpool Tower, which has become a “symbol of hope and optimism throughout this pandemic”, would still shine.

It was lit up with an SOS message for Prime Minister Boris Johnson last month as businesses in the town said they had “mass cancellations” on an “unimaginable scale” since moving into tier three Covid-19 restrictions.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach closed on Sunday in advance of Thursday’s lockdown and said it would reopen on 6 February while other attractions in the resort, such as Blackpool Zoo, have announced they will close on Wednesday.

Manchester Arena Inquiry: Abedi missed by security as he blended in

Salman Abedi “blended in too well” to be picked up by security on the night he detonated a suicide bomb at the Manchester Arena, an inquiry has heard.

James Allen, arena manager for premises owner SMG, said he was not aware that teenagers as young as 16 were employed as stewards before the attack in 2017.

Mr Allen told the inquiry he had also been unaware there was a CCTV blind spot in the City Room foyer area.

He said significant changes had been made to security in the area.

Counsel to the public inquiry, Paul Greaney QC, asked Mr Allen if he thought it was acceptable that stewards contracted to work at the venue were under 18.

He said: “I’d like to think we’d have people with more experience.”

Mr Allen told the inquiry he had not been aware there was a CCTV blind spot in the foyer of the arena, and said the failure of staff to check the place where Salman Abedi was hiding was a “missed opportunity”.

Mr Greaney said: “Salman Abedi was 22 years of age, a dropout from university, he was entirely undistinguished in life, and you’ll probably have seen that he even struggled to get into the toilets.

“How was it that he managed to defeat the security arrangements at the arena that night?”

Mr Allen said: “Because I believe he blended in too well.”

Twenty-two people were killed and many more injured when Abedi detonated an explosive as fans left an Ariana Grande concert on 22 May 2017.

Mr Allen said making any changes to the security in the foyer before May 2017 would have depended on someone approaching the company and telling them the area was unsafe.

Mr Greaney said: “Would it be a fair criticism… that SMG were doing throughout this period, sitting on one side waiting for someone to tell them what to do?”

Mr Allen replied: “No.”

The court heard that since the attack, SMG had instructed a US firm to review security.

There are now between 30 and 35 walk through metal detectors used for events, and the CCTV system has been upgraded.

Mr Greaney said it would be an issue for the inquiry as to whether the changes could have been implemented before the attack and whether any more could be done.

The inquiry continues.

Coronavirus: Tougher penalties held up by printing delays

Tougher penalties agreed by the NI Executive for breaches of Covid restrictions are not yet law due to a delay in printing enforcement notices.

The executive agreed on 8 October to raise the minimum fine to £200, and fines on conviction up to £10,000.

On Monday, Justice Minister Naomi Long said the regulations “should be laid shortly” in the assembly to become law.

A total of 268 fines and warnings have been issued in NI during the past seven days for breaches of Covid regulations.

More than 3,000 fines and warnings have been given out by police since March, according to the PSNI.

On Monday, police said 1,775 fixed penalty notices have been handed out, an increase of 177 since 26 October.

Two further £1,000 fines for failure to self-isolate were given out, taking the total issued by police to 47.

The justice minister was asked for a timeframe for the tougher penalties by DUP assembly member Gary Middleton on Monday.

Mr Middleton said they were “of utmost importance” to suppress the spread of the virus.

“We also want to ensure that we can get our economy back open again, so enforcement and penalties are very important,” he said.

Mrs Long said the regulations will not be laid in the assembly until the police are ready to enforce them, describing delays in printing enforcement notices.

“It is important that we do so as quickly as possible, however the timing of this will unfortunately be led largely by the time it will take for the PSNI to be able to police the new enforcement notices,” she told MLAs during justice minister questions.

“There have been some issues around delays in that because of the pressure on the bespoke printing that is required for those enforcement notices.

“However, as soon as those enforcement notices are ready to be able to be rolled out across the police service, we have the regulations ready to be laid in the chamber.”

Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said that after the penalties were announced on 8 October there followed a drafting process at the assembly.

“When the above process was completed, the police service was able to confirm the design for the new penalty notices and place the order with suppliers,” he said.

“The tickets are produced by a specialist printer within a defined production and delivery schedule and we anticipate delivery in the near future.

“All partners including the Department of Justice and the Executive Office have been kept fully informed of the timeframes involved.”

In October, ministers agreed to replace the £60 fixed penalty notice which could increase on each detection with a single tariff of £200.

Three other offences will be punishable on conviction by a fine of up to £10,000, or attract a fixed penalty notice starting at £1,000 and going up to a maximum of £10,000.

On Monday, police revealed there have been 1,115 Community Resolution Notices (CRN) issued since March, 40 of those given out in the past week.

CRNs are not Covid-specific notices but can be issued to anyone over the age of 10. They are designed to act as warnings and do not incur any fines.

The latest figures also show that 82 commercial premises and 362 private dwellings were issued prohibition notices by police. 449 have been handed out in total.

The PSNI has also said that there are currently 652 officers or members of staff absent due to Covid-19, 570 of whom are self-isolating.

Father jailed over sons death in M62 race

A man who caused the death of his son after racing with another driver at more than 100mph has been jailed for four-and-a-half-years.

Israr Muhammed, 41, from Batley, West Yorkshire, hit a tree after crashing off the M62 in East Yorkshire when a tyre blew out.

His three-year-old son, Say Han Ali, died and his daughter and wife suffered “life-changing” injuries.

Adam Molloy, the other driver, was also jailed for four-and-a-half-years.

The pair were found guilty of causing death by dangerous driving following a trial last month.

Muhammed was also convicted of two counts of causing serious injury by dangerous driving and causing death while uninsured.

Humberside Police said Molloy, 29, from Normanton, West Yorkshire, failed to stop after the crash and was later traced and arrested.

He was also found guilty of two counts of causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

Passing sentence at Hull Crown Court, Judge David Tremberg said Muhammed was driving “in an erratic and unsafe manner” for many miles before the accident, failing to give way at a roundabout and weaving in and out of traffic.

“Expert assessment of the footage reveals that each of you was travelling in excess of 100mph and there were roughly 10 metres between your cars as you sped along,” he said.

“Other drivers formed the impression that you were racing and driving like idiots.”

Sgt Rob Mazingham said officers carried out an “extensive and exhaustive investigation” into the crash near Goole on 1 July 2018.

“The car that Israr Muhammed was driving was not roadworthy, its rear tyre was 16 years old and defective and the resulting blow-out caused the series of events that led to the death of his three-year-old son and the serious, life changing injuries of his wife and second child,” the officer said.

Harry Vaughan: Neo-Nazi teenager sentenced

A high-achieving grammar school pupil who secretly promoted neo-Nazi terrorism online has been sentenced.

Harry Vaughan, 18, from south-west London, had pleaded guilty to 14 terror offences and two of possessing indecent images of children.

Passing sentence at the Old Bailey, Mr Justice Sweeney said: “You are a dangerous offender.”

He sentenced Vaughan to two years detention in a young offenders’ institution, suspended for two years.

The 18-year-old was also ordered to attend a rehabilitation programme.

The judge said Vaughan had lived at home with his family and been an “A* student”, adding none of them knew that from the age of 14 he had been involved with groups on the internet.

Vaughan’s father, who was in court, is a clerk in the House of Lords and his mother is a teacher. Vaughan had been a pupil at Tiffin Grammar School in Kingston upon Thames.

The judge told the teenager neo-Nazi material found during police searches showed “the depth of your extreme right-wing mindset”.

He added that expert evidence stated Vaughan’s ideology was a “hybrid” of neo-Nazism and left-hand path Satanism.

Vaughan was prolific online and hid behind a series of aliases.

He uploaded self-made propaganda images to a neo-Nazi website promoting the now-banned terrorist organisation Sonnenkrieg Division.

He also possessed – and posted online – a series of weapons and explosives manuals.

The 18-year-old previously pleaded guilty to 12 counts of possessing documents useful to a terrorist, one count of encouraging terrorism, and one of disseminating terrorist publications.

He also admitted two counts of possessing indecent images, relating to videos showing young boys being raped.

Commander Richard Smith, head of the Met Police Counter Terrorism Command, said: “What this case tells us is that anybody can be affected, anybody can be radicalised.”

He said Vaughan is a “very intelligent young man” but he “now has convictions for terrorist offences which will stay with him for life and I think that is a saddening case and also a salutary example of how this can affect young people”.

Inside the Johnny Depp court case

In May 2016, Amber Heard, a 30-year-old actress, arrived at a Los Angeles court seeking a restraining order against her husband, the Hollywood star Johnny Depp.

As she left the building, she found herself surrounded by photographers, journalists and film crews. On her cheek was what appeared to be a mark. The court was also shown photographs of what looked like facial bruising.

She said Depp had “violently” attacked her and in a rage had thrown a mobile phone at her face with “extreme force”. There were also allegations of other incidents of domestic violence. She said she had endured “excessive emotional, verbal and physical abuse” and “angry, hostile, humiliating and threatening assaults”. Depp denied the abuse.

The restraining order was granted, and soon after the marriage was over.

Four years later the couple were back in court, but this time in London. However, this was not Amber Heard’s case – she had not chosen to be here. This was a libel action Depp had brought against a British newspaper, The Sun.

At the heart of the case was his assertion that the allegations of physical abuse were an “elaborate hoax”. Depp employed one of the best-known libel barristers in the country to try to prove the claims were untrue.

Over the next three weeks, Heard arrived at court each day and walked past her former husband’s fans, who were convinced that it was their hero who was the victim and it was she who had assaulted him. In court her story, photos, memories and the accounts of her friends were all exposed to the world and said by Depp’s team and supporters to be part of a plot to falsely prove that he was, as The Sun had claimed in April 2018, a “wife beater”.

It was not just the fans and media who were watching carefully. Lawyers were already wondering, if he won, what impact this would have on women coming forward with claims of domestic violence.

Outside, Johnny Depp would arrive each day to cheers. But his behaviour and lifestyle were also under the microscope – and a judge has now ruled that The Sun’s allegations were “substantially true”.

“Would you like a Johnny Depp face mask?”

A woman holding a cardboard box offered me a small brown envelope. Inside was a black-and-white bandana and personal note of thanks from Johnny Depp. The woman, who was part of the actor’s entourage, disappeared into court as all around me fans and onlookers began to inspect their new scarves.

This was a strange court case.

The rest of Britain was in lockdown, buses and streets in central London were deserted, and yet here, outside the Royal Courts of Justice, there was a crowd, sometimes more than 200 strong. Some wore masks but when Johnny Depp arrived, all attempts at social distancing collapsed in the crush to catch a glimpse.

Inside the High Court, it was even more peculiar.

The Royal Courts of Justice are huge, gothic and deeply solemn. It’s a place of stone arches and hushed tones. And in July it was almost empty. I say almost, because there were a few people – a handful of journalists hurrying through security, and also lingering in the hallways and passages a scattering of Depp fans.

One woman showed me her arms, which were covered in tattoos of Johnny Depp. Another man arrived each day dressed as Jack Sparrow, the star’s character in Pirates of the Caribbean.

And then at around 10:00 each day they would gather at the door to Court 13. As Depp walked past they would offer messages of support and, towards the end of the case, he was seen giving them all a hug. A little chant of “Johnny, Johnny” could be heard as he walked into court.

Ten minutes later, he was sitting in the witness stand trying to convince a High Court judge he was not a “wife beater”.

The accusations were shocking. Heard said she had been assaulted by him on more than 14 occasions. She said she had, at times, been in fear for her life and left with a broken nose, black eyes and split lip. Vicious, drunken tirades had, she said, lasted for days. There was also a 15th allegation too traumatic and personal to be heard in open court.

It felt like a criminal trial; Depp was being accused of repeated assaults on his former partner, the sort of violence that has sent others to prison. But this wasn’t a criminal trial.

It was easy to forget this was a libel battle between Depp and News Group Newspapers, the publishers of The Sun, because no-one from the newspaper was called to the witness stand. Dan Wootton, the journalist whose article had said there was “overwhelming evidence” that the actor was a “wife beater” was not even on the list of 79 names cited in the trial’s documents.

And what a list of names it was. The case began with an email exchange about the perils of addiction between Depp and Sir Elton John and then continued with references to a bewildering cast of characters. James Franco, Marilyn Manson, Elon Musk, Winona Ryder, Kate Moss and Vanessa Paradis were all guest stars in a story that took a private world of the Hollywood A-list and blew it apart.

We were shown text messages and video footage of meetings in lifts. The super-rich spend millions protecting their privacy and here was a couple revealing a telephone directory’s worth of secrets. No star would do this unless they felt there was something bigger at stake. For Depp, that was restoring his reputation.

But why did this battle begin in the UK?

The article with the Dan Wootton byline, in particular the phrase “wife beater” in a headline that was later changed, had given Johnny Depp a chance to test his ex-wife’s claims in court – and what’s more, an English court.

It would require a much longer article to explain all the differences, but the essence of the legal split between England and America is that if you write something defamatory in London, the burden is on you to prove it is true.

In America, the defamed person has to prove it isn’t true, a very different task. It sounds a slender legal nicety but it can make all the difference.

England and Wales’s libel law was tightened in 2013, but it is still one of the best places in the world for the rich (and it is a rich person’s game) to take on the media. If you want to win a libel case and you have a choice about where to bring it, lawyers will suggest buying a ticket to Heathrow.

And if you want to understand how big an issue this was for Depp’s reputation, look at what he was trading. He lived in a world of security guards and private planes. Going to court blew it apart.

If you ever wondered what it was like to be Depp, this case lifted the lid on his privileged but erratic existence, his temper and his history with drink and drugs.

Amber Heard was 22 when she met Johnny Depp on the set of the film The Rum Diary in 2009. He was 23 years older and in a long-term relationship with singer and actress Vanessa Paradis. Heard’s wife at the time was the artist Tasya Van Ree.

Two years later, Heard was living with Depp in a penthouse in downtown LA, Depp having separated from Paradis, his partner of 14 years. Heard and Depp married in February 2015, and just over a year later it was over.

Since then, Amber Heard has become a vocal campaigner on the issue of domestic and sexual abuse. The UN Human Rights Campaign named her as a Human Rights Champion for her work promoting women’s rights. She became an Ambassador for Women’s Rights for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and she has given speeches and written in the Washington Post and New York Times about her experience of domestic violence.

In the era of Me Too, she was a leading figure, speaking up for women who had suffered in silence by revealing the abuse she had endured at the hands of one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. She was Amber Heard, actor, model, activist and domestic abuse survivor.

When Johnny Depp described her accusations as a hoax, he was not just challenging her story, he was ripping away the foundations of her public profile. There was a lot at stake here.

The entire process, which involved an almost brutal public examination of a couple’s private life, has been a warning to anyone who wants to use the courts to restore a reputation.

It was clearly a deeply troubled relationship, but the case depended on proving who had done what to whom.

And in the end, the judge decided it was true to describe Depp as a “wife beater”.

Information and support: If you, or someone you know, have been affected by domestic abuse, the following organisations may be able to help.

Lockdown: Students told not to rush home from uni

Universities say students in England should not move home for the lockdown – even if courses are switched to being taught online.

They do not want a rush of students leaving universities as the new restrictions come into force this week.

But the National Union of Students says students should have a choice to go home safely ahead of the lockdown.

The government’s guidance says universities should consider putting teaching online where possible.

Universities UK says students should stay in their current accommodation and a mix of face-to-face and online teaching will continue through the lockdown.

But the National Union of Students says students are concerned about the new restrictions and some will want the “support network” of their family – and so should be “able to travel home safely before lockdown starts”.

The UCU lecturers’ union says teaching should move online to reduce spreading coronavirus by “unnecessary journeys to attend campus”.

There have been Covid outbreaks in 119 universities so far this term, says the Unicovid website, and the UCU says there have been more than 34,000 student cases.

“The government has made it clear that students should remain at university and that teaching, learning and student support should continue,” says Universities UK.

It follows guidance for the new restrictions that says: “Universities and adult education settings should consider moving to increased levels of online learning where possible.”

It also warns against travel between term-time and home addresses, saying students should “only return home at the end of term for Christmas”.

It still remains unclear how or when the departure of students for Christmas will be managed – but the government in England has given a commitment that students will be able to get home.

There are 1.2 million students in England who are at a university in a region that is different from their home address – which means they could have to travel between places with different levels of Covid infection.

The SAGE scientific advisers have raised concerns about the spreading of coronavirus by such students moving during the Christmas and New Year breaks.

Pilots have begun for the mass testing of students to prevent the spread of coronavirus – including fast turnaround “lateral flow tests” at Durham and De Montfort universities which will identify students with the virus but without any symptoms.

Ministers have suggested that in-person teaching will stop two weeks before the usual end of term – and there have also been suggestions that students will be kept in isolation in universities for those two weeks.

The end of face-to-face teaching for all subjects could be early December for some universities, which could almost overlap with the four-week lockdown, set to end on 2 December.

The National Union of Students has called for students to be told as soon as possible about plans for leaving at the end of term.

Jo Grady, leader of the UCU union, says that courses should be moved online straightaway – and then the focus should be “to get a plan in place for students to begin safe journeys home once lockdown has ended”.

The university watchdog, the Office for Students, says no matter how students are taught they still had a right to expect a “quality higher education”.

“As universities make changes in response to the developing situation, it is important that they continue to provide suitable academic support to all students and that the quality of education – including online teaching and learning – remains high,” said chief executive Nicola Dandridge.

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