Brexit: Physical checks at ports suspended by department

Physical Brexit checks at Larne and Belfast ports have been suspended amid concerns for staff safety, the Department of Agriculture has said.

The department said it was doing so pending talks with the PSNI.

This comes after Mid and East Antrim Council withdrew staff from Brexit inspection duties at Larne Port over safety concerns.

Police said they have increased patrols at Larne port and other “points of entry”.

“The safety of staff working at points of entry is of the utmost importance to us,” the PSNI tweeted.

“Where we have credible information we will share that with our partners and take appropriate action.”

In its statement the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural affairs (Daera) said: “On the basis of information received today and, pending further discussions with the PSNI, Daera has decided in the interests of the wellbeing of staff to temporarily suspend physical inspections of products of animal origin at Larne and Belfast.

“The situation will be kept under review and in the meantime full documentary checks will continue to be carried out as usual.”

The Minister for Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs Minister Edwin Poots said he had taken the decision to withdraw staff from the ports following consultation with staff.

Earlier on Monday evening, the mayor of Larne, the DUP’s Peter Johnston, said party group leaders had taken Mid and East Antrim Council’s decision due to “menacing behaviour” referencing growing tensions over the NI Protocol.

He told a council meeting that staff assisting with checks had raised concerns about “suspicious activity”.

“We have no option but to withdraw them [staff] in order to fulfil our duty of care,” said Mr Johnston.

He added that he would write to Mr Poots, who holds responsibility over the issue, to make him aware of the decision.

In a statement, the council said there had been an “upsurge in sinister behaviour” in recent weeks, including graffiti describing port staff as “targets”, and what appeared to be attempts to gather workers’ personal information, including vehicle registration plates.

The council said it will carry out a full risk assessment with the PSNI, Food Standards Agency and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Before council’s decision on Monday, there were 12 environmental health officers working at Larne Port, as well as several senior council officers.

Sinn Féin’s group party leader, councillor James McKeown, said staff would only return when it was safe.

“There are simmering tensions within the local community at present and we will not stand by and let our staff be targeted when they are just doing their jobs.”

SDLP councillor Eugene Reid said leaders had fallen short: “The language used and tone of the discussion relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol has raised tensions and whipped up fear.

“It should be the role of all leaders to extract the poison from public dialogue, and I’m challenging everyone to do that.”

East Antrim Sammy Wilson said the NI Protocol has to go – “but politics is the way”.

He said staff safety was paramount.

“All threats must be condemned and cross party support for withdrawal is welcome.

“Those parties who talked up the threat of violence during the negotiations need to reflect.

Border Control Posts (BCPs) were built at Larne harbour, and two other facilities in NI as a consequence of Brexit.

They are facilities for inspecting food and live animals when they arrive from other parts of the UK.

At the end of the Brexit transition on 1 January 2021, Northern Ireland remained in the single market for goods.

The rest of the UK did not, so some products entering Northern Ireland from GB must be checked on entry.

The EU has particularly strict rules on food and animals, requiring all those products to enter through a BCP.

Manchester Arena Inquiry: Agencies reluctant to criticise

A fear of seeming rude can prevent criticism of emergency service response, the Manchester Arena inquiry has heard.

The probe into the 2017 bombing has been listening to evidence from the Greater Manchester Resilience Forum.

It heard a terrorist firearms exercise held in the city in 2016 “raised significant issues” about police response.

But the GMRF chairman said he was not made aware of any problems at the time.

The GMRF is a group made up of members from emergency services and local authorities to ensure “a co-ordinated response by the emergency services when there is an emergency such as a terrorist attack”, the inquiry was told.

During the hearing, the firearms exercise was said to have taken place a year before 22 people were killed when Salman Abedi detonated a home-made device at an Ariana Grande concert at the venue on 22 May 2017.

Counsel to the inquiry, Paul Greaney QC, said upcoming evidence from the 2016 exercise may show “the very things that were identified as going wrong” went wrong on the night of the attack.

He said the training event “identified weaknesses in shared situational awareness”, where the Greater Manchester Police force duty officer was overloaded to the point he was unable adequately to fulfil his role.

Paul Argyle was chairman of the GMRF and deputy county fire officer for Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service at the time of the training – and of the attack.

He told the inquiry on Monday “no significant issues” had been brought to his attention following the 2016 exercise.

He added: “I do think there may be reluctance during the debrief process for criticism to be made of other agencies for fear of appearing to be rude.”

Mr Greaney asked Mr Argyle whether weaknesses about overloading the force duty officer should have come to the attention of the GMRF.

Mr Argyle replied: “I think that would have been the right thing to do, to bring that forward.”

The inquiry continues.

Bristol: Brain-damaged baby dies after life support ruling

A brain-damaged baby has died days after a judge ruled that doctors could stop providing life-support treatment.

Danny was delivered by Caesarean section on 17 January after his mother, Danielle Jones, collapsed and died at her parents’ home in Bristol.

But specialists said the child suffered irreversible brain damage during birth and should be allowed to die.

A High Court judge ruled on Friday that doctors could lawfully disconnect Danny from a ventilator.

Miss Jones’s boyfriend, Ozzy Godfrey, 18, who is thought to be Danny’s biological father, announced the boy’s death on social media.

“Rest in peace Danny,” he said in a Facebook post. “You made me such a proud and happy dad.

“You are with your mummy now. Make sure u look after her for me. Loves you so much.”

The High Court hearing was told that Miss Jones, 18, had not told anyone she was pregnant and that Danny had been moved to an intensive care unit shortly after birth.

Bosses at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Foundation Trust had asked the judge, Mr Justice Hayden, to decide what moves were in Danny’s best interests.

Lawyers representing trust officials said it had not yet been possible to carry out tests to confirm Mr Godfrey was Danny’s father.

There was therefore no-one with parental responsibility who could give doctors permission to withdraw life-support treatment and in those circumstances, a judge had to make a decision, they said.

Mr Justice Hayden heard that Miss Jones had collapsed for no apparent reason and was declared dead on arrival at hospital.

An inquest is expected to be held into Miss Jones’s death.

Bottom trawling ban for key UK fishing sites

Two of the UK’s most sensitive fishing sites are set to receive better protection.

The Marine Management Organisation says it plans to safeguard fishing areas in Dogger Bank and South Dorset by completely banning bottom trawling.

The sites are already designated as protected areas, but in reality they are not patrolled – and they’re both over-fished.

Greenpeace recently dropped concrete blocks on to Dogger Bank.

The intention was to deter bottom trawling. Another group, Blue Marine, took legal action to try to safeguard the sea bed.

Bottom trawling is a destructive type of fishing which involves dragging weighted nets across the sea floor.

The MMO is consulting on proposed by-laws prohibiting bottom-towed gear on the sites. The consultation runs to 28 March 2021.

The Environment Secretary George Eustice said: “Now that we have left the Common Fisheries Policy, we are able to deliver on our commitment to achieve a healthy, thriving and sustainable marine environment.”

The decision couldn’t have been made if the UK was still in the EU, and it was condemned by the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO).

A spokesperson for the NFFO said: “The decision has been taken with zero discussion with those affected. There will be knock on environmental as well as social and economic impacts.”

Dogger Bank is the largest sandbank in UK waters, and underpins the North Sea’s ecosystem.

It provides a vital habitat for a wide range of species which live on and within the seabed, including flatfish, starfish, sandeels, crabs, clams, worms, scallops and more.

These species in turn provide a vital food source for predators such as porpoises, dolphins and seabirds.

Bottom trawlers typically seek scallops, sandeels, sole, plaice, cod, and crab.

The UK government has also proposed to partially stop bottom trawling at two other theoretically protected sites – one off the coast of Land’s End and the other off Lincolnshire.

Charles Clover from Blue Marine said: “We applaud this first step towards protecting our offshore marine protected areas, starting with the Dogger Bank, a huge and ecologically important area which has been hammered by trawls and dredges for too long.

“The government in England has conceded that damaging fishing has been going on illegally in protected areas.”

Mr Clover believes today’s announcement sets a precedent for all the UK’s 73 offshore Marine Protected Areas for the devolved administrations and for the EU, which have the same law.

The NFFO described the proposals as having delivered “a sledgehammer to fishing”. It continued: “This punishing reversal comes on the back of the government’s failure to deliver on fishing in the Brexit negotiations, and damaging delays in the export of fish and shellfish.

But academics say fisheries have been taking too much. Prof Callum Roberts of Exeter University said: “What is left on the Dogger Bank today is a ghost of what was once there.

“New protection could lead to the beginnings of a recovery of a megafauna that used to thrive on the bank in astonishing densities: halibut, flapper skate, blue skate, longnose skate, angel sharks, turbot, brill, wolffish, conger eels, cod.

“Many of these species have declined so far that they are on the endangered species list. But, so far, marine conservation efforts in the UK have completely neglected doing anything to bring about their recovery.

“In the 1830s, small sailing vessels con the Dogger could catch a tonne of halibut per day. Today, the entire fishing fleet catches less than two tonnes a year.”

Chris Thorne, from Greenpeace UK, said: “All of our sensitive marine areas must be properly protected, not just four. Ministers have finally woken up to their responsibilities, yet there are still hundreds of other equally important marine areas still open to all forms of destructive industrial fishing.

“Action in these four sites is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of the scale needed to solve the crisis facing our oceans.

“This process shows that the government is prepared to use its new Brexit powers to properly protect our seas.”

Follow Roger on Twitter.

George Osborne departs newspaper role for investment bank

George Osborne, the former UK chancellor known for having an eclectic range of jobs since leaving office, is taking up a full time role at a small investment bank, Robey Warshaw.

It will mean leaving jobs at London’s Evening Standard newspaper and BlackRock, the powerful financial firm.

At Robey Warshaw, Mr Osborne, chancellor from 2010 to 2016, will specialise in big takeover deals.

He said he was “proud to be joining… the best of the best”.

Mr Osborne had been editor of the Evening Standard. Last year he became editor-in-chief of the London free-sheet when Emily Sheffield took over as the day-to-day editor.

BBC media editor Amol Rajan said he leaves the paper “at a time when its business model, depending on heavy commuter footfall in London, is broken”.

Mr Osborne was a key lieutenant in David Cameron’s Conservative government, pushing through policies to reduce Britain’s deficit in an austerity drive that divided popular opinion.

Shortly before leaving Parliament he took up an advisor role at fund manager BlackRock, a one-day-week job that reportedly paid £650,000 a year.

He also had jobs in academia and at the McCain Institute, a think-tank founded by the late Republican senator John McCain.

Mr Osborne joins Robey Warshaw as a partner in April. The boutique investment bank specialises in mergers and acquisitions, and its clients include Centrica, Vodafone, and BP.

The firm is thought to have only about 13 staff, but has advised on some major deals, most recently the London Stock Exchange’s $27bn takeover of Refinitiv, a data company.

Mr Osborne said: “Robey Warshaw is the best of the best, advising great businesses on how to grow, and I’m proud to be joining this first-rate team.”

He will remain as chairman of the advisory board of Exor, the holding company through which Italy’s billionaire Agnelli family manages its investments.

Last year Sajid Javid, who served as chancellor from 2019 to 2020, took an advisory role at US investment bank JP Morgan.

Brexit: Mid and East Antrim withdraws staff after menacing behaviour

Mid and East Antrim Council says it has withdrawn staff from Brexit inspection duties at Larne Port due to concerns for their safety.

DUP mayor Peter Johnston said party group leaders had taken the decision on Monday afternoon.

He cited “menacing behaviour” referencing growing tensions over the NI Protocol.

He told a council meeting that staff assisting with checks had raised concerns about “suspicious activity”.

“We have no option but to withdraw them [staff] in order to fulfil our duty of care,” said Mr Johnston.

He added that he would write to the Agriculture and Environment Minister Edwin Poots, who holds responsibility over the issue, to make him aware of the decision.

In a statement, the council said there had been an “upsurge in sinister behaviour” in recent weeks, including graffiti describing port staff as “targets”, and what appeared to be attempts to gather workers’ personal information, including license plates.

The council said it will carry out a full risk assessment with the PSNI, Food Standards Agency and the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs.

Before council’s decision on Monday, there were 12 environmental health officers working at Larne Port, as well as several senior council officers.

Sinn Féin’s group party leader, councillor James McKeown, said staff would only return when it was safe.

“There are simmering tensions within the local community at present and we will not stand by and let our staff be targeted when they are just doing their jobs.”

SDLP councillor Eugene Reid said leaders had fallen short: “The language used and tone of the discussion relating to the Northern Ireland Protocol has raised tensions and whipped up fear.

“It should be the role of all leaders to extract the poison from public dialogue, and I’m challenging everyone to do that.”

East Antrim Sammy Wilson said the NI Protocol has to go – “but politics is the way”.

He said staff safety was paramount.

“All threats must be condemned and cross party support for withdrawal is welcome.

“Those parties who talked up the threat of violence during the negotiations need to reflect.

Border Control Posts (BCPs) were built at Larne harbour, and two other facilities in NI as a consequence of Brexit.

They are facilities for inspecting food and live animals when they arrive from other parts of the UK.

At the end of the Brexit transition on 1 January 2021, Northern Ireland remained in the single market for goods.

The rest of the UK did not, so some products entering Northern Ireland from GB must be checked on entry.

The EU has particularly strict rules on food and animals, requiring all those products to enter through a BCP.

Sowon: K-pop star apologises over Nazi mannequin image

K-pop star Sowon has apologised after posing with a mannequin wearing Nazi clothing and posting the images online.

The photos show Sowon, a member of GFriend, cuddling the mannequin, and were taken in a café last November while the group were filming a video.

They have since been deleted from her Instagram. Her management said she felt a “profound sense of responsibility” over posting the images.

Many people took to social media to call for the star to apologise.

Source Music, her management company, said in a statement to CNN that she was shocked and deleted the post “when she understood the significance of the image”.

The company also apologised for the presence of the Nazi clothing and said the staff member in charge “did not recognise there was an issue with the mannequin’s attire during an on-site inspection on the day of filming”.

“We apologise that we were not able to check in advance that there were inappropriate props at the filming location, for not thoroughly inspecting the filming process and uploading the content, and not paying enough close attention to societal issues and historical facts,” the statement said.

Sowon, who has more than 800,000 followers on Instagram, has been criticised on social media for the images.

“As a fan from Poland, I feel really hurt and disgusted about the photos. My great grandmother died in a Nazi camp, my great uncle fought in the war. There is NO explanation, and there HAS to be an apology. I don’t care if she knew or not, that is not alright,” one fan wrote on Twitter.

Another user wrote: “[S]owon taking a picture with a [N]azi mannequin is terrible enough, but the fact that the [N]azi mannequin was part of a set they filmed on for their comeback is even more baffling.”

Others defended the singer, claiming that she might not know the uniform’s significance.

“Positive thinking, maybe she doesn’t know much about Nazi history, especially when she went to school about art/visuals, so she doesn’t really know much about history. But I still hope Sowon or other members apologize for the post,” one person said.

Another wrote: “Also to those blaming Sowon, I am sure she should’ve known better and Hitler’s reign is indeed taught about in Korean schools, but there is one thing between being aware of Nazism and another thing about recognising the Nazi uniform.”

It is not the first time a K-pop group has been linked to Nazi inspired items.

In 2018, BTS came under criticism after band member RM was pictured wearing a hat with a badge that resembled Nazi insignia. The image taken in 2014 started to go viral prompting criticism by the Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, which said the symbol depicted on the hats were of the Nazi SS Death Head logo.

The band’s management issued a lengthy apology.

Dustin Diamond: Saved by the Bell star dies aged 44

Saved by the Bell actor Dustin Diamond has died from cancer, his representative has said.

The 44-year-old was best known for playing Samuel “Screech” Powers in the popular 1990s US sitcom about a group of high school friends and their headmaster.

He had recently completed a first round of chemotherapy after being diagnosed with lung cancer last month.

His condition had swiftly deteriorated over the past week, his agent said.

Saved by the Bell ran for four seasons from 1989 to 1993 and was a global hit series.

Diamond reprised his role in follow-up series Saved by the Bell: The New Class, and Saved by the Bell: The College Years. But he did not appear in the recent revival series.

The American was also a contestant on Celebrity Big Brother in 2013.

Unearthed figurine could be from Henry VIIIs crown

A gold figurine found buried in a field could be an ornament from Henry VIII’s lost crown, according to the metal detectorist who discovered it.

The figure, depicting Henry VI, was found by Kevin Duckett in Northamptonshire in 2017.

After years of research, he now believes it once formed part of the Tudor king’s crown, a view shared by some experts.

The British Museum said more research was needed.

Following the Civil War, the crown was melted down on the orders of Oliver Cromwell, but it is believed the figurine – which was one of several adorning the royal treasure – could already have been removed.

Mr Duckett, from Fleckney in Leicestershire, found the object within 30 minutes of searching the field in Little Oxendon.

He said he began digging near a pond with unsettled soil around it.

“I dug down, flipped a clod of soil up, and there sticking out was the glint of gold.

“It was startling to see that little figure, as I wiped the soil off it, staring back at me.

“It was quite the incredible moment,” the 49-year-old said.

He began his research, and eventually visited Hampton Court Palace, where there is a replica of the crown.

“I was absolutely overwhelmed when I looked at the crown, saw this jewel and realised it was exactly the same [as the one I had discovered].

“It was mind-blowing,” Mr Duckett said.

He now hopes his discovery can be added to the Hampton Court Palace collection, alongside its “twin”.

Historian and Charles I biographer, Leanda de Lisle, said the figure, along with its companion pieces, could have been removed from the crown before the Civil War.

She also said its discovery near the site of the Battle of Naseby – where Charles and his followers were forced to flee – could also explain how part of the crown jewels ended up there.

But she added: “We can’t be certain it is a part of the Tudor crown, but that is possible – which makes it very important.

“Even if it’s not, it is still just as interesting. Religious artwork was nearly all destroyed and now we have very little left so this gold figure is incredibly rare.”

The British Museum has classed the object as a “pilgrim badge” made in the late Middle Ages.

A spokeswoman said more research was needed to determine whether it was from the missing Tudor crown.

It is due to be assessed by independent valuers and could then be bought by the museum.

Julian Evan-Hart, editor of Treasure Hunting Magazine, said he was “99.9%” sure it was the real thing.

He said it was difficult to value such an object, but he believes it could be worth more than £2m.

“This little enamelled golden figurine, apart from its almost certain historical associations, is a fantastic find indeed,” he added.

Lucy Worsley, chief curator at Historic Royal Palaces, said: “It’s great news that after centuries of subterranean slumber this little golden figure has been revealed once more, and it’s tantalising to imagine its true history. Is this part of a long-lost crown?

“I’m not sure we’ll ever know, but even in spite of this it provides an incredible window into the world of the Tudors, and the skill and artistry of sixteenth-century goldsmiths.”

Gamer Vikkstar quits Call of Duty: Warzone over cheating

A popular Call of Duty player has quit its Warzone game over claims it is “saturated with hackers”.

Vikkstar – who has more than seven million subscribers on YouTube – said the game was in “the worst state it has ever been”.

Warzone was released last March and has been played by more than 50 million people worldwide.

Activision, the publisher, previously said it has a zero tolerance for cheaters.

UK-based Vikkstar – whose real name is Vikram Singh Barn – explained why he was leaving in a video on YouTube.

“The game is in the worst state it’s ever been, Activision really isn’t addressing how many hackers are in the game,” he said.

“This needs to be fixed otherwise it truly will be the death of the game.”

The video also shows gameplay where Vikkstar claimed to encounter one hacker live-streaming their actions on Facebook, while also playing the game.

“What an absolute joke,” he said.

“We just happened to catch these guys in it but often you don’t even know when people are doing what we have just witnessed.”

Hackers could be encountered in almost every lobby of the game, he added.

This comes just over a week after another popular Call of Duty streamer, NickMercs, announced he was leaving the game.

In a stream on Twitch, he said: “There’s all kind of hacks… there’s no pride in this thing [playing tournaments] any more.

“Where’s the dignity? Where’s the honour system?”

Last April, Activision published a message on its blog, saying: “Warzone has zero-tolerance for cheaters.

“We take all forms of cheating very seriously, maintaining a level and fair playing field for everyone is among our highest priorities,” it added.

“This is an area we have been working on heavily, but it isn’t always something we discuss publicly.”

The company had issued more than 70,000 permanent bans on accounts since the game’s release, the blog said.

“We recognise that there’s no single solution for combating cheaters, it’s a constant enforcement every day, 24/7. Rest assured, we’re committed to ensuring a fun and fair experience for everyone.”

The BBC has contacted Activision for a response to the latest complaints.

One example of how players can cheat is by using a so-called “aimbot”. This allows accurate shooting of competitors without having to manually aim.

Another popular cheat is a “wall hack”, which allows the user to see the location of other players in the game, and attack them through opaque objects like walls.

Other hacks let users hide and win by default, or heal themselves an infinite amount of times.

“Typically, these pieces of software are difficult to write but easy to set up,” said Sam Connolly, an expert in computing at the University of Central Lancashire.

“Cheats are often downloaded by hackers and set up on their own computers with relative ease.

“Call of Duty has always had a history of hackers… unfortunately it’s an issue which is not unique to one type of game, but seems widespread across lots of first-person shooters.“

Players have called on Activision to implement anti-cheat technologies to address the issue.

Other games, including Fortnite and Fall Guys, have developed software to tackle attempts to unfairly win their own battle royale last-player-standing titles.

“An issue with this type of anti-cheat software program is that genuine players will be mistakenly banned on a larger scale, and the unbanning process is typically quite onerous,” said Louise Shorthouse, senior analyst at Ampere Analysis.

“There have been suggestions of hacking during official Warzone tournaments, which is extremely damaging for the competitive integrity of the Call of Duty brand.”

Activision recently announced plans to bring Warzone to its professional e-sports Call of Duty League.

“Without addressing the cheating problem, its success and reputation as an e-sport will undoubtedly suffer,” Ms Shorthouse added.

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