Boris Johnsons flat: Top official to review funding of revamp

Boris Johnson has said any donations linked to the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat will be declared “in due course”.

The prime minister is under pressure to explain how works on the official residence were paid for, following claims from his former top adviser.

Dominic Cummings has alleged the PM once planned to have donors “secretly pay” for the revamp.

The defence secretary has said Mr Johnson “personally paid the bill”.

Speaking earlier, Ben Wallace added that Mr Johnson had covered the costs “from his own money” and complied with the rules “at all times”.

Labour has called on the Electoral Commission, which regulates political donations in the UK, to launch a formal investigation.

The watchdog has said it is talking to the Conservative Party about whether the spending on the flat falls within its remit.

The claims about the flat are contained in a blog posted by Mr Cummings on Friday, his first since leaving his role in No 10. In the blog he also:

Asked on Monday whether he had ever discussed using donations to pay for refurbishments, Mr Johnson replied: “If there’s anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will of course be made in due course.”

The UK’s most senior civil servant, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, is facing questions from MPs about Mr Cummings’s allegations.

Appearing before a Commons committee this afternoon Mr Case said the inquiry into the leak of plans for a second lockdown is “ongoing”.

Downing Street says the prime minister has “never interfered in a government leak inquiry”.

Like several of his recent predecessors, the PM is living in the flat above No 11 Downing Street, which is larger than the one above No 10.

Asked whether a loan had initially covered the refurbishment costs, Mr Wallace told BBC Breakfast: “The prime minister paid the money, from his own money”.

He said this came “on top of” public money from the annual £30,000 taxpayer grant available to all prime ministers for the upkeep of their accommodation.

In a written statement on Friday, the government said no money from this grant was spent in the 2019/20 financial year. Figures for this year are expected to be published in the summer.

“At all times the prime minister has complied with the rules. He’s paid for it out of his own money, ” he said.

Mr Wallace also dismissed as “nonsense” a newspaper report that Mr Johnson said he would rather see “bodies piled high in their thousands” than order a third national lockdown.

The Daily Mail quoted sources saying the remark came after the PM reluctantly imposed a lockdown in England in November. Downing Street has strongly denied he made the comment.

Asked about the claims, Mr Wallace said: “I’ve known the prime minister for many years, that is not the prime minister I know. That is just nonsense.”

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer urged a “full and transparent investigation” into the allegations about the Downing Street flat, arguing they risked undermining trust in government.

“It’s all very well the prime minister saying now ‘I paid for it’, the critical question was: what was the original arrangement – and why is it so complicated?”

“If there’s a straightforward answer, well give it. And if there isn’t, then there are very serious questions to be asked,” he added.

A No 10 spokesperson said: “At all times, the government and ministers have acted in accordance with the appropriate codes of conduct and electoral law.”

Donations and loans to political parties of more than £7,500 must be reported to the Electoral Commission.

The Conservative Party has previously said that all “reportable donations” are “correctly declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them and comply fully with the law”.

The party said “gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity” are declared in government transparency returns.

Post office scandal: Ex-boss quits director jobs after scandal

The former chief executive of the Post Office has quit her roles on the boards of Morrisons and Dunelm following the IT scandal which led to the wrongful convictions of former postmasters.

Morrisons announced Paula Vennells would leave after serving as a non-executive director since 2016.

She is relinquishing her non-executive position at home furnishing retailer Dunelm with immediate effect.

She is also stopping her duties as an ordained Church of England minister.

Ms Vennells said: “It is obvious that my involvement with the Post Office has become a distraction from the good work undertaken by the boards I serve.

“I have therefore stepped down with immediate effect from all of my board positions.”

Ms Vennells was chief executive of the Post Office between 2012 and 2019.

On Friday, 39 former Post Office workers saw their criminal convictions overturned by the Court of Appeal.

The convictions had been based on the flawed software system Horizon, which showed shortfalls in the sub-postmasters’ accounts where they did not exist. The IT system was installed in 1999 under former chief executive John Roberts.

Other appeals are expected to follow in what is the most widespread miscarriage of justice in the UK’s history.

The government has launched an inquiry into the prosecution of the former Post Office workers.

Ms Vennells said: “I am truly sorry for the suffering caused to the 39 sub-postmasters as a result of their convictions which were overturned last week.”

Ms Vennells said she now intended “to focus fully on working with the ongoing government inquiry to ensure the affected sub-postmasters and wider public get the answers they deserve”.

Dunelm’s chairman Andy Harrison said: “We respect Paula’s decision to step down from the board and I would like to thank her for the positive contribution she has made to the business since her appointment in September 2019.”

The chairman of Morrisons, Andrew Higginson, said: “Paula has been an insightful, effective and hardworking non-executive director, and, on behalf of the Board, I want to thank her for her significant contribution over the last five years.”

More than 700 people were wrongly convicted of offences of theft, fraud and false accounting, in prosecutions between 2000 and 2014, and some of them were imprisoned.

Questions had been raised about the behaviour of Post Office directors during this time, and Ms Vennells, 62, faced calls to have her bonuses clawed back and be stripped of her CBE title, which had been given for “services to the Post Office and to charity”.

Jo Hamilton, one of the 39 former Post Office workers whose convictions were quashed on Friday, said Ms Vennells’ role at Morrisons and Dunelm was “untenable and I don’t think she could stay”.

She added that she would now consider shopping at the retailers after boycotting both when Ms Vennells joined their boards. Even during the pandemic when many supermarket online delivery slots were booked up, Ms Hamilton said “I’d rather starve to death” than shop at Morrisons.

In a statement issued on Sunday evening, Ms Vennells, an associate Anglican minister in Bromham, Oakley and Stagsden, Bedfordshire, said she would be stepping back from her “regular parochial duties”.

Ms Vennells said: “It is obvious that my involvement with the Post Office has become a distraction from the good work undertaken in the Diocese of St Albans and in the parishes I serve.

“I have therefore stepped back with immediate effect from regular parish ministry.”

For the sub-postmasters and postmistresses who faced prison, criminal convictions and financial ruin after being wrongly pursued by the Post Office, one of the hardest elements has been confronting a faceless institution.

But the name that has been repeated to me again and again by victims I’ve spoken to is that of Paula Vennells.

Although the computer problems began before her tenure as chief executive, under her leadership, the glitches within the system became widely reported on.

But she insisted the system was “robust”, defending the technology and her organisation’s actions to a committee of MPs.

As chief executive, she chose to fight lengthy and expensive legal battles against sub-postmasters seeking redress.

When more than 500 sub-postmasters won a civil court case against the Post Office in December 2020, the judge said that under her leadership the actions of the Post Office had been “both cruel and incompetent”.

She received a CBE for “services to the Post Office” in 2019.

Since Ms Vennells stepped down as boss, there has been a dramatic shift in tone from the Post Office. It did not contest the vast majority of individuals who managed to overturn their convictions in the Court of Appeal last week. It has issued an apology and is already mentioning compensation.

The Bishop of St Albans, the Right Reverend Dr Alan Smith, said that his father had been a sub-postmaster, adding: ” I express my distress at the miscarriage of justice that so many sub-postmasters have suffered.”

He said: “I am aware that there are still legal processes and inquiries to take place during which it is right that Ms Vennells stands back from public ministry.”

Following the legal decision on Friday, Ms Vennells said she was “deeply saddened” by the sub-postmasters’ accounts. She said she would cooperate with the government inquiry “as I did with last year’s select committee inquiry”.

The Horizon IT system, installed by the Post Office in branches across the UK, was flawed from the start.

At the Court of Appeal on Friday, Lord Justice Holroyde said the Post Office “knew there were serious issues” and had a “clear duty to investigate”.

But the Post Office “consistently asserted that Horizon was robust and reliable” and “effectively steamrolled over any sub-postmaster who sought to challenge its accuracy”.

Those affected have long called for a judge-led, full, public inquiry, rather than the government’s own inquiry which is set to report in the summer.

The Criminal Cases Review Commission, which investigates potential miscarriages of justice, is reviewing another 22 cases.

There were more than 700 prosecutions based on Horizon evidence. The commission and the Post Office are asking anyone else who believes their conviction to be unsafe to come forward.

Ex-Serco bosses cleared after fraud case collapses

Two former executives at the private security company Serco have been cleared of concealing £12m in profits from electronically tagging criminals.

Nicholas Woods and Simon Marshall were charged with defrauding the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) between 2011 and 2013.

A judge ordered the acquittals because of problems with the disclosure of documents to defence lawyers.

Subsidiary firm Serco Geografix was fined £19.2m in 2019 for hiding profits.

Mr Woods, 51, of Ickford, Buckinghamshire, is the former finance director of Serco Home Affairs while Mr Marshall, 59, of Ascot, Berkshire, is a former operations director of field services within Serco.

Their trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court began in March, after the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) launched an investigation in 2013 into Serco’s government contracts.

Mrs Justice Tipples ordered the pair’s acquittal on a joint fraud charge and also cleared Mr Marshall of two further counts of fraud.

She said the SFO took the view that issues identified had “undermined the process of disclosure in this case to the extent that the trial cannot safely and fairly proceed”.

Mr Woods’ solicitor, Andrew Katzen, said the SFO’s decision to drop the case was a “vindication” of his client.

He added: “The fact that it has done this after an eight-year-long criminal investigation and three weeks into a trial should be a matter of profound concern to everyone concerned with justice.”

In 2019, Serco Geografix was fined £19.2m in relation to the MoJ contracts as part of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA).

Mr Katzen said: “In this case – just as in other similar recent failed fraud prosecutions – the SFO signed a DPA with Serco in which the company, in return for avoiding corporate prosecution, admitted wrongdoing and co-operated with the investigation.

“It is hard to avoid the conclusion that, once again, the narrative created by the DPA drove this investigation, and did so in defiance of the facts.”

Facebook v Apple: The ad tracking row heats up

A new feature is being introduced to iPhones and iPads this week which is causing a huge rift between Apple and Facebook.

It will allow device users to say no to having their data collected by apps.

Facebook has been put in a spin by this because user data – and the advertising it can generate – is what makes the company so profitable. This update could deal a severe blow to its business model.

The row focuses on a unique device identifier on every iPhone and iPad, called the IDFA (identifier for advertisers). Companies which sell mobile ads, including Facebook, use this IDFA to both target ads and estimate their effectiveness.

The IDFA can also be paired with other tech, such as Facebook’s tracking pixels or tracking cookies, which follow users around the web, to learn even more about you.

But when iOS 14.5 comes out this week, the new App Tracking Transparency feature will be on by default. It will force app developers to explicitly ask for permission from users to use this IDFA.

Surveys suggest, and Facebook acknowledges, that up to 80% will say no.

If you want to know how much Facebook already tracks you on other sites and apps, there’s a helpful tool on Facebook.

Apple has little interest in its customers’ data because it makes money from selling devices and in-app purchases, rather than from advertising. Plus it has always marketed itself as a privacy-first company.

Back in 2010, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs acknowledged that some people didn’t care about how much data they shared, but said they should always be informed of how it was being used.

“Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain English and repeatedly… ask them, ask them every time,” he said.

More recently, in what many saw as a thinly-veiled reference to Facebook, current chief executive Tim Cook said: “If a business is built on misleading users, on data exploitation, on choices that are no choices at all, it does not deserve our praise. It deserves reform.”

Apple is baking privacy into its systems. Its browser Safari already blocks third-party cookies by default, and last year Apple forced app providers in iOS to spell out in the App Store listings what data they collect.

Facebook has warned that the app update could cut the money earned through its ad network by half, hitting small businesses the hardest.

And it argues that sharing data with advertisers is key to giving users “better experiences”.

It also says that Apple is being hypocritical, because it will force businesses to turn to subscriptions and other in-app payments for revenue, from which Apple takes a cut.

As it often does when under pressure, Facebook has gone on a PR offensive. It took out adverts in national newspapers in December, featuring small businesses talking about how they only survived the pandemic thanks to targeted ads.

In its latest blog, Facebook appeared to accept the changes and promised “new advertiser experiences and measurement protocols”. It admitted that the ways digital advertisers collect and use information needed to “evolve” to one that will rely on “less data”.

In recent years, governments and regulators have become increasingly concerned about just how big and complex the ecosystem around websites, apps and social media companies has become.

Here are some points to consider:

Most think that change is coming, even without the iOS update.

Technology consultant Max Kalmykov wrote in Medium that advertisers had to “prepare for the next, privacy-focused era of digital advertising”.

This may include contextual ads, such as fashion-related ads appearing only on websites about fashion rather than randomly following people across the web.

Ad placements on podcasts or with influencers would be another non-intrusive way of advertising, he suggested.

Meanwhile, Apple says that it supports the ad industry, and has introduced new free tools that let advertisers know how successful a campaign has been, without revealing individual users’ identities.

If you don’t have a unique number attached to a device, it doesn’t mean that you can’t be tracked.

Device fingerprinting combines certain attributes of a device – such as the operating system it uses, the type and version of web browser and the device’s IP address to identify it uniquely. It is an imperfect art, but one that is gaining traction in the advertising world.

The Federated Learning of Cohorts (FLoC) may sound like something from a fantasy novel, but actually it is an idea from Google about how to continue tracking people in a privacy-friendly way.

The idea is that a browser enabled with FLoC would collect information about browsing habits and assign users to a group, or flock, with similar browsing histories. Each will share an ID which will indicate their interests to advertisers.

Mozilla, Firefox and others aren’t keen on the scheme, according to The Verge, while privacy advocates Electronic Frontiers Foundation said it was a “terrible idea”, suggesting Google should ensure that browsers “work for users, not for advertisers”.

Facebook and Google failed to remove scam adverts

Facebook and Google failed to remove online scam adverts after fraud victims reported them, according to consumer watchdog Which?

Google had failed to remove 34% of the scam adverts reported to it, compared with 26% at Facebook, the study indicated.

Both companies said they removed fraudulent adverts, which are banned on their platforms.

But Which? said a more proactive approach was needed.

The report also found:

On Facebook, the biggest reason people did not report the scam was they doubted anything would be done.

On Google, it was because the victim did not know how to report the scam. Which? researchers said Google’s reporting process was complex and unclear.

“The combination of inaction from online platforms when scam ads are reported, low reporting levels by scam victims and the ease with which advertisers can post new fraudulent adverts even after the original ad has been removed suggests that online platforms need to take a far more proactive approach to prevent fraudulent content from reaching potential victims in the first place,” Which? said.

And it has launched a free scam-alert service to warn consumers of the latest tactics used by fraudsters.

“There is no doubt that tech giants, regulators and the government need to go to greater lengths to prevent scams from flourishing,” Adam French, consumer rights expert at Which?, said.

“Online platforms must be given a legal responsibility to identify, remove and prevent fake and fraudulent content on their sites… and the government needs to act now.”

A Facebook representative said: “Fraudulent activity is not allowed on Facebook and we have taken action on a number of pages reported to us by Which?”

Google, meanwhile, said it had removed or blocked more than 3.1 billion ads for violating policies.

“We’re constantly reviewing ads, sites and accounts to ensure they comply with our policies,” the company added.

“We have strict policies that govern the kinds of ads that we allow to run on our platform.

“We enforce those policies vigorously -, and if we find ads that are in violation, we remove them.

“We utilise a mix of automated systems and human review to enforce our policies.”

There are so many rules governing what you can advertise on radio, television and in print that by comparison the internet is a Wild West.

Facebook and Google do have rules about what can and cannot be advertised on their platforms – but they are businesses of scale and it would cost them money to check every ad before it goes live.

So they don’t bother.

Reactive moderation is a game of whack-a-mole that leaves consumers vulnerable to scams on platforms they think are trustworthy.

On top of that, a third of the victims surveyed by Which? said they did not bother reporting scam ads because they thought Facebook would not remove them.

And they are right to be sceptical.

On Facebook and Instagram, one company has been using videos and photos of me to sell a face mask it claims I am modelling – but that is impossible because I made the face mask myself.

Facebook lets you report an ad as “misleading” but does not allow you to explain why – and since the company in question is selling some sort of face mask, its moderators have let the ad stay up.

Google, meanwhile, does not let you know whether it has taken any action on your report – and its ads remain littered with companies that break the search giant’s own rules.

Little wonder consumer groups are now asking for the technology giants to face regulation.

Amazon must let workers join unions without fear

Amazon workers in the UK and Ireland should be allowed to talk with and form unions “without fear”, the Unite union says.

It said the shopping giant, which has faced allegations of poor working conditions, often tried to suppress union organising at its warehouses.

No UK Amazon warehouses are unionised, but by law, workers could set one up.

Amazon said it respected its employees’ right to “join, form or not to join a labour union” of their choice.

Unite’s call comes after workers in Alabama in the US voted against forming that country’s first unionised Amazon warehouse.

Amazon – which would have had to negotiate on work rules and pay, had it lost – said the union did not represent the views of most staff.

However, the RWDSU union, which organised the Alabama effort, accused Amazon of illegally interfering in the vote and lying about the implications of unionisation in mandatory staff meetings.

Amazon denies the claims, but did hire anti-trade union consultants before the ballot.

Unite urged the shopping giant to sign a “neutrality declaration”, guaranteeing UK and Irish workers it would not try to stop union organising.

It noted that in September 2020, Amazon had posted two job adverts for intelligence analysts to track labour “organising threats” in the US. The ads were later withdrawn.

It also flagged Spanish media reports which claimed Amazon had used private detectives to spy on a strike at a warehouse near Barcelona on Black Friday in 2019. At the time, the shopping firm called the claims “irresponsible and incorrect”.

In a letter to Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, Unite executive officer Sharon Graham wrote: “Although we do have members in Amazon, workers in your company are not currently free to join a union without fear and without obstruction and propaganda being deployed against them.

“So I am asking you to sign up to and abide by the declaration attached, which guarantees British and Irish workers the freedom to talk with and join unions without fear of retribution.”

Amazon had its most lucrative year ever in 2020, helped by a surge in online shopping during the pandemic. But it also faced allegations over poor working conditions, as well strikes at warehouses in the US, Italy and Germany.

The shopping giant says it offers workers competitive salaries and benefits and created 10,000 permanent jobs in the UK last year, taking its workforce to 40,000.

Amazon told the BBC it respected the right of its staff to be in a union.

A spokesman added: “Across Amazon, including in our fulfilment centres, we place enormous value on having daily conversations with each associate and work to make sure direct engagement with our employees is a strong part of our work culture.

“The fact is, we already offer excellent pay, excellent benefits and excellent opportunities for career growth, all while working in a safe, modern work environment. The unions know this.”

Catalytic converters: Demand for precious metals drives surge in thefts

Catalytic converter thefts have surged in lockdown amid a spike in the value of precious metals, research shows.

The RAC and insurer Ageas found the crime now accounts for three-in-10 thefts from private vehicles in the UK, up from two-in-10 before the pandemic.

Catalytic converters contain metals such as platinum and rhodium which fetch high prices on the black market.

When values of these metals go up it usually leads to a spate of thefts, the RAC and Ageas said.

They pointed out that prices of rhodium hit record highs earlier this year, having climbed more than 200% since March 2020.

The research compared thefts during the first three months of the year, compared with the period between October and December 2019.

RAC spokesman Simon Williams said: “Drivers are often oblivious of their vehicle’s catalytic converter being stolen. Our patrols are often called to attend cars that have suddenly become excessively noisy.

“On investigation it’s very often the case that the car’s catalytic converter has been stolen.”

According to the research, most thefts happen while cars are parked at home, either on the driveway or the road.

But converters have occasionally been stolen in supermarket car parks while the driver is shopping, the research said.

Mr Williams recommended motorists take extra precautions, parking their vehicle in well-lit residential locations, or ideally a garage.

“When away from home, look for car parks that have security patrols and are covered by CCTV,” he said.

Because thieves slide under the car to get at the catalytic converters, parking against a wall can also help.

Catalytic converters form part of a car’s exhaust system. They contain a honeycomb coated with precious metals such as platinum, palladium and rhodium which help to reduce and filter harmful gases from the vehicles’ exhaust systems.

While converters are just one component of a car, their theft can often result in a driver’s car being written off.

Ronnie Wood: Rolling Stones guitarist given all-clear after second cancer diagnosis

Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood says he has been given the all-clear after being diagnosed with cancer during the lockdown.

The 73-year-old had small-cell cancer, which typically affects the lungs.

It follows a successful fight against his first lung cancer diagnosis in 2017.

Wood told The Sun newspaper: “I’ve had cancer two different ways now” and credited a “higher power” for the positive outcome.

“All I can do is stay positive in my attitude, be strong and fight it, and the rest is up to my higher power,” he said. “I came through with the all-clear.”

The veteran rocker’s spiritual outlook reflects a concept of control and acceptance encouraged by Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.

Wood, a founding member of The Faces and the Jeff Beck Group, became known for his heavy partying and substance abuse, particularly after joining The Rolling Stones in 1975.

But he said the lessons learnt during numerous stints in rehab equipped him to fight the disease.

“I’m going through a lot of problems now, but throughout my recovery, you have to let it go. And when you hand the outcome over to your higher power, that is a magic thing,” the guitarist told the paper.

“That brings you back to the [AA and NA’s] Serenity Prayer: ‘Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change’. That’s incredible. What will be will be, it’s nothing to do with me.”

The musician, a keen artist, said working on paintings of his wife Sally Humphries and looking after their four-year-old twin daughters Gracie Jane and Alice Rose, also helped to keep him strong.

Discussing his 2017 lung cancer diagnosis, Wood previously told the Daily Mail that he had wondered whether it was “time to say goodbye” to his family.

The rocker underwent a week of tests and said if the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes “it would have been all over for me”.

Instead, he needed a five-hour operation to have part of his lung removed before first confirming he was cancer-free in 2018.

The small-cell cancer Wood faced in lockdown commonly forms in the lung and can quickly spread to other areas.

But after being given the all-clear once again, he said he feels he’s been given “a second chance” and is now focused on returning to the stage with The Rolling Stones.

He said: “I am grateful every day for the continuance of this positive attitude. Everybody gets to fight in their own way, live their lives and survive.”

Coronation Street: New storyline inspired by murdered girl

The mother of a woman who was murdered for dressing as a goth said it means “a huge amount” to work with Coronation Street in a storyline on hate crime.

Sophie Lancaster, 20, died in hospital 13 days after an unprovoked attack in a park in Bacup, Lancashire, in 2007.

The ITV soap will tackle the issue when characters Nina Lucas and Seb Franklin are subjected to an unprovoked violent attack.

The “incredibly hard-hitting” storyline will air next month.

Ms Lancaster’s mother Sylvia set up the Sophie Lancaster Foundation in her daughter’s memory to focus on creating respect for, and understanding of, subcultures.

She said: “I know first-hand the abuse, harassment and violence that alternative people suffer.

“Hate crime is usually directed at already stigmatised and minority groups and Sophie was assaulted three times before that final, sustained and brutal attack that took her life – but she never reported the earlier assaults.

“Coronation Street covering this issue means such a huge amount to me.

“We want alternative people to know that they shouldn’t be putting up with this prejudice and intolerance, and they should report it.”

Producer Iain MacLeod said: “This incredibly hard-hitting storyline, which centres on a senseless act of violence, will draw in characters from all corners of our narrative universe and will, we hope, leave the audience with a clear message.

“Everyone, regardless of how they look, how they dress or any aspect of how they live their life, should be treated with tolerance and respect.”

Oscars 2021: 13 major red carpet looks from the Academy Awards

Most awards ceremonies have gone without red carpets in the last year, for the quite understandable reason that there would be no guests to walk down them.

But then came Sunday’s Oscars – the pinnacle of awards season; the biggest night in the entertainment calendar – where nominees were encouraged to turn up in person if they could, rather than dial in virtually.

The resulting red carpet gave us elegance, flamboyance, and an explosion of colour. Here are 13 of the biggest and best looks from the 93rd Academy Awards.

Regina King is no stranger to the Oscars, having won best supporting actress two years ago for her performance in If Beale Street Could Talk.

This year, she returned to the Academy Awards not as an actress, but as the director of One Night In Miami, which had three nominations.

The film may have gone home empty-handed, but in the absence of a host, King was chosen to open the ceremony. She welcomed viewers and went on to present the first two categories for best original and adapted screenplay.

On the red carpet, King wore a custom, pale-blue Louis Vuitton gown with bedazzled pleating and bold 1980s-style shoulders.

Sound of Metal star Paul Raci was in high spirits as he hit the red carpet with his wife Liz Hanley Raci, who also doubles up as the 73-year-old actor’s agent.

“My wife has been my agent for 20 years now and she’s been in there fighting for me,” the supporting actor nominee told People magazine. “My wife Liz, she’ll be there with me and she’s my heart.”

Raised as the hearing son of two deaf parents, Raci is fluent in sign language and he both spoke and signed his answers as he talked to reporters on the red carpet.

British director Emerald Fennell famously shot Promising Young Woman while she was seven months pregnant. The movie, which scored five Oscar nominations, was filmed over just 23 days back in 2019.

Two years on, Fennell found herself walking the red carpet at Sunday’s Academy Awards – this time pregnant with her second child.

She looked beautiful in a voluminous floral Gucci gown, which was pink in places, but mostly green (perhaps a reference to her own first name).

Martin Desmond Roe and Travon Free won best live action short for their film Two Distant Strangers. Their stylish outfits on the red carpet came complete with a touching and subtle tribute to the late Kobe Bryant.

The basketball player and his daughter Gianna were two of the nine people who died in a tragic helicopter crash last January. Gianna Bryant, who was aged just 13, was a prodigiously talented basketball player like her father.

Roe and Free sported bejewelled Dolce & Gabbana pins with the numbers 24 and 2 – which were Bryant and his daughter’s jersey numbers.

Shortly after his death, the Los Angeles Lakers retired the number 24 as a mark of respect to the star, who won an Oscar himself in 2018 for Dear Basketball, an animated short film he wrote and narrated.

The star of Borat Subsequent Moviefilm has sussed out the easiest way to abide by the two-metre rule: wear a six-metre-wide dress.

In fact, the Louis Vuitton gown she wore featured 100 metres of of tulle – a lightweight netted material – paired with a deep V neckline adorned with diamonds.

The best supporting actress nominee looked amazing as she walked the red carpet, and frankly we’re just glad she finally had the chance to show off a more glamorous side.

Her role in Borat was the opposite – it involved everything from interviewing Rudy Giuliani in a hotel room to taking part in numerous gross-out scenes alongside Sacha Baron Cohen. If anyone earned a red carpet appearance this year, it’s Maria.

Viola Davis (centre) looked wonderful in an Alexander McQueen dress designed by Sarah Burton, while her co-nominees Andra Day (left) and Carey Mulligan (right) both opted for high-slit golden gowns, designed by Vera Wang and Valentino respectively.

We’re not sure if the pair were trying to improve their Oscars chances by dressing like one of the statuettes, or if this was one of those awkward moments where you accidentally wear the same outfit as your colleague to the office, but we applaud them either way.

Best actress was the hardest race to call this year – but the prize ultimately went to Frances McDormand for Nomadland.

The nine-year-old isn’t just one of the breakout stars of Minari, we’re going to go ahead and say he’s breakout star of the entire Academy Awards.

Kim provided one of the early viral moments of the night, when he was filmed dancing on the red carpet.

He sported a stylish Thom Browne suit featuring shorts (it’s quite hot in LA at this time of year) and a single striped sock, effortlessly showing some of his acting elders how it’s done.

The British singer was nominated in the best original song category for Hear My Voice, from The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Celeste walked the red carpet holding an anatomical red heart purse, supplied by Gucci (rather than a real human).

However, she lost out on the award to H.E.R.’s Fight For You, from Judas and the Black Messiah.

Two of the major British acting nominees – Daniel Kaluuya and Riz Ahmed – played it fairly straight with their outfits – going for razor-sharp black and navy tuxedos.

One Night In Miami star Leslie Odom Jr took a slightly more colourful approach, wearing a golden Brioni suit, complemented with Cartier jewels.

Two years ago, Glenn Close and Olivia Colman faced each other in the best actress category, with Colman ultimately winning for The Favourite. This year, they were up against each other again, for best supporting actress.

But while they might be nominated in the same category, they weren’t actually on the same continent.

Close was pictured wearing a blue Armani dress in Los Angeles, while Olivia Colman wore a long-sleeve scarlet gown at the Academy’s UK hub at London’s BFI.

(They were both beaten to the supporting actress award by Minari’s Yuh-jung Youn.)

Also on the red carpet were the stars and producers of Crip Camp, nominated for best documentary feature.

Along with Sound of Metal and Falling Through, Crip Camp was one of several nominees this year praised for their representation of disability.

Co-directors Nicole Newnham (second left) and Jim LeBrecht (centre) wore a beautiful cream gown and a custom-made navy blue Gucci ensemble respectively.

After they tweeted a picture from the Los Angeles red carpet, one user replied: “As a disabled teenager, this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

And or the first time ever, this year’s Oscars stage had a ramp, to make sure wheelchair users had no problem going up for their acceptance speech.

Best director winner Chloé Zhao was truly the queen of this year’s Academy Awards, but that didn’t mean she was planning on hogging the spotlight. Instead, she walked the red carpet with Swankie, one of the stars of her film, Nomadland.

The movie has been praised for its depiction of the nomadic lifestyle, and Charlene Swankie was one of several non-professional actors who appeared in it.

As one of last year’s winners, Laura Dern returned this year to present the best supporting actor category.

Her delightful Oscar de la Renta gown gave off three simultaneous messages:

1. Laura Dern is one of Hollywood’s best dressed women.

2. Laura Dern will not be getting cold at the after party.

3. Bjork’s swan dress from the 2001 Oscars was way more ahead-of-its-time than we realised.

.