Boy, 13, stabbed to death in Reading

Police have launched a murder investigation after a 13-year-old boy was stabbed in Reading.

Officers were called shortly before 16:00 GMT on Sunday following reports of an attack in Bugs Bottom fields, Emmer Green.

The boy was pronounced dead at the scene and police are appealing for witnesses to come forward.

No arrests have been made, but Thames Valley Police believe the boy was attacked by two or three males.

Police said the boy’s next of kin have been informed, but no formal identification has taken place.

A “considerable police presence” will be in place for several days, police said.

Detective Superintendent Kevin Brown from Thames Valley Police said: “This is a tragic and shocking incident which has resulted in the death of a young boy.

“We have specially trained family liaison officers supporting the boy’s family and the thoughts of all of us within the force are with them at this extremely distressing time.”

Police are appealing for anyone who was in the area between 15:00 GMT and 16:30 GMT who might have taken photos or camera footage to contact them if they notice anything suspicious.

Det Supt Brown said: “This is an area that is used extensively by dog walkers, and I believe that there will have been witnesses to this dreadful incident, or who may have seen the offenders leaving the area quickly.”

Brexit: Boris Johnsons claims about its benefits fact-checked

Boris Johnson was asked on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show how “ordinary voters” in a place such as Leigh in Greater Manchester (which voted Conservative in the 2019 election) would benefit from Brexit.

The prime minister gave several examples, which we will look at in turn.

We’re not sure which money he’s referring to here (we asked the government but it did not clarify this).

A great deal was made in the EU referendum campaign about the contributions to the EU budget that would no longer have to be made after Brexit.

The UK was making its regular contributions to the EU budget until the end of 2020 (as the two sides were still in a transition period), so the amount saved since will not be huge.

Also, the UK is still paying money to the EU as part of the divorce bill, covering things like spending that the EU committed to while the UK was a member, but has not yet funded – along with contributions to the pensions of EU staff.

The Office for Budget Responsibility expects that the UK will be contributing about £7.1bn this year, down from last year’s contribution of £8.2bn.

That’s an average saving of about £3m a day this year – so £9m so far.

Pulse trawling, which involves the use of an electric current to force fish off the seabed making them easier to catch, was indeed banned in UK waters on 1 January 2021.

But France and Belgium – both EU member states – had already outlawed the practice in their territorial waters (which stretch up to 12 nautical miles from the coast). The UK could have done the same when it was still a member of the EU.

An EU-wide ban was also passed into law in June 2019 and is due to come into full effect on 1 July 2021.

Pulse fishing has become less common over the past few decades in EU waters.

There were eight vessels – seven from the Netherlands and one from the UK – using the technique in UK waters between January 2019 and June 2020, according to ocean conservation charity the Blue Marine Foundation.

Four were fishing within UK territorial waters and therefore could have been banned by the UK, before it left the EU.

But the other four boats, which were operating within the UK’s Exclusive Economic Zone (which stretches up to 200 nautical miles from the coast) but beyond UK territorial waters, could not have been outlawed, while the UK was in the EU.

Now, the UK is an independent coastal state so it can ban them.

Mr Johnson is likely referring to super trawlers here (as “hoover trawlers” isn’t a widely recognised term). Again, we asked the government but it did not clarify this.

Super trawlers are typically defined as vessels over 100m in length – 25 of them fished in UK waters in 2019, according to Greenpeace.

Most had a Russian or Dutch flag, except one vessel – the Frank Bonefaas – which sails under a British flag but is majority Dutch-owned.

Now that the UK has left the EU, it can ban super trawlers from fishing in UK waters, but – under the terms of the Brexit trade deal – this rule must apply equally to UK and EU boats.

This is further complicated by a section of the agreement, which secures access to the UK’s territorial waters (between 6-12 nautical miles) for any vessel active in those waters between 2012-16. This measure would – in theory – apply to several super trawlers.

The Marine Management Organisation has already granted temporary licences to at least seven super trawlers (six of which are registered in the EU) to continue fishing in UK waters beyond 31 December 2020.

The points-based immigration system did go live at the start of the year as freedom of movement ended for EU citizens (and for UK citizens in the EU).

In future, EU citizens will have to have a certain number of points based on things like skills, to be allowed to work in the UK.

There will be some exceptions for people working in areas with labour shortages.

You can read more about the points-based immigration system here.

This is a claim Mr Johnson has made before – we looked into it in 2019.

Free ports are small free-trade zones, sometimes called special economic zones, in which normal tax and customs rules do not apply.

In fact, there are more than 80 free ports in the EU (a point made by Andrew Marr) and the UK had them until 2012.

But they have to comply with EU rules that are designed to ensure fair competition between member states.

Supporters of free ports argue that these zones could be more beneficial for the UK once it is outside the EU.

But if the tax benefits given to companies operating inside them are too generous, they could in theory trigger action from the EU, under the terms of the new trade deal. Some trade experts argue that free ports could simply move investment from other parts of the UK.

A government spokesperson said: “free ports will empower regions across the UK to become hubs for international trade and investment.”

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Man named following New Years Day death in Erskine

A man who died after being attacked in Renfrewshire on New Year’s Day has been named by police.

He was 21-year-old Darren Russell, who lived in the town.

Police had been called to the Park Drive area in Erskine at about 12:55 after reports of a man being assaulted.

BBC Scotland understands the man suffered stab wounds during the attack and died at the scene a short time later.

Bitcoin tops $34,000 as record rally continues

Bitcoin’s value surged above $34,000 (£24,850) for the first time on Sunday as the leading cryptocurrency continued to soar.

It put the gain this year at almost $5,000, although by 17:00 GMT the price had drifted lower to about $33,000, according to the Coindesk website.

The rise was attributed to interest from big investors after quick profits.

It comes after Bitcoin soared 300% last year, with the price of many other digital currencies also rising sharply.

Some analysts think Bitcoin’s value could rise even further as the US dollar drops further.

While the value of the US currency rose in March at the start of the coronavirus pandemic as investors sought safety amid the uncertainty, it has since dropped due to major stimulus from the US Federal Reserve. The currency ended last year with its biggest annual loss since 2017.

Bitcoin is traded in much the same way as real currencies like the US dollar and pound sterling.

Recently it has won growing support as a form of payment online, with PayPal among the most recent adopters of digital currencies.

But the cryptocurrency has also proved to be a volatile investment.

A previous rally in 2017 saw it come close to breaking through the $20,000 level. But it has also hit extreme lows and has fallen below $3,300 previously.

It passed $19,000 in November last year before dropping sharply again.

The soaring price has raised concerns that Bitcoin is due for a dramatic correction, as happened three years ago when the value collapsed after a bull run.

In October, Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey cautioned over Bitcoin’s use as a payment method.

“I have to be honest, it is hard to see that Bitcoin has what we tend to call intrinsic value,” he said. “It may have extrinsic value in the sense that people want it.”

Mr Bailey added that he was “very nervous” about people using Bitcoin for payments pointing out that investors should realise its price is extremely volatile.

Covid: Parents react to primary schools in England reopening

Most pupils in England are due back in primary school after the Christmas break this week – but many parents are deciding they feel safer keeping them at home.

Some primaries in London and parts of the South East are staying closed for two weeks due to the fast-spreading new strain of the virus.

But Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he has “no doubt” that “schools are safe”.

Speaking on Sunday, he said the risk to children was “very, very low” and the benefit of education was “so huge”.

He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “If you think about the history of the pandemic, we’ve kept schools going for a long, long time in areas where the pandemic has really been at really high levels.”

But Mr Johnson may struggle to convince some parents.

Caroline Crawford, from Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, has a nine-year-old son at primary school and a 13-year-old daughter at secondary.

While she says she supports the government, and recognises “that difficult decisions have had to be made and at short notice”, she does not agree with sending children back to school this week.

“I do not see how the government can be willing to open schools and increase contacts when cases are already incredibly high and increasing,” she told the BBC.

She added: “I am hoping that there will be a change and that secondary schools will continue remote learning after the 18th but I contacted my son’s school today to request for my son to work from home as I am not comfortable with him being in school.”

Brighton and Hove Council has advised primary schools to stay closed meaning Gemma Cocker’s five-year-old son Charlie will not be going to school while her daughter Lyla, who is four, may still be able to go to nursery.

Gemma and her husband have been working from home since March, but now they will once again have to add childcare to the mix.

“We’ll try to home-school him,” she said of Charlie. “He regressed a little bit last time, he’s young in the year.”

The 36-year-old added: “The whole thing is ridiculous, can a decision just be made? At a time when many parents are returning to work next week, to have this uncertainty is adding to already stressed-out families.

“Morally, I think they should close, but practically, no. It’s a hard one.”

But Charlotte Clarke, a solicitor and mother-of-two who lives in East Sussex, is angry some people are petitioning to keep schools closed.

She said it was “physically impossible” to do her job and teach her children – a son in Year Six and a daughter in Year One.

She told the BBC: “If my children’s school closes I will not support learning from home. I am the main breadwinner so have to work.

“I strongly support schools staying open.

“It’s all good and well saying the schools should be closed but I’m more concerned about the kids’ mental health than whether they get Covid.

“I’m more concerned about the economy. We’ve followed the guidelines. We haven’t left the house other than to food shop.

“I appreciate the necessity to keep safe, but if it’s out of control, what difference could closing the schools do now?”

Anna Louise, from Cumbria, says she doesn’t feel it’s safe to send children back to school – and queries why London is being treated differently.

The mum-of-two, whose partner is a key worker, said: “I feel that Boris Johnson is being completely ignorant to this situation.

“As a mum to a 10-year-old and a six-month-old, I personally don’t feel it’s safe to send primary school children back on Tuesday.

“Why is London an exception to the rule when two thirds of the UK are also in tier four?”

She said the circumstances were different now to in March, with the new strain being more prominent in children.

“The last thing I want to happen is for my 10-year-old to go back to school and come into contact with someone who has Covid-19 and bring it home to our new baby,” she said. “My partner is also a key worker and so has no choice but to go to work.

“Teachers’ unions have said that if teachers feel unsafe then they won’t have to go in, but as parents will we be penalised for keeping our children safe at home and not sending them into school?”

Melanie Goddard lives in Groombridge, on the Kent-East Sussex border – with both counties in tier four. While they live on the Kent side, where her daughter’s nursery is, her son’s school is in East Sussex, in the authority of Wealden.

“I’m inclined to keep them both home, but we’re waiting to see,” she said, explaining that cases in Wealden are on the rise, but not in Tunbridge Wells where the nursery is.

“Some of East Sussex is set to close. Tunbridge is set to close. A lot of the surrounding areas are closed, but Wealden isn’t.”

She added: “There doesn’t seem to be clear science behind this. My inclination is to keep my son home, my husband wants to see. [My son] is due back on Tuesday, there may be another U-turn.

“If it’s safe, I can’t see the logic. Two miles away it isn’t safe. I know they’ve got to draw the line somewhere. It’d just be nice to have some reasoning behind it.”

She said it was difficult not knowing “where the end in sight is going to be”, but added: “Homeschooling is hard, but we’ll persevere.”

Most primary schools in England will return on 4 January, but in London and some surrounding areas they will not open for most pupils until 18 January. Secondary schools in England will stagger their return with pupils taking exams in 2021 starting on 11 January, and other year groups returning in person on 18 January.

In Wales, local councils have been told they can be “flexible” with when they open – with many schools aiming to return for face-to-face lessons from 11 January.

In Northern Ireland, primary school pupils will be taught online until 11 January. In secondary schools, years 8 to 11 will be taught online throughout January. Years 12 to 14 will return to school after the first week of January.

In Scotland, the Christmas holidays have been extended to 11 January, and the following week will be online learning only. A full return to face-to-face learning is planned for 18 January but First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has warned measures may have to go further with a cabinet meeting to be held on Monday.

Read more here.

Edinburghs giant pandas may return to China over Covid losses

Edinburgh Zoo’s giant pandas may have to return to China next year because of financial pressures.

Yang Guang and Tian Tian cost about £1m a year to lease from China.

The zoo, which had hoped to breed the pair, is nearing the end of its 10-year contract with the Chinese government and may be unable to renew the deal.

Covid lockdown closures led to a £2m loss for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, which runs Edinburgh Zoo and the Highland Wildlife Park.

David Field, chief executive of the society, said the charity would have to “seriously consider every potential saving”, including its giant panda contract.

Mr Field said closures had had a “huge financial impact” on the charity because most of its income was from visitors.

“Although our parks are open again, we lost around £2m last year and it seems certain that restrictions, social distancing and limits on our visitor numbers will continue for some time, which will also reduce our income,” Mr Field said.

“Yang Guang and Tian Tian have made a tremendous impression on our visitors over the last nine years, helping millions of people connect to nature and inspiring them to take an interest in wildlife conservation.

“I would love for them to be able to stay for a few more years with us and that is certainly my current aim.”

The zoo has already taken a government loan, furloughed staff, made redundancies and launched a fundraising appeal, but was not eligible for the UK government’s zoo fund, which was aimed at smaller zoos.

“The support we have received from our members and animal lovers has helped to keep our doors open and we are incredibly grateful,” Mr Field added.

“At this stage, it is too soon to say what the outcome will be. We will be discussing next steps with our colleagues in China over the coming months.”

The zoo is part of a number of conservation projects, including one to reintroduce Scottish wildcats.

However, Mr Field said projects like that may also have to be scrapped because of Brexit and being unable to apply for grants from the European Union.

“We received a £3.2m grant from the EU Life programme to support our Saving Wildcats partnership project, which aims to restore wildcats in Scotland by breeding and releasing them into the wild.

“Wildcats are on the brink of extinction in Britain and this is the last hope for the species’ survival.”

He added: “As we are no longer part of the European Union, our charity is no longer eligible to apply for funding from programmes like EU Life, which have proven critical for our wildlife conservation work and wider efforts to protect animals from extinction.”

Edinburgh Zoo’s conservation genetics laboratory, which supports conservation projects around the world, has lost access to both funding and other researchers as a result.

It also faces challenges around moving animals, many of which are part of European endangered species breeding programmes.

The programme is currently about £900,000 short, meaning it may have to be cancelled.

Mr Field said: “We still need to reduce costs to secure our future. It may be that some of our incredibly important conservation projects, including the vital lifeline for Scotland’s wildcats, may have to be deferred, postponed or even stopped.”