The Telegraph 2024-01-30 12:01:18

French farmers lay siege to Paris with vow to cut off food

Hundreds of tractors laid siege to Paris on Monday as farmers furious at French and European rules said they intended to “starve Parisians”.

Long lines of tractors blocked motorways at eight entry points to the city as one militant union promised to take control of the world’s biggest fresh food market.

“[Blockading Paris] will happen naturally. Parisians are going to be hungry. The goal is to starve Parisians. That’s it”, said Benoît Durand, a grain farmer.

Mr Durand, like thousands of others, said he was struggling against low income, red tape and environmental policies that were pushing costs up. President Emmanuel Macron, who is under mounting pressure to reassert his authority, was set to announce new measures for farmers as early as Tuesday, the Elysée said.

The protests follow similar action in other European countries, including Germany and Poland, ahead of European Parliament elections in June in which the hard-Right are making gains.

The main farming unions do not back strangling Paris’s food supplies but on Monday night angry farmers refused to move, setting up barbecues on motorways and sleeping in trailers.

In the event of major disruption, Paris would only have three days’ food supplies, as deliveries are made every day, according to Ademe, a government agency.

A group of 90 tractors left Agen, southwestern France, on Monday morning with the aim of “occupying” the Rungis food market, where more than 8,000 tons of goods pass through to feed nearly 12 million people every day.

The tractors were due to reach the market, dubbed “the belly of Paris”, by Tuesday night or Wednesday at the latest. Their ranks were expected to swell considerably along the way. Some 10,000 farmers and 5,000 farm vehicles took part in action around the country, French police sources said on Monday.

Armoured military vehicles were dispatched to the market and 15,000 police and gendarmes were deployed around the country to prevent tractors from entering Paris and other major cities.

Gérald Darmanin, the interior minister, said he had ordered security forces to show moderation, but also warned farmers not to cross certain red lines. These included cutting off Paris’s main airports or Rungis.

“We don’t intend to allow government buildings, or tax collection buildings, or grocery stores to be damaged or trucks transporting foreign produce to be stopped. Obviously, that is unacceptable,” he said.

The government has tried to appease the protesters with a string of concessions in recent days. On Friday, it dropped plans to gradually reduce state subsidies on agricultural diesel and promised a reduction in red tape and an easing of environmental regulations.

Unions said that was not enough and pledged to step up the pressure.

Spirits were high on Monday night on the A1 highway at Chennevières-lès-Louvres, within sight of Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport, 25 kilometres north of Paris.

As night fell, farmers warmed their hands around bonfires and barbecued sausages as they sipped wine and beer. Behind, their tractors formed an impregnable convoy blocking off the capital.

As fires raged, Soft Cell’s UK hit “Tainted Love” and Madness’ “One Step Beyond” blasted over the farmers’ sound system as they chomped on beef burgers and temperatures approached zero.

“We’re here because we’ve had enough, we want to defend our pay, we’ve had enough of all the excessive red tape that’s even worse in France than the rest of Europe,” said Robin Leduc, 30, who runs a 200-hectare farm in Canly, not far from the tractor checkpoint.

“The government has to act fast then we can all go home as we have work to do on our farms.”

Mr Leduc said he had found an unlikely British ally in the shape of Jeremy Clarkson, who has gained plaudits for the Amazon Prime series Clarkson’s Farm, which charts his attempts at running a 1,000-acre farm in the Cotswolds.

“We need a French celebrity to do the same as Jeremy Clarkson. Everything he explains in it is why we are here today. You may have left the EU, but we share many of the same problems regarding all these environmental rules.”

The government has been trying to keep discontent among farmers from spreading ahead of European Parliament elections in June, seen as a key test for Mr Macron’s government.

On Monday, the government said it would push its EU peers to agree to ease regulations on fallow farmland. Farmers must currently meet certain conditions to receive EU subsidies, including a requirement to devote four per cent of farmland to “non-productive” areas where nature can recover.

With cheap imports a burning issue, Mr Macron’s office also said he had told the European Commission it was impossible to conclude trade deal negotiations with South America’s Mercosur bloc. The president’s office believes it has an understanding that the EU has put an end to the talks.

The French president will make a push for more pro-farming policies at an EU summit on Thursday.

Henri Haquin, 43, who runs a 300-hectare farm in Bregy, north of Paris, said: “We get the feeling that Brussels doesn’t understand what we do and comes up with new laws every month that are difficult to understand and work with.”

He also has a real estate business to make ends meet, saying he won’t make a profit from his farm until he has paid off bank loans in a decade.

“Life on the farm is more and more difficult to make ends meet. We fear for the new generations. The main problem is unfair competition, lots of products from elsewhere without the same norms,” he said. “This is the only way we’ve found to get the government going”.

However, he insisted: “We clearly don’t want to starve Parisians. Only a small minority wants to block Rungis. For now, 90 per cent of the French are behind us. If we do that we’ll lose that support. We simply want to put pressure on the government and get solutions and go back on some laws we find completely ridiculous and inapplicable.

“All of the farmers in Europe are starting to move and say they can’t work with European laws as they are and I hope this can change things.”

Protests have taken place elsewhere in Europe, including in neighbouring Belgium, where farmers have stepped up their campaign against the administrative burden placed on them, including disrupting motorway traffic at the Daussoulx interchange near Namur.

Véronique Le Floc’h, president of France’s hard-Right-leaning Coordination Rurale union, said on Monday that farmers would target the Rungis market to “show the consequences if there are no more farmers tomorrow”.

She said that she wanted to “identify the proportion of imports and what type of products come in” to the market. In recent days, farmers have seized shipments from Belgium, Spain and Poland, scattering them across the highway and setting fire to them.

Marc Fesneau, the French agriculture minister, outlined a list of government “priorities” for farmers on Monday. These included tougher inspections on provenance of food products and “Frenchifiying farm products”, without providing more details.

Woman attacked by shark in Sydney Harbour

A woman has been taken to hospital with “serious” bite wounds to her leg after being mauled by a shark while swimming in Sydney Harbour.

Lauren O’Neill, 29, was swimming near a private wharf at Elizabeth Bay around 7.45pm (8.45am GMT) on Monday, less than 2 km (1.2 miles) from Sydney’s Opera House, when she was bitten by the suspected bull shark.

New South Wales Police in a statement said she suffered a “serious injury to her right leg”. 

Neighbours went to help the victim, with one resident telling the Sydney Morning Herald he heard a “soft yell” for help from his window. He then saw the woman trying to climb a ladder out of the harbour’s waters.

“She was trying to climb in and behind her was her leg, which was completely open and full of dark red blood behind her,” Michael Porter told the paper.

“She had obviously been mauled extremely badly by whatever shark it was that got her.

“It was surreal. We have always been worried and known about sharks in the harbour … it’s only now that it feels very real.”

According to witnesses, Ms O’Neill dragged herself to safety onto a nearby wharf. 

A vet living nearby applied tourniquets and bandages to stem the bleeding of her wound until paramedics arrived.

“She swam out to the boat and on her way back she got bitten by, I think it was, a bull shark,” another witness told local news outlet OnScene Bondi.

“We ran out. My wife’s a vet and she basically bandaged it up.”

Ms O’Neill remains in a stable condition in intensive care at St Vincent’s Hospital, where she is expected to undergo surgery.

Shark attacks in Sydney Harbour are rare, but the area is known to be an important habitat for bull sharks and their young.

Shark scientist Amy Smoothey said a “bull shark was likely responsible” following an analysis of the bite and images provided by authorities.

She told broadcaster ABC that sharks were “more actively feeding” in low light at dawn and dusk, making it “potentially a high-risk time to be swimming”.

Tagging indicates that bull shark numbers in the harbour were at their highest in the Australian summer months of January and February, Ms Smoothey said. 

“Shark bites are really rare although they are very tragic when they do occur and my thoughts are with the victim,” she told the broadcaster.

It was Sydney’s first shark attack in the harbour since 2009, when an Australian navy diver was mauled by a bull shark during a training exercise in Woolloomooloo Bay.

In February 2022, 35-year-old British diving instructor Simon Nellist was killed by a 3m (9ft 10in) great white shark at Little Bay, which was Sydney’s first fatal shark attack since 1963.

Children told not to go out alone as Highland monkey still on loose

Schoolchildren were told not to go out alone in a village in the Scottish Highlands on Monday, over fears of attack from an escaped monkey which remained on the loose.

A heat-seeking drone failed to find a Japanese macaque that broke out of Highland Wildlife Park on Sunday and had been spotted by locals patrolling back gardens in the nearby village of Kincraig.

Keepers deployed a drone with heat seeking technology on Monday to track down the animal, which is believed to have fled its home after getting into a fight. However, the search was called off without success as darkness descended.

One parent of a child at Alvie Primary School said safety measures had been implemented as a precaution after the monkey was sighted in its grounds. While typically shy, Japanese macaques have been known to attack humans by biting or scratching.

“We were told the monkey had been spotted there and that the kids were only allowed out to play in small groups while under close supervision of a teacher,” a parent said.

“The whole village is keeping its eyes out for it.”

The monkey is believed to have escaped from its enclosure early on Sunday. It travelled more than a mile to Kincraig, a small village, where it was spotted by locals that morning.

The drone was seen overhead in woodland to the north of the Kincraig, after the animal was seen in gardens bordering the estate.

“It was here on Sunday, just calmly walking through the gardens,” Jo Murray, whose home backs onto the woods, told The Telegraph.

“It’s been very interested in the bird feeders which most of us have here. We’ve been told to take them in in the hope that it will make its way back home but I’m worried it will have lost its way.

“The woods go on for miles so it’s going to be like finding a needle in a haystack.

“I’ve become quite addicted to just looking out of the window in case it comes back. It’s quite a way for it to have travelled already, and there are some busy roads here, so I feel quite worried about it.”

Locals have been urged to call a mobile phone number if they see the monkey. On Monday, the drone team was responding to calls, after a series of sightings, but was unable to track it down.

It shared an enclosure with more than 30 other Japanese macaques at the wildlife park, which is run by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).

The RZSS confirmed that the escape had been believed to have been caused by a fight with another monkey.

“This time of year is breeding season so tensions run a little bit high and sometimes fights break out over breeding rights,” Keith Gilchrist, of the RZSS, said.

“When that happens, the animals’ adrenaline can sometimes override everything and rather than get into a fight it seems this one has just gone for it and got past the enclosure perimeter fence.”

Darren McGarry, head of living collections at RZSS said: “A team of our charity’s expert keepers are patrolling the village in order to locate and return the macaque that escaped.

“We are asking anyone who spots him to call or email with information. Although we don’t expect the monkey to be a threat to the public or pet animals, he should not be approached.

“We are doing everything we can to locate the macaque.

“Locals are being encouraged to bring in any food that is kept outside, such as food waste bins and bird feeders to encourage the monkey to return to the park once he is hungry.”

Uber to deliver NHS prescriptions

NHS prescriptions will be delivered by Uber as part of a new initiative to improve access to medication.

Patients using the online pharmacy Healthera will be able to choose the “express delivery” service for both prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.

A driver, arranged by Uber, will then deliver the medication as part of the service, which is also available at evenings and weekends.

It is the latest expansion of online pharmacies delivering medicines directly to homes and is set to become the first such express prescription delivery service available nationwide.

The partnership between Uber and Healthera will cover more than 1,500 pharmacies across Britain. It is currently used by about 750,000 people.

Uber Direct, which works in the same way as the takeaway and food delivery service Uber Eats, will allow people to order the prescriptions on demand or select a one-hour delivery slot.

Live arrival updates

From March, patients will be able to place an order on the app or online and track its progress, from being dispensed, to its journey to their house, with live updates and an estimated time of arrival.

Any prescriptions will still have to be written by a doctor following a consultation, while repeat prescriptions will need to be approved by the GP before they can be dispensed.

Once patients have been issued a prescription, they will be able to choose the express delivery option, without having to wait for it to be sent in the post or attend a pharmacy in person to place the order and pick it up.

The Healthera digital platform works by connecting the patient’s GP with a pharmacy that has stocks of the medicine. Currently, deliveries typically take three to five working days for these services.

Research commissioned by Uber found that 75 per cent of more than 2,000 adults surveyed wanted on-demand prescription deliveries.

Patients will have to pay for any over-the-counter drugs and their prescriptions in the usual way. It is expected that there will also be a delivery surcharge for the service, although the exact pricing is yet to be finalised.

‘Making medicines more accessible’

Caroline Varga, head of Uber Direct UK and Ireland, said it would make “medicines more accessible for people across the length and breadth of the country”.

Quintus Liu, chief executive and founder of Healthera, said it would add “a best-of-class delivery infrastructure that will enable them to offer customers and patients greater delivery speed, reliability and convenience”.

The scheme would also “support the Government’s Pharmacy First initiative”, the companies said, which launches on Wednesday and will allow pharmacists to treat patients with seven common conditions and prescribe drugs like antibiotics.

The conditions include earache, sore throats, sinusitis, shingles, impetigo, urinary tract infections and infected insect bites and stings.

The NHS app is also expanding its features, including allowing patients to order repeat prescriptions, see when they have been issued, and collect it from any pharmacy using a digital barcode, following a successful trial period.

The NHS also said people would be able to “see the average waiting time for their procedure at their local trust”, if they are on a waiting list.

Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary, said the updates to the app “will mean ordering and collecting your prescriptions can be done with a few taps of your fingers”.

“I’m determined to make our health care system faster, simpler and fairer for patients – and the NHS App is all about making access to care easier for everyone,” she said.

“This will not only benefit anyone getting a prescription, it will also ease pressures on our hardworking pharmacists and GPs – freeing up valuable time for patients and helping to cut waiting lists.”

Dr Vin Diwakar, national director for transformation at NHS England said it would mean patients “know when their prescription is issued and avoid delays in collection”.

“The new feature will also mean people who haven’t set a nominated pharmacy will be able to present the barcode in the app to a pharmacy of their choice without needing a paper version.”

Man armed with crossbow shot dead by police in south London

A man armed with a crossbow who forced his way into a property in south London has been shot dead by armed police.

The incident occurred shortly before 5am on Tuesday in Bywater Place in Southwark, following reports that an armed man was trying to break into a home in the area and was threatening to harm the occupants.

Local officers initially attended the scene and attempted to speak to the man but, after being threatened, called in armed back-up.

When the man, who was carrying other weapons, managed to get inside the property, armed officers opened fire.

Officers and paramedics from the London Ambulance Service immediately provided first aid but the man died at the scene.

Police said two occupants of the property received minor injuries during the incident.

The Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards has been informed and an referral has been made to the Independent Office for Police Conduct as is standard with all police shooting incidents.

Det Ch Supt Seb Adjei-Addoh, responsible for policing Southwark, said: “My thoughts are with all those affected by this incident.

“I understand the local community will be concerned at the events that have taken place this morning. We will fully support the IOPC investigation into the full circumstances of what happened.”

A Met spokesman added: “Armed officers are highly trained and patrol the streets of London on a daily basis, dealing with challenging, fast moving and often dangerous situations to try and protect the public and their unarmed colleagues. 

“They discharge their weapons very rarely and all officers understand and expect that when they do, their actions will be closely scrutinised.”

BBC spent £150k trying to keep Bashir-Diana documents secret

The BBC has spent more than £150,000 trying to keep secret a cache of documents relating to an alleged cover-up of the  Diana, Princess of Wales Panorama controversy.

The corporation has been ordered to release internal emails under freedom of information laws that may shed light on senior executives’ behaviour when they discovered that Martin Bashir had used forged documents to help secure his interview with the Princess in 1995.

For the past two-and-a-half years the BBC has fought attempts by the journalist and film-maker Andrew Webb to access the material, and in doing so it has racked up a bill of £151,830 on external legal advice alone. It has spent another £13,556 on computer services for “document storage and handling”. The total of £165,386 does not include the cost of internal lawyers and other employees, which the BBC says is impossible to quantify.

Jason Pobjoy, a media law specialist who has also represented the Duke of Sussex in his battle with the Home Office over his security arrangements, has represented the BBC at several court hearings. The BBC’s spending on external legal advice in its fight with Mr Webb equates to 955 licence fees.

The corporation is expected to hand over about 10,000 pages of data to Mr Webb on Tuesday, Jan 30 after being ordered by a judge to do so in a hearing in December.

It was originally given a deadline of Friday, Jan 26 but asked for a last-minute extension after saying it had not had time to process all of the data.

‘Deceitful behaviour’

Mr Webb believes the BBC deliberately covered up the Bashir scandal not only in 1995, when it first learnt that he had forged documents, but also in 2020 when Mr Webb made a documentary about Mr Bashir’s behaviour in securing the interview.

In 2021 Lord Dyson, the former Supreme Court justice, published a report into the Bashir scandal in which he said the former reporter had used “deceitful behaviour” by forging bank statements to make it appear that members of the Princess’s staff were being paid by the media.

Lord Dyson also said the BBC had covered up what it knew about Mr Bashir’s behaviour in the 1990s. Mr Webb is trying to get to the bottom of who decided in 2020, when he made his documentary, to withhold a key document – later given to Lord Dyson – which set out how the original cover-up happened.

Mr Webb believes that senior managers who may still be working at the BBC might be implicated in what he has termed “the cover-up of the cover-up” in 2020.

First human receives Neuralink brain chip implant, says Elon Musk

Elon Musk has claimed that the first human has successfully received a computer brain implant from his company Neuralink.

On the social media network X, the billionaire wrote: “The first human received an implant from @Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well.”

Mr Musk added that: “Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.”

The statement was made without further detail or third-party verification.

Neuralink, a start-up backed by Mr Musk, said last May that it had received approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to begin human trials.

The company has subsequently been recruiting patients with paralysis, who could potentially benefit from implants to help them communicate and control external electronics.

The technology, if it ultimately proves successful, has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of disabled patients.

Neuralink has been developing “cosmetically invisible” implants that are hermetically sealed, powered by wireless charging from outside the body. The company says they process neural signals and transmit them wirelessly to a Neuralink app, which decodes them.

It has also developed a robot to insert the implants because “the threads of our implant are so fine that they can’t be inserted by the human hand.”

Last June, Reuters estimated that Neuralink, which was founded in 2016, was already worth around $5bn (£3.9bn) based on privately traded shares.

Mr Musk has spent years overcoming sceptics to grow businesses that many thought would fail. He took on the world’s established carmakers and turned Tesla, a startup, into one of America’s most-valuable companies.

A series of entrepreneurial bets has turned him into one of the world’s richest people. But his $44bn (£34.6bn) acquisition of Twitter, now X, in 2022 led to mounting criticism of his behaviour and generated concerns that he is spreading himself too thinly.

The backlash came to a head in November after the billionaire was accused of supporting an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory in a social media post. Advertisers including Apple, IBM and Disney cancelled their advertising with X.

Mr Musk conceded that his post was the “worst and dumbest I’ve ever done”.