UK and EU hold frank but constructive talks on NI trade rules

The UK and the EU have had a “frank but constructive discussion” on problems implementing post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland.

Cabinet Office Minister, Michael Gove, met the vice-president of the European Commission, Maros Sefcovic, in London on Thursday evening.

Both sides reiterated their “full commitment” to the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.

But they pledged to meet again to “address all outstanding issues”.

Mr Gove had previously called for an urgent “reset” on the arrangements, which see checks taking place between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – calling for a two-year “grace period” on the rules.

But the Irish Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, said any pause in enforcement could only be a matter of months, telling the BBC: “It can’t be a year.”

Writing to Mr Gove ahead of the meeting, Mr Sefcovic said the existing protocol was “the only way” to a void a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

However, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster – who wants the protocol scrapped – said “more rigorous implementation” was “not going to work”.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to ensure an open border remained on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

But to make it work, the two sides agreed that Northern Ireland would remain in the single market for goods, unlike the rest of the UK.

This meant checks had to be introduced on some goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Since the new rules came into force, there has been tensions at ports in Northern Ireland, with disruption to some food supplies and online deliveries.

Checks at some ports were temporarily suspended at the beginning of February over “sinister” threats made to some border staff who were carrying out checks on goods.

Unionists want the protocol to be scrapped because they say it damages trade and threatens Northern Ireland’s place in the UK union.

Leader of the DUP Mrs Foster accused Mr Sefcovic of having his “head in the sand” over the issues, and called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “step up” to sort out the issues.

But the EU has stood by this part of the post-Brexit trade agreement, finalised in December and coming into force on New Year’s Day.

In a joint statement after their meeting, Mr Gove and Mr Sefcovic reiterated their “full commitment” to the Good Friday Agreement and to the “proper implementation” of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

They said this was necessary to ensure stability, prevent a hard border and “impact as little as possible on the everyday life” of people living on the island of Ireland.

The statement also said they had “taken in to account” the views expressed by both the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister in Northern Ireland.

It is understood Mr Gove and Mr Sefcovic will hold a virtual meeting with Northern Ireland business leaders next week, before further discussions on 24 February.

Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, described the meeting as “a good day’s work”.

In a tweet, he said the “focus now” was on “cooperation to implement what’s been agreed in the protocol… and to work on solutions to outstanding issues”.

Jazz musician Chick Corea dies aged 79

Chick Corea, a Grammy award winning jazz musician has died at the age of 79, a statement on his website confirmed.

The American musician’s career spanned more than five decades. His last album was released in 2020.

Corea is the fourth most nominated artist in the Grammy awards’ history with 65 nominations, winning 23 times.

He died on 9 February from a rare form of cancer that was only recently diagnosed.

Corea played with Miles Davis in the late 1960s and his own group, Return to Forever, were at the forefront of the jazz fusion movement.

He was also known around the world for his work as a composer with hits like Spain and 500 Miles High.

“Through his body of work and the decades spent touring the world, he touched and inspired the lives of millions,” the statement said.

In an interview with the BBC last November, Corea said he had spent lockdown taking on new projects and was looking forward to playing in front of a live audience again.

In a message left for his fans prior to his death, Corea said: “It is my hope that those who have an inkling to play, write, perform or otherwise, do so. If not for yourself then for the rest of us.

“It’s not that the world needs more artists, it’s also a lot of fun,” he said.

Rachel Johnston: Neglect contributed to womans teeth removal death

A disabled woman whose brain was starved of oxygen after an operation to remove all her teeth would probably have survived if care home staff acted sooner, an inquest heard.

Staff at Pirton Grange Care Home, near Worcester, failed to spot Rachel Johnston was developing hypoxia.

A coroner concluded neglect contributed to her death just over two weeks after she was taken to hospital.

Miss Johnston’s mother Diana said the home had “failed” her daughter.

A statement from Pirton Grange expressed sadness at Rachel’s “tragic” death, adding systems had been improved and staff trained following the case.

Miss Johnston, 49, fell ill shortly after being discharged from Kidderminster Hospital where all her teeth had been removed due to severe decay on 26 October 2018.

For the next 42 hours, Miss Johnston bled from her mouth intermittently, was heard “gurgling” and never fully woke up.

Despite this, care home nurses repeatedly failed to recognise she was dangerously ill, did not carry out basic observations or make notes on her condition.

By the time an ambulance was called at 14:00 GMT, two days after Miss Johnston left hospital, her “entire brain had been starved of oxygen”, Dr Christopher Danbury told the inquest.

Readings showed her oxygen levels were 63% when a normal reading is 95-100% and she had suffered aspiration pneumonia.

Dr Danbury, who reviewed her care, said Miss Johnston had no chance of survival by the time she was taken to hospital but “probably would have survived” if taken to hospital the previous evening when staff called 111 for advice.

Coroner David Reid said “gross failures” by two care home nurses to record and properly monitor Miss Johnston’s condition contributed to her death.

“These were basic medical checks that should have been carried out at regular intervals,” said Mr Reid, and without them made it “impossible to build a picture” of Miss Johnston’s health after surgery.

He said the actions of Sheeba George and Gillian Bennett were “so serious – so total and complete, so patently not simple errors they can only be described as gross failures”.

Mr Reid said 111 call handler Alison Trueman failed to ask direct questions when nursing staff called, but recognised she was working in stressful circumstances and had attempted to do what was best.

Miss Johnston, who suffered brain damage as a result of contracting meningitis as a baby, had lived at Pirton Grange since 2013 so she could access medical care.

“When she needed it, they failed her and she died,” her mother said.

“What happens time and again to the families of people with learning difficulties is that we get sidelined by medical professionals – even when we clearly know the person involved the best and love them the most,” she added.

“That is incredibly difficult to bear and no words can describe the agony of experiencing that.”

Solicitor Caron Heyes, from Fieldfisher, representing the family, said the inquest had been “extremely gruelling”.

“What came out clearly in the evidence is that Rachel would still be here if she’d been cared for properly – she was fit, she was healthy and she was a fighter,” she added.

Pirton Grange said it expressed “sincere sympathy and condolences” to Miss Johnston’s family and friends.

“The care and wellbeing of our residents are paramount, and Pirton Grange accept the finding of HM Coroner and recognise that there are lessons to be learnt by staff and management, as a result of Rachel’s tragic death,” a statement said.

“Changes have been made within the organisation to implement improved systems and procedures. In addition, staff training has been undertaken in all the key areas highlighted by this sad case.”

Frozen sea foam appears on Somerset beach as temperatures fall

“Frozen sea foam” took over a beach and made for stunning scenes as temperatures plunged across the UK.

Aiden Malik went to Berrow Beach in Somerset on Wednesday to photograph the sunset but instead found a covering of the “shin-deep” substance.

Mr Malik said: “It wasn’t quite snow, it wasn’t quite ice and it wasn’t foam – it was a weird mix of everything.”

BBC weather presenter Ian Fergusson explained it had to be minus two centigrade (28F) for it to occur.

Mr Malik took the photographs on an evening when temperatures plunged across the UK.

The amateur photographer said he was able to make snowballs out of it.

“At the risk of sounding undignified I did taste it and it wasn’t salty, which made me wonder what is was,” said Mr Malik.

He said: “Like a lot of people I’ve been going for different walks in my local area and I thought I might be able to catch the sunset so I went to my nearest westerly-facing beach which is Berrow.

“When I saw it [the substance] it looked so ridiculously out of place, even though it was very cold.

“It was definitely more icy than standard snow but you could ball it up into a snowball.

“The fact it didn’t taste salty made me wonder if it came from the sea.

“The tide was coming back in so I assume it had been there for a while.”

Mr Fergusson confirmed what Mr Malik had photographed was frozen sea foam.

Huge fire breaks out across Dartmoor near Tavistock

A huge fire has broken out across an area of moorland in Dartmoor, Devon.

Rob Steemson, Dartmoor national Park emergency officer, estimated the blaze to be about 5km (3.1 miles) wide and continuing to spread.

Mr Steemson said the fire, which could be seen about 20 miles away in Plymouth, was being stoked by fierce south-westerly winds.

The blaze is on remote moorland near Tavistock and no residents or animals are thought to have been injured.

A Devon and Somerset Fire spokesperson said 10 appliances were in attendance at Tavy Cleave.

The fire service has asked members of the public to avoid the area.

Mr Steemson said the area on fire was “general moorland” made up of heather, gorse and bracken.

He said many Dartmoor residents were trained in dealing with fires of this nature but had not yet been asked to go out.

Mr Steemson said he believed firefighters were not directly trying to put out the blaze because of the strength of the winds.

He said: “All being well it will peter out when it goes out of the wind and into the river valleys.”

In Cornwall a blaze tore through nearly 50 acres of the Rosenannon Downs Nature Reserve near Wadebridge on Wednesday.

That fire was also driven by strong winds and could be seen 18 miles (28km) away according to firefighters.

Meghan: Mail on Sunday privacy damage runs deep

The Duchess of Sussex has welcomed her High Court privacy victory over the Mail on Sunday, saying the damage the publisher has done “runs deep”.

Meghan brought the claim against Associated Newspapers (ANL) over the publication of extracts from a letter to her father.

The judge said Meghan had a “reasonable expectation that the contents of the letter would remain private”.

ANL said it was surprised and disappointed by the judgment.

Mr Justice Warby granted Meghan “summary judgment” in her claim for misuse of private information against the publisher of the Mail on Sunday and MailOnline, meaning that part of the case is resolved without a trial.

He said there would be a further hearing in March to decide “the next steps” in the legal action.

Meghan, 39, sent the handwritten letter to her father, Thomas Markle, in August 2018, following her marriage to Prince Harry in May that year, which Mr Markle did not attend. The couple are now living in the US with their son Archie, after having stepped back from their roles in the Royal Family.

In a judgment on Thursday, Mr Justice Warby ruled that the publication of the letter – which he described as “a long-form telling-off” – was “manifestly excessive and hence unlawful”.

“It was, in short, a personal and private letter,” he said.

“The majority of what was published was about the claimant’s own behaviour, her feelings of anguish about her father’s behaviour – as she saw it – and the resulting rift between them.

“These are inherently private and personal matters.”

He added: “There is no prospect that a different judgment would be reached after a trial.”

Extracts from the letter appeared in a double-page page spread in the Mail on Sunday, alongside the headline: “Revealed: the letter showing true tragedy of Meghan’s rift with a father she says has ‘broken her heart into a million pieces'”.

In a statement, the Duchess of Sussex said she was grateful to the courts for holding Associated Newspapers to account “for their illegal and dehumanising practices”.

“For these outlets, it’s a game. For me and so many others, it’s real life, real relationships, and very real sadness,” she said.

“The damage they have done and continue to do runs deep.”

Meghan said her “comprehensive win” means “we have all won”, adding: “We now know, and hope it creates legal precedent, that you cannot take somebody’s privacy and exploit it in a privacy case, as the defendant has blatantly done over the past two years.”

A spokesman for ANL said: “We are very surprised by today’s summary judgment and disappointed at being denied the chance to have all the evidence heard and tested in open court at a full trial.

“We are carefully considering the judgment’s contents and will decide in due course whether to lodge an appeal.”

Lawyers for ANL had claimed Meghan wrote the letter “with a view to it being disclosed publicly at some future point” in order to “defend her against charges of being an uncaring or unloving daughter”.

This is a thumping victory for Meghan.

The court dismissed Associated Newspapers’ defence on privacy and copyright; the only ongoing dispute is about whose copyright has been breached, as there is some argument over whether it was just the duchess that wrote the letter or whether she had some assistance.

So is Meghan and Harry’s long struggle with sections of the British media now finished? Harry has settled his case against the Mail on Sunday; Meghan has won hers.

It seems unlikely. The couple have instructed their UK spokespeople not to talk to the country’s most popular newspapers. They clearly think they simply can’t get a fair hearing.

And the coverage they receive is pretty critical; baiting the couple over their new lives in California is now something of a routine.

To the couple it may well be immaterial. Their lives are elsewhere now.

But their relationship with the British public is still, largely, mediated by newspapers they will not deal with and which take delight in doing them down.

The couple have won – but they have also lost.

Media lawyer Mark Stephens said he envisages the newspaper publisher will seek to go to the Court of Appeal “to have a more definitive ruling on what the law is going forward”.

“If you can’t effectively report on leaked letters then in those circumstances the media holding people to account is going to be hampered,” he said.

“Essentially this judgement in its widest context puts manacles on the media.”

Meghan is seeking damages for alleged misuse of private information, copyright infringement and breach of the Data Protection Act over five articles published in February 2019, which included extracts from the letter.

The judge made two rulings on the case for copyright infringement.

He found the publication of the letter infringed the duchess’s copyright. But he said the issue of whether Meghan was “the sole author” of the letter or Jason Knauf, former communications secretary to the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, was a “co-author” should be determined at a trial.

The data protection claim was not considered at the hearing in January and is still outstanding.

However, Mr Stephens said that by winning her privacy claim Meghan could say she had been “vindicated” and he expected she would drop the other parts of the case “as soon as she can”.

The full trial of the duchess’s claim had been due to be heard at the High Court in January, but last year the case was adjourned until autumn 2021 for a “confidential” reason.

When his wife first began her legal action against the Mail on Sunday, the Duke of Sussex spoke about the “painful” impact of the “ruthless” press campaign against her.

“I lost my mother and now I watch my wife falling victim to the same powerful forces,” he said in a statement at the time.

Referring to his late mother Diana, Princess of Wales, Prince Harry said his “deepest fear is history repeating itself”.

Teesside mum cleared of baby murder faced traumatic abuse

A woman cleared of murdering her baby son feared she would be jailed because nobody believed she “hadn’t done anything wrong”.

Shauna Donnelly, 25, was charged after taking Ellis to hospital in October 2019 where he was pronounced dead.

She was eventually acquitted at Teesside Crown Court on Wednesday after prosecutors offered no evidence.

However, the case saw her subjected to “traumatic” abusive threats, her solicitor said.

“I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong but nobody seemed to believe me,” Ms Donnelly, of Teesside, said in a statement released after the case was dropped.

“I honestly thought I was going to prison for the rest of my life.”

Ms Donnelly took her son’s lifeless body to the James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough following a home birth.

A post-mortem examination proved inconclusive, but she was charged with her son’s murder.

The defence commissioned medical reports from five expert witnesses and it was agreed Ms Donnelly’s son was likely born in an extremely compromised state as a result of a hypoxic injury, believed to have been caused by a significant placental abruption.

They agreed that her son, if born alive, was extremely poorly and so unwell that she could have believed the child was stillborn.

In court on Wednesday, prosecutors accepted there was a lack of evidence Ms Donnelly had harmed her baby and that it was likely Ellis was stillborn after her placenta was damaged.

But Ms Donnelly had became the target of abuse, particularly online, including calls for her to be sterilised.

Her solicitor, Eric Watson, said: “On top of the traumatic experience of giving birth at home to a stillborn child, she suffered cruel comments from strangers.

“People who knew nothing of Shauna or the case were threatening to burn her house down, to assault her and to find her and harm her in a serious way.

“I would like to think they would reflect on the harm such bile can inflict.”

Ms Donnelly said she had to deal with the death of her son, a murder charge and the abuse of strangers.

“I couldn’t think about anything else,” she said. “Even now, I know the judge and the barristers know I didn’t do anything, people still shout things at me and people still talk about me.

“The total strangers who made comments on the newspaper articles threatening to do all sorts of awful things to me should listen to what the judge has said about me being innocent of this and not say such nasty things about people in the future.

“It felt awful, but now I’m finally able to move forward with my life.”

Mr Watson added: “She is slowly coming to terms with getting her life back to normal.

“There will be no champagne corks popping in the Donnelly household, there’s just relief.”

Playboy drug-gang model who fled to Bali jailed

A model and drug dealer who lived a “playboy” lifestyle has been jailed for a further four months for fleeing the UK on the day he was to be sentenced.

Terrence Murrell stayed in expensive hotels and rented exclusive villas in Bali during two-and-a-half years on the run, Caernarfon Crown Court heard.

The 33-year-old had been in a drugs gang that made £1.2m profit – and used social media to “flaunt his lifestyle”.

Murrell, of London, was jailed for 37 months in his absence in 2018.

He had previously admitted conspiracy to supply a controlled drug and possession with intent to supply, for his part in a drugs gang that imported raw steroids from China.

But Murrell absconded and fled from London’s Heathrow Airport for the Far East, in June 2018.

Now Judge Huw Rees has imposed a consecutive four-month sentence after Murrell admitted failing to attend court in 2018.

Prosecutors said Murrell had lived the lifestyle of a “playboy” in Bali at expensive hotels and renting exclusive villas – and said he would “flaunt his lifestyle” on social media.

However, his defence said Murrell now had a partner in Indonesia and had lived on $800 (£580) a month.

He was arrested in Bali in July 2019 but during an extradition process at Taipei airport in Taiwan last March, he switched flights to Cambodia instead of flying back to London.

He was later taken to an immigration centre in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh – and North Wales police officers escorted him back to the UK in December.

Murrell had initially been sentenced for his part of a drugs gang that the prosecution thought had made £1.2 million profit in two years – and had almost £2 million worth of drugs seized.

The court had heard Murrell made more than £220,000 from the supply of steroids in what the judge said was a “very extensive criminal operation” with steroids imported from Hong Kong and China.

Murrell had told police he wanted “to look his best as part of his work as a male model.”

Prosecutors had said 15 defendants conspired to import, produce and sell steroids and hormone tablets around north Wales, London and Leeds via a number of websites which they had set up to advertise the drugs for sale.

The drugs ring was caught after customs officials intercepted a number of parcels that were addressed to the defendants or bogus business addresses they were using to hide the conspiracy.

The parcels were found to contain raw steroids and other items used in the manufacture and distribution of the drugs.

Smart motorways: Highways England referred to CPS over M1 death

Highways England should be investigated over possible manslaughter charges after a woman’s death on a smart motorway, a coroner has said.

Nargis Begum, 62, from Sheffield, was killed after her car broke down on part of the M1 with no hard shoulder.

Her own vehicle was hit and ploughed into her, and the length of time it went undetected was highlighted by South Yorkshire coroner Nicola Mundy.

Highways England said it did not believe it had committed any offence.

Ms Mundy suggested the government-owned company should be referred to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to consider if manslaughter charges were appropriate.

Previous hearings into Ms Begum’s death in 2018 have heard that 16 minutes elapsed between her Nissan breaking down near Woodall Services and the crash.

It took a further six minutes before warning signs were activated.

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At the latest pre-inquest review hearing at Doncaster Coroner’s Court, Ms Mundy outlined factors behind her decision to refer the case.

She said “nobody has responsibility for monitoring cameras” feeding footage from smart motorways and drivers were unaware “the onus is on them” to report any incidents.

Speaking after the hearing, Mrs Begum’s daughter, Saima Aktar, said she was pleased the CPS would look into her mum’s death and the use of smart motorways.

She said it had been “incredibly difficult” for the family to come to terms with her mother’s death, especially for her father Mohammed Bashir, who had been driving.

Highways England is a Government-owned company responsible for managing England’s motorways and major A-roads.

Nicholas Chapman, representing the firm, said footage from a CCTV camera covering the scene of the crash would have been sent to a “busy” regional control centre staffed by “seven or eight” people.

But he said staff would also be receiving images from about 450 other cameras and there was “no constant or routine monitoring”.

He added that there was no evidence any of the operators did “anything else other than conscientiously go about their duties”.

Thirty-eight people have been killed on smart motorways across the country in the past five years.

Post-Brexit trade deal success is two-way street, says EU

Making post-Brexit trade work in Northern Ireland will be a “two-way street”, says the European Commission.

The organisation’s vice president, Maros Sefcovic, made the comment as he arrived in London to discuss border issues with the UK’s Michael Gove.

Both the UK and EU have admitted there have been “teething problems” with the so-called Northern Ireland protocol since it came into force on 1 January.

But it is unclear if the two sides agree on how they will be fixed.

Mr Gove has called for an urgent “reset” on the arrangements, which see checks taking place between Northern Ireland and Great Britain – calling for a two-year “grace period” on the rules.

But the Irish Taoiseach, Micheál Martin, said any pause in enforcement could only be a matter of months, telling the BBC: “It can’t be a year.”

Writing to Mr Gove ahead of the meeting, Mr Sefcovic said the existing protocol was “the only way” to a void a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

However, Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster – who wants the protocol scrapped – said “more rigorous implementation” was “not going to work”.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was designed to ensure an open border remained on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

But to make it work, the two sides agreed that Northern Ireland would remain in the single market for goods, unlike the rest of the UK.

This meant checks had to be introduced on some goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Since the new rules came into force, there has been tensions at ports in Northern Ireland, with disruption to some food supplies and online deliveries.

Checks at some ports were temporarily suspended at the beginning of February over “sinister” threats made to some border staff who were carrying out checks on goods.

Unionists want the protocol to be scrapped because they say it damages trade and threatens Northern Ireland’s place in the UK union.

Leader of the DUP Mrs Foster accused Mr Sefcovic of having his “head in the sand” over the issues, and called for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “step up” to sort out the issues.

But the EU has stood by this part of the post-Brexit trade agreement, finalised in December and coming into force on New Year’s Day.

As he arrived in London for his meeting with Mr Gove, Mr Sefcovic tweeted that the EU was “fully committed” to protecting peace in Northern Ireland and “making the protocol work”.

But it said it would be a “two-way street” to implement the protocol, calling for “constructive, solution-driven co-operation” from both sides.

In his letter on Wednesday, the European Commission representative said Brexit had caused problems, adding: “The UK’s withdrawal from the Union, its single market and customs union presents unique and significant challenges for the island of Ireland.”

But he said the UK and the EU had a shared objective to “work tirelessly in order to make the protocol work” because it was “the only way” to protect the Good Friday Agreement, and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

Responding to the letter, the UK government pointed back to the EU’s threat to control vaccine deliveries to Northern Ireland last month – which the block later revoked – by triggering a part of the protocol known as Article 16.

A spokesman said it was “disappointing” the Commission had “failed to acknowledge the shock and anger felt right across the community in Northern Ireland” as a result, and “the need to take urgent steps to restore confidence as a result”.

The government said Mr Gove would “underline the need for such action and political leadership” in the meeting later.

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