Grace Millane murder: Jesse Kempson guilty of attacking two more women

The man who murdered British backpacker Grace Millane has been convicted of sex attacks on two more women.

Jesse Kempson, 28, can now be named after a court order banning his identification was lifted.

He was jailed for a minimum of 17 years in February for the murder of Miss Millane in his hotel room in Auckland, New Zealand, in December 2018.

In a statement, the Millane family said: “As a family we do not think about him or speak his name.”

In October, Kempson was convicted of eight charges relating to various attacks, including using a knife, against a woman between November 2016 and April 2017.

In November, he was convicted by a separate judge sitting alone of raping another woman in April 2018.

Kempson, who had worked in various sales jobs, met one of the women through the dating app Tinder, as he had Miss Millane.

The 11-year jail term for these nine offences – all committed while he was living in Auckland – will be served after his sentence for Miss Millane’s murder.

On Friday, Kempson’s appeal against his conviction and sentence for Miss Millane’s murder, was dismissed

Now those cases are complete, the Court of Appeal has been able to lift an order banning Kempson from being identified.

Concern had grown for the welfare of Miss Millane, from Wickford, Essex, in December 2018 when she failed to respond to friends and family wishing her a happy 22nd birthday.

Within days of her disappearance, police had identified Kempson as prime suspect and had managed to track his movements by trawling through CCTV.

Miss Millane’s body was discovered in the mountainous Waitākere Ranges. having been stuffed into a suitcase by Kempson and buried.

Her killing prompted New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to apologise to Ms Millane’s parents David and Gillian, saying: “Your daughter should have been safe here; she wasn’t and I’m sorry for that.”

During the murder trial in Auckland in 2019, the 12-person jury was shown footage of Miss Millane and Kempson seemingly enjoying each others’ company around the city on a date.

They were seen on CCTV returning to his hotel, CityLife.

But after she left the lift, she was never seen alive again.

Kempson strangled Miss Millane in his room at the hotel.

In a statement, the Millane family said the suppression of Kempson’s name had “allowed people to remember Grace – a young, vibrant girl who set out to see the world, instead of the man who took her life”.

“To use his name shows we care and gives him the notoriety he seeks,” they added.

“We instead choose to speak Grace’s name.”

For much of his three-week trial for the murder of Grace Millane, Jesse Kempson – as he can now be identified – looked stony-faced, occasionally glancing down at the court papers in the dock and turning a page.

At times, when the evidence was particularly graphic, he would hold his head in his hands.

When the verdict was delivered, Kempson stared straight ahead, before being sent out of the courtroom for a few minutes.

He returned, red-faced and rubbing his eyes as if he had been crying – a rare glimpse of emotion, perhaps.

But part of you could not help feel it was all a performance.

In his police interviews he had reeled off a litany of lies, about not just about his own actions but those of Miss Millane, until he was confronted with evidence to the contrary.

The jury’s verdict was the rejection of his ultimate lie – one he had hoped to get away with.

Sydney selfie hotspot death Briton Madalyn Davis took drugs

A British woman who plunged to her death from a “selfie hotspot” cliff in Australia had been drinking and taking drugs, a coroner said.

Madalyn Davis, 21, died when she fell 262ft (80m) at Diamond Bay, Sydney.

Alcohol and traces of drugs “impaired Ms Davis’ ability to make decisions and balance”, Nottinghamshire assistant coroner Gordon Clow said.

Recording a conclusion of misadventure he said the death of the Lincoln woman in January was “a great tragedy”.

Her body was eventually found 55ft (17m) below the surface of the sea, wedged in a rock shelf, the hearing was told.

Mr Clow reached his decision after considering the police investigations of Ms Davis’s death and an Australian coroner’s report.

She had been to a house party the evening before her death and gone with seven other people from there to Dover Heights to watch the sun rise.

A toxicology report showed she would have had double the UK drink-drive alcohol limit in her blood and there was evidence she had taken amphetamines, cocaine, ketamine and MDMA.

The group had gone to the “a selfie hotspot where people climb over the fencing” to access the cliff tops, Mr Clow said.

Ms Davis had continued to drink vodka and the group were “all seriously affected by drugs and alcohol”.

She was with three men when one of them shouted “she’s gone”, the inquest heard.

Ms Davis had been in Australia for a number of weeks after travelling in Thailand and Bali.

Mr Clow said Ms Davis had “climbed over the fence and fell from the cliff” and her death had been “contributed to by drugs that affected her coordination and balance.”

He added: “There is no safe way to consume alcohol and drugs, her death was at a beauty spot which people seek to enjoy, it will doubtless not be the last.

“It was a very great tragedy of someone trying to live their life to the full”.

Signs warn tourists to stay away from the cliff edge and the height of fences in the area had been increased, according to a local mayor.

Migrants lorry death suspect held as men convicted

A man wanted in Belgium on suspicion of smuggling a number of Vietnamese migrants found dead in a lorry in Essex has been arrested.

The man was located by National Crime Agency officers in the Redditch area of Worcestershire on 15 December.

He is subject to extradition proceedings and has been remanded in custody until a hearing on 12 March.

Four men have been found guilty of their part in a people-smuggling ring that led to the deaths in October 2019.

The arrested man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, is suspected of having been involved in transporting at least 10 of the 39 people found dead in Essex, moving them from a safe house in Anderlecht, Brussels, in taxis to a location near the French/Belgian border before they were put on to the lorry.

After hearing the migrants had died, it is alleged the man fled Belgium and initially went to Germany before moving to the UK.

A European Arrest Warrant was issued by a Belgian investigating judge.

Details of the arrest have been released following the conclusion of the trial at the Old Bailey that found Eamonn Harrison, 24, and Gheorghe Nica, 43, convicted of manslaughter.

Christopher Kennedy, 24, from County Armagh, and Valentin Calota, 38, of Birmingham, were found guilty of conspiring to assist illegal immigration.

Amigo Loans: Bid for survival with plan to cap compensation

Borrowers who believe they have been mis-sold loans by sub-prime lender Amigo may see payouts capped under a new plan.

Amigo wants anyone whose complaint is yet to be resolved to take a proportion of a pot set aside for compensation.

The lender has been receiving a deluge of claims for redress in recent months – a trend that has caused the demise of other big names in the sector.

Amigo has 150,000 current customers, and 500,000 past customers.

That makes it the biggest operator in the market, having been offering loans to people who are cash-strapped but who give the name of a guarantor to step in to cover any unpaid repayments.

Its future has been in doubt, with the business embroiled in a boardroom battle. It stopped all new lending in November.

The sub-prime lending sector as a whole has faced a blizzard of complaints from customers who believe they were approved for loans which they could never afford to repay.

The regulator says that a loan is unaffordable if making the repayments means someone has to borrow more money or get behind with essential bills.

Amigo has seen a “high level” of complaints during 2020, and there are no signs of this trend slowing down.

It said many of these complaints were coming from claims management companies – one of which was charging people 50% of any payout for its services. Individuals who believe they have a claim to compensation can submit it on their own.

People who have already been informed in a letter how much compensation they will receive – either as a result of a complaint to Amigo or to the Financial Ombudsman Service – will still receive their payout.

But under the company’s proposals, any unfinished or subsequent complaints would be capped.

They would either see their existing debt reduced, or – for previous customers – receive a share from a compensation pot totalling between £15m and £35m.

It is not yet clear how many pence in the pound would actually be paid of their compensation entitlement. Customers would eventually be able to vote on the proposal, called a Scheme of Arrangement.

The company said it would allow it to start lending again in early 2021. In a statement to investors, Amigo said that – in the absence of the plan – “the level of redress claims would jeopardise the group’s future”.

But Sara Williams, who runs the Debt Camel blog, said the plan threw up a series of questions.

“It isn’t clear why [the regulator] the FCA would agree to let Amigo limit the refunds it pays and still carry on in business. This would seem to set a very bad precedent for any other lenders that wanted to get out of paying proper compensation to customers,” she said.

“The Amigo announcement is very short on details. Top of the long list of the things I want to ask is: will the scheme uphold more than 80% of complaints, which is what the ombudsman is currently doing? Until we know a lot more, it’s not possible to say if customers should vote to approve this scheme.”

Essex lorry deaths: Two found guilty of killing 39 migrants

Two men have been found guilty of the manslaughter of all 39 Vietnamese migrants found dead in a lorry trailer in Essex.

The migrants suffocated in the sealed container en route from Zeebrugge to Purfleet in October 2019.

Eamonn Harrison, 24, who dropped off the trailer at the Belgian port, and people-smuggler Gheorghe Nica, 43, were convicted by an Old Bailey jury.

Two others were convicted of being part of a wider people-smuggling conspiracy.

Det Ch Insp Daniel Stoten, from Essex Police, said: “If you look at the method, the way they transported human beings… we wouldn’t transport animals in that way.”

Another two men – Irish haulage boss Ronan Hughes, 41, and 26-year-old lorry driver Maurice Robinson – had previously admitted manslaughter.

Prosecutors said in the run that ended in the deaths of the 39 people, the container became a “tomb” as temperatures in the unit reached an “unbearable” 38.5C (101F).

The migrants, aged 15 to 44, were sealed inside for at least 12 hours.

Harrison, of Newry, County Down, towed the trailer to Zeebrugge, from where it was transported to Purfleet.

During the 10-week trial, he claimed he did not know there were people in the trailer and that he watched “a wee bit of Netflix” in bed as they were loaded on.

He also said he had no idea there were migrants in two other trailers that he had dropped off at the same port in the previous 12 days.

Robinson, from County Armagh, collected the trailer when it arrived on UK shores just after midnight on 23 October.

His boss, Hughes, had messaged him: “Give them air quickly don’t let them out.”. Robinson gave a thumbs-up in reply.

But when Robinson stopped on a nearby industrial estate, he found that the migrants were all dead.

There was a series of telephone conversations between him and Hughes and Nica, from Basildon, Essex, before Robinson eventually dialled 999.

In his evidence, Nica said Robinson told him: “I have a problem here – dead bodies in the trailer.”

The trial examined three smuggling attempts by the gang – two that were successful on 11 and 18 October, and the final trip on 23 October.

On all three runs, Nica had arranged cars and a van to transport the migrants at the UK end.

Jurors were shown CCTV footage of him carrying a holdall of cash to Hughes’s room at the Ibis hotel, Thurrock, early on 19 October.

Nica admitted to conspiring to assist illegal immigration in the first two runs, but he insisted that he believed the third run was all to do with smuggling cigarettes.

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Essex lorry deaths: The supposed VIP journey that killed 39 people

“Maybe going to die in the container, can’t breathe any more dear,” read a text message typed by Pham Thi Ngoc Oanh. It was never sent. What led to her and 38 fellow Vietnamese nationals dying in the dark and sweltering heat of an airtight container?

Driver Maurice Robinson pulled his articulated lorry over on a largely deserted Essex industrial park.

He got out of the cab, went to the rear of the trailer and opened the doors.

Inside was an almost unimaginable sight: 39 people, 10 of them teenagers, were dead.

Instead of immediately dialling 999 in the early hours of 23 October, 2019, the 26-year-old’s first instinct was to get back in to his cab and drive off from the estate in Grays, with the bodies in the trailer behind him.

An international criminal investigation into a major people-smuggling operation was set to begin.

Crammed into the back of Robinson’s lorry were two cousins who were more than 6,000 miles (9,656km) from home.

Nguyen Van Hung, who was 33, and 18-year-old Hoang Van Tiep were from the same village in Nghe An province, in the north of Vietnam.

Both men had made it as far as France – Hoang, via Russia, in 2017, and his older cousin a year later.

In September 2019, the younger cousin asked his parents if he could travel to the UK.

He persuaded them, saying he would only have to pay the £10,500 fee due to the people smugglers after he had arrived in the UK.

Hoang’s mother, Hoang Thi Ai, told the BBC why they had changed their minds.

“He told me that he would only go on a ‘VIP package’, in a private car,” she said. “He said he would not go in a container lorry and that it needed to be safe, even though the truck option was a lot cheaper.”

His father, Nguyen Thanh Le, believed his son was tricked, possibly at the last moment.

“I don’t know what happened but something must have changed in their plan, or he was scammed,” he said.

Nguyen Van Hung’s mother, Pham Thi Lan, agreed.

“No-one would choose to travel in such a dangerous way,” she said.

Matthew Long, deputy director of National Crime Agency, said the whole idea of some kind of special service was a con.

“There is no VIP service – these are the lies people are told to be exploited,” he said.

“And finding out at the very last minute, and realising as you die, that the VIP service was a terrible lie, is exactly what you see from these organised crime groups. “

Det Ch Insp Daniel Stoten, of Essex Police, said: “They are callous and they are dangerous and they are out to exploit these people.

“We wouldn’t transport animals in that way.”

The stories of the 39 show their journeys from Vietnam were often done in stages.

Many travelled to other countries in Europe, such as Poland and Russia, before being drawn by the prospect of finding better-paid work in the UK, a lure that saw them move west to France or Belgium before crossing the North Sea.

Some wanted to work in nail salons while one of the 15-year-olds who died said he would find work in an illegal cannabis farm.

Many of the 28 men, eight women and three boys found dead in the trailer were in Paris the day before their deaths.

From the French capital, they had made their way to a town called Bierne, in northern France.

It was here that a number of people were seen being delivered by taxi to an agricultural shed, before later clambering into a lorry.

From this point onwards, a sensor inside the trailer tells its own story of a relentless rise in temperature.

From Bierne, the lorry is seen on CCTV footage making its way across France and towards the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, where it was left to be loaded unaccompanied on to a ferry called the MV Clementine.

The ship left Zeebrugge in the middle of the afternoon, bound for the port of Purfleet-on-Thames, in Essex.

During the voyage, the temperature rose from the high 20s all the way up to 38.5C (101F), by which point the air was too toxic for human life.

Those inside had stripped to their underwear in the sweltering heat and tried to bash their way out of the trailer’s roof. Officers discovered a metal post on the lorry floor.

First to the scene were paramedics from the East of England Ambulance Service, who were praised by chief executive Dorothy Hosein for their “incredible professionalism in very difficult circumstances”.

All of the paramedics who attended that night were offered “enhanced support” from the service’s well-being team in the aftermath, she said.

More than 1,300 Essex police officers were involved in the case.

PC Jack Emerson was one of the first at the scene.

He described how he desperately searched for “signs of life”, a pulse or a breath. He found none.

“I could visibly see numerous half-naked bodies in the back of the trailer, lying on the trailer floor motionless,” he said.

The bodies were packed so tightly together, he said, that he could only check “the bodies I could reach”.

Post-mortem examinations found they died of overheating and a lack of oxygen.

Det Ch Insp Stoten said: “The officers who attended that – most of them were very young in service and some of them had never experienced a dead person, a deceased person, before.

“They did a brilliant job and they put us in a really strong position to continue the investigation.”

At 00:30 GMT on 23 October, 2019, the MV Clementine docked at Purfleet-on-Thames. A port worker who drove the trailer off the ship later reported noticing a pungent smell that was “similar to waste”.

Robinson had driven from Holyhead, a major Irish Sea port in north-west Wales, to collect the trailer.

Shortly after 01:00, having picked up the trailer, Robinson got a SnapChat message from Ronan Hughes, his 40-year-old haulage boss from County Monaghan, Ireland.

The message said: “Give them air quickly don’t let them out”.

He slowly brought the lorry to a stop at the industrial estate, got out of the cab and opened the trailer door. He saw what was inside and stepped back before closing the door.

Robinson, of Craigavon, County Armagh, returned to his cab before driving off and making his first call to Hughes.

That call between Robinson and Hughes then triggered a flurry of further communications between other men involved in the trafficking operation.

One of them was Gheorghe Nica. He was one of the organisers of the smuggling operation but denied involvement in the lethal trip. Nica claimed he told Robinson not to move the trailer and to call 999.

After his brief drive around Grays, Robinson again parked up at the industrial estate.

He waited for 15 minutes and then dialled 999, telling the operator: “There’s immigrants in the back. They’re all lying on the ground. The trailer’s jammed. There’s approximately 25. They’re not breathing.”

Nica flew out of the country the next day. He knew, in his own words, what had happened was “very, very bad” and that there would be a “big investigation”. He was later arrested in Germany.

Along with lorry driver Eamonn Harrison, 23, he has been found guilty of manslaughter.

Both Robinson and Hughes, of Tyholland, County Monaghan, admitted 39 counts of manslaughter and conspiring to assist unlawful immigration.

Lorry driver Christopher Kennedy, 24, of County Armagh, and van driver Valentin Calota, 38, of Birmingham, were also convicted of being part of the people-smuggling plot.

In the weeks before the tragic journey, the gang, led by Hughes and Nica, organised at least two other journeys smuggling Vietnamese migrants packed into the back of lorries into the UK.

On 11 October, about 15 migrants made the journey across the channel, though in a different trailer to the one in which the 39 died.

One of them, a man known to the court only as Witness X, gave evidence at the Old Bailey.

He too was seeking a better life when, in February last year, he paid up to £20,000 to a trafficker in Vietnam for a visa and a place on a business studies course in Poland.

After several months in Poland, he made the journey to France with his heart set on making it across the channel to the UK.

He had seen a friend’s Facebook post showing that they had made it to London. Witness X asked that friend for help. The friend put him in touch with a Vietnamese mystery man called Phong.

Communicating on the messaging app Viber, Phong agreed to arrange the trip for Witness X for £13,000.

It is understood Phong is currently subject of further police inquiries but his full identity has not been revealed.

Witness X described how he was ushered on to the back of the trailer at a rendezvous point in northern France.

The driver of the trailer spoke only to hurry them along, Witness X told the court. Later, before the trailer was loaded on to a ferry, the driver had opened the doors and told them to “keep quiet all the time” and stand in the middle of the trailer and hold on to each other.

When Witness X finally arrived in the UK, he and the other migrants were met by a fleet of black cars at Orsett Farm, in Orsett, Essex.

Witness X was taken to Phong’s house in south London, where he stayed until his parents had “paid his fare” – a fare Witness X described as “too much” for what was supposed to be another “VIP” trip.

Twelve days before 39 Vietnamese people were found dead in the container, Marie Andrews was at her mobile home in Orsett, a village about four miles (6km) from Grays.

“A load of immigrants just got out of a lorry, they just got into Mercedes and all that,” Ms Andrews told the 999 operator.

What she was seeing was a people-smuggling operation run by the same gang responsible for the 39 deaths.

The cars collecting the people inside the lorry drove away from the scene.

“I saw some legs come out. It was a shock, like anybody would be shocked to see this, particularly down a lane people would not know,” Ms Andrews told the Old Bailey.

“I didn’t take my eyes off the lorry while I was on the [999] call.”

A week later, she saw the same red-cabbed lorry in front of her home, near the village golf club, during yet another smuggling run.

Ms Andrews described ringing police again after seeing the news of the 39 deaths on social media.

“I immediately recognised this cab and trailer on the news as certainly being the same one that I had seen on both 11 October and 18 October, 2019,” she said.

A similar run was stopped at the mouth of the Eurotunnel at Coquelles in France on 14 October, when 20 Vietnamese migrants were discovered.

While the migrants were detained by the French authorities, the driver Christopher Kennedy was allowed to continue on his way to Kent.

Officer Maxime Saison was on duty in France that night and told how the migrants, speaking in English, confirmed they were Vietnamese and had no documentation.

A number of the migrants discovered in France were later found dead inside the container in Essex.

The deaths have been a wake-up call for police.

Det Ch Insp Stoten said: “This crime group have been stopped on many, many, occasions in Europe and the UK – and they continued.

“It’s hard to say whether that would change the outcome but we have changed nationally the way that we deal with organised immigration crimes.”

Among those killed was a married couple – Tran Hai Loc and Nguyen Thi Van. They were both 35.

They had been working legally as fruit pickers in Hungary when they phoned their families in Vietnam to tell them there had been a change in plan and they would soon be travelling to the UK.

They were found on the floor of the trailer holding hands.

Police ensured they were taken to the mortuary, and then had their post-mortem examinations carried out, together.

They leave behind two children in Vietnam.

The journey of 23 October and the earlier failed run on 14 October were connected, said Bill Emlyn Jones, who prosecuted the case.

Thwarted in France, he said, the smugglers were possibly attempting to “do two loads in one”.

“This time, they simply had too many people on board,” he told the Old Bailey. “They loaded too many people into a single trailer… the people smugglers were under pressure to double up.

“For the 39 men and women inside, that lorry had become their tomb.

“On that boat in the night, there was no-one to hear them and no-one to help them.”

Pair who murdered man after petty row in Wythenshawe jailed

Two men have been jailed for murdering a shop worker in a “horrific attack” that escalated from a “petty argument” in the street, police have said.

David Allan died on 5 June, a day after Joseph Stott and Aiden Matthews beat him in “broad daylight” in Wythenshawe, Greater Manchester Police said.

The University of Plymouth graduate was attacked after being confronted by the mother of a boy he had pushed over.

Stott and Matthews were handed life sentences at Manchester Crown Court.

Stott, 34, of Hardwick Road, Manchester, was ordered to serve a minimum of 16 years, while Matthews, 31, of Merton Grove, Tyldesley, was given an 18-year minimum term.

Greater Manchester Police said Mr Allan was walking to a supermarket on Moorcroft Road in Wythenshawe on 4 June, when three brothers, rode at him on their bikes.

The 23-year-old, who worked in a newsagents at Manchester Royal Infirmary, pushed one of the boys, who then fell off his bike.

The three rode off and Mr Allan continued on to the supermarket, but was then confronted by the boys’ mother outside the store.

The 23-year-old walked away from her, but she followed him and flagged down Matthews as he drove past in his van.

A police spokesman said Matthews got out and there was an “altercation” with Mr Allan before he then drove off, collected Stott from a nearby address and returned to Moorcroft Road.

The pair then attacked Mr Allan, Matthews beating him with a large torch, while Stott kicked him.

They left him on the ground and sped off in the van, hitting another vehicle as they drove away to change their clothes and dispose of the torch.

Mr Allan was taken to hospital with serious injuries and died the following day.

Speaking after sentencing, senior investigating officer Duncan Thorpe said it had been “a horrific attack that escalated from a petty argument and left a family utterly devastated”.

He said the pair had “tried to hide their tracks and get away but the large quantity of evidence uncovered left them having to face justice”.

Ariana Grande announces engagement to Dalton Gomez

US singer and actress Ariana Grande has revealed she is now engaged to her real estate agent boyfriend, Dalton Gomez.

The star posted several photos on her Instagram page, showing a diamond ring on her left hand. “forever n then some”, the caption said.

Grande, 27, has been dating Gomez, also in his twenties, for about a year.

The couple are currently living at Grande’s Los Angeles home, heeding California’s stay-at-home orders, reports say.

“They couldn’t be happier, they’re just so excited. This is a happy time for them, both sets of parents are thrilled,” a source was quoted as telling America’s People magazine.

In May, Grande sent a heartfelt message to fans to mark the third anniversary of the Manchester Arena bombing.

“Not a day goes by that this doesn’t affect you and all of us still,” she wrote on her Instagram page.

Grande had just finished playing at the venue on 22 May, 2017, when a terrorist detonated a homemade explosive device, killing 22 people.

Grande, who said she suffered PTSD as a result of the atrocity, returned to Manchester last year to headline the city’s Pride festival.

Tees Transporter Bridge: Worker almost killed in 2018

A worker narrowly avoided being killed when a piece of the Tees Transporter Bridge fell off, a council has heard.

The iconic crossing, which opened in 1911, has been closed for 16 months due to serious safety concerns.

Middlesbrough councillors were given a report detailing the bridge’s “dangerous state”, which included the near-fatal miss in 2018 and a number of loose cross parts.

The council will soon start a consultation over the bridge’s future.

Worries were raised by a whistleblower last year with concerns wheels, ropes and anchor points were “substantially out of date”.

The report to the corporate audit and affairs committee stated there was “no evidence action was taken by management”, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

The report added: “In 2018, there was a ‘near-miss’ when a support fell from the structure, landing beside a member of bridge staff.  

“Although staff claimed that this was reported to management, no action was taken and the Transporter Bridge remained open to the public.”

The GMB union said its members had flagged up how the 109-year-old structure was in a “dangerous state of repair” for years – fearing a “horrific incident” had the union not spoken up. 

The report identified a “mostly passive and ineffective management approach to the Transporter Bridge over the previous decade”.

Middlesbrough Council manages the bridge in an agreement with Stockton Council. 

Finance director Ian Wright said: “The findings are very serious and worrying to us as a council – they make us ask serious questions of ourselves.”

A review of other council buildings and assets is to be launched to see if fundamental problems exist at other sites elsewhere in the town. 

European regulator says Boeings 737 Max is safe

The head of Europe’s aviation safety agency, EASA, has told the BBC he is “certain” Boeing’s 737 Max is now safe to fly.

Executive Director Patrick Ky said his organisation had “left no stone unturned” in its review of the aircraft and its analysis of design changes made by the manufacturer.

The plane was grounded in March 2019.

That was after it was involved in two catastrophic accidents, in which a total of 346 people died.

It has already been cleared to resume flights in the US and Brazil. EASA expects to give permission for it to return to service in Europe in mid-January.

The plane’s first accident occurred in October 2018, when a Lion Air jet came down in the sea off Indonesia.

The second involved an Ethiopian Airlines version that crashed shortly after takeoff from Addis Ababa, just four months later.

Both have been attributed to flawed flight control software, which became active at the wrong time and prompted the aircraft to go into a catastrophic dive.

Since the Ethiopian crash, EASA has been carrying out a root-and-branch review of the 737 Max’s design, independently from a similar process undertaken by the US regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The review, says Mr Ky, went well beyond the immediate causes of the two accidents and the modifications proposed by Boeing.

“We went further and reviewed all the flight controls, all the machinery of the aircraft”, he explains.

The aim, he says, was to look at anything which could cause a critical failure.

In order to return to service, existing planes will now have to be equipped with new computer software, as well as undergoing changes to their wiring and cockpit instrumentation.

Pilots will need to undergo mandatory training, and each plane will have to undergo a test flight to ensure the changes have been carried out correctly.

US regulators have set out similar conditions.

As a result, Mr Ky insists, “We are very confident that it is now a very safe aircraft.”

Most of the initial safety certification work on the 737 Max was carried out by the FAA, and simply endorsed by EASA under the terms of a long-standing international agreement.

But with the FAA now facing intense criticism for allowing an apparently flawed aircraft into service, Mr Ky says in future, things will be done differently.

“What is certain is that there were lessons learned from this, which will trigger new actions from our side”, he explains.

In particular, where EASA is not the primary authority carrying out safety work, it will examine other people’s decisions much more closely.

“We will perform our own safety assessment, which is going to be much more comprehensive than it used to be”, he says.

But have regulators lost credibility and public confidence since the disasters?

“I hope not”, says Mr Ky. “I think we have made a lot of progress in assessing what went wrong and what can be made better

“I hope the public trusts in us when we say we think, we are certain, that the aircraft is safe to fly”.