New lockdown: Manchester University students pull down campus fences

Students have torn down “prison-like” fencing erected around their campus on day one of England’s new lockdown.

Those living at the University of Manchester’s Fallowfield halls of residence awoke to find workers putting up “huge metal barriers”.

They were eventually pulled down as hundreds of students – who said they were not warned about the measure – protested.

The university apologised “for the concern and distress caused”.

Students said the fences, placed between buildings, blocked off some entry and exit points and left them feeling trapped.

First-year Management student Megan, who did not want to give her surname, said: “Morale is really low, we’re really disappointed we didn’t hear about this beforehand and about the fact it went up without any explanation.

“They’re huge metal barriers, they’re connected to one another and there’s literally no gaps.

“There is fencing around the whole outside, we feel like it’s completely unnecessary. It makes it feel like we’re in a prison.”

Fellow first-year, English literature undergraduate Ewan, said the 7ft (2.1m) fencing was a further blow to many who had already spent weeks isolating.

“It’s not like living at home, we don’t have a sofa, we have a kitchen and plastic chairs,” he said.

“There’s no way you can relax there. You’re in a completely different city and you do feel lonely there and trapped.”

Ewan was among those who attended the protest where much of the fencing was torn down.

“People were dragging them down and jumping on them,” he said.

“We walked on the grass that was restricted by the fences. We did a lap of the whole campus.”

The university initially insisted it had written to students informing them about the construction, but has since acknowledged work began “ahead of the message being seen”.

In a statement, President and Vice-Chancellor Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell said the fencing was not meant to cause distress nor prevent students from entering or exiting the site.

It was intended, she said, to address safety and security concerns from students and staff, “particularly about access by people who are not residents”.

“The fences are being taken down from Friday morning and students are being contacted immediately,” she said.

“Alternative security measures, including additional security patrols are being put in place.”

Bitcoin: $1bn seized from Silk Road account by US government

More than $1bn (£772m) in Bitcoin linked to the notorious Silk Road website has been seized by the US Department of Justice (DoJ).

Earlier this week, crypto-currency watchers noticed about 70,000 bitcoins being moved from an account believed to be linked to the illicit marketplace.

Silk Road was an online black market, selling everything from drugs to stolen credit cards and murderers-for-hire.

It was shut down by the US government in 2013.

The sum is the largest amount of crypto-currency seized to date by the Department of Justice.

On Thursday, US Attorney David Anderson confirmed that the officials had seized the crypto-currency assets.

“Silk Road was the most notorious online criminal marketplace of its day,” he said in a statement.

“The successful prosecution of Silk Road’s founder in 2015 left open a billion-dollar question. Where did the money go?

“Today’s forfeiture complaint answers this open question at least in part. $1bn of these criminal proceeds are now in the United States’ possession.”

The Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation unit said it used third-party company to analyse Bitcoin transactions that had been executed by Silk Road.

This led it to an address belonging to “Individual X”, who is alleged to have hacked the funds from the marketplace.

Law enforcement officers in turn took control of the sum on 3 November, and the DoJ claims the funds are now subject to forfeiture.

“Criminal proceeds should not remain in the hands of the thieves,” said IRS special agent Kelly Jackson.

In 2015, Bitcoin seized from a different wallet associated with Silk Road was sold at auction by the US government.

Silk Road creator Ross Ulbricht is currently serving two life sentences in prison after being found guilty of money laundering, computer hacking, and conspiracy to traffic narcotics.

Boohoo, H&M and Nike deny Uighur forced labour allegations

Fashion brands including Boohoo, H&M and Nike have denied using products made with the forced labour of Uighur Muslims in China.

The brands, which included The North Face, were speaking to MPs conducting an inquiry.

The House of Commons business committee questioned whether Boohoo was on top of its supply chain.

Earlier this year the retailer investigated reports of exploitation and unsafe conditions at UK suppliers.

There have been a number of reports alleging that thousands of Muslims from China’s Uighur minority group are working under coercive conditions at factories that supply some of the world’s biggest brands.

Andrew Reaney, group director of responsible sourcing at Boohoo, told MPs at the Business, Energy and Industry Strategy (Beis) committee he was “shocked” by the reports.

“We were quite shocked by the revelations around the Uighurs and what’s happening in the Xinjiang province.

“We wrote to all our suppliers across the supply chain to confirm that we have no manufacturing or fabric links to that particular region.

“That was done and all of our suppliers confirmed that they have no manufacturing or fabric links to that region.”

Mr Reaney said that the online retailer does “not knowingly source any yarn or fabric” from the region, as MPs questioned auditing processes at the business following the row over working conditions in its UK supply chain.

Last month, the company published its full report by Alison Levitt QC, which identified “many failings” but freed it from allegations of deliberately allowing poor conditions and low pay for garment workers.

“It’s a matter of regret from the organisation that we obviously didn’t move as fast as we could have,” Mr Reaney said.

In February the Australian Strategic Policy Institute published a report that said the next phase in China’s re-education of Uighurs was their being forced to work in factories.

China has already detained about a million Uighurs at internment camps, punishing and indoctrinating them.

Officials said the camps are aimed at countering extremism.

Between 2017 and 2019, the ASPI think tank estimates that more than 80,000 Uighurs were transferred out of the far western Xinjiang autonomous region to work in factories across China. It said some were sent directly from detention camps.

ASPI said the Uighurs were moved through labour transfer schemes operating under a central government policy known as Xinjiang Aid.

According to the report, the factories claimed to be part of the supply chain for 83 well-known global brands, including Nike, Apple and Dell.

David Savman, head of supply chain at H&M, said the Swedish-based retail group worked with accreditation groups for its supply chain which no longer use cotton from the region following the allegations.

“When these serious allegations came up we made investigations into all of our suppliers,” he told MPs.

“We didn’t find any proof of any breach of our sustainability commitments, where we have very clear guidance of how our ethical processes should happen.”

Later in the committee session, Jaycee Pribulsky, vice president of global footwear sourcing and manufacturing at Nike, said the US group was “deeply concerned” regarding the situation in the Chinese region.

She told MPs: “Nike does not source any raw cotton. And regarding Xinjiang, Nike has confirmed with its suppliers that there are no spun yarns or textiles manufactured in the area in our products.”

More calls for help for arts freelancers who face using food banks

The government has been urged to do more to help performers and other arts freelancers as venues are shut again during lockdowns in England and Wales.

Labour MP Chris Elmore told the House of Commons there were “growing numbers of freelancers, musicians, performance artists who are excluded” from support.

Theatreworkers face “adding to the queues at food banks”, another MP said.

Arts minister Caroline Dinenage said the government was “working very hard” to help freelancers access support.

She said Arts Council England had allocated £119m for individuals, on top of the £1.57bn available to venues in England through the government’s Culture Recovery Fund.

Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden acknowledged that a third of freelancers in all walks of life had not been able to access the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme, which the government confirmed on Thursday would be extended to cover 80% of average trading profits.

“I understand the many challenges faced by freelancers and I hear about it every day,” Mr Dowden said. “It is the case that across the economy 66% of freelancers are able to benefit from the Treasury scheme, which has been increased again by the chancellor.”

Responding to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement, Deborah Annetts, chief executive of the Incorporated Society of Musicians, said she was “delighted” but that “expanding the eligibility criteria remains essential for preventing an exodus of highly skilled talent from our world-leading arts sector”.

The Musicians’ Union said the extension of SEISS was “fantastic news for many of our members”, but added that it was “time to close the gaps in support” that it said 38% of musicians had fallen through.

The Equity performers’ union has said 40% of members were ineligible for SEISS, and warned last week that “the trickle of lost talent will become a flood”.

Speaking in the House of Commons earlier on Thursday, Labour MP Ruth Cadbury said she had been contacted by West End performers, make-up artists, instrumentalists and others who had been struggling to survive on benefits after being ineligible for other support.

“Here in west London, Universal Credit barely covers to cover the cost of rent, meaning they now face going through lockdown with no additional support and adding to the queues at food banks,” she said.

Mr Elmore said: “There are growing numbers of freelancers, musicians, performance artists who are excluded from getting any support from government… and there are growing numbers of organisations calling for support specifically for musicians.”

In response, Ms Dinenage said: “Our world-beating cultural and creative industries are absolutely nothing without the people who work in them, and we’re working very hard to help freelancers in those sectors to access support, particularly if they don’t qualify for the SEISS.

“Arts Council England has made £119m available to individuals, £23m of that has already been distributed and about £96m is still available to apply for.”

She added that the Culture Recovery Fund would “benefit freelancers because it does enable organisations to be assisted to reopen, and to restart performances, maybe in a digital or live stream capacity”.

The National Audit Office reported last month that up to 2.9 million people had fallen through the cracks of the furlough and SEISS schemes.

Also in October, the charity Help Musicians published the results of a survey saying more than half of musicians were not earning anything at all from music, and that four in five were worried about being able to pay their household bills.

Before the latest lockdown, a higher share of business in the arts, entertainment and recreation industry had temporarily closed or paused trading than in any other sector, at 22%; and had the highest proportion of its workforce on furlough, at 27%, according to the Office For National Statistics.

Meanwhile on Thursday, singer Van Morrison launched The Lockdown Financial Hardship Fund for musicians, and started a petition calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to provide a timeline for live music to resume.