Amazon settles claims it pocketed delivery drivers tips

Amazon has agreed to settle allegations it cheated some drivers out of tips from customers for more than two years.

Under a deal with the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) the e-commerce giant, owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, will pay out $61,7m.

The issue concerned drivers working as part of Amazon’s Flex programme, an Uber-like on-demand delivery service.

Amazon said it disagreed with some findings but was happy to put the matter behind it.

The FTC said the money will be used to compensate drivers.

Flex drivers, who use personal vehicles to deliver for Amazon, had received hourly rates between $18-$25 and were promised 100% of tips.

But in late 2016 Amazon “secretly reduced its own contribution to drivers’ pay,” according to the FTC. “Amazon used the customer tips to make up the difference between the new lower hourly rate and the promised rate.”

The commission said Amazon dropped the controversial payment model in August 2019 only after it opened an investigation.

Amazon said it disagreed with claims that the way it was paying drivers was unclear. “We added additional clarity in 2019, [but] we are pleased to put this matter behind us,” an Amazon spokeswoman said.

However, the FTC said Amazon also misled customers by telling them that drivers received 100% of any tip.

When drivers noticed that tips appeared to be missing, Amazon simply responded that it gave drivers “100% of customer tips,” the FTC said in its complaint.

“In total, Amazon stole nearly one-third of drivers’ tips to pad its own bottom line,” Commissioner Rohit Chopra, a Democrat, said in a statement.

Sacked actress kept no gay roles rule secret

An actress, sacked over a Facebook post that said homosexuality was “not right”, kept from directors her “secret red line” of not playing gay characters, a tribunal has heard.

Seyi Omooba was cast as Celie in a musical production of The Color Purple at Leicester Curve Theatre in 2019.

The character is often shown as having a lesbian sexual orientation – the intended interpretation for the show.

But Ms Omooba, a devout Christian, said she was not informed of the take.

It was announced in March 2019 she would no longer be part of the production when her old Facebook post surfaced.

The 26-year-old actress has brought a claim of about £128,000 against the theatre and her former agents on the grounds of religious discrimination and breach of contract.

On Tuesday, the Central London Employment Tribunal heard Ms Omooba had previously told her agents, Michael Garrett Associates Ltd (Global Artists), she would not play a gay role or do sexually explicit scenes.

However, she said she did not tell the play’s directors of the stance as she did not understand the character to be lesbian.

She admitted she had not read the full script before accepting the lead role in January 2019, but “probably” would have done by the time rehearsals began in May.

Tom Coghlin QC, for the Leicester Theatre Trust, said the venue would have been left “high and dry” because Ms Omooba would have pulled out after learning of the lesbian portrayal.

He suggested it was an “unbelievably unprofessional approach to take”.

Mr Coghlin said: “We’ve agreed you had a red line, your position was you wouldn’t play Celie if she was to be played as a lesbian… and you didn’t share it with the producers, you kept it secret.”

Ms Omooba replied: “No because my interpretation was I didn’t believe she was. I didn’t feel like I needed to. I didn’t believe that that’s what this production was going to be.”

Mr Coghlin had told the hearing on Monday: “The role that she complains about being dismissed from is one that she would have refused to play in any event.”

“Her choice was to resign or be dismissed and she chose to be dismissed.”

Ms Omooba was dismissed after a 2014 Facebook post resurfaced in which she said people could not be “born gay” and she did not “believe homosexuality is right”.

It was shared by Hamilton actor, Aaron Lee Lambert, who called Ms Omooba a “hypocrite” for taking on The Color Purple role.

The tribunal continues.

Manchester Arena attack like being punched in face

Investigating terror attacks like the Manchester bombing can feel like being “repeatedly punched in the face,” a counter-terrorism officer has said.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu was the UK’s senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism at the time of the 2017 atrocity, which left 22 dead.

He was alerted to the attack at 22:55 GMT, 25 minutes after the blast as fans left the Ariana Grande concert

Mr Basu told the inquiry into the bombing that it is “unbelievably hard”.

He said: “Dealing with one of these incidents is like being repeatedly punched in the face and then placed on the ground and repeatedly kicked.”

He also directly addressed the families of the victims and said he understood the “terrible burden” of “the people who have suffered in this horror”.

Twenty-two people were murdered and hundreds more injured when Salman Abedi detonated a home-made bomb in the foyer of the arena.

The hearing was also told how, in December 2017, Lord David Anderson QC published his independent assessment of police and MI5 reviews into the Manchester attack and three other incidents in London, which killed a total of 36 people.

Mr Basu said the report, which found 103 things could have been done better by counter-terrorism officials, was a “humbling moment”.

But he added he had never worked in an area of policing that “tries so hard to improve itself constantly” and still believed the UK had the “best counter-terrorism machine in the world”.

Mr Basu said he was called at home by a colleague on the night of the blast.

He said: “We didn’t know where it had been manufactured, what associates there were who may have helped this person do this terrible act.

“All of that is an enduring and constant threat in our minds about trying to discover and stop that next threat coming on.

“That is separate from dealing with the immediate response as it was unfolding at the arena.”

He told the inquiry he spoke to MI5’s head of operations before driving to New Scotland Yard where he declared the incident a terror attack at 00:56.

Meanwhile, Greater Manchester Police remained responsible for co-ordinating the immediate policing response.

Mr Basu said he learned the identity of the bomber four hours after the attack and told how he had never heard of Salman Abedi.

It then became his responsibility to pursue the bomber’s brother Hasham Abedi, who was in Libya, after he was declared a suspect.

In the days that followed he was also responsible for a national crackdown to “disrupt and destabilise” terror groups.

To the families, he said: “It is incredibly important to me that the families of everyone who has been bereaved, but not just the bereaved – the people who have suffered in this horror, people who have been psychologically and physically injured – understand I am here not just as the Assistant Commissioner from London or the national lead for counter-terrorism.

“But as a human being and a parent, to express my deepest sympathies, not just from me personally but from the entire network that I lead.

“Effectively this is a network that is entirely designed to stop there being victims and survivors of terrorist incidents, and I have met far too many in my career.

“I know the terrible burden that not just the event but having to sit through inquests, criminal trials and inquiries has on those people, I know how brutal it is.”

The inquiry continues.

Government defeated over Trade Bill amid human rights concerns

The government has been defeated in the House of Lords on its post-Brexit Trade Bill, with peers backing a move to stop the UK doing deals with countries that abuse human rights.

They supported an amendment giving the High Court the right to determine if genocide has been committed.

If it decided it had, the government would then have to hold a debate to set out what it proposed to do.

Ministers say they are are committed to working with Parliament on a solution.

The House of Lords has been considering the Trade Bill for a second time after MPs overturned a series of changes peers made in January.

The legislation enables the UK to strike new trade deals with countries after leaving the EU.

But there is concern over the human rights records of current and potential trading partners, including China and its treatment of the Uighur people.

The government says it has spoken out strongly against human rights abuses in China and around the world.

Crossbench peer Lord Alton, who brought forward the amendment, said it was time “to speak and to act”.

Under his plans, the High Court would be given the right to make a preliminary judgement on genocide and ministers would then be obliged to have a debate in Parliament if such human rights abuses were found to have occurred.

Ministers would have to set out what they planned to do “within a reasonable time”.

Speaking in the debate, Lord Alton said it was an attempt to “impose a limitation on ministers” where genocide was shown to have taken place.

Peers backed his amendment by 359 votes to 188.

The government also lost votes on two other amendments.

One by Conservative Lord Lansley would give Parliament the opportunity to set negotiating terms for trade deals.

The other, by Labour’s Lord Collins, would compel ministers to report on human rights before trade deals are considered.

Investment minister Lord Grimstone insisted that “trade does not have to come at the expense of human rights”.

He said genocide was “notoriously hard to prove”, but the government had “some sympathy with calls to give Parliament a greater role to scrutinise where there were “credible concerns”.

Lord Grimstone indicated that, if a parliamentary select committee published a report on genocide and sought a debate, the government would facilitate one, adding that human rights abuses could not be “swept under the carpet”.

But many Conservative backbench MPs are uneasy at the government’s approach.

In January, the government narrowly avoided defeat in the Commons when 33 of them voted to outlaw trade deals with countries judged to have committed genocide.

The Trade Bill will now return to the Commons for MPs to vote on the amendments, in the latest series of parliamentary back-and-forth between the two Houses, known as ping-pong.

Premier League: MPs urge action on Russia-linked football clubs

The UK government is under pressure from MPs to ban two English football clubs from official projects promoting Britain overseas because of their links to two billionaire oligarchs.

It comes after Russia’s jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny called for action to be taken against Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich and Alisher Usmanov, who has ties with Everton.

A group of 24 MPs from six parties have signed a letter sent to the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab asking him to ensure neither club fronts or participates in any government trade missions.

Written by the Liberal Democrats’ foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran, and seen by the BBC, it says such work is “undermined” if such clubs are involved.

“Britain’s soft power is weaker because of it,” she writes.

International projects the MPs want the two clubs barred from include the Premier Skills grassroots coaching programme, a partnership between the British Council and Premier League that has worked in 29 countries since 2007.

The GREAT campaign which promotes trade and investment into Britain – and which the Premier League has supported – is another listed.

Mr Navalny has been detained since 17 January, after returning to Moscow for the first time since he was poisoned last year.

The UK has urged Russia to release him but he has now been sentenced to three and a half years.

The dissident has blamed the nerve agent attack that almost killed him on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin denies involvement.

An associate of Mr Navalny’s has released a list of eight individuals drawn up by the opposition leader whom he says should face sanctions in order to put pressure on President Putin.

Mr Abramovich, who bought Chelsea in 2003, and former Arsenal shareholder Mr Usmanov, who owns a company that sponsors Everton, and who has links with the club’s majority shareholder, were both included.

They were described in the list as being among “key enablers and beneficiaries of Russian kleptocracy, with significant ties/assets in the West”.

Asked to comment, a spokesman for Mr Abramovich said there was “no foundation” to Mr Navalny’s claims.

“Strong words are one thing, but action is what’s needed now” Ms Moran tells Mr Raab in her letter, urging him to “rapidly consider and implement further sanctions”.

“Football and our football clubs are part of Britain’s brand. They help us promote our interests and our values overseas.

“That work is undermined if we allow clubs with close links to the Russian state to be involved in those efforts. Britain’s soft power is weaker because of it.

“We urge you to work with Cabinet colleagues to ensure that any club with such connections is not fronting, or part of, such programmes, including; The GREAT Campaign, Premier Skills, government trade visits conducted in partnership with the Premier League.

“Clubs that should be considered for such action include Chelsea FC and Everton FC.”

Ms Moran adds, “the UK must show leadership and stand up for its values. In addition to further sanctions, making it clear that our cultural and sporting institutions are to be protected will send a clear signal to our allies and Russia.”

Last week, during an emergency debate in the House of Commons, the government was challenged by opposition MPs to impose sanctions on the two oligarchs.

Foreign Office Minister Wendy Morton said: “We continue to work and protect human rights and civil society in Russia. We are considering all options for further action… it would be inappropriate for me to speculate on any future listings.”

Representatives for Mr Usmanov have previously declined to comment, along with Chelsea and Everton.

Both men have always insisted their businesses are legitimate.

The Premier League has declined to comment.

Salmond inquiry will not publish womens messages

The Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of harassment claims against Alex Salmond will not publish messages it received in evidence from the Crown Office.

MSPs said the messages were between women seeking “confidential support” and were not relevant to its work.

They added that they did not want to cause distress to the women involved.

But the women whose messages were shared with the committee said it was an invasion of their privacy.

In 2018, Mr Salmond took legal action against the Scottish government over its handling of two internal harassment complaints against him.

The government eventually conceded its investigation had been “unlawful” and was ordered to pay the former first minister £500,000 in legal costs.

The Holyrood inquiry was set up to examine what went wrong.

Last month the committee used its legal powers to demand the release of documents from the Crown Office.

These included text or WhatsApp communications between SNP officials and government staff, which were uncovered as part of the police investigation into Mr Salmond.

The former first minister was cleared of all 13 charges of sexual assault after a two-week trial last year.

Last week, prosecutors confirmed they had handed over “material” to the committee and asked its members to consider whether it was in the public interest to publish the material.

The committee’s convenor, SNP MP Linda Fabiani, said on Tuesday that the committee had reviewed the material and unanimously agreed that the private communications would not be published.

“These communications included numerous chains of private messages between different women in what we are clear were safe spaces for confidential support,” she said.

“The committee is clear that publication and further consideration of this material is not relevant to the committee’s work or necessary to fulfil its remit.”

Ms Fabiani added that the committee “will not do anything that may cause further unnecessary distress to any women”.

A statement from the women said they were “deeply disappointed” that the texts had been requested and passed on, and that they were “actively considering further options”.

“What the Crown provided are personal communications between friends who supported each other during a traumatic time,” they said.

They said comments made by members of the committee had caused “considerable distress”.

Their statement said a group chat was “simply a support group for women who had already shared their experiences with the police” and that the messages showed there was no conspiracy.

And they added: “The bullying and intimidation of complainers through use of their private and personal communications must end now.”

Mr Salmond looks set to appear before the inquiry on 9 February, while his successor as first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, is expected to give evidence the following week.

Black Panther to Star Wars: Hit films that became TV shows

Wakanda forever? Disney certainly seem to think so.

The fictional African kingdom is set to inspire a new Disney+ series based on the wildly successful Marvel film Black Panther, which was released in 2018.

A cultural juggernaut, the Oscar nominated film’s impact quickly spread beyond cinema, credited as a major step forward in African-American representation in Hollywood.

Overseen by black writer-director Ryan Coogler, it also featured a predominately black cast, fronted by the late Chadwick Boseman.

Disney have confirmed Coogler will also lead the forthcoming series as part of a five-year deal to flesh out the universe for its Disney+ subscription slate.

But just how easy is it to extend a film franchise onto the small screen? There have been many attempts over the years with mixed results. Here are five of the most memorable.

When Disney acquired the rights to Star Wars from original creator George Lucas in 2012, they promised to expand the universe.

As the first live-action television series in the Star Wars franchise, The Mandalorian begins five years after Luke Skywalker’s heroics against The Empire in the original trilogy’s Return of the Jedi (1983).

Created by Jon Favreau exclusively for Disney+, it shifts focus towards the adventures of a lone bounty hunter tasked with protecting a young creature of the same species as Yoda.

Their adventures along the galaxy’s outer rim have quickly become one of the platform’s biggest hits and insulated interest in the universe from the mixed reaction to some of the recent film sequels.

In December, Disney announced that the show has been renewed for a third season, alongside a host of similar televisual spin-offs.

Sarah Michelle Gellar was not the first Buffy Summers but, in perhaps the biggest sign of the show’s success, has undoubtedly become the most famous.

Kristy Swanson originally played role of the teenage vampire slayer in the 1992 silver screen debut. After the film closed with a $16.6m (£12.1m) box office total, writer Josh Whedon convinced TV execs to let him continue the story on Warner Bros’ cable channel.

The new format saw the cast refreshed. Gellar stepped perfectly into the slayer role as an empowered heroine, starring alongside Nicholas Brendon, Alyson Hannigan, and Anthony Head, while David Boreanaz’s Angel and James Marsters’ Spike added spicy love interest.

The series soon became far more successful than its predecessor, airing for seven seasons and picking up Golden Globe and Emmy nominations in the process. It also gave Whedon a director’s pass to the big-time.

In the years since its conclusion, the show found a new audience on Netflix and other streaming platforms, and… you guessed it, is set to be rebooted. Stakes at the ready.

When Richard Hooker wrote MASH: A Novel About Three Army Doctors in the 1960s, it’s unlikely he would’ve believed the lifespan it would go on to enjoy.

A comic look at the lives of officers in a US medical unit during the 1950-53 Korean War, the 1970 film adaptation earned over $80m (£58.6m) at the box office – sweeping five Oscar nominations and the award for best adapted screenplay.

But this success was more than matched on the small screen. The roles of Hawkeye Pierce, Hot Lips Houlihan, Trapper John McIntyre, and Frank Burns found perfect fits in Alan Alda, Loretta Swit, Wayne Rogers, and Larry Linville, as the show ran for almost 11 years.

Its finale in 1983 drew 106 million viewers, a record at the time, and a fitting send-off after winning 14 Emmys during its time on air.

The Coen Brothers arguably cemented their distinctive style of biting dialogue and quirky characters with their 1996 black crime comedy Fargo.

Its tone, led by the Oscar-winning performance of Frances McDormand as dry-humoured, unrelenting police officer Marge Gunderson, made it a cult classic revered by critics and film fans alike.

Nearly two decades later, writer Noah Hawley acted on this lasting acclaim, presenting the Coens with a television script for a series set in the film’s universe. Impressed, they approved the idea – jumping on board as executive producers, but leaving the writing to Hawley.

Since premiering on Netflix in 2014, the TV show’s ties to the film’s narrative have been sparse, beyond the snowy Minnesota location and brutal murders, but captured the same tone as the original.

Now four seasons in, the standalone storylines and revolving cast – from Ewan McGregor and Kirsten Dunst to Chris Rock and Jessie Buckley – have kept the show fresh (and winning Emmys).

Alicia Silverstone’s turn as Cher Horowitz helped shaped high-school life in the 90s. From the language (“as if!”) to the fashion, the summer 1995 flick became a teen staple (and set hearts racing for Brittany Murphy and Paul Rudd).

Unsurprising then that a year later a TV series launched on ABC. Rachel Blanchard replaced Silverstone with enough style for the show to keep running for three seasons, but ultimately it lacked the chemistry of the original film and ran out of steam.

The teenage infatuation’s not quite over yet though. The film is being remade for the Gen Z era, produced by Tracy Oliver, who wrote Girls Trip, with a script by Marquita Robinson, who worked on Netflix’s Glow.

You just wouldn’t put it past Cher to trend on Tik Tok.

River Trent search: Suspected vehicle found as two feared missing

Police searching the River Trent for a car with two people inside have found what they believe to be a vehicle.

A large-scale search has been ongoing since Monday after witnesses in Hoveringham, Nottinghamshire, saw a car floating in the river.

Officers said they had located an “object in the water”, but despite several attempts could not reach it due to the “treacherous conditions”.

Police, fire crews and the ambulance service are involved in the search.

Relatives of the two people thought to have been inside the car are being supported by officers, said Nottinghamshire Police.

Emergency services were called to Hoveringham at about 16:15 GMT on Monday.

Insp Heather Sutton said witnesses reported the vehicle coming off Hoveringham Road and going into the river.

“Sadly, a witness reported that two occupants were in the car at the time it entered the river.

“While no formal identification has taken place we do believe we know who those people are.”

Eyewitness Christopher Bulpitt said he saw the car drifting along the river from his home.

He said: “I sat sitting having tea in our conservatory and this blue car floated down the river. The bonnet was down into the water, the back was sticking up a bit and it looked like two people inside.”

Mr Bulpitt’s wife Pauline added: “It was quite shocking. My husband rushed to get his Wellington boots, hoping the car would come into the bank further up and we might be able to do something to help.

“There was another gentleman running down the field to see if he could do something to help but the car carried on down.”

On Monday evening, emergency services were also searching the Bleasby area, about half a mile from Hoveringham.

The operation was called off overnight, but on Tuesday it continued near Hazelford at Gibsmere, close to Bleasby, where an underwater search unit used sonar to try to locate the car.

In September 2019, teacher Emma Fegan died when her car went into the Trent in the same area of Hoveringham.

Independent student watchdog could keep Tory whip

The Conservative peer who is the government’s preferred choice to chair the Office for Students (OfS) watchdog has suggested he could continue taking his party’s whip at the same time as being an independent regulator.

Lord Wharton was asked by MPs about a conflict of interest.

He said that party whips, who organise how peers and MPs vote, would give him more “latitude”.

“I can assure you I won’t be hesitant to speak out,” said Lord Wharton.

MPs on the education select committee were questioning him in a pre-appointment hearing for the new chair of the OfS, an independent watchdog for higher education in England, representing the interests of students.

The preferred candidate is Lord Wharton, a former Conservative MP and former manager of Boris Johnson’s leadership campaign.

David Simmonds, a Conservative MP on the committee, asked Lord Wharton about a potential conflict if he was voting in the House of Lords on legislation in areas on which he would also be regulating.

“You’re a Conservative peer – and the question has to be asked: ‘Are you going to retain the Conservative party whip or are you proposing to step away from it?'” asked Mr Simmonds.

Lord Wharton said he had an “open mind”.

But he told MPs his party whips in the House of Lords had said “they would give me more latitude and understand that I may need to vote against or speak against some of the things the party in government could bring forward”.

“I can absolutely assure the committee that I recognise the crucial importance of the regulator being independent.”

The OfS is responsible for independently regulating issues such as making sure students get value for money for their tuition fees.

These fees are decided by the government, dependent on votes by MPs and peers – and ministers are currently considering a review calling for fees to be reduced.

The regulator also considers the quality of what students are offered and fair access.

Labour’s Fleur Anderson asked whether Lord Wharton, while continuing to hold his party’s whip on policy issues such as education, could also really be independent as a regulator.

“All I can assure you is that I will be independent and open and say what I think when issues arise. And if that brings me into conflict with government then so be it. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t,” said Lord Wharton.

Lord Wharton also suggested that if he became chair of the OfS it would consider whether the process for students seeking tuition fee refunds was “fit for purpose”.

“I think the truth is that the process currently is bureaucratic and cumbersome and slow,” he said.

Maureen Colquhoun: Tributes paid to first openly lesbian MP

Tributes have been paid to the UK’s first openly lesbian MP, Labour’s Maureen Colquhoun, after her death at the age of 92.

During her five years in Parliament, she campaigned for laws on abortion rights, gender balance and greater protection for prostitutes.

She fought off efforts to de-select her in 1979 after it emerged she was in a relationship with another woman.

The SNP’s Joanna Cherry said she had suffered “appalling” prejudice.

Labour MP Angela Eagle said: “This is very sad news. Maureen Colquhoun was a feminist pioneer and paved the way for all those of us who came after her – RIP.”

Her death was announced as Parliament marks LGBT+ History month with a series of events.

Maureen Colquhoun served as MP for Northampton North between 1974 and 1979, one of fewer than 30 female MPs in Parliament at the time.

She introduced a number of high-profile bills which, while they did not become law, highlighted major social issues and paved the way for future reforms.

These included the Balance of Sexes Bill – which sought equal representation for women on all public bodies, more than 170 of which the MP discovered were exclusively male during the mid-1970s.

She campaigned for greater abortion rights for women, more support for working women and for the decriminalisation of prostitution.

An avowed feminist, she asked the Commons Speaker at the time, George Thomas, to refer to her as Ms rather than Miss in the Commons chamber.

The married mother-of-two left her husband, the Sunday Times journalist Keith Colquhoun, in 1975.

She fought off efforts by some party members in her constituency to stop her from running in 1979 after the Daily Mail revealed she was in a relationship with Barbara Todd, the publisher of Sappho magazine.

In an article for Gay News in 1977, she said her sexuality had “nothing whatever to do with my ability to my job as an MP”.

She said she had always been open about her relationship, believing that “gay relationships were as valid and as entitled to respect as any other relationship”.

After losing her seat, she worked for other MPs and served on Hackney Borough Council before moving to the Lake District, where she served as a member of the Lake District’s National Park Authority for eight years.