Deacon Cutterhams medal collection sells for £140k

A soldier whose heroics in winning one of the highest military honours for bravery were called into question has sold his medal collection for £140,000.

Deacon Cutterham was awarded the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross for picking up and hurling away a Taliban grenade.

But some who served alongside him in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, have disputed what happened that day.

Mr Cutterham, who strongly denies their claims, said he was glad the medals would be going to a new home.

Some of his former colleagues in the 1st Battalion the Rifles chose to speak to the BBC after reading reports about Mr Cutterham selling his collection of seven medals at auction.

One said: “We didn’t care if he wanted to tell people how brave he was. What we care about now is him making financial gain from this.”

The medals were sold at auction at Dix Noonan Webb in London to a private collector in the UK.

Mr Cutterham, 37, from Bristol, joined the Army at 16 and served in Iraq and Afghanistan during a 19-year military career. He was medically discharged after developing PTSD.

The grenade incident happened in 2011 when, as Sjt Cutterham and serving in the 1st Battalion the Rifles, he was leading a patrol in Nahr-e-Saraj District in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan.

His medal citation for the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross – one level down from the Victoria Cross – reads: “The action itself was utterly courageous, carried out with composure and clarity of thought.

“Cutterham’s gritty leadership and gallant act saved lives and inspired his men.”

No-one disputes that a grenade did go off that day. Everyone on Mr Cutterham’s patrol – and back at the patrol base – said they heard an explosion.

“We believe a grenade was thrown, but it was his,” one of his former comrades told the BBC.

Another soldier, who says he carried out an equipment check when the patrol returned to base, claimed: “There was one grenade missing.”

In response, Mr Cutterham said he was “extremely disappointed” by the claims, adding that he strongly denied them.

“I’m just surprised. I can only hazard a guess that they are either jealous or envious,” he said.

“The citation wasn’t written by me, it was written by the commanders. The award is rigorously tested through several committees before being granted.

“I’m proud of the fact I saved those soldiers’ lives. What if I had jumped the other side of the ditch and the grenade exploded and killed both those blokes? My name would have been mud.”

He said he was “extremely privileged” to have been awarded the honour, and added: “I am pleased to see it will be going to a new owner in my lifetime. I am planning to use the money to support my family as they are now my focus.”

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Our service personnel display exceptional gallantry and courage while performing duties at home and abroad.

“Acts of courage that warrant an honour or award are rigorously scrutinised before being approved.

“If serving personnel have a grievance, there is a formal process for them to register their complaint through their chain of command, which would be looked into accordingly.”

Several of the soldiers who spoke to the BBC said they did raise concerns at the time, but were told they were only doing so because they disliked Mr Cutterham.

Most of those who spoke to the BBC have admitted they disliked him.

Octavian dropped by record label after abuse allegations

Rapper Octavian has been dropped by his record label after allegations of physical and emotional abuse by his ex-girlfriend.

Posting on Twitter and Instagram, the musician’s ex-partner claimed he “frequently kicked and punched” her during their three-year relationship.

Octavian, 24, has strongly denied the allegations and said he was dealing with the matter “legally and properly”.

Black Butter Records said it was no longer working with the rapper.

A spokesperson said: “We at Black Butter have taken the decision not to continue working with Octavian and we will not be releasing his album.

“We do not condone domestic abuse of any kind and we have suggested Octavian seeks professional help at this time.”

His ex-partner has posted a thread on Twitter, including a video and photos, saying she was subject to physical, verbal and psychological abuse during their relationship. She alleges violence including being kicked in the stomach.

In a video on Instagram today, Octavian acknowledged she was his ex-girlfriend and said he broke up with her. In a separate, longer video reposted by another account he said he had never been abusive.

Octavian won BBC Music’s Sound of 2019 and his long-anticipated debut album, Alpha, was due to be released tomorrow.

Pattern Publicity said it had stopped all work with Octavian since the allegations came to light.

Radio 1 and 1Xtra said there were currently no tracks by Octavian on the stations’ playlists.

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Airbnb glitch cancels trips after deactivating user accounts

Airbnb accidentally cancelled bookings made by its users due to an internal glitch, the company has said.

The problem was caused during “routine maintenance” and deactivated some users’ accounts, resulting in their bookings also being cancelled.

The company’s Twitter help feed was inundated with both regular users and hosts affected by the issue.

Airbnb said the problem was a “system issue” at its end, and not a hack or data breach.

It also said “a very small subset of user accounts” were affected.

Some hosts complained online that they had had multiple bookings cancelled at once – with one reporting more than a dozen – and were not receiving any help from the booking firm.

“We apologise to those users impacted by this incident and have restored their accounts, in addition to providing rebooking support for impacted reservations,” Airbnb said in a statement. It also promised a thorough investigation.

However, some hosts may miss out if their guests booked alternative accommodation after being told their stay was cancelled.

One cancellation email sent to a BBC employee told them their one-week stay had been cancelled and they had been refunded an amount of $0.

The email also encouraged paying customers to find a different nearby host to stay with.

“So angry with Airbnb right now!” one Twitter user wrote. “I did not cancel my guests’ reservation, news to me!”

Another user, concerned that the error was a sign of someone accessing her account, wrote: “I’ve had an account for years, and today it was hacked, wiped, and my family’s Thanksgiving reservation was ‘cancelled’ with only half of my $900 being refunded.”

“Happened to me too on the hosting side and thousands in multiple bookings were cancelled. Now the dates are blocked per their host cancellation policy,” another host replied.

It comes as Airbnb is widely rumoured to be preparing for an Initial Public Offering (IPO) to sell shares to everyday investors for the first time.

The company is reportedly hoping to raise some £3bn (£2.3bn) from the share sale.

Switzerland moves to close bribery loophole

Bribes paid by companies to private individuals and money spent to facilitate crimes will no longer be tax-deductible in Switzerland.

The Alpine nation, which has been trying to shed its reputation as a tax haven, said the new rules would go into effect in 2022.

Outside groups have been calling for such reforms for years.

Under Swiss law, bribes to public officials were already denied favourable tax treatment.

The government said the latest update, which has been under discussion for at least five years, “harmonises” tax law with its criminal code, which banned private bribery in 2015.

It will also bring it into compliance with recommendations from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

As of 1996, about half of the countries in the OCED allowed companies to deduct bribes paid to foreign officials from their taxes, including Germany, France, Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland. They argued that such practices were routine business expenses in some countries.

But views of such practices have shifted, as international organisations like the OECD push for tougher rules against money laundering and bribery. The OECD has said favourable tax rules help to normalise such practices.

Switzerland changed its tax rules for bribes to public officials in 2001. But made it a criminal offense for a company to bribes a private individual in 2015.

The European Union removed Switzerland from its list of tax havens only last year.

As part of the reforms announced on Wednesday, the government said it would also bar companies from deducting foreign fines from their taxes – except in “exceptional cases” if the sanctions “violate Swiss public policy or if a company credibly demonstrates that it has taken all reasonable steps to comply with the law”.

China Muslims: Volkswagen says no forced labour at Xinjiang plant

Volkswagen has defended its decision to continue operating a car plant in Xinjiang, a Chinese region mired in allegations of large-scale human rights abuses by the state.

Evidence that hundreds of thousands of Uighurs and other minorities are being detained in camps, or used as forced labour in factories, has led some multinational companies to cut ties with the region, despite China’s insistence that the claims are untrue.

Volkswagen’s critics argue that it has a particular moral obligation not to be involved in such practices because of its history.

The company was founded by the ruling German Nazi Party in 1937 and used forced labour – including concentration camp prisoners – in its factories during WWII.

But in an interview with the BBC in Beijing, the company’s CEO in China, Stephan Wollenstein, defended Volkswagen’s presence in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, where it runs a factory with 600 workers, producing up to 20,000 vehicles a year.

“What happened in the Nazi times was something that happened in our factories where we had forced labour, people producing Volkswagen cars,” he said.

“This certainly is an unacceptable situation. Therefore, we are making sure that none of our production sites have forced labour, and this is something that we specifically checked in Urumqi and I can assure you, we do not have forced labour.”

But when asked whether he could be absolutely certain of that claim and give an assurance that none of the Urumqi workforce – of which around 25% is made up of Uighurs and other minorities – had been in a camp, Dr Wollenstein said he couldn’t.

“We try to control our company-related processes, including the HR process, which, for instance, means the hiring of people in the best possible manner,” he said.

“And this reduces for us the risk that something happens which we do not like and which is not complying to our standards. But I guess we could never reach 100% certainty.”

For critics, that defence falls short.

Viola von Cramon-Taubadel is a Green Party member of the European Parliament and formerly a member of the German Federal Parliament from Lower Saxony – the state where Volkswagen’s headquarters is based.

“Why can’t they be certain? They should make sure that there is no linkage between any labour camp and that company,” she told the BBC.

Even if VW could prove categorically that their own supply chain was clean, the criticism goes far deeper.

Because opening a car plant in Xinjiang requires the partnership and approval of the Chinese authorities, the concern is that it risks lending tacit support to the policies of mass incarceration and ethnic repression, for which there is now compelling evidence.

Satellite data, the testimony of witnesses and China’s own government records make clear the scale of the camp building and the coercion behind the factory labour.

While China insists it has been providing de-extremification training for Xinjiang’s traditionally Muslim minorities, and running large-scale job creation schemes, the real aim appears to be the forced assimilation of identities and cultures now viewed by the state as inherently disloyal.

With international governments and rights-groups raising their voices in condemnation, and some major brands distancing themselves, Volkswagen finds itself out of step on Xinjiang.

“Even the placing of a factory there gives, of course, the Communist Party a higher legitimacy,” Ms von Cramon-Taubadel said.

“Volkswagen knows this – they have done it exactly for this, to get a comparative advantage. It was a political issue from the very beginning – economically it is useless, it doesn’t make sense at all.”

Volkswagen denies that its decision to open its Xinjiang plant in 2013 was for political rather than economic reasons, insisting that the company saw good, long-term opportunities for market growth in China’s far-west.

With the number of cars being produced currently less than 10% of capacity of some of the company’s 32 other plants in China, Dr Wollenstein said they would “love to do more.”

“But the market is still not as big as it could be with regard to our product offerings.”

There are other things that appear to distinguish VW’s Xinjiang operation from its factories elsewhere in China.

Shortly after production began, a Chinese report suggested that the plant had an agreement with a neighbouring unit of a paramilitary police unit.

The company would donate vehicles and in exchange, the People’s Armed Police – an organisation with a frontline role in Xinjiang’s heavy securitisation – would provide VW employees with both “military training” and “patriotic education”, phrases often associated with the wider camp programme.

Dr Wollenstein told the BBC that only two cars were provided to the unit – on behalf of Volkswagen’s Chinese partner in the Xinjiang plant, Saic Motor Corporation Ltd – and he was not aware of any such training taking place at the factory.

But when pressed as to whether it could have taken place off-site, he admitted, “we probably would not know”.

“I would say everything that is happening outside the fences of all of our production sites all over China and what is happening in the spare time of our employees is out of our control.”

For Volkswagen’s critics, its real problem may be one of too much success.

Its dominance of the China market, where it sells one-fifth of all new cars, risks making it a hostage to it.

Ms von Cramon-Taubadel says that in recent meetings she’s held with senior company executives, they’ve admitted as much.

“They told me that the condition for any expansion of the company within China is that at least one of the factories should be based in the west,” she said.

“And they tried to convince me that if VW decides unilaterally to close [its Xinjiang plant] they could not produce a single car in China any more.”

In public, at least, Volkswagen insists its dominance of the Chinese market puts it in a position of strength.

“We’ve been engaged in this country for 37 years,” Dr Wollenstein said. “And as much as we are to a certain extent dependent on China, probably China is also dependent on us.

“We firmly believe in a global perspective and that free trade and doing business according to our ethical standards is helping every country where we’re engaged.”

The Weeknd to perform Super Bowl 2021 half-time show

Pop star The Weeknd will perform the coveted half-time show at next year’s Super Bowl, the NFL has confirmed.

The singer follows in the footsteps of Shakira and Jennifer Lopez, whose performance in Florida this February was watched by 104 million people.

“We all grow up watching the world’s biggest acts playing the Super Bowl and one can only dream of being in that position,” said the Canadian star.

“I’m humbled, honoured and ecstatic to be the centre of that infamous stage.”

The Weeknd, whose real name is Abel Tesfaye, has become one of the biggest chart stars of the last decade, with more than 45 platinum and singles and albums.

His recent album After Hours topped the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, while the lead single Blinding Lights became the longest-running top five single on the US Hot 100.

The 30-year-old has previously won three Grammy Awards, including best urban contemporary album for 2016’s Beauty Behind The Madness and 2018’s Starboy.

He is widely expected to add to that tally at next year’s ceremony, with nominations for album of the year and song of the year on the cards when the Grammys announce their latest shortlists on 24 November.

The Super Bowl half-time show is one of the most prestigious gigs in music, with previous headliners including Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Beyonce.

Next year’s event will take place at the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida on Sunday, 7 February.

Hugo Boss drops Scouse slogan trademark action

Fashion giant Hugo Boss has dropped its legal fight with an artist over his use of the word “boss” in a clothing range.

John Charles, from Huyton, Merseyside, planned to launch the merchandise as a spin-off from online art lessons he started during the first lockdown.

Mr Charles, who ends lessons by saying “Be boss, be kind”, said an agreement had been reached over the slogan.

Hugo Boss confirmed it had “reached an amicable solution with Mr Charles that does justice to both sides”.

The artist’s sign-off was so popular it led to a demand for merchandise with the motto, which caught the attention of the German fashion brand.

The word “boss” is Liverpool slang for great.

Mr Charles said: “I’m buzzing – it is just boss. The key thing is that we’re able to continue our free online art classes and release our merchandise.”

Mr Charles conducted his first meeting alongside his wife Jen with Hugo Boss officials over Skype, before a company offering pro bono legal advice took over the negotiations.

He said he wanted to say a “massive” thank to people who had given him “overwhelming” public support.

“Hugo Boss were really sound. Very friendly,” he said.

He added: “By the end of the call we had them all laughing and one of their reps said she will get her kid to join in on one of our live online art classes.”

More than 27,000 people logged into Mr Charles’ free online classes which he devised with the help of his 10-year-old daughter.

“We always wanted to finish positively which is why we said ‘Be boss, be kind’,” he said.

People from Australia, Italy and Mexico were among those who took part.

The artist began marketing the slogan after people started asking for baseball caps, T-shirts and hoodies.

Money from the merchandise is being put into a trust fund for his daughter.

He received a letter from lawyers on behalf of Hugo Boss after he applied to trade mark “Be Boss, Be Kind” in July.

Salmond inquiry getting very few clear answers

The Holyrood inquiry into the botched handling of complaints against Alex Salmond by the Scottish government is receiving “very few clear answers”.

Convener Linda Fabiani hit out at “delay, prevarication and obfuscation” by key players involved in the inquiry.

Mr Salmond is yet to make a written submission, and Ms Fabiani said what had been put forward by the government “lacks detail and indeed usefulness”.

She said this was “both deeply problematic and deeply disrespectful”.

Ministers have insisted they are cooperating fully with the inquiry, while Mr Salmond’s lawyers have said he needs permission from the courts to submit certain information.

The Scottish government accepted that its handling of harassment complaints against Mr Salmond had been unlawful after the former first minister launched judicial review proceedings at the Court of Session.

An internal Scottish government investigation had upheld two complaints against Mr Salmond, but the decision report was thrown out after procedural flaws in how the probe was carried out.

The government had to pay Mr Salmond more than £500,000 in legal expenses as a result, and a Holyrood inquiry was set up to examine what went wrong.

The inquiry was put on hold during the former SNP leader’s criminal trial – which saw him acquitted of 13 charges of sexual assault – but has now spent several months taking evidence from civil servants and officials.

However, Ms Fabiani – an SNP MSP – said that “week after week the committee is in a position where it is clear to us that the evidence being shared lacks detail and indeed usefulness”.

She continued: “I have on multiple occasions made it clear exactly what evidence the committee wants to see. There is no doubt that we have received a large amount of information. But we are receiving very few clear answers.

“I am in a position today where I am, yet again, writing letters to express my frustration at the delay, the prevarication and obfuscation. But this goes beyond frustration.

“This must end and we will complete our work and do the job given to us by the nation’s parliament.”

The committee has been locked in a dispute with the Scottish government over whether privileged legal advice, taken during the course of the court battle with Mr Salmond, should be handed over.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney has repeatedly argued that it is an “important principle” that advice from lawyers should remain confidential.

MSPs voted by 63 to 54 to urge the government to disclose the papers, with Mr Swinney and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon both saying they would consider this.

Ms Fabiani has written to Mr Swinney setting a deadline of Friday for these papers to be provided.

She also complained the committee was having to “extract” information “through attrition” rather than by it being “proactively offered up by the Scottish government”.

Mr Swinney has argued that the government has provided thousands of pages of documentation and that officials have already given 14 hours of oral evidence.

Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans – Scotland’s top civil servant – is due to appear before MSPs for the third time next week.

The committee is also pushing Mr Salmond to send a written submission ahead of giving evidence in person in December.

The former first minister’s lawyers have said he is keen to cooperate with the inquiry and has prepared a “substantial range of documents”, but that he needs access to papers held by the courts to make a full submission.

Ms Fabiani wrote to him saying that his initial statement “does not require the processing of all records to be completed”, and that further papers could be sent in later.

Mr Salmond has been involved in an escalating row with his successor Nicola Sturgeon, having called for a separate probe into whether or not she breached the ministerial code to be expanded.

Ms Sturgeon has insisted that she acted “appropriately and in good faith” throughout the investigation and has “nothing to hide” – and has said Mr Salmond may be angry with her for refusing to “collude” with him over the internal complaints.

Stafford house fire deaths caused by discarded cigarette

A fire which killed four children was likely started by a discarded cigarette on bedding, an inquest has heard.

Riley John Holt, eight, Keegan Jonathan Unitt, six, Tilly Rose Unitt, four, and Olly Unitt, three, died in Stafford in February 2019.

Recording a narrative verdict, the south Staffordshire coroner said the children died from smoke inhalation.

Staffordshire Police said in August no further action would be taken against two people who had been arrested.

A significant number of “carelessly discarded cigarettes” where found in and around the family home, the inquest was told.

The children’s mother Natalie Unitt and her partner Chris Moulton escaped the blaze with their youngest child, Jack, via a first-floor window.

Coroner Andrew Haigh said he did not accept the parents’ account the fire had started in a boiler on the landing.

He said it was more likely to have been caused by a cigarette that had not been extinguished on their bedding.

Police and fire investigators believe the children’s parents had fallen asleep while smoking in bed, the inquest heard.

The investigation also found the parents were previously advised by social care to stop smoking in the house, but evidence suggested they continued to do so.

Ms Unitt told the hearing she “still has nightmares” and suffers with PTSD.

The house where the children died has since been demolished.

Mickey Mouse listed for hearing in Stoke-on-Trent court error

Cartoon characters have been listed online to appear as defendants in court hearings.

Mickey Mouse was due to appear before a judge at Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court alongside Buzz Lightyear, Captain Hook and a number of other characters.

The mistake was spotted by divorce barrister Leisha Bond who speculated: “Is it someone’s last day?!”

HM Courts and Tribunals Service said the names were created as tests for a new case management system.

“Sorry for the error,” a spokesperson said in a Tweet. “[They] should have been deleted before the lists were published.”

Also listed to appear before a crown court judge were Bugs Bunny, Tinker Bell, Sleeping Beauty and Cruella Deville.

Their “cases” were listed alongside real defendants, some of whom are due to appear via videolink from prison.

The courts service apologised for the error, but Ms Bond replied on Twitter to say it was “the best thing that’s happened in law all year”.