Flood prevention in Wales should be national priority

Nowhere near enough money is being invested in flood prevention in Wales, the leader of Plaid Cymru has said.

Twenty-seven flood warnings were issued for Wales over the weekend, leading to homes being evacuated.

Adam Price said the “severity and frequency” of flooding events “should convince us all that flooding needs to become a strategic national priority.”

The Welsh Government said it had invested more than £390m to manage flood risk in the past five years.

In an interview with BBC Radio Cymru’s Dros Frecwast, Mr Price said: “On the evidence of the last few days, once again, the fact that the severity and the frequency of these flooding events should I think convince all of us that flooding needs to become a strategic national priority.

“And in particular, we are investing nowhere near what is necessary to provide the level of resilience that is required to our communities.

“We need urgency in terms of getting from where we are where we are now to providing the level of investment that for example the National Infrastructure Commission has recommended.”

Welsh Conservative member of the Senedd (MS) Janet Finch-Saunders said: “Once again Wales is being hit by flooding, with people’s homes and businesses being devastated, and yet very little has happened since the major floods last year to prevent or reduce their impact.

“The Welsh Government has had responsibility to protect communities from flooding for 20 years and yet year after year communities continue to be blighted.

“We need action not words to prevent flooding in the future.”

Their calls come after 5in (127.6mm) of rain fell at Llyn-y-Fan, Carmarthenshire, between 06:00 on Friday and 08:00 on Saturday, and 4.5in (115mm) at Treherbert in Rhondda Cynon Taf.

That compares to an average rainfall of 3.9in (98mm) for the whole of February in south Wales.

One year ago, communities across the south Wales valleys were devastated by floods caused by Storm Dennis.

The Welsh Government said: “We know major flooding incidents are devastating for communities.

“Between 2016 and 2021, Welsh Government invested more than £390m in helping manage flood risk.”

It said it would “continue to pro-actively manage and respond to flood risk across Wales” in line with its new National Strategy for Flood and Coastal Erosion Risk Management.

Man who forgot lockdown, drove from London to Derbyshire

A man who drove from London to Derbyshire to collect a wardrobe claimed he had “forgotten about lockdown”, police said.

Officers came across a van in the village of Repton on Saturday evening.

They approached the driver, who told them he had come from London to pick up some second-hand furniture and admitted the trip was not essential.

Derbyshire Police handed him a £200 fine for breaking lockdown rules.

Boys, 15, charged after car stolen with two young children inside

Two teenage boys have been charged with kidnap after a car was stolen in Birmingham with the owner’s two children inside, police have said.

West Midlands Police was contacted on Saturday shortly before 17:00 GMT by the children’s “distraught” father.

He reported his car had been stolen with his sons – aged two and four – still inside.

Two boys, from Birmingham, who cannot be named for legal reasons, have been remanded in custody.

They are due to appear at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on Monday morning.

As well as the two kidnap charges, both boys face charges of aggravated theft of a motor vehicle.

One of the teens has also been charged with dangerous driving, driving without a licence and driving without insurance.

“Thankfully both children were found safe and well inside the car and reunited with their parents at the roadside a short time later,” West Midlands Police said.

Fire crews tackle significant Denton warehouse blaze

Fire crews are tackling a “significant blaze” at a three-storey warehouse near two motorways.

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service said about 125 firefighters, 25 engines and three aerial appliances were dealing with the fire on Holland Street in Denton, Greater Manchester.

The fire was reported at about 13:15 GMT, with motorists seeing large plumes of smoke over the nearby M60 and M67.

Greater Manchester Police said it had “declared a major incident”.

Supt Natalie Dixon said “an evacuation procedure” was in place to “ensure all those in the vicinity of the fire are kept safe”.

“All those required to evacuate will be contacted by police and we ask that no-one leaves their house unless otherwise instructed.”

The M67 has been shut in both directions between Junction 2 (A57) near Kingston and the M60 at Junction 24 Denton Island.

Local bus services have also been affected.

Area Manager Stewart Forshaw, who is in charge of the emergency response, said the “first crews on scene were met with a well-developed fire and more support was quickly mobilised to deal with the blaze”.

“The incident is causing a large smoke plume that is affecting the local community and can be seen across the county,” he said.

“I would ask those who are affected by the smoke to keep their doors and windows closed and to avoid the area.”

He added that it was likely the firefighters would be on site “throughout the evening and into tomorrow as we continue to deal with this incident”.

Brexit: Unionist parties to join NI Protocol legal challenge

Northern Ireland’s major unionist parties will be part of a legal bid to challenge the NI Protocol.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Ulster Unionists (UUP) and Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) have said they are supporting judicial review proceedings.

Former MEP Ben Habib and Labour MP Kate Hoey are also backing it.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said they were committed to challenging the NI Protocol “in the courts, in Parliament, in Stormont and in Brussels”.

She added that the judicial review proceedings will challenge the NI Protocol’s “compatibility with the Act of Union 1800, the Northern Ireland Act of 1998 and the Belfast Agreement”.

The Northern Ireland Protocol is the part of the Brexit deal which prevents a hardening of the land border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

It does that by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods.

That has created a new trade border with Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

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

The DUP said Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster will be named parties in the proceedings along with deputy leader Nigel Dodds, Westminster leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and Sammy Wilson, the party’s Westminster chief whip.

Mrs Foster said Mr Habib, Mrs Hoey and Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister were so far “committed to these proceedings but we expect others to also join this path”.

She said the protocol “drove a coach and horses” through both the Act of Union and the Belfast Agreement, also known as the Good Friday Agreement.

“We are following our five-point plan of opposition to the protocol and will challenge its imposition in the courts, in Parliament, in Stormont and in Brussels,” she added.

“The views of unionists will not be side-lined nor our concerns silenced.”

UUP leader Steve Aiken said that “testing the NI Protocol in the courts is a fair and legitimate thing to do”.

He added that the actions that brought the protocol into force “fundamentally undermine the principle of consent and laid out in the Belfast Agreement”.

“The absurdities of the protocol affect everyone in Northern Ireland; every legitimate action needs to be taken to deal with this very unequal, disproportionate and divisive treaty,” he added.

TUV leader Jim Allister said he welcomed the planned judicial review challenge and that he hoped “all strands of unionism will join in this necessary effort”.

He said that “without Ben Habib and Baroness Hoey we would not be at this point”.

However, he said that it was “not a substitute or alternative to sustained and effective political action against the protocol”.

The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), who campaigned against Brexit and have said parties must work together to make the protocol work, described the legal action as “ill-judged”.

“There will be few with sympathy for the argument that the protocol, which prevents a hard border in Ireland and guarantees dual market access for local businesses, breaches the Good Friday Agreement,” said SDLP leader Colum Eastwood.

“That notion is stretched even further when the argument is made by a party that opposed the agreement in the first place.

“I’m sure the courts will decide what we all, including the DUP, already know. The protocol is necessary because of the hard Brexit that they supported.”

He added that political leaders should “come together and make the most of the arrangements”.

Four teenagers hurt after police chase ends in crash at St Madoes

Two 14-year-old girls have been seriously injured in a car crash following a police pursuit in Perthshire.

Two others who were in the vehicles – boys aged 14 and 16 – have been treated for minor injuries.

They were travelling in an orange Vauxhall Corsa which crashed on the A90 near St Madoes on Saturday afternoon.

It was being pursued by police officers after failing to stop for them on Edinburgh Road in Perth at about 13:55.

Police Scotland said on Saturday that none of the force’s vehicles were involved in the crash.

All four occupants of the Corsa were taken to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee for treatment.

Officers have appealed for dashcam footage to help with their inquiries into the incident.

Sgt Michelle Burns said: “Our inquiries into this incident are ongoing and we would urge anyone who may have seen the Vauxhall Corsa or the police vehicles in Perth, on the A912 through Bridge of Earn or on the A90 to come forward.

“We would be particularly keen to speak to anyone with dashcam footage.”

The northbound A90 was closed for several hours before reopening at 23:00 following an investigation.

South Tyneside councillor censured for nasty excuse for a woman comment

A councillor who called a colleague a “nasty vindictive little excuse for a woman” on social media has been barred from committee meetings temporarily.

South Tyneside’s John Robertson claimed he was not acting in his “official capacity” when he posted comments about Geraldine Kilgour and so was not breaking local authority rules.

The council’s standards committee disagreed and issued a formal censure.

Speaking after, Mr Robertson said the hearing had been a “kangaroo court”.

The Local Democracy Reporting Service said the committee spent almost three hours hearing evidence and arguments before deliberating on the case.

Grahame Wright, the standards committee’s independent chairman, said the panel had rejected accusations of “bias and predetermination” in the process.

He said “on the balance of probabilities”, the committee upheld that “in making the post complained of, it breached the conduct code” as the independent councillor had failed to treat his Labour colleague “with respect”.

He added that Mr Robertson had “bullied Ms Kilgour” and in publishing the posts, had “brought the council into disrepute and his office as an elected member of the council into disrepute”.

The independent councillor was also temporarily barred from attending the Jarrow and Boldon Community Area Forum for three months.

Exeter house fire: Girl, 4, and couple die

A four-year-old girl and a couple have died in a house fire, police have said.

The girl, a man, 29, and a woman, 28, died following the fire in Clayton Road, Exeter.

Three other children who were in the house, two boys aged four and nine and a seven-year-old girl, are in a stable condition in hospital said officers.

Police called it a “deeply upsetting” and “tragic incident” and said no-one was being sought in connection with the blaze.

Police said the blaze was extinguished by fire fighters at around 05:30 GMT.

Ch Supt Dan Evans said the incident would cause “great distress to the community, particularly to those who knew the family”.

“It is a huge tragedy for all involved,” he said.

He added police were working to understand the cause of the blaze.

The children who survived would be moved to Bristol Children’s Hospital for treatment, he said.

The couple and the children were “all related” but the force said no further details were available.

The force is supporting the victims’ next of kin.

Road closures in the area would remain in place for the next couple of days.

Call for inquiry into Carrie Symonds influence in No 10

A conservative think tank has called for an independent inquiry into Boris Johnson’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, and her “possible influence” in government.

The Bow Group said No 10 needed to clarify her position after reports in the media that she was “taking a central role in running the country”.

Ms Symonds used to be the Conservative Party’s head of communications, but no longer holds an official role.

The BBC has contacted No 10 and the Conservative Party for a response.

Ms Symonds’ first job in politics was working for the then-Tory MP and now peer, Lord Zac Goldsmith.

In 2010, she began working as a press officer for the Conservative Party and two years later worked on Mr Johnson’s successful campaign to be re-elected mayor in London.

After rising through the ranks, she left her role as head of communications for the party in 2018, and the next year she was linked with Mr Johnson romantically.

The pair announced their engagement in February 2020 and they live together in Downing Street with their son Wilfred, who was born in April last year.

Ms Symonds has no official role, either in the party or the government.

However, media reports have claimed she advises the PM on an informal basis – from issues of animal welfare through to who to appoint in key roles – and that she clashed with his former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings.

The Bow Group – which describes itself as “Britain’s oldest conservative think-tank” and counts Tory MPs and peers among its members – has called for an independent inquiry and review into Ms Symonds’ “powers over government”.

The group’s chairman, Ben Harris-Quinney, said: “She currently holds no official role in the Conservative Party or the government, yet consistent reports in the press suggest that Ms Symonds is taking a central role in running the country, without any authority or accountability to do so.

“She has not been elected, she has not been appointed, she holds no legal or constitutional powers to make decisions relating to who should hold government posts, to be party to privileged information, or to set the policy direction of the country.

“It is therefore urgent that a review and inquiry takes place to determine what Ms Symonds’ role in the governing of the United Kingdom is, and has been to date.”

Mr Harris-Quinney said failing to clarify her position “potentially has huge hazards for the government, the Conservative Party, and the nation”.

He added: “The public take a very dim view of cronyism, democracy in Britain is and must always be sacred, and no one should be involved in running our country without accountability to the people.”

But businesswoman and wife of a former prime minister, Samantha Cameron, has previously said the suggestion Ms Symonds has undue influence over her partner is sexist.

Last month, she told BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour: “It could happen if you were a husband or wife potentially, but I think that it is very unfair to pick her out as having some kind of undue influence”.

“In my view, your husband or partner is the prime minister, they’re quite able to take decisions themselves, they have a huge team of advisors.

“And so the idea that it’s the wife, you’re somehow, you know, influencing them over and above what they think or what advice they’re getting from their team, I think it’s kind of demeaning, really, for the prime minister.”

Lloyds seeks archivist to investigate slave trade links

Insurance market Lloyd’s of London is seeking an archivist who would examine its artefacts for historical links to the slave trade.

It has posted an advert for an expert to investigate its collection of more than 3,000 items, including paintings, swords and furniture.

It is not yet clear what will happen to the objects following the research.

Last June, Lloyd’s apologised for its “shameful” role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Lloyd’s, which was founded in 1688, insured slave ships. It is often lauded as the world’s leading insurance market, focusing on specialist areas, such as marine, energy and political risk.

The new recruit to the Lloyd’s archives will carry out research “to ascertain what artefacts and objects link to African and Caribbean history (specifically slavery and abolition)”, according to the job advert.

For example, they will look into the swords and pieces of silverware the Lloyd’s Patriotic Fund gave out as prizes to those in the military who “went above the call of duty” and have since been returned to its collections.

A spokeswoman for Lloyd’s of London said: “As society evolves, it is right and proper for us to take a look at those symbols and artefacts and make a decision as to whether or not what they stand for reflects where we are.

“Of course, it is important to fully understand history, but we must do so in a way that reflects changing sentiments and societal views as we more fully understand that history – the good, and the bad.”

After racial justice protests swept across the United States in 2020 following the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody, pressure on firms to address links to slavery and tackle racial inequality has intensified.

In a statement in June 2020, Lloyd’s said: “There are some aspects of our history that we are not proud of.

“In particular, we are sorry for the role played by the Lloyd’s market in the 18th and 19th Century slave trade.”

“This was an appalling and shameful period of English history, as well as our own, and we condemn the indefensible wrongdoing that occurred during this period.”

At the time, the centuries-old insurance market also committed to providing financial support to charities and organisations promoting opportunity and inclusion for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups.

It was one of a number of firms identified in an investigation by the Telegraph newspaper to have historical links to the slave trade.

Pub chain Greene King, for example, apologised after it was found that one of its founders owned a number of plantations in the Caribbean.

The company said it would make a “substantial investment to benefit the BAME community”, after consulting with its staff on how this money can best be used.