Covid: Hospitals could be overwhelmed without new tiers – minister

Hospitals in England could become “overwhelmed” with Covid cases if MPs do not back new restrictions, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has said.

Many Tory MPs oppose the tougher tier system, which begins on 2 December.

But writing in the Times, Mr Gove said MPs – who will vote on the measures next week – need to “take responsibility for difficult decisions”.

Labour is yet to decide whether it will support the new restrictions.

It has warned, however, that areas in tier three will be stretched to “breaking point” without further financial support from the Treasury.

When England’s four-week national lockdown ends just after midnight on Wednesday, regions will be placed in one of three tiers: medium, high and very high.

In total, 99% of England will enter the highest two tiers, with tight restrictions on bars and restaurants and a ban on households mixing indoors. Only Cornwall, the Isle of Wight and Isles of Scilly will be in the lowest tier.

Some MPs say the new system imposes tight restrictions on numerous areas with low cases, and are calling instead for a more localised approach.

But Mr Gove has launched a staunch defence of the new system, saying that, unless action to slow the spread of coronavirus was taken, “the NHS would be broken” and hospitals “physically overwhelmed”.

“The tiers we had in place before the lockdown had not suppressed [Covid] sufficiently: they were neither strong enough to reduce social contact sufficiently, nor applied widely enough to contain the virus’s spread,” he wrote.

He added that, across the UK, about 16,000 beds are filled with Covid-19 patients, compared to a peak in April of almost 20,000 and a low of 740 on 11 September.

“When the country is facing such a national crisis, the truth is that all of us who have been elected to Parliament, not just ministers, must take responsibility for difficult decisions,” he said.

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith is among those questioning the government’s approach.

On Friday, he asked “what was the point of lockdown” if England ends up with tighter restrictions than it had before the four-week national restrictions came into force.

“We aren’t even waiting to learn what the effect of the lockdown has been before rushing into these changes,” he tweeted.

It came as a further 521 deaths within 28 days of a positive test were reported in the UK, bringing the total to 57,551. There were also a further 1,471 recorded hospital admissions on Friday.

Several Conservative MPs have asked to see the data the government based its decision on.

Tory MP Tobias Ellwood told the BBC’s Newsnight programme: “Here in Dorset, we entered lockdown with pretty low figures. We’re coming out of it with even lower figures.

“This last week we’ve gone down by a third. So we’re really surprised to find ourselves in tier two.”

The new coronavirus tier restrictions will mean 55 million people will be banned from mixing with other households indoors.

The tiers areas are in will be reviewed every 14 days, starting 16 December.

Differences between the new tiers include restrictions on where households can meet up:

Gyms and close-contact beauty services like hairdressers will be able to open in all tiers. People in all tiers who can work from home, should continue to do so.

Pubs in tier two can only open to serve “substantial meals”, while those in tier three can only operate as a takeaway or delivery service.

Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds will urge Chancellor Rishi Sunak to extend the Additional Restrictions Grant (ARG) in tier three areas following concerns the new rules will force some local authorities to stretch the grants further than others.

Leaders in Lancashire have written to the PM’s interim chief of staff saying it is “unfair” that areas facing four weeks of restrictions under the lockdown received the same amount as they did for seven weeks.

The one-off ARG funding equates to £20 per person in an area and is designed to help closed businesses that do not directly pay business rates, as well as those that do not have to close but are affected by restrictions.

Ms Dodds is due to tell the party’s online regional conference – Connected North West – on Saturday afternoon: “It is completely irresponsible for the government to leave tier three areas in the lurch like this again.

“The run-up to Christmas is a critical period, and local authorities are going to be stretched to breaking point trying to help.”

A Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy spokesman said “a host of other support measures” have been made available.

Surprise discovery of rare plant at Norfolk ghost pond

A rare plant has reappeared after more than a century in hiding.

The pinkish-flowered plant, known as grass-poly, was found growing on the banks of an old farmland pond in Norfolk.

The mystery species “came back from the dead” after seeds submerged in the mud were disturbed during work to restore the pond.

And scientists say conservation efforts could lead to the return of other long-forgotten botanical gems.

Carl Sayer, a professor at University College London (UCL), stumbled on the plant when he went to survey the pond at Heydon shortly after the first national lockdown ended.

Having never seen anything like it before, he quickly snapped a picture, which he sent to local botanist Dr Jo Parmenter.

She identified it as grass-poly, one of the rarest plants in the UK.

“It’s really quite beautiful,” says Prof Sayer. “We only found a handful of these plants in the pond but we’re hoping to cultivate this population and keep it going and expand it now we know it’s there.”

Dr Jo Parmenter was thrilled to see the photo of the plant. “I never ever expected to see it in Norfolk; it was quite extraordinary,” she says. “I saw a photo and straight away I thought, I know what you are.”

The last confirmed record for grass-poly (Lythrum hyssopifolia) in Norfolk dates to more than a century ago.

Elsewhere in the UK, the plant is found in a few isolated populations growing around lakes and on muddy open ground.

At Heydon, the seeds of the plant remained buried in the mud, like a “time capsule”. When willows were pulled out to restore the pond, this disturbed the soil and let in light, allowing the seeds to germinate.

“There’s no oxygen, it’s very dark, and it’s perfect for preserving seeds,” says Prof Sayer, who is part of UCL’s Pond Restoration Research Group.

The discovery shows plants believed extinct can be brought “back to life” with good conservation, he added.

Centuries ago, there were thousands of ponds in Norfolk, but many have been neglected, becoming what are known as “ghost ponds”.

There may be other populations of the plant in Norfolk that have so far been overlooked, says UCL researcher Helen Greaves.

“Could further pond restorations bring back more plants?” she asks. “Either way, finding this elegant little plant may provide an important and unexpected new focus for our Norfolk Ponds Project.”

Dr Parmenter says this has been an “amazing” year for plants, with many unusual discoveries.

She puts that down partly to the pandemic, with more people going out on local walks.

“I think it’s taught us to appreciate the things local to us, as well as the glamorous and exotic,” she says.

Follow Helen on Twitter.

German-speaking dog abandoned in Yorkshire learns English

An abandoned dog that only understood German commands has been learning English to help him find a new home, the RSPCA has said.

The one-year-old American bulldog, named Hector, was left tied to the gates at the charity’s East Ardsley branch in West Yorkshire.

Staff found he did not respond to English, so they tried other languages.

Care manager Lucynda Hodgson said it turned out he was “quite well-trained and knew several commands in German”.

“We started to introduce him to English words and used hand signals alongside verbal commands so he started to pick it up really quickly,” she said.

“He’s a very intelligent dog and is very loving.”

She said Hector was now looking for a new family, but any potential owners must be non-smokers – he appeared to have cigarette burns on his body when he was found.

Hector, who weighs 40kg (six stone), also requires a good-sized garden, she said.

More news from across Yorkshire

Is it fair for learner drivers to get points on their licence?

It is safe to say that when learning to drive, you want your journey from beginner to expert to be as smooth a ride as possible. But what happens when things go wrong?

On 3 November, Joseph Bell went through a nerve-racking rite of passage.

After a safe and assured performance the 18 year old, from Mapperley, in Nottingham, passed his driving test at the first time of asking, allowing him to gain a full licence and help out his mother with family trips.

However, the experience of learning to drive was a more hair-raising one than it otherwise might have been, thanks to a mistake he made during a driving lesson with his former instructor.

In December 2019, Joseph was with his instructor in a dual-control car when he was caught stopping over the line at traffic lights by an automatic camera.

The incident lasted seconds and there were no oncoming cars or pedestrians present.

However, Joseph was sent a letter from Nottinghamshire Police about the infraction.

Despite writing to the force to highlight the circumstances he was handed a fixed-term penalty of £100, as well as being given three points on a licence that was still only provisional.

Joseph – backed by his mother Gaynor – decided to fight the case and, with the help of barrister Bruce Stuart, took it to court where he was granted an absolute discharge.

Following the hearing, Mr Stuart said the police had shown “a complete lack of judgement” in bringing the prosecution.

But many learners would have been surprised to find that mistakes made during lessons with an instructor can count against them.

According to statistics from the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), more than 65,000 learner drivers in Britain have points on their provisional licence before passing their test.

Out of that total, 1,803 have more than 10 points – 1,588 males and 215 females.

If a driver is given six points within two years of passing, their licence will be taken away from them and they will be forced to retake the test under the New Drivers Act.

Any penalty points on a provisional licence will be carried over to a full licence after passing, so the stakes are high when learners slip up when behind the wheel.

Joseph said taking the points would have left him “driving on a knife edge”, desperately worrying about committing another minor offence and having his licence revoked.

The cost of insurance for young drivers is, many feel, already unnecessarily prohibitive and points only exacerbate that.

Joseph said the points would also have added “at least £1,000” to his insurance.

His absolute discharge, “has made it a lot more feasible and realistic to get a car. It does not look like such a pipe dream any more,” he said.

Practical driving lessons are typically done alongside experienced instructors in dual-control cars.

Ms Bell – Joseph’s mother – said punishing learner drivers when on lessons “does not seem fair in any capacity”.

“When you are in a dual-control vehicle, I cannot see the logic behind police treating them in the same way,” she said.

Mr Stuart said the legal situation is clear: instructors can only be prosecuted for aiding and abetting the driver.

In Joseph’s case, he said the fact the offence was recorded on an automatic camera affected the police response to the incident.

“They become intransigent when there is a camera involved,” he said.

“If it had been a policeman in a car, he would have pulled them over and that would have been it.”

He called for more leniency when dealing with minor road and traffic offences by learners, particularly when on lessons with professionals.

“The consequences are huge,” he said. “I don’t know what they are expecting of a learner.”

Mr Stuart, who runs a driving law website, said: “In my view if you’re on a lesson with an instructor, there should not be a prosecution – if anyone should be prosecuted it is the driving instructor.”

However Richard Martin, 56, who has been a driving instructor for six years, said if the instructor were made fully culpable, problems would arise when students did not listen.

“There is an inherent danger in saying it should be the ADI’s [approved driving instructor’s] responsibility as you are then taking the responsibility away from the learner,” he said.

Mr Martin, a retired police officer from Ripley, Derbyshire, said if instructors got six points on their licence they had to be reviewed, so if they were forced to take points for learners’ mistakes it could put their careers on the line.

“Instructors would say, ‘I am not going to take that risk,'” he said. “We all have an image of learners going at 5mph but mostly they very quickly come up to speed and are being taught to be responsible for their own actions.”

Rebecca Ashton, from road safety charity IAM Road Smart, said provisional licence holders should be able to get points on their licence.

“Driving a vehicle, even as a learner, includes taking responsibility to drive to the best of your ability and within the law,” she said.

“When it comes to prosecution each case should be looked at on an individual basis.”

She added she was not aware of a high number of cases involving learner drivers on lessons but added: “If there are high numbers, maybe we need to look at making driving instructors equally responsible”.

Matt French, Joseph’s former driving instructor who was with the teenager when he crossed the line, said: “There are plenty of situations where learners should not receive points but I don’t think the answer is to put the responsibility on the instructor.”

He said the system was “very black and white” but when somebody was learning to drive, there were grey areas.

“Sometimes, yes, it is the learner’s fault, but you can’t hold them responsible because they are a learner,” he said.

In Joseph’s case, Mr French said he had not stepped in with the dual controls as it appeared the car was stopping.

“He had been slowing down for 100-150 yards so, from my perspective, he was stopping for this red light,” he said.

“He just did not do the final bit of braking. It is a tiny, tiny mistake that you would expect from a learner.”

He added he was “ecstatic” Joseph was given an absolute discharge and he, “thought it was incredibly unfair it was followed through to any court situation”.

Following Joseph’s case, Nottinghamshire Police were criticised for pursuing the prosecution but the force has defended its decision.

Insp Simon Allen said there is “no mitigation for learner drivers when committing a traffic offence” and it was the job of officers “to uphold the law”.

“The safety of all road users is paramount, which is why the law holds learner drivers equally accountable and they must ensure that they follow the rules of the road,” he said.

Although Joseph was fortunate to find pro bono representation, Mr Stuart said being granted an absolute discharge was extremely rare – in fact, this was only the fourth such ruling he had seen in 40 years of practising.

He called for better access to legal representation for young drivers.

“Because there is no legal aid for this sort of offence, it forces people to accept punishment… they can’t afford to do anything else,” he said.

Joseph’s mother, a single parent, said appealing the points was “stressful”, given that it occurred around the time of her son’s year 12 exams.

Had the court case been unsuccessful in quashing the points she said it could have affected his confidence.

She has another son who requires 24-hour care and she said Joseph being able to drive will help ease pressure on family life.

As for Joseph himself, he said it was a “great relief” to pass and he was saving for a car.

He said: “I’ve thought about driving for ages and when you finally pass… it is an amazing feeling.”

Covid: Free Vitamin D pills for 2.5 million vulnerable in England

More than 2.5 million vulnerable people in England will be offered free Vitamin D supplements this winter.

The vitamin, which helps to keep bones, teeth and muscles healthy, will be delivered to people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, and care homes.

Vitamin D can be absorbed through the skin when exposed to sunlight – but the elderly and those with dark skin need topping up.

The pandemic means many more people than normal have spent time indoors.

The groups most at risk are residents in care homes, and people with serious health conditions which mean they have spent extended periods shielding from the virus – a total of 2.7 million people.

Health officials say that even in a normal winter, everyone should take 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day between October and March – and it’s particularly important this year because of coronavirus.

Scottish and Welsh governments, and Northern Ireland’s Public Health Agency issued similar advice during lockdown.

But there is no evidence that vitamin D protects against or treats Covid-19, although health officials have been asked to go back over the existing research.

All care homes in England will receive enough supplements for their residents, the government says.

People on the clinically extremely vulnerable list will get a letter inviting them to opt in for a supply of Vitamin D tablets to be delivered to their homes.

Deliveries will start in January. They’ll provide four months’ worth of free supplements.

“Vitamin D is important for our bone and muscle health,” says Dr Alison Tedstone, chief nutritionist at Public Health England.

“We advise that everyone, particularly the elderly, those who don’t get outside and those with dark skin, take a Vitamin D supplement containing 10 micrograms (400IU) every day.

“This year, the advice is more important than ever with more people spending more time inside, which is why the government will be helping the clinically extremely vulnerable to get Vitamin D.”

People who are able to buy a Vitamin D supplement and start taking them now, ahead of a free delivery, are advised to do so.

Covid ICU: A reality check on the viruss second wave

Aberdeen is not a Covid hotspot yet the pressure on hospital and intensive care staff is still starting to show.

The patient count at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary (ARI) is not as high as some of Scotland’s worst-hit hospitals but numbers are increasing.

We spent less than an hour in “pod 1” of ARI’s Covid ICU and it was a total reality check on the effect of the second wave of the virus.

Eighty-three-year-old Meg Thomson is one of 11 patients being treated there.

Against the constant hiss of oxygen and the beeping of monitors, Meg tells me she doesn’t know where she contracted the virus or how she ended up in ICU but, with grit and stoicism, she is determined to get better.

“I dinnae give up very easily,” she says. “I’ve got my ups and downs but I feel positive.”

In the neighbouring bed, 65-year-old Dot Bright says she started feeling unwell just over a week ago. After deteriorating rapidly, she was admitted to the ICU.

“The night before I was brought in here, I thought I was finished,” she says

“It’s the biggest scare I’ve had in my life. Take it serious.”

In the last month, the number of Covid patients in hospital have doubled and the staff in ICU know that means there will be more needing critical care in the next few weeks.

Working 12-hour shifts in visors, gloves, gowns and masks is hot and uncomfortable.

Every time you enter or leave “the pod” the protracted routine of donning and doffing must take place. And that goes for the nurses and doctors as well as domestic staff bringing in equipment or taking the bins away.

Chloe Burnett has been a ICU nurse for three years and she says everyone is tired and trying to stay motivated.

“To know that people are so unwell, when we thought we’d gotten over that, it’s very difficult to see that again and know it’s still out there and it’s still a threat to everyone,” she says.

Helen Paddon, the head nurse for critical care, says it has been the most difficult year of her nursing career.

“The nursing staff are working longer hours than they should do, in full PPE,” she says.

Staff here say they have been lucky to escape the full impact of the second wave felt in other parts of Scotland.

But a specialist national unit, which is based in the Aberdeen ICU, means they treat some of the sickest Covid patients in Scotland.

The ECMO (Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) unit, “pod 2”, has special machines that take on the work of the lungs. It is often the younger people who will be put on ECMO as they are the most likely to survive.

Dr Iain Macleod heads up all the hospital’s critical care. He tells me that better treatments this time mean more people can avoid intensive care but those who do come tend to stay for some time.

“What we’re seeing this time is more of a slow burn, patients are here for longer, they remain very sick,” he says.

And like all hospitals this time round, other work continues.

For the critical care team that means running and staffing two intensive care units, one for Covid patients and one for non-Covid.

“Intensive care is an emotionally-charged environment but this year is like nothing I have ever seen before,” Dr Macleod says.

“Our team have been working incredibly hard over the last six months and there is no end in sight.”

Visiting is not allowed in order to limit the number of people in the hospital but I was granted rare access, alongside a camera operator, because the staff felt it was important that people understood just how serious the threat of this virus is.

And it is distressing to see.

Dot and Meg have turned a corner but there are others in the unit who might not make it.

The staff have to deal with that and they have to deal with working in full PPE, getting used to smiling with their eyes as they comfort frightened patients.

They also have to deal with their own fears of the virus, their own stresses of seeing people so critically ill, and taking that home at the end of a busy shift to everyday family life.

Dot tells me: “The people in here can’t be more helpful. They stand here for four or five hours without a break. They’re here with you all the time.”

Covid-19: Working from home leads to house price rise in Wales

While it may sound “somewhat implausible”, Welsh house prices have risen recently despite the pandemic, according to the Principality.

The building society puts it partly down to people looking for bigger homes with more space as they adjust to the “new normal” of working from home.

Rises are set to continue in 2021, according to house price index Zoopla.

It predicts sale values will increase by 2% in Wales, compared to 1% across England.

The Principality’s chief risk officer Mike Jones said fears over jobs and the economy may make first-time buyers reluctant to “put a first step on the ladder”.

But overall, he believes the furlough extension and schemes such as mortgage deferrals are two factors keeping the sector buoyant.

“It is also potentially the desire for a lifestyle change for some who, during lockdown, have realised that it is possible to work from home, avoiding the necessity to travel to work on a daily basis,” he added.

“The demand for larger homes with additional space, including outdoor areas, has consequently risen however, and with little new supply coming to the market, prices also rose rapidly.”

When Wales’ first lockdown ended in June, house prices rose by 3% across Wales’ 22 local authority areas to £196,165.

The Principality’s house price index for July to September showed sales rose by 2.2% compared to the quarter before – however, they were down by 58% on the same period in 2019.

In September, six local authority areas reached a new record average price – Bridgend (£190,948), Cardiff (£247,030), Carmarthenshire (£172,708), Gwynedd (£198,279), Newport (£213,660) and Powys (£222,992).

Apart from Cardiff, they are all among the council areas with the highest proportion of detached or semi-detached homes, indicating to the Principality the rise is being driven by people looking for spacious homes suited to lockdown living.

The highest increase was in Gwynedd, where house prices rose by 14.6%, with the price of an average detached home rising from £250,000 to £280,000 – this was pushed up by the highest sale of the year for £1.2m.

Mr Jones added: “Covid is likely to have dented consumer confidence and fears over job security may mean that many prospective buyers will be reluctant to either put a first foot on the housing ladder, or indeed take a step up.”

However, he said help-to-buy schemes and the creation of affordable homes “gave cause for optimism” looking ahead.

Zoopla predicts Wales will record the strongest house price growth of all UK areas next year, partly due to pent-up demand because of a longer lockdown earlier in 2020.

Director of research and insight Richard Donnell called it a “rollercoaster year” that was ending on a strong note, with house price growth hitting a three-year high and set to increase further.

“There are some challenges ahead as the country battles the impacts of the pandemic on the economy and day-to-day life,” he added.

“The impact on the housing market is less than in previous downturns as sales volumes have already fallen in recent years and affordability levels are far from over-stretched.”

Monmouthshire Building Society’s chief operating officer Dawn Gunter called it an “unpredictable year” but agreed coronavirus had changed how many people view their home.

“Lockdowns have also meant members have spent more time than usual at home, with the home becoming both a personal and professional space,” she said.

“Lots of people took the time to consider what the future looks like, how their home environment supports a positive work-life balance, whilst also considering its location and surroundings.”

She also said the building society had seen “a surge in first-time buyers”, adding: “We know the average age of a first-time buyer is now in their 30s, so 2020 may have been the target year to buy a first home for many.”

Sexual abuse: My boyfriend assaulted me and filmed it as I slept

Emma was with her boyfriend for several years but it was not until they broke up that she discovered he had been sexually assaulting her and filming it as she slept. She has partially waived her anonymity to tell her story.

It was as she lay in bed one July night that Emma (not her real name) first realised something was wrong.

Having split up with boyfriend Matthew Wood three months earlier, she had been sleeping in the spare room of their shared flat.

Looking up at the window above her bedroom door, she spotted what looked like a small box.

Unable to shake her sense of unease, she confronted her ex-boyfriend.

“I told him I thought he was filming me on a phone camera through the window,” she recalls.

“He said ‘That’s ridiculous.’ He said he ‘wasn’t making indecent images’. I thought that was bizarre he used that phrase.

“He was trying to convince me it hadn’t happened. He was completely denying it.

“I said to him ‘I know what you’ve done. It’s wrong, it’s vulgar. I don’t know who you think you are.’

“Your trust in someone is just shattered after that.”

Emma tried to put the episode behind her and move on, but eventually went looking for proof.

Hidden in a drawer, she found a cube-shaped camera so small she almost missed it. Without the means to read its micro-SD card, she put it back until she could find a way to access the footage.

When she went to find it again, it was gone. She searched for days and was just about ready to give up when she found it hidden under Wood’s pillow.

Having borrowed a card reader, she was horrified to discover not one, but 29 videos, all graphic and disturbing, some of them made before she and Wood broke up.

They included one of her and Wood having sex, made without her knowledge; films of her in the shower, and of Wood sexually assaulting her while she slept.

“Every time I thought it couldn’t get worse, I found something worse,” she says.

“When I first realised, I felt like my life was over. I felt like I’d never be the same person again.”

Terrified for her safety, Emma quickly packed her things. Wood came home but “seemed nonplussed” to find her moving out. She did not confront him about her discovery and went to the police.

When arrested, Wood told officers he had made the videos because he had been “sexually frustrated” after his sex life with Emma had dwindled.

In June, Wood, then 32, was jailed for two years and eight months at Cambridge Crown Court and made subject to an indefinite sexual harm prevention order, having admitted eight counts of sexual assault and seven of voyeurism.

Even months after the case, Emma says: “In many ways, it doesn’t really feel like it happened to me”.

She has agreed to tell her story with her name changed in the hope that it will encourage other people worried about the behaviour and actions of a partner to come forward and raise their concerns.

If you have been affected by sexual abuse or violence, a list of organisations offering help and support is available at BBC Action Line.

When she first met Wood they immediately hit it off.

He was known, she says, as a “very charming and nice person… the last person you think would do something like that.”

But within weeks of moving in together, the couple drifted apart. She says he stopped showing an interest in her, often ignoring her to play video games for hours on end.

They eventually broke up and, with just a short time left on their tenancy, Emma moved into the spare room.

When she uncovered the abuse, which had been happening over at least 10 months, she was completely shocked.

“He didn’t seem interested in me at all, so it was even more surprising he was interested in me, but not in a way I hoped,” she says.

“During the day, when I was present and conscious, he didn’t seem very interested in me at all. At night-time, it was almost an obsession.”

Looking back, she now remembers multiple occasions where she woke up in discomfort or jolted awake.

Back then she would dismiss it as “just one of those things”. Now she knows it was actually a consequence of the abuse she had not realised was happening.

“There were times when I’d feel a discomfort when I woke up but I didn’t dwell on it, because never in a million years would I have thought that was the reason why… I didn’t think any more of it.

“This is only given significance now. You think you’d notice if it happened to you. And I guess I did, but didn’t realise it. I had no context.

“There are a couple times I remember waking up, a bit like when you feel like you’re falling in a dream. I thought I’d woken up because he’d moved.

“But in one video, I’m asleep and he thinks I’m waking up and he really quickly whips to face the other way and I wake up… I hadn’t even remembered until I saw the video and it triggered the memory.”

Det Con Sean Clery of Cambridgeshire Police, one of the investigating officers in the case, says: “What was striking in this investigation was that there was such clear evidence of the offences.

“It can be challenging to articulate the less obvious elements of abuse when the victim was, to a certain extent, unaware of the offences being committed against her.”

He says the prolonged effect, causing Emma to change her habits in her own home, was also striking.

“The defendant was in a position of trust that he violated over a sustained period, and when finally caught out by the victim, he denied it.

“The wider consequences of the abuse are impossible to understate for the victim, who felt she had no other option but to leave the town she had been building a home and a career in, leaving behind what had been a shared group of friends she felt unable to be a part of while the investigation progressed to court, and then sentencing.”

Her bravery in coming forward has been commended by the force, which has urged anyone who suspects they have been a victim of any sexual offence, to contact police.

Det Con Clery says: “It’s vital to know it’s not your fault, and that we have a dedicated team of officers who can support you through this difficult time.”

Such cases are not uncommon, according to Rape Crisis England and Wales. Nearly a quarter of people who contact them report having experienced sexual violence from a partner or ex-partner. .

“Image-based sexual abuse, such as taking non-consensual photos or videos, is also a growing phenomenon, with increasing numbers of survivors coming forward, naming this form of sexual violence for what it is,” says Dr C Quinn, chief executive.

The few times she ever said anything, Wood would tell Emma she was imagining things or that he had been helping her with something. Now Emma sees that as typical gaslighting behaviour.

“His explanations always seemed more likely. It makes you doubt yourself. There were times you felt mad, especially when I was searching through the house [for the camera].

“You end up feeling, despite being a victim, that you’re upsetting them… he tried to make me feel like the bad guy. Unfortunately for him, I had proof.”

Emma says she thinks back to when Wood would come to talk to her while she was showering and, given the deterioration in their relationship, believes she was “probably just grateful he was showing any attention – it was like getting a reward.”

One of the “creepiest” things, she says, was how Wood covertly held the tiny camera.

“It was so small you couldn’t see it. It’s so brazen that he’s holding the camera.”

Prosecutors said Wood’s actions took “significant planning” and were “an abuse of trust”.

Mark Shelley, mitigating, argued for a suspended sentence, especially in light of the pandemic.

The court heard he was of previous good character and expressed “genuine sorrow” at his actions.

Emma says, to date, this is the only apology she has ever received from from Wood.

Sentencing, Judge David Farrell told Wood his behaviour was for his “own perverted sexual gratification”, adding: “You would have known full well she was unable to consent to what you were doing.”

Emma admits that at first she doubted whether a crime had been committed. Was it really illegal to film someone in your own home?

“I found myself Googling it at the time… I thought, ‘Surely, it’s got to be a crime.’ No-one would think that’s OK but I also thought… ‘He hadn’t broken into the house; he wasn’t going out of his way.’

“I knew there were rules abut filming people in public spaces but I didn’t know about your own house.

“A lot of people don’t think it’s maybe a crime, and I think a lot of people might think, ‘Well, what’s the harm? But especially in this day and age, you don’t know where images have gone. And I don’t know if I want to.”

If you have been affected by sexual abuse or violence, a list of organisations offering help and support is available at BBC Action Line.

Lets give politicians a chance to speak human

I’ve slammed. I’ve raged. I’ve snapped, scolded, exploded, erupted and lost it.

That, at least, is how one national newspaper has described the clips of my interviews that it has chopped up, parcelled and packaged as tasty morsels for readers of its website, who they appear to believe have an insatiable appetite for punch-ups between politicians and interviewers. If they’re right and that’s what people want, I despair.

I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world as political editor for both ITV and BBC News, posing questions to presidents and prime ministers.

I took pride in asking the tough questions I thought people watching and listening at home would ask if only they had the chance. Questions that journalists in other countries seemed afraid to ask.

In the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, I asked the Chinese premier when the people would get the chance to vote for their own leaders.

In the White House, I asked George W Bush whether he was in denial about the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. It led news bulletins in the United States and would later lead the President to tell me, memorably, to “cover your bald head” when I was mopping sweat off my brow on the lawn of Camp David.

Now, I make my living asking questions on Radio 4 on Political Thinking – which starts a new series this week – and on Today, the country’s oldest breakfast programme.

I see a danger that we interviewers all too often see the “Gotcha” moment as the test of whether we’ve done our jobs properly.

Never mind the interview, have you seen how many shares and likes I got on Twitter or Facebook?

The macho operatives who once ruled over Downing Street responded by boycotting interviewers and shows that, they claimed, didn’t give them a fair hearing. They concluded that a video clip on social media, which they recorded and controlled, played better than those in which their guy was shown to be on the back foot.

We’ve seen where all this can end.

Interviews that never took place are remembered more than those that actually did.

Ministers trusted to say nothing beyond the brief are sent by party HQ to zoom from one studio to the next facing questions about issues they often have no responsibility for – and precious little knowledge of save for the crib sheets I can occasionally hear rustling.

One cabinet minister, who’d forgotten they could be seen as well as heard, read word-for-word from multiple sheets of carefully-typed notes marked with a pink highlighter.

Surely we can all – interviewers, politicians and, yes, you who watch or listen to our exchanges – can do better than this?

Despite the explosion of social media, political interviews remain for millions the way they understand the decisions that are being made in their name and the place they can see and hear arguments made and tested. What’s more, they should be an opportunity to open a window on what is shaping the thinking of those in power.

What newspapers like to call “a grilling” – or what we at the Today programme call an “accountability interview” – continues to play a vital role in our democracy.

This week I interviewed the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, and was praised by some for my “polite persistence”, while criticised by others for my “dismal interviewing”. ‘Twas ever thus.

This, though, is far from the only way we should conduct our national conversation.

During the pandemic we’ve heard virologists, epidemiologists and scientific modellers asked to explain the thinking that is shaping their response to the spread of the virus.

Why can’t we speak to those who are developing policy on unemployment or climate change or racial inequality in the same way?

Would today’s politicians dare think out loud about their thinking, about what they don’t know or haven’t yet decided?

Or will they always seek refuge in soundbites that have been pre-tested on focus groups?

Will we in the media allow them to think aloud without seizing on every hesitation or apparent contradiction with what someone else in their party said months earlier?

Can we, in short, reduce the fear politicians feel about saying what they really think?

While we’re at it, why don’t we spend more time focusing on what really makes those we see and hear spouting the party line tick – their upbringing, their experiences, their values.

That’s what I try to do on Political Thinking. It’s a half hour conversation not an interrogation.

I interviewed Rishi Sunak long before he moved into No 11.

We talked about his experience working in his mum’s pharmacy as well as a hedge fund in the City: about his experience of racism and what it felt like to suffer racial slurs; and about his love of Star Wars.

I learned more about him than I have in any interview since.

Long before he became Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer told me about nursing his sick mother, the donkeys in his garden and the time he was so focused on his work that he didn’t notice his TV being nicked from under his nose.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster recalled seeing her father moments after he’d been shot by the IRA and how she avoided serious injury when a bomb exploded under school bus only because she had swapped seats with another girl.

I’ve heard stories of hardship, loss and pain as well as privilege and entitlement.

I’ve heard passion and belief rather than rehearsed soundbites. What really pleases me about the series, though, is the number of times people say to me: “I really hated Mr X or Ms Y but now I can see where they’re coming from. I understand them”.

Contrary to popular belief, politicians are only human like the rest of us, though many have forgotten how to speak to the rest of us like humans.

It’s too easy to blame them for speaking like political robots.

We need to give them the chance to show who they really are and what they really think but they – and the people who advise them – need to give us the chance to ask tough questions and to hear them at least try to answer them.

Covid: Road and rail changes planned for Christmas travel spike

Road and rail networks are facing changes as the government prepares for a spike in travel when Covid restrictions are eased over Christmas.

Across the UK, up to three households will be allowed to stay together in a “Christmas bubble” from 23-27 December.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said 500 miles of roadworks have been cleared on motorways and A-roads to ease any congestion.

And, he added, there are plans to run longer trains on the rail network.

Mr Shapps said that rules may also be eased to allow more types of coaches to run.

“We recognise that people will want to be with their friends and family over Christmas,” he said. “For those that choose to form a Christmas bubble, we’re lifting travel restrictions across the UK for five days.”

Further details will be published next week, once the picture on passenger demand is clearer.

The government will be monitoring demand for road and rail travel using ticket booking websites and journey planning services such as Google Maps to try to get a grasp on the public’s travel plans ahead of time and increase capacity accordingly.

The expectation is that the start and end of the five-day travel window will be very busy.

Earlier this week, the transport secretary urged people to book tickets well in advance where possible, and prepare for restrictions on passenger numbers.

Referring to domestic travel during the festive period, Mr Shapps urged those travelling on public transport to pre-book tickets as the capacity of services remains reduced to allow for social distancing and as a result of staff self-isolating.

Some advance fares, such as for Avanti West Coast, which operates trains on the West Coast Main Line, go on sale on Tuesday.

These cheaper tickets are usually available 12 weeks in advance, but their release has been delayed during the pandemic due to short-notice timetable changes.

Mr Shapps also highlighted Network Rail’s plans for a series of upgrades and routine maintenance across Britain between 23 December to 4 January.

He told the BBC: “I would appeal to people to think very carefully about their travel plans and consider where they are going to travel and look at the various alternatives available.”

People who live in areas placed in the highest tier of restrictions in England, tier three, should avoid leaving their region entirely, he said.

The majority of the network has also been cleared of engineering works in a bid to avoid disruption.

Those that are scheduled for the festive period will be reviewed if passenger demand is high. But government sources say it is unlikely that the major works on the East Coast Main Line and London King’s Cross will be altered.

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