Tower of Londons queen raven Merlina missing

The Tower of London’s “queen” raven is missing and feared dead, according to staff at the fortress.

Merlina, who joined the flock in 2007, has not been seen for several weeks.

The Tower usually has six ravens at any time and, according to legend, if they ever leave then both the fortress and the kingdom will fall. There are currently seven in residence.

A spokesman said Merlina’s “continued absence indicates to us that she may have sadly passed away”.

He added: “Merlina was our undisputed ruler of the roost, queen of the Tower ravens.

“She will be greatly missed by her fellow ravens, the ravenmaster, and all of us in the Tower community.”

Ravenmaster Christopher Skaife said he would be taking some time to mourn Merlina, according to the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“I know so many of you lovely folk will be saddened by this news,” he said in a social media statement.

“None more than me. Please excuse my absence for a few days.”

Tower staff added that they had no immediate plans to replace Merlina.

Charles II is believed to have been the first monarch to officially decree that the birds must be kept at the Tower at all times.

When numbers fell to just a single raven guard, Winston Churchill ordered that the flock — known as an “unkindness” — was increased to at least six.

In 2018 the Tower launched a raven breeding programme after Historic Royal Palaces warned it was becoming “increasingly difficult” to source the birds.

Covid: Students rent strike threat over accommodation

Hundreds of students are preparing to take part in rent strikes after paying for “hardly used” rooms during the pandemic.

Some Welsh universities have offered refunds to students who have been living away due to Covid-19.

But some students in Cardiff, Swansea and Bangor claim they are being treated unfairly and are threatening to withhold rent.

Universities said they were trying to work out the implications of Covid-19.

And a solicitor warned students they could face legal action for not paying rent, with long-term implications possible if they lose.

Face-to-face teaching was suspended and many students moved back home before Christmas as coronavirus cases continued to rise.

Staggered returns are being introduced in order to “help stop the spread of the virus in student accommodation”, according to the Welsh Government.

Students attending universities across Wales had demanded rent rebates.

They said they had not been living in the rooms or using facilities, despite paying for them, because they were abiding by Welsh Government guidelines.

Cardiff Metropolitan University, Aberystwyth University, Swansea University, Bangor University and Cardiff University have now offered eligible students rebates or discounts for time not spent living on campus.

But students say the offers are inadequate for students already paying £9,000-a-year tuition fees at a time when most of the teaching was online, and they had been unable to use facilities in halls.

While the students cannot hold their protests in person due to coronavirus laws, hundreds are now planning to cancel their direct debits, withholding thousands of pounds of rent from universities.

Michelle Francis, who formed the Bangor Rent Strike campaign, said the university’s offer of a 10% discount to eligible students living in university-owned accommodation did not go far enough.

She said students who had chosen to go home for Christmas were not eligible, despite being unable to use facilities paid for during the first term.

“[We were] advised to have left university from the beginning of December and to come back at 8 February,” she said.

“That’s 25% of our halls that we’ve been paying and we’re not there… we should be allowed to have that back.”

So far over 300 students have joined the campaign to cancel their direct debits paid to Welsh universities and campaigners said the numbers were growing daily.

On Wednesday, Cardiff University joined other Welsh universities in offering a rent rebate to students living in university-owned accommodation during the pandemic.

But the full rebate, for the time students are unable to return to live in their accommodation, will not be applied until April.

Swansea University has also confirmed a rent reduction to students in university halls who have been asked to remain at home.

Oisin Mulholland of Swansea Rent Strike said the group wanted the university to commit to fairly “assessing the situation”, including for the coming term, and students who had already moved in should be given rebates as well.

“There was a window in January, where the Welsh Government said return, but the English government said don’t return, and the university said nothing,” he said.

“Many students came back and are now trapped in Swansea and can’t go back because of lockdown”

Ibrahim Kahn, of the Cardiff Rent Strike campaign, said the rebate was “too late” for students struggling financially now.

“The university should be giving us the rebate this January as opposed to the third instalment in April,” he said.

Lawyers have warned that students would in breach of contract if they cancel the direct debit for their rent.

Siôn Fôn, a solicitor at Darwin Gray, encouraged students to discuss the issue with their families and student unions before taking action.

“I think a case could be brought forward pretty easily against somebody not paying rent,” he said.

But she said students may have a case against the university due to not being able to access advertised facilities, but if the university took legal action it could have long-term consequences for individuals.

“If the students lose, and even after losing don’t pay the rent, that would come up on credit scores, or with the bank, if they’re trying to get a mortgage or a credit card it would come up on their record,” he warned.

A spokesperson for Cardiff University said technical reasons meant they had to wait until the April instalment of accommodation fees to provide the rebate.

Swansea University said some students had already returned when the stay at home guidance was issued, and it was working through the “implications of this”.

“To help with this the university will not generate invoices for any students with university accommodation until May when we have been able to look at these cases,” a spokesman said.

Bangor University said it did not wish to add anything further following its rebate announcement.

The Welsh Government said it had provided an extra £40m to help universities, including £10m for towards student hardship and support.

“It would seem fair that students should be eligible for a rebate for the period when a course is online only and we welcome moves by universities to address this,” a spokesman said.

“We are actively considering how we can support our students and universities even further.”

Stena Lines new Belfast ferry moves to Rosslare in Brexit busting move

Stena Line has moved one of its ferries from Belfast to Rosslare in what it has called a “Brexit busting move”.

When the Stena Embla arrived in Belfast on 2 January the company said it would be concentrating on transporting freight between Belfast and Liverpool.

However, on Wednesday the company tweeted that it would be deployed on the Rosslare to Cherbourg route.

Businesses and hauliers have faced difficulties transporting goods from GB to NI post Brexit.

The UK officially finished its formal separation from the EU on 31 December, 2020.

Since then there has been disruption to trade across the Irish Sea border.

Northern Ireland remains in the EU single market for goods and will continue to enforce EU customs rules at its ports.

The Irish Sea border means that most commercial goods entering NI from GB require a customs declaration.

The Irish Times said the move was made as more businesses sought to avoid Irish Sea ports and border patrols.

Covid: Police cancel fine for couple visiting care home

A couple who were fined £60 for driving 20 minutes to see a relative in a care home have had their fine cancelled by police.

Carol and David Richards from Bridgend travelled seven miles to Porthcawl to visit her mother Decima Minhinnick, 94.

On Tuesday, police defended the fine, claiming the couple had broken lockdown rules.

On Wednesday, South Wales Police said it had “since been reviewed and the notice has been rescinded”.

“The individual concerned has been notified”.

In a statement, it added: “Wales remains at alert level four and South Wales Police will continue to patrol our communities to ensure the legislation, which has been enacted to slow the spread of coronavirus, is complied with”.

Mrs Richards has said she was “mortified” they were stopped by police while returning on Sunday from what she said was a compassionate visit.

She said on Tuesday she did not believe they breached lockdown rules.

Mrs Richards said the couple had arranged the visit to Picton Court Care Home in advance with the permission of staff, and spoke to her mother, who has vascular dementia, through the window of her ground-floor room from the car park.

She told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that when she was issued with the fine it was “a sort of dystopian novel”, adding that the officer involved was “pedantic and inflexible”.

“I was angry – she just would not listen to any protestations, and so she said ‘you’re going to be issued with a £60 fixed penalty fine’.

“It’s not about the 60 quid, it’s about the principle.”

Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia dies with Covid aged 70

The Archbishop of Glasgow, the Most Reverend Philip Tartaglia, has died suddenly at his home in the city.

He was 70 years old.

Archbishop Tartaglia had tested positive for Covid-19 shortly after Christmas and was self-isolating.

The Catholic Church said the cause of his death was not yet clear.

He was ordained a priest in 1975 and had served as leader of Scotland’s largest Catholic community since 2012.

A statement from the Archdiocese of Glasgow said: “It is with the greatest sorrow that we announce the death of our Archbishop.

“The Pope’s Ambassador to Great Britain, Archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, has been informed.

“It will be for Pope Francis to appoint a new Archbishop to succeed Archbishop Tartaglia, but until then the Archdiocese will be overseen by an administrator.”

Scotland’s Catholic bishops described Archbishop Tartaglia as a “gentle, caring and warm-hearted pastor”.

They said in a statement: “His loss to his family, his clergy and the people of the Archdiocese of Glasgow will be immeasurable but for the entire Church in Scotland this is a day of immense loss and sadness.

“He was a gentle, caring and warm-hearted pastor who combined compassion with a piercing intellect.

“His contribution to the work of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland over the past 16 years was significant and we will miss his wisdom, wit and robust Catholic spirit very much.”

The statement concluded: “On behalf of the Bishops of Scotland, we commend his soul into the hands of God and pray that he may enjoy eternal rest.”

Archbishop Tartaglia was a lifelong Celtic fan and the club tweeted their tribute to him: “We are saddened to hear of the death of Archbishop Philip Tartaglia who was a huge supporter of the club and regularly attended matches at Celtic Park.

“Everyone at Celtic offers their sincere condolences to Philip’s family and Scotland’s Catholic community at this sad time.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the archbishop was “a fine man who was much loved within the Catholic community and beyond”.

Ms Sturgeon tweeted: “I always valued my interactions with him and he will be greatly missed. My thoughts are with his loved ones and wider community. May he rest in peace.”

The leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Douglas Ross, tweeted: “Tragic news about the sudden passing of Archbishop Philip Tartaglia. My condolences to his friends and family.

“His death will be keenly felt within the Catholic Church and across the wider community.”

The leader of Glasgow City Council described the archbishop as “a true Glaswegian” who “knew its people and the challenges faced by ordinary citizens, regardless of their faith or beliefs”.

Councillor Susan Aitken added: “He was also unafraid to use his position to challenge deprivation, austerity and the ill-effects of welfare reform when he believed it was his duty to call them out.”

Archbishop Tartaglia was born in Glasgow on 11 January 1951 – the eldest son of Guido and Annita Tartaglia.

After attending St Thomas’ Primary in Riddrie, he began his secondary education at St Mungo’s Academy before moving to the national junior seminary at St Vincent’s College, Langbank.

He later attended St Mary’s College, at Blairs, Aberdeen, before completing his ecclesiastical studies at the Pontifical Scots College, and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

On returning to Scotland, he was an assistant and then parish priest at Our Lady of Lourdes, Cardonald, St Patrick’s, Dumbarton, and St Mary’s, Duntocher.

Archbishop Tartaglia was ordained by then Archbishop Thomas Winning in the Church of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Dennistoun, on 30 June 1975.

He was a leading opponent of proposals to legalise same-sex marriage in Scotland and also criticised ministers over anti-bigotry legislation.

The Archdiocese of Glasgow is the largest of Scotland’s eight dioceses with an estimated Catholic population of about 200,000. It comprises 95 parishes and is served by about 200 priests.

Archbishop Tartaglia was the eighth person to hold the office since the restoration of the Catholic hierarchy in Scotland in 1878.

He followed Archbishop Mario Conti and Archbishop Thomas Winning, who later became Cardinal Winning.

Human remains found in search for missing cyclist Tony Parsons

Police have discovered human remains during a search for a man who went missing more than three years ago during a charity cycle ride.

Tony Parsons, from Tillicoultry, was last seen on 29 September 2017 outside the Bridge of Orchy Hotel.

Detectives said the discovery was made during a detailed search of a remote site close to a farm near the A82 at Bridge of Orchy.

Police said that Mr Parsons’ family have been made aware of the discovery.

Efforts to recover the remains will continue over the coming days before a post mortem is held to establish their identity.

Two men, both aged 29, were arrested and then released pending further inquiries in December in connection with the disappearance of Mr Parsons.

Det Ch Insp Alan Somerville said: “This is clearly a significant development and extensive work is ongoing to recover the remains and confirm their identity.

“We have informed Mr Parsons’ family, who are being supported by specialist officers.

“The thoughts of everyone involved in the investigation are with them at this difficult time.”

The former navy officer, who was 63 when he went missing, was last seen outside the hotel at about 23:30. He then continued south along the A82 in the direction of Tyndrum but there were no more sightings of him after that.

Extensive searches were carried out in the area, involving local mountain rescue teams, volunteers, Police Scotland dogs and the force’s air support unit.

Mr Parsons had caught the train to the Highland town on the day he was last seen with the intention of cycling the 104-mile (167km) journey home to Tillicoultry.

Coronavirus: British tourist blamed for Lauberhorn ski race cancellation

A British tourist has been blamed for a spike in coronavirus cases that led officials to cancel Switzerland’s famous Lauberhorn ski race.

The resort of Wengen, where the race is held, had recorded only 10 cases of the virus by mid-December.

But the number soon began to rise and many cases have since been linked to the new highly infectious variant of Covid-19 first identified in the UK.

At least 27 cases are connected to one British tourist, contact tracers say.

The tourist stayed in a hotel in Wengen over the holiday period.

The Lauberhorn course is the longest downhill run in the world, and racers can reach speeds of 160km/h (100 mph).

Officials desperately tried to save the race, shutting schools and offering to close off the resort to everyone but the competitors.

Swiss health officials initially agreed with the plan, but a further jump in cases at the start of this week prompted them to pull the emergency brake and cancel the event.

Wengen is devastated. The Lauberhorn is one of the top competitions on the World Cup ski circuit. It is dearly loved by the Swiss, who have watched with delight as some of their own homegrown talent, such as Beat Feuz and Carlo Janka, have triumphed there.

Moreover, the long love affair between Switzerland and British winter tourists has frosted over to some extent.

It was only last month that the vanishing Brits of Verbier, who reportedly fled Switzerland rather than accept the government mandated quarantine, triggered a flurry of negative headlines.

Now the high point of Switzerland’s skiing calendar has been abruptly cancelled, and some Swiss blame the British.

Others say Switzerland only has itself to blame.

While neighbours France and Italy closed their resorts over the festive period, the Swiss government opted for a precarious balancing act. It kept its slopes open, but closed all bars and restaurants and limited ski lifts to two-thirds capacity.

Most Swiss resorts are quiet, with just a few locals enjoying the runs. But still some tourists arrived and, as Wengen’s experience shows, just one infected guest is enough to cause major damage.

Instead of hosting a major ski race, Wengen officials are now racing to control the virus. Mass testing has already begun in the resort.

Switzerland’s government has extended the closure of bars, restaurants, museums, and theatres until the end of February in a bid to control the new variant. It has also ordered non-essential shops to close and made working from home obligatory.

As for the Lauberhorn, Switzerland’s oldest and fiercest skiing rival, Austria, will now host the postponed event. Nothing could have been calculated to upset the Swiss more.

The event was first moved to the Austrian ski resort of Kitzbühel, but an outbreak of coronavirus there has prompted another move, this time to Flachau, 100km to the east.

The cluster of cases in Jochberg near Kitzbühel broke out among a group of mainly British trainee ski instructors.

Brexit: My £50,000 shellfish lorry was delayed for 30 hours

A Welsh shellfish wholesaler has said she is concerned for her future after nearly £50,000 of lobsters, prawns and crabs were delayed for more than 30 hours on a lorry to Spain.

Nerys Edwards, her family and her parents before her have been sending live shellfish from Pembrokeshire to Spanish customers every week.

This month she has been experiencing how border rules – brought in as part of the UK’s new relationship with the European Union – have impacted her business.

It comes as a mussel exporter in north Wales says he will stop sending goods across the Channel to the Netherlands until he sees how the new trading system works.

The UK government says it is in close contact with the industry to address any issues.

The shellfish industry in Wales is not large – but it is an important part of many communities. It is worth £13.3m, while the mussel industry injects £10.7m into the Welsh economy on top.

There were around 564 regular fishers and 287 part timers, according to a 2017 study by the trade organisation Seafish.

Their business was damaged by bad weather in the winter of 2019-20 and then by the closure of restaurants and pubs from the pandemic.

Until 1 January, when the new trading deal came into effect, 90% of Welsh shellfish was being exported to the EU – but the industry relies on being able to export to the continent as quickly as possible to keep the produce alive.

Ms Edwards, who exports shellfish from local fishermen, had sent a lorry to the continent via Portsmouth.

She has spent two years preparing to export into the EU after Brexit and had been confident after this week’s catch that she had all the documentation she needed. £48,000 was already paid to a group of 25 fishers.

But because of issues at the border the consignment was stuck in Portsmouth for 24 hours.

After boarding a ferry to Caen, it was then held by French customs for another seven. Ms Edwards said that the importer in France had made a mistake on the document that he needed to complete.

“I can’t do this again next week,” she told BBC Wales. “I need a break.

“But I can’t leave the fishermen without incomes for long.”

She added: “We’re a tiny little Welsh company, its family run – we’re fourth generation running it. We can’t afford to take the hit.”

The businesswoman said it was not only her business affected and there had been others in the queue for the ferry that had been refused.

On the Menai Strait, James Wilson of Deepdock Ltd has stopped sending live mussels to the Netherlands until he sees how the new trading relationship between the UK and the EU works out in practice.

“We’ll just have to see how much the bureaucracy costs and assess the viability of the trade going forward,” he said.

The trader said only one document had to be filled in in the past.

“A colleague sent a load out last week and he had to send 41 bits of paper with his load,” he said.

Every bag of mussels has to have its own documentation.

“It’s not just us that are facing an additional paperwork burden its also our customers over in the Netherlands and France who also have to complete a whole different layer of bureaucracy than what they had to before,” Mr Wilson said.

“The paperwork is here to stay because we are a third country and what we are facing now is the same as any country (outside the EU) has faced in the past.”

Asked if he thinks businesses will go to the wall, Mr Wilson said: “I think there’s a real risk that large parts of the production end of the UK seafood industry is going to change and be less populated.”

Defra, the UK government department in charge of fish exports, said: “There have been reports of some fish exporters facing disruption with exports to the EU.

“The government is in close contact with the industry to understand and address any issues they are experiencing “

Covid-19: Spat at Cambridgeshire police officer tests positive for virus

A police officer has tested positive for Covid-19 after being spat at by a suspect who claimed to have the virus.

The officer was attending an incident where there was “concern for a person” at about midnight on 6 January in Soham, Cambridgeshire.

Chief Constable Nick Dean said he was “disgusted” to hear of the incident.

He said the officer’s infection could not be directly linked to what happened but it “puts into perspective the dangerous nature of policing”.

Cambridgeshire Police Federation chairwoman Liz Groom said the suspect “did turn out to have coronavirus”.

“It seems a bit of a weapon to some people – it’s that extra threat ‘I’ve got coronavirus’ and then they spit.

“You can imagine the stress and the anxiety that causes the officer and also their family.

“The officers have families at home and what they don’t want to do is go home and infect their family as well.”

On Tuesday, Home Secretary Priti Patel said she would back police to enforce laws and that a minority of the public were “putting the health of the nation at risk” by flouting lockdown rules.

Covid: Jonathan Van-Tam gives out vaccination jabs

England’s deputy chief medical officer has praised health workers’ efforts, as he joined them to give out Covid-19 jabs at a Nottingham community centre.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has been helping to administer the vaccine in his spare time.

The city’s clinical commissioning group shared photos of him wearing scrubs at the Richard Herrod Centre, in Carlton.

The respiratory virus expert is a member of the University of Nottingham’s School of Medicine.

The Richard Herrod Centre, which usually hosts indoor bowling and social events, reopened as a vaccination hub on 6 January.

“Thank you to all the volunteers and staff for the professional and warm welcome,” said Prof Van-Tam.

“We are at the worst stage of the pandemic so far and the situation is extremely concerning but your contribution will make a positive difference.”

Prof Van-Tam has served as England’s deputy chief medical officer since October 2017 and has played a lead role in the national response to the pandemic.

Last month he said the first wave of vaccinations could help to prevent up to 99% of Covid-19 hospitalisations and deaths.

He also told BBC Radio 1 Newsbeat earlier a 24-hour vaccination centre was to be piloted at an undisclosed location “very soon”.

The government said 2.6m people in the UK had received their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine up to the end of Tuesday.

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