Manchester Arena attack: Terrorism training exercise quite a disaster

A counter-terrorism training drill a year before the Manchester Arena bomb was “quite a disaster”, the head of the inquiry into the attack has suggested.

The inquiry into the May 2017 bombing heard a mock terrorist attack highlighted major communication issues between emergency services.

Communication “did not run smoothly” in the drill, a senior fire officer said.

Twenty two people died in the terror attack by Salman Abedi at the end of an Ariana Grande concert.

Giving evidence to the public inquiry, Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) station manager Michael Lawlor said 2016’s Exercise Winchester Accord “did not run smoothly from the perspective of GMFRS and [North West Ambulance Service] NWAS”.

Both were expecting a call from the Greater Manchester Police’s (GMP) force duty officer or a tactical firearms commander to attend a pre-agreed forward control point and have an “over the bonnet” conversation about the risks involved in sending resources into the various zones.

Mr Lawlor said: “In the end the tactical firearms commander had to be directed to make contact with other agencies by the police exercise co-ordinator.”

He said it resulted in a delay of an hour and a half in fire and ambulance deploying into the Trafford Centre.

Inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders said: “It was a bit of a disaster. You arrived an hour and a half late, so that’s quite a disaster.”

The fire officer replied: “It didn’t unfold as we expected.”

Mr Lawlor, a senior national interagency liaison officer who was based at GMP headquarters, said he and a colleague decided multi-agency briefing awareness sessions were needed so “all emergency responders are on the same page”.

Sessions took place in January and February 2017, the inquiry heard.

Sir John said: “That seems a long time to be trying to sort out what were fundamental problems with Winchester Accord.”

Mr Lawlor replied “co-ordinating diaries” of senior officers and developing and delivering training “takes some time… so in reality it doesn’t happen quickly”.

Sir John asked: “At a time when the terrorist threat was severe?”

Mr Lawlor said that “was the reality at that time”.

The inquiry also heard communications between the three services was still a concern following a “table-top exercise”, Exercise Hawk River, in March 2017, again involving a scenario with an armed terrorist.

A force duty officer on that exercise said they would not have time to “open up a tri-service call… giving a running commentary” during an incident because of their workload and the number of tasks they had to undertake.

The inquiry continues.

Men exposed themselves on Mexborough schools Zoom lesson

A group of men exposed themselves to Year 7 school pupils during an online Zoom lesson, a parent has said.

The broadcast with an author had been arranged for students at The Laurel in Mexborough, South Yorkshire.

Jess Hughes, mother of two pupils, said the scene left her daughters “distraught”, while she felt “sick to her stomach”.

Police confirmed they had received reports of the incident and would be conducting an inquiry.

The Laurel Academy, formerly Mexborough Academy near Doncaster, said it could not comment because the link to the lesson was provided by an external company.

Ms Hughes said when the pupils clicked the link to the lesson they were confronted with “several foreign men” on different screens exposing themselves and saying crude things.

She said: “My girls have been really shocked and pale and quiet. I was distraught, I’ve been in tears all day.

“I was so angry and feel sick to my stomach.”

Richard Brooke, The Laurel’s principal, sent a letter to parents saying: “We are aware of an issue with an online external event attended by some of our Year 7 students today. We are taking steps with the external provider.”

Ms Hughes said her children will no longer access schoolwork online because she “can’t trust it” and she has asked for all work to be given on paper.

She said the link was closed when a pupil messaged a teacher in a different class to alert them, but before that the comments option was off so no-one could make it known what they could see.

Ex-Radio 1 DJ Mark Page faces child sex charges

A former Radio 1 DJ and football stadium announcer has appeared in court charged with child sex offences.

Mark Page, 62, faces two counts of attempting to incite or cause a girl to engage in sexual activity.

Two further charges allege he arranged or facilitated sexual exploitation in the Philippines.

Following a hearing at Teesside Magistrates’ Court on Monday, Mr Page was bailed and the case adjourned to 8 March.

Mr Page, of Rowallane Gardens, Ingleby Barwick, worked for Radio 1 in the 1980s and had also been a stadium announcer for Middlesbrough FC.

The offences he is charged with were said to have occurred in 2016.

Mr Page was not required to enter a plea and will next appear at Teesside Crown Court.

KPMG boss apologises for stop moaning outburst

The UK chairman of accountants KPMG has apologised for telling consultants at his business to “stop moaning” about working conditions during the pandemic.

In a virtual meeting with his team, Bill Michael was told about concerns over potential pay, pension and bonus cuts, the Financial Times reported.

The consultants also complained about the internal ranking of team members’ performances.

Mr Michael said his words did not reflect his beliefs.

Bill Michael, Chair of KPMG in the UK, said: “I am sorry for the words I used, which did not reflect what I believe in, and I have apologised to my colleagues.

“Looking after the wellbeing of our people and creating a culture where everyone can thrive is of critical importance to me and is at the heart of everything we do as a firm.”

Last week the company’s UK business revealed that Mr Michael was paid £1.7m in 2020, down from £1.98m in 2019.

Sales for the year slumped 4% to £2.3bn as the company’s clients cut back expenses amid the pandemic.

Genocide trade bill row: Government sees off Tory rebellion

The government has been hit by a backbench rebellion over plans to ensure Britain’s future trade partners are not committing genocide.

MPs backed a government proposal to give select committees a greater role in examining allegations of genocide.

But a number of Tory MPs rebelled and the government saw its working majority of about 80 slashed to just 15.

The government was accused by one Tory MP of playing “appalling” parliamentary games to avoid defeat.

MPs were expecting to vote on a plan to give British courts the right to decide if a country is committing genocide.

But the government, which opposed the plan, used a procedure to prevent a vote and instead backed a separate move giving Parliament greater say.

This passed by 318 votes to 303 despite complaints by several Conservative MPs.

Last week, the government suffered a defeat in the House of Lords when 171 peers supported an amendment to give British courts jurisdiction over genocide cases.

MPs from all parties were lining up to endorse the Lords’ new clause as the amended bill, which is in its final stages, returned to the Commons.

But ministers used a parliamentary procedure to ensure rebel and opposition MPs – who are using the legislation to express their concerns about Chinese oppression of the Uighur people in Xinjiang – could not vote on amendments separately.

Instead the Lords amendment was lumped together with a Labour proposal which required ministers to determine whether a prospective trade partner has committed crimes against humanity.

A compromise amendment, tabled by Tory MP Bob Neill, boosting the ability of parliamentary select committees to consider genocide allegations was approved by 15 votes.

But the government saw its 80-strong majority significantly reduced.

Downing Street argues it’s “common practice” to package certain amendments together during parliamentary ping-pong but developments overnight have undoubtedly provoked anger on the Conservative backbenches.

Some MPs view what’s happened as pure “parliamentary chicanery” on what is a very important and emotive issue.

And, looking to the longer term, there are claims that the episode has “hardened” attitudes against the government, a government, it’s said, that had been getting “very twitchy” on the numbers following a big whipping operation.

Another backbencher described that operation as “heavy, full-on stuff” and an exercise which had revealed the extent of a potentially “stonking” rebellion.

What’s more, it appeared that some newer MPs were gearing up to rebel for the first time. That is a habit any government doesn’t want its backbenchers to get into.

A number of Conservative MPs criticised the government’s tactics, Nusrat Ghani saying “she was appalled at the parliamentary games being played over such a grave issue”.

The UK, she said, should not be “using its newfound post-Brexit freedoms to trade with states which commit and profit from genocide…Britain is better than that”.

The leading Uighur exile Rahima Mahmut said she was “sickened” at what she called this “shameful” act.

Trade Minister Greg Hands said a committee could trigger a Commons debate and vote if it decided there were “credible reports” that genocide had been committed by a state with which the UK was negotiating a trade deal.

“This approach rightly puts Parliament, not the courts, in the driving seat on the issue of who generates a debate in Parliament,” he told MPs.

But former Conservative leader Sir Ian Duncan Smith said there was a reason why matters of huge public importance, such as public inquiries into tragedies and scandals, were overseen by judges.

“I have my own differences with judges but when we need an impartial taking of evidence and a judgement, we turn not to select committees but judges. Why do we do that?

“One, because we assume they are impartial. Two because they are trained to take evidence and deal with evidence. We are not here.”

And Labour’s Emily Thornberry accused the government of “shameful, shabby and shifty” behaviour.

Campaigners want British courts to hear genocide cases so that persecuted minorities, such as the Uighurs in Xinjiang, China, can have their situation considered by a court of law.

A legal opinion by senior barristers at Essex Court Chambers has already concluded there was a “very credible case” that the Chinese government was committing genocide against the Uighurs.

Bitcoin investors: From buying a Bentley to losing it all

Bitcoin has soared to trade at an eye-watering $48,000 (£34,820), following the news that Tesla has bought $1.5bn of the crypto-currency.

Enthusiasts will tell you it’s the future of money – but investing in the notoriously volatile virtual currency can be a rollercoaster, and it’s not without risk. The hunt for new coins, using powerful computers, is also causing a surge in energy demand – which is not so good for the environment.

Here are some of your Bitcoin adventures.

James Saye, tech consultant

I first invested in Bitcoin in 2017 – I was nervous about putting too much in, so I went for around £500.

I cashed it in for £2,500 during one of its peaks, and had a great holiday in Iceland – the cash came in handy, Iceland is lovely but expensive.

I bought in again in 2018 when the price was lower so I’m still in but I don’t regret cashing out when I did.

Heather Delaney, founder of Gallium Ventures

I’ve been the silent crypto-investor. I put in £5 at the very beginning and I’ve built it slowly and steadily over time. I see it as a long-term strategy, meaning the rapid highs and lows are not ones that cause me anxiety – although ask me as I near my retirement and we shall see what I think then!

Based on how much I have invested in Bitcoin over time versus what I see today, I have a 585.41% increase in my investment.

I’ve never cashed it out – but I have converted some to other currencies as the market has fluctuated.

I know loads of people who have done exciting things with their investments but for me it’s part of my pension plan. I know I’m not typical.

David Stubley, founder of 7 Elements cyber-security firm

We had a client whose Bitcoin wallet was fraudulently accessed and all the money was transferred out of it. He had intended to use it as a deposit on a house.

The man had been spooked by reports of fluctuations in the currency and decided to check his wallet. But he clicked on a fraudulent link, which led him to a phishing site, a complete clone of the real thing.

He had 84 bitcoins, and the fraudsters transferred 83 of them. At the time, in 2017, they were worth $475,000.

We tracked the payment on the blockchain [a kind of shared digital public ledger] – we could see it rolling across various wallets and finally it reached a wallet containing $15m of currency.

While the final identity of the fraudsters could not be identified, we were able to have the wallets frozen, so at least denying access to the stolen funds.

Our client was irate but philosophical. Today, that stolen Bitcoin would be worth £2.8m.

Once it’s gone, it really has gone.

Javed Khan, independent trader

My Bitcoin journey didn’t start as an investment. At first, it was a form of transferring money, I didn’t have to wait for confirmation from banks and so on – it was convenient.

In 2018, I noticed I’d make a transfer, leave some Bitcoin in my wallet and I’d see the prices go up – and before I knew it I was seeing profit, which surprised me. I had been telling my friends I was using it as a transfer tool, I hadn’t thought about investing in it.

In January 2020, I cashed in my Bitcoin profits and bought a Bentley in Dubai, where I now live. I sent a video from the showroom to my mum and she cried, she was really proud.

I would only put in money that I could afford to lose. The most I’ve lost is the transaction fees – when the price drops I don’t lose faith.

I think the best time to buy Bitcoin is when nobody’s talking about it – wait for the hype to die down.

Rohan Muscat, project manager and electrical engineer

I became aware of Bitcoin in 2010, but being a bit of a hardware geek, I wanted to mine it. In late 2016 I bought a pair of graphics cards to mine, and at first I did pretty well with it.

A start-up I’d done some consulting for gave me some Horizon State tokens (another form of crypto-currency) to pay part of my way, and in January 2017 those plus my mined assets were worth A$40,000 (£22,000).

I decided to trade it a bit, and investigated bots while moving to bigger scale mining.

At first it paid for itself, but then it went downhill and was borderline break-even. My electricity bill shot up to A$500-A$600 a month, because the mining rig needed so much power.

I ended up selling the mining gear, and I’m currently sitting on about A$2,000 in crypto.

I could have made more if I’d jumped in and out, but the emotions and risks in trading have burnt me, and I’d rather not take the risk.

Daniel Crocker, business owner

In 2012, I was doing an apprenticeship at an IT company. At lunchtime we used to chat about little ways of making money on the side. Nobody had really heard of Bitcoin but we decided to give it a go and we spent a few weeks on it.

It didn’t last long, but luckily I kept hold of mine.

I traded them in last summer and got half the deposit for my house. I’ve still got a little bit but I’m just going to sit tight – it’s not something I want to pin my future on.

I do know people who have gone in deep but I think I’ve been lucky enough already.

Michelle Obama to star in Netflix childrens show Waffles + Mochi

Michelle Obama is to star alongside puppets in a Netflix show that aims to teach children the joys of home cooking over eating ready meals.

Mrs Obama will play a supermarket owner opposite Waffles and Mochi, who are from The Land of Frozen Food.

The former US first lady described the series, which is titled Waffles + Mochi and drops next month, as a “hilarious, heartwarming, and simply magical show”.

She and husband Barack are among the executive producers.

The couple signed a deal to produce series and films for Netflix in 2018. The resulting works have included Becoming, the 2020 documentary based on her best-selling autobiography.

In Waffles + Mochi, she will help the pair of puppets, who have got fed up of eating ice and dream of becoming chefs.

Guided by their magical flying shopping trolley, they travel the world to try an array of home-cooked food.

Mrs Obama said: “I only wish Waffles + Mochi had been around when my daughters were growing up, because it’s the kind of programme that’s fun to watch together as a family, and gives parents the peace of mind to know that their little ones are learning something, too.”

She also said the show was “an extension of my work to support children’s health as first lady”.

It’s not the first time she has enlisted puppets for that work. In 2013, she invited Sesame Street characters to the White House as part of a campaign to change school meals in the US and fight childhood obesity.

Waffles + Mochi will be available from 16 March.

Princess Eugenie gives birth to 8lb baby boy

Princess Eugenie, the Queen’s grand-daughter, has given birth to a baby boy, Buckingham Palace has announced.

The royal baby, who is the Queen’s ninth great-grandchild and 11th in line to the throne, was born at 08:55 GMT on Tuesday at the Portland Hospital in central London, weighing 8lbs 1oz.

In a statement, the palace said the Queen and Eugenie’s parents, the Duke and Duchess of York, were “delighted”.

Buckingham Palace said Jack Brooksbank was at his wife’s side for the birth.

The baby’s name has not yet been announced.

The palace said in its statement: “The Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Duke of York, Sarah, Duchess of York, and Mr and Mrs George Brooksbank have been informed and are delighted with the news.”

It added: “Her Royal Highness and her child are both doing well.”

This is the first grandchild for Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, and his ex-wife Sarah.

Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank married in October 2018 at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

Royal Family members, including the Queen and Prince Philip, were joined at the ceremony by 850 guests, including singer Robbie Williams and model Cara Delevingne.

Salmond and Sturgeon: What is the controversy all about?

Two of Scotland’s best known politicians are involved in a bitter row. Some people believe it could force Nicola Sturgeon to quit as first minister.

The pair dominated Scottish politics for more than a decade. They led the campaign for Scotland to become independent from the UK.

Alex Salmond was Scotland’s first minister and the SNP leader before by Ms Sturgeon, who had been his deputy. She took over after the 2014 independence referendum, which saw Scotland back remaining in the UK by 55% to 45%.

The row began when allegations of sexual harassment – which he strongly denied – were made against Mr Salmond by two female civil servants in 2018.

The complaints were made after Ms Sturgeon asked for new government policies on sexual harassment to be put in place in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Mr Salmond believed the policy was aimed at him.

Mr Salmond and his supporters claim Ms Sturgeon has misled parliament over the government inquiry into the allegations. They have accused officials close to her of conspiring against Mr Salmond. Ms Sturgeon denies these claims.

The Scottish government eventually admitted it had botched its investigation. It had to pay Mr Salmond’s legal fees of more than £500,000 after it admitted it had acted unlawfully.

Then, in January 2019, Mr Salmond was arrested and charged with multiple counts of sexual assault, including attempted rape.

Mr Salmond was cleared of all 13 charges – all alleged to have happened while he was first minister – after a trial last March.

The nine women who made the allegations included an SNP politician, a party worker and several current and former Scottish government civil servants and officials.

In court, Mr Salmond said the claims made about his alleged conduct were “deliberate fabrications for a political purpose”, or “exaggerations”.

After being acquitted, he said there was “certain information” he had been unable to talk about during the trial, but which would “see the light of day” in the future.

The remark was widely seen as being a threat by Mr Salmond to make further allegations about Ms Sturgeon’s involvement in the case public.

Ms Sturgeon has suggested her predecessor is angry because she “did not collude with him” to make the sexual harassment allegations “go away”.

Following the trial, two separate inquiries began – one by a committee of MSPs and another by James Hamilton QC, Ireland’s former director of public prosecutions.

The committee is examining the Scottish government’s handling of the complaints against Mr Salmond. It has accused both sides of attempting to obstruct and delay its work.

Some government officials have been recalled by the committee after members were unhappy with the answers they gave, as was Ms Sturgeon’s husband – SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.

Mr Murrell has been accused by opposition politicians of lying about meetings between his wife and Mr Salmond in their Glasgow home – which were not formally recorded. He also faces questions about text messages he sent which appeared to suggest pressure should be put on the police to take action against the former first minister.

The second inquiry is examining whether Ms Sturgeon breached the ministerial code – which sets out how ministers should behave – by interfering with the civil service investigation into the allegations, or by lying to parliament.

Under the spotlight is a meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Salmond’s former chief of staff, Geoff Aberdein. It took place in Ms Sturgeon’s Scottish Parliament office on 29 March 2018, when she is said to have been told about the allegations against Mr Salmond for the first time.

Ms Sturgeon initially told parliament she had not learned of the allegations until she was informed by Mr Salmond himself a few days later. She later claimed to have “forgotten” about the meeting.

The ministerial code says all of the first minister’s meetings should be recorded – but the one with Mr Aberdein was not.

If Ms Sturgeon is found to have broken the ministerial code she would – under normal circumstance – be expected to resign as first minister.

However, polls suggest she remains popular with voters and this might reduce any pressure for her to quit.

The row has divided the SNP, with some prominent MPs openly backing Mr Salmond.

With a Scottish Parliament election due to be held in May, it remains to be seen whether the controversy cuts through to Scottish voters.

Sheffield I Love You graffiti removed from Park Hill flats

A graffiti marriage proposal which became a symbol of a city has been removed by developers.

Jason Lowe’s public display of affection was spray-painted on a bridge at Park Hill, Sheffield, in 2001.

His bid to woo girlfriend Clare Middleton formed part of the city skyline, inspired a track by singer Yungblud and appeared on a t-shirt worn by Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner.

Urban Splash said the graffiti was removed for “essential repair work”.

Sam Feeley, who lives in one of the renovated flats, said he noticed the writing – I Love You Will U Marry Me – had been removed on Sunday.

Describing it as “a piece of Sheffield history”, he said: “It means a lot to the people of the city, so I was quite surprised to see it had gone.”

“I would class it as a piece of artwork and famous artwork fades over the years.

“[Leonardo] da Vinci paintings fade and people touch them up and restore them, I wouldn’t see why this isn’t any different really.”

Although Mr Lowe and his girlfriend never married, his romantic gesture has formed part of the city’s skyline since, with many considering it an “iconic” piece of history.

In a BBC radio documentary, Mr Lowe explained how he braved his fear of heights to make a public show of proposing to Ms Middleton, who he had had been dating for a year.

He said: “You used to be able to see it from the Odeon cinema.

“I took her there, she thought she was going to see a film and I said: ‘I’ve got something to show you’. I told her to look up and she read it.

“She said ‘yeah’. She thought I was mad.”

The pair split up three months later and Ms Middleton died in 2007 from cancer.

When Urban Splash started renovation of the flats in 2008, they decided to immortalise Mr Lowe’s words.

Neon lights were placed over the writing and it formed part of the developer’s marketing campaign.

Yungblud, real name Dominic Harrison, from Doncaster, described the graffiti as “a quirky act of romance” in his song I Love You, Will You Marry Me.

Alex Turner, lead singer of Sheffield band Arctic Monkeys, has also worn the slogan on a T-shirt during gigs.

Surriya Falconer, speaking on behalf of the developers, said there were “some structural issues” which meant the words had to be removed so a coating could be put on the bridge.

She said Mr Lowe would be involved in deciding upon a replacement and the meaning would “continue to be celebrated”.

“I understand people may feel a sense of loss but we’re talking about new futures and celebrating a piece of history. It’s still going to be there but it needs to be safe,” she said.

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