Isle of Wight oil tanker security alert suspects charged

Two men have appeared in court charged in connection with a security alert on an oil tanker off the the Isle of Wight.

Special forces stormed the Nave Andromeda on 25 October after the crew raised concerns about stowaways.

Matthew John Okorie, 25 and Sunday Sylvester, 22, were charged with conduct endangering ships under the Merchant Shipping Act.

They were remanded in custody by Southampton magistrates.

They are due appear at Southampton Crown Court on 29 January.

Hampshire police said five other men, who were arrested on suspicion of seizing or exercising control of a ship by use of threats or force, remain on police bail until 25 January while police investigations continue.

They are currently detained under Border Force powers.

The Southampton-bound Liberian-flagged tanker had left Lagos, Nigeria on 5 October.

Members of the Special Boat Service based at Poole, in Dorset, were involved in the operation to board the vessel off the east coast of the Isle of Wight following a request from police.

The Nave Andromeda later docked in Southampton with all 22 crew members reported safe.

Erdington murder probe after man deliberately driven at by car

A man was killed when a car was deliberately driven at him in Birmingham, police say.

Police have launched a murder inquiry after the victim was found with serious head injuries on Coton Road in Erdington shortly before 06:00 GMT.

Detectives believe the 28-year-old was deliberately hit by the car that then left the scene.

West Midlands Police have appealed for witnesses as officers piece together what happened.

“A family have lost a loved one and we need to find out what took place and who is responsible,” Det Sgt Nick Barnes said.

Storm Bella: Met Office Boxing Day weather warnings for Wales

Storm Bella is set to bring strong winds and more rain to Wales on Boxing Day, raising warnings of further floods.

A yellow rain warning has been issued for Wales by the Met Office from 18:00 GMT on Saturday to 09:00 on Sunday.

It said there was a “small chance” homes and businesses could flood.

An amber warning for wind is also in place from 20:00 on Saturday to 09:00 on Sunday with gusts up to 80mph forecast on hills and along coasts.

Strong south-westerly winds in parts of south and west Wales could reach 60-70mph, the Met Office said.

Sixteen of Wales’ 22 local authorities are covered by the amber warning.

All counties in the south-west and the majority of those in the south-east are covered by the warning, as well as parts of Ceredigion, Powys and Gwynedd.

The Met Office has also warned that 40-60mm of rain could fall on hilly areas while 15-25mm is expected more widely.

Natural Resources Wales has issued flood warnings and alerts for the River Ritec at Tenby, Pembrokeshire, and the Lower Dee Valley from Llangollen to Trevalyn Meadows near Wrexham.

The warnings follow parts of Wales waking up to a flood clean-up on Christmas Eve.

Tinsel drama for Dexter the dog saved by vet

A dog has been saved by vets after eating 3ft (91cm) of tinsel pinched from its owners’ mantelpiece.

Dexter, a Great Dane cross, was taken to PDSA vets after the tinsel went missing and he started being sick.

X-rays confirmed the tinsel was in Dexter’s stomach, and hadn’t moved through to his intestines, which could have caused extra complications.

Vets operated on Dexter and pulled out the tinsel all in one piece and he was able to go home the same day.

Dexter’s owner, Paul Noakes, 56, from Margate, said his pet had a habit of eating things he shouldn’t.

“When he was younger he used to eat sofas and carpets, and two years ago at Christmas he ate tinsel.

“He wasn’t ill at all, and the first we knew was when it started coming out in pieces at both ends.”

This Christmas, Paul’s son, 15-year-old Mitch, noticed the tinsel which had been wrapped around ornaments on the mantelpiece, was missing.

The family was sure Dexter was the culprit but said they had no idea how Dexter had managed to avoid pulling over any of the ornaments.

Kate Milroy, vet team leader at PDSA Margate Pet Clinic, said: “Dexter needed to be taken straight in for emergency surgery. It was clearly causing a blockage and would be fatal if we didn’t remove it as soon as possible.

“I was very surprised when I managed to pull the tinsel out all in one piece.”

Mr Noakes said: “Dexter bounced back so quickly, and you can barely even see the scar.”

Brexit trade deal moment of national renewal, says Lord Frost

The UK’s new trade deal with the EU marks “the beginning of a moment of national renewal”, Boris Johnson’s chief Brexit negotiator has said.

The agreement was announced on Christmas Eve, after months of fraught talks on issues such as fishing rights and business rules.

Lord Frost described it as “one of the biggest and broadest” ever.

MPs will vote on the deal in Parliament on 30 December, with the UK set to exit existing trading rules on 31 December.

The European Parliament also needs to ratify it, while EU ambassadors received a Christmas Day briefing on the trade deal from EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

A 1,246-page document, which has been published on the UK government’s website, sets out the post-Brexit relationship with the EU and includes about 800 pages of annexes and footnotes.

Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Lord Frost said: “There’s no more role for the European Court of Justice, there’s no direct effects of EU law, there’s no alignment of any kind, and we’re out of the single market and out of the customs union just as the manifesto said we would.

“All choices are in our hands as a country and it’s now up to us to decide how we use them and how we go forward in the future.”

Senior members of the UK negotiating team added that the deal allowed for a “managed divergence” from EU rules and standards.

They said the UK was not prohibited from any action – and if divergence led to competitiveness issues then an arbitration process was available.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – who campaigned against Brexit – said the deal did not provide adequate protections for jobs, manufacturing, financial services or workplace rights and was “not the deal the government promised”.

But with no time left to renegotiate, the only choice was between “this deal or no deal”, he added.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen described it as “fair” and “balanced”, saying it was now “time to turn the page and look to the future”.

Lord Frost certainly isn’t underselling the agreement with Brussels, describing it as representing the “beginning of a moment of national renewal”.

Members of the Conservatives’ European Research Group , or ERG – which includes many prominent Brexiteers – have sounded positive about the deal, as outlined by the PM.

But some believe that the devil is in the detail.

ERG lawyers – including the veteran Eurosceptic MP Sir Bill Cash – are set to dissect the contents of the agreement between now and Parliament’s recall on Wednesday.

But the former Brexit Secretary David Davis has said one day of scrutiny in Parliament isn’t enough – and has accused the EU of having a habit of inserting “little quirks” into its treaties.

What happens next with Brexit?

Meanwhile, writing in the Times, Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove said the UK and EU would be able to enjoy a “special relationship” as a result of the new deal.

He said the deal would give UK businesses “certainty and the ability to plan for growth and investment”.

“We can develop a new pattern of friendly co-operation with the EU, a special relationship if you will, between sovereign equals,” he added.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey told BBC Breakfast that the post-Brexit trade deal meant more of the red tape “we all feared”, “far more bureaucracy” and was a “defeat for those who wanted frictionless trade”.

He said the deal was “bad for business”, “less safe” for families and it was therefore “insupportable”.

Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Theresa Villiers, who voted for Brexit, told the same programme that “many prime ministers” had returned from negotiations with Brussels with deals that appear to “do the right thing and then closer scrutiny demonstrates that they are not as good as first billed”.

“I hope that we have finally seen the pattern broken and I hope that this is a deal that I can support, but it is important that we scrutinise that detail carefully and take some expert advice on it,” she said.

Warnings as Storm Bella moves across NI

Storm Bella is set to bring strong winds and heavy rain to parts of Northern Ireland on Boxing Day.

The Met Office is warning of gusts in excess of 100km/h (60mph) in some exposed and hilltop areas.

There is also the chance of snow at some low levels, as sleet and rain showers move across Northern Ireland on Sunday evening.

The storm has sparked a series of warnings across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Gusts of wind up to 90km/h (55mph) are expected inland along with rain, which could cause some flooding.

Around 30mm of rain is forecast to fall in about six hours, leading to surface water flooding.

In the Republic of Ireland, weather service Met √Čireann has issued wind and rain warnings across the country.

The west coast is expected to bear the brunt of the strongest winds with gusts in excess of 110km/h (70mph) in exposed areas.

Much colder air will follow on Sunday, leading to a risk of wintry showers during the day.

As temperatures fall on Sunday evening there is an increased risk of ice and snow, even at low levels.

As a result, the Met Office has issued a warning for snow and ice from 18:00 GMT Sunday until 10:00 Monday.

The organisation says rain, sleet, and snow showers will move across Northern Ireland on Sunday evening with up to 3cm of snow possible on some low levels.

Higher amounts are expected over higher ground with up to 10cm possible over 250 metres.

However, due to the random nature of showers, many places will avoid snow altogether.

Gale weather warnings for UK as Storm Bella moves in

Storm Bella is due to bring gusts of up to 70mph and heavy rain to the UK on Saturday, forecasters have warned.

The Met Office has issued warnings for wind and rain in parts of England, Wales, Northern Ireland and southern Scotland, with coastal areas expected to be impacted the most.

It said 15-25mm of rain is likely to fall in Wales and south-west England, with up to 40-60mm over some hills.

It comes after evacuation centres were set up amid flooding in Bedfordshire.

Residents in 1,300 homes by the River Great Ouse were advised to move out following high water levels on Christmas Day and a “severe” flood warning is in place.

The Met Office’s amber weather warning for parts of Wales and southern England says travel could be disrupted from Saturday night through to Sunday morning.

It also warned that flying debris could cause injury or be a risk to life, and buildings could be damaged in the storm.

BBC Weather forecaster Susan Powell said: “Storm Bella is now looming large to the north of the UK.

“Make no mistake, this is a powerful system that will bring problems to parts of the UK.”

Staffordshire teacher in Christmas Day cycle challenge

A teacher has raised more than £2,000 by cycling 277 miles on Christmas Day.

Will Smith, from Staffordshire, spent almost 14 hours on his exercise bike with each mile representing one day since lockdown restrictions started.

Mr Smith said cycling had helped his mental health during the pandemic and the money he raised will be donated to North Staffordshire Mind.

“It was far from easy, there were some testing times,” he said, but he added that he wanted “to make a difference”.

Mr Smith started the challenge at 05:25 GMT and finished at 22:10, with a moving time of 13 hours and 45 minutes.

“I’m looking in the Boxing Day sales for a new bottom,” he joked.

He used the online cycling platform Zwift from his garage which allowed some of his supporters to join him as avatars for part of his ride which he said was “a brilliant experience”.

“I’m still trying to process the whole day,” he said. “It was probably the best and worst experience.”

He chose 277 miles as his target after counting how many days had passed since lockdown was enforced on 23 March.

“I thought, it’s a massive distance but it has some meaning and it gave me a purpose,” he said.

The PE teacher is yet to have his Christmas dinner but said he didn’t feel like he had “given up” his Christmas Day.

“We’ve all had to adjust and make sacrifices this year and we’ve not been able to have a Christmas how it’s usually been,” he said.

“I didn’t feel I was giving it up because hopefully it’s going to make a lot of difference to people.”

Obituary: George Blake

George Blake’s escape from Wormwood Scrubs prison in London in 1966 was a major embarrassment to the government of Harold Wilson.

Blake, convicted of betraying British MI6 agents to the Soviet Union, had completed just five years of a 42-year sentence.

His escape was arranged by three former inmates, including two peace campaigners, and financed by the film director Tony Richardson.

With the help of friends he was hidden in safe houses before managing to escape to the Soviet Union, where he spent the rest of his life.

Blake was born George Behar on 11 November 1922 in the Dutch city of Rotterdam.

His father was a Spanish Jew who had fought with the British army during World War I and acquired British citizenship.

At the age of 13 Blake was sent to Cairo where he stayed with his father’s sister, who was married to a wealthy banker.

There he became close to one of his cousins, a committed communist who, Blake remembered, had a great influence on him.

He returned to the Netherlands in the summer of 1939 and was staying with his grandmother in Rotterdam when the Germans invaded the following spring.

His mother and sister were evacuated to England but Blake remained, and as a British citizen was temporarily interned by the Germans.

When it became clear the proposed German invasion of England would not take place, Blake managed to get hold of forged papers and joined the Dutch resistance.

“Although I was 18,” he later recalled, “I looked much younger and therefore was very suitable to act as a courier.”

Over the next two years Blake carried messages between Dutch resistance groups but eventually decided to try to reach England and join the armed forces.

He travelled down to neutral Spain where, after being imprisoned for three months, he managed to reach England via Gibraltar.

He joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve where he was asked, because of his background, if he would like to work in intelligence.

He was fluent in Dutch and was deployed to decipher coded messages sent to London by the Dutch resistance.

When the war ended, he was posted to Germany where he spied on the Soviet forces occupying what was then East Germany.

He was so successful it was decided to return him to England where he learned Russian at Cambridge.

Blake later said: “In a way it shaped another stage in my development towards communism, towards my desire to work for the Soviet Union.”

He was transferred to South Korea just before the outbreak of war between the western-backed South and Soviet-backed North.

His job was to set up a network of agents to spy on the North but poor communications made his task difficult.

When the North captured the city of Seoul, Blake found himself interned along with a number of diplomats and missionaries.

He later denied claims that he had been brainwashed into working for the Soviet Union.

Blake said it was the continual bombing of small villages by American planes that made him feel ashamed of the actions of the West.

He was also influenced by a copy of Karl Marx’s book, Das Kapital, which had been sent to the prisoners by the Soviet embassy.

Blake commented later: “I felt it better for humanity if the communist system prevailed, that it would put an end to war.”

In the end Blake simply wrote a note to the Soviet embassy offering his services. It resulted in an interview with a KGB officer.

By the time Blake arrived back in England after his release in 1953 he was a fully fledged Soviet agent.

In 1955 he was sent to Berlin where he was given the task of recruiting Soviet officers as double agents.

It was the ideal role for the man who was now committed to the Soviet Union.

Much in the manner of Bill Haydon, in John le Carre’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Blake passed British intelligence to his Soviet handlers while pretending the flow was the other way.

Over a period of nine years, Blake handed over information that led to the betrayal of some 40 MI6 agents in Eastern Europe, severely damaging British Intelligence.

He said later: “I don’t know what I handed over because it was so much.”

His downfall came when a Polish secret service officer, Michael Goleniewski, defected to the West, bringing his mistress and details of a Soviet mole in British intelligence.

Blake was recalled to London and arrested. At a subsequent trial he pleaded guilty to five counts of passing information to the Soviet Union.

Based on the sentences given to other spies arrested at the time, Blake was expecting a 14-year term.

But instead he was sentenced to 14 years on each of three counts; the 42-year term was then the longest ever imposed in a British court other than life sentences.

“As a result,” Blake later recalled, “I found a lot of people who were willing to help me for the reason they thought it was inhuman.”

His escape was helped by the lax conditions in the prison and his warders’ assumption that he was resigned to his sentence.

While in Wormwood Scrubs he met Sean Bourke, an Irish-born petty criminal.

On his release Bourke, together with two anti-nuclear campaigners, Michael Randle and Pat Pottle, helped Blake scale the prison wall.

In the process Blake fell and fractured his wrist but managed to get into a waiting van. After a period of hiding in various houses, he was smuggled to East Germany in a camper van and then to the Soviet Union.

Feted as a hero, he was made a KGB colonel and given a pension, an apartment in Moscow and the Order of Friendship by Vladimir Putin.

Blake was that most dangerous of traitors: a man who acted because of principle rather than for reward.

He never had regrets and remained a committed Marxist-Leninist.

Like many intellectuals of his time, including Kim Philby, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, he came to despise the British social system and worked for its downfall.

“To betray, you first have to belong. I never belonged”, he said.

Unlike them, Blake lived to see the end of the communist regime in Russia, an ideal for which he had betrayed his country and his colleagues.

“I’ve enjoyed the happiest years of my life in Russia,” he said in an interview to mark his 90th birthday.

“When I lived in the West I always had the risk of exposure hanging over me. Here, I feel free.”

And in a statement in November 2017 he again praised the work of Russian spies.

They “have the difficult and critical mission” of saving the world, he said, “in a situation where the danger of nuclear war and the resulting self-destruction of humankind have been put on the agenda by irresponsible politicians. It is a true battle between good and evil.”