The Telegraph 2024-01-31 16:01:04

Live Covid Inquiry latest: Sturgeon denies ‘burning desire’ for independence influenced decisions – watch live

Nicola Sturgeon has denied that her “burning desire” to achieve Scottish independence played any role in her pandemic decision making.

Jamie Dawson KC, counsel for the inquiry, put it to the former SNP leader that it was a “matter of instinct” for her to “seek division” within the UK.

He asked her whether it was possible for her to take any decision without seeing it through the “prism of Scottish independence and your burning desire to achieve it”.

Ms Sturgeon replied: “I know for a fact it is. If I ever doubted that before Covid… I don’t think in my entire life have I ever thought less about politics generally and independence in particular than I did during those early stages of the pandemic.

“People will judge for better or worse the decisions my government took. I want to say to people, and to give this inquiry an assurance, that none of those decisions were influenced in any way by political considerations or trying to gain an advantage for the cause of independence.”

Ms Sturgeon is then confronted with a Cabinet minute from June 2020 which stated SNP ministers “agreed that consideration be given to restarting work on independence and a referendum”.

This would be updated “with the arguments reflecting the experience of the coronavirus crisis and developments on EU exit,” the record said.

Ms Sturgeon insists that regardless of what the minute says, her government did not begin campaigning for independence at that stage.

Follow for latest updates.

Britain’s ‘most scenic road’ on the verge of falling into sea

The future of one of Britain’s most scenic drives is in doubt after a new video showed just how close the road is to the cliff edge.

Fears have been raised that the Isle of Wight’s Military Road may have to be rerouted after a “void” opened up next to it.

The road was nominated two years ago as one of the most scenic in the country by Visit England, which recommended its “sweeping ocean views” but warned that it was at high risk of erosion.

It runs along the island’s south-west coast, through protected habitats including an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and Scientific Sites of Special Interest. 

The 11-mile road dates back to the mid-18th century when it formed a key part of the island’s military infrastructure, and links St Catherine’s Point with Freshwater Bay to the west. 

Now, drone footage of vehicles – including a coach and a double decker bus – travelling the coastal route shows them driving just yards from the drop.

Philip Sheath, of recently-formed Facebook group Save Military Road IOW, took the video on Jan 28.

“I was shocked,” Mr Sheath said. “As a motorist you don’t realise how close you are to the edge. It’s only from the air that you can see it.

“It’s crazy. I could not believe it. You are one coach width from going into the sea.”

After the video was posted on Facebook, a fresh debate began about the future of the road.

Lisa Buck, founder of the action group which now has more than 2,000 members, said Save Military Road IOW’s aim was to have the road “rerouted and preserved”.

The “void” – which has forced the closure of a nearby footpath – was first reported earlier this month.

An investigation by Island Roads, which is responsible for the Isle of Wight’s road network, found there was “no sign” of highway movement and “nothing to suggest” the road was in danger of imminent collapse.

The firm said a retaining wall was built and buried next to the road in 2004, so it did not detract from the natural beauty of the area. It was designed to protect the road from erosion for around 50 years.

An Island Roads spokesman said: “We will of course continue to monitor the area and will liaise closely with the Isle of Wight council to ensure all steps are taken to maintain a safe road network.”

In October, Isle of Wight council rejected a proposal by Island Roads for an 85 foot-long wall to stabilise the area because of the possible environmental impact.

Phil Jordan, the council leader, said work was ongoing to find a suitable, viable and sustainable option to maintain the road.

He said: “The road remains open while we continue to work with local communities and landowners to assess alternative options.”

A public meeting to discuss its future will take place on Feb 11.

Russia’s offensive will be ‘completely exhausted’ by spring

Ukraine will launch a new counter-offensive in the spring, its army spy chief has suggested.

Kyrylo Budanov, head of the HUR military intelligence agency, said on Tuesday night that Russia’s offensive would be “completely exhausted” by “early spring”.

“We make a move, the enemy makes a move,” he said. “Now is the enemy’s turn. It will end, and then ours will start.”

Ukraine has not conducted major offensive operations against Russian positions since the end of its much-vaunted summer counter-offensive.

As Russia counter-attacks, Ukraine has shifted to a strategy of “active defence” and is building extensive fortifications behind its lines.

Mr Budanov said Russia is aiming to conquer the remaining unoccupied areas of Donetsk and Luhansk in its current offensive and is attacking Kupiansk, Lyman, Bakhmut and Avdiivka simultaneously.

He admitted that Moscow’s armed forces had made “some advances” near the partially-encircled eastern industrial town of Avdiivka but insisted it was “not even close” to achieving its objectives.

“But this is not what they expected, not even close,” he said.

The spy chief – responsible for covert operations behind enemy lines and in Russia itself – has been tipped in recent days to succeed Gen Valery Zaluzhny as commander-in-chief of the Ukrainian armed forces.

Gen Zaluzhny was summoned to a meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, on Tuesday night in which he was asked to resign, reports suggest.

But the enormously popular general appears to have refused and his sacking delayed amid a backlash against the move from the Ukrainian public.

Ukraine’s summer counter-offensive failed to deliver the significant gains that had been hoped for after being delayed by two months.

Kyiv spread Western-donated armour and Western-trained men across the front line and attacked at multiple points simultaneously in June.

Western advisers had advocated a targeted assault on the southern front that would have aimed to win a major breakthrough and push to the Sea of Azov, cutting off the key logistics land route to occupied Crimea.

Ukraine won some advances but the offensive did not achieve its objectives and has led to doubts in some Western capitals about Ukraine’s ability to push Russia out of its territory.

Harvard produces ‘whiny snowflakes’, says major donor as he withdraws funding

A major Harvard donor has halted financial support for the university and accused elite US colleges of producing “whiny snowflakes” instead of future leaders.

Ken Griffin, an alumnus who donated $300 million (£237 million) to Harvard last year, is the latest in a string of wealthy donors who have halted donations amid uproar over the university’s handling of anti-Semitism on campus after the Oct 7 Hamas attacks on Israel.

Mr Griffin announced he was pausing support for Harvard unless it makes significant changes.

“I’m not interested in supporting the institution,” Mr Griffin said of Harvard at a conference in Miami on Tuesday.

The university, he said, must make clear that it will “resume its role of educating young American men and women to be leaders and problem solvers”.

According to Bloomberg, he accused leading US colleges of producing “whiny snowflakes” instead of future statesmen.

Harvard is still struggling to resolve tensions even after Claudine Gay, its former president, resigned this month amid an onslaught of criticism over her response to anti-Semitism, as well as accusations of plagiarism in her scholarship.

The school has also come under intense scrutiny from lawmakers, students and alumni. Two congressional committees have begun investigations, with one of them criticising Harvard last week for providing “woefully inadequate” responses to its questions. 

The US education department is conducting its own investigation of anti-Semitism at Harvard and other schools.

Mr Griffin, the founder and chief executive of hedge fund firm Citadel with a personal net worth of $36.8 billion, said he was concerned after watching Ms Gay testify before Congress on Dec 5.

She and two other university presidents declined to give a definitive “yes” or “no” answer to a question on whether calling for the genocide of Jews would violate their schools’ code of conduct on bullying and harassment, saying it would have to be balanced against free-speech protections.

His decision to withhold support will deepen the financial pain for Harvard. Len Blavatnik, the billionaire and Harvard alumnus, whose family foundation has given at least $270 million to Harvard, paused donations last month.

Donors such as Idan Ofer and Leslie Wexner had earlier halted support, while Mitt Romney, the US senator, accused the university of ignoring the safety of Jewish students.

Earlier on Tuesday, Lawrence Summers, a former Harvard president, took aim at its leaders, describing the scandal over the university’s handling of anti-Semitism as the “worst stretch” in its 387-year history.

“My confidence in Harvard leadership’s ability and will to confront antisemitism and the demonisation of Israel continues to decline,” Mr Summers wrote on Twitter.

“Unfortunately, it is becoming ever clearer why Harvard ranks first on anti-Semitism, even as it ranks last on upholding free speech.

“I cannot think of a worse stretch in Harvard history than the last few months,” he added.

Mr Griffin last year backed a bid by the British hedge fund co-founder Sir Paul Marshall to acquire The Telegraph in an auction. The sale was cancelled when Abu Dhabi-backed RedBird IMI helped the Barclay family repay a £1.2bn debt to Lloyds Banking Group in part exchange for the publisher. That takeover is now suspended for regulatory investigations of its potential threat to press freedom and Sir Paul continues to pursue ownership of The Telegraph.

Ship carrying 16,000 sheep and cattle stranded in 40C heat amid Red Sea chaos

A ship carrying about 14,000 sheep and 2,000 cattle is marooned off the coast of Australia in sweltering heat after it was forced to abandon a trip through the Red Sea, causing outcry from people concerned about the animals’ welfare.

The vessel left Australia on Jan 5 for Israel, where it was to unload its cargo, but was diverted from its course in mid-January amid the threat of attack by Yemen’s Houthi militia before being ordered home by the Australian government.

The animals are now in limbo and could be discharged in Australia, where biosecurity rules would require them to be quarantined, or be sent back to sea for a month-long journey to Israel around Africa, avoiding the Red Sea, industry officials and the government said.

The stranding underscores the widening impact of militia strikes on ships in the Red Sea, the main maritime route between Europe and Asia, which have disrupted global trade.

It also underscores the risk to Australia’s live animal export industry, which sends hundreds of thousands of animals to the Middle East each year.

‘Live export trade is rotten to its core’

Farm and exporter groups say the animals on board the MV Bahijah are in good health but with temperatures close to 40C, animal welfare advocates are appalled.

Josh Wilson, a member of parliament for Fremantle, where the ship was loaded, said the animals’ ordeal shows the live export trade is “rotten to its core”.

“What is being contemplated is a 60-day voyage for 14,000 sheep on a stinking hot and literally stinking metal vessel,” he told 10 News.

“It’s very hard to imagine that that is consistent with the animal welfare standards that Australians expect to be applied to Australian animals.”

The agriculture ministry said it had seen no evidence of significant health concerns with the livestock, and was working with the exporter and industry bodies to ensure biosecurity and animal welfare standards are maintained.

The exporter, the Israeli company Bassem Dabbah, has asked the Australian government for permission to load more fodder and veterinary supplies, and sail for Israel around Africa, said Geoff Pearson, head of livestock at the industry body WA Farmers.

Reuters was unable to contact Bassem Dabbah. The ship’s manager, Korkyra Shipping, did not respond to a request for comment.

Canberra said the ship had applied to unload some animals before sailing with the remainder.

Lucrative market in Middle East 

Australia is a large exporter of live animals, shipping more than half a million sheep and half a million cattle last year.

Most cattle go to Asian markets such as Indonesia and Vietnam but the Middle East is by far the biggest destination for Australian sheep.

Israel is a key market, receiving 86,100 sheep worth $6.5 million and 10,848 cattle worth $14 million from Australia in the first three months of last year, trade data show.

Australia’s Labor government has pledged to outlaw exports of live sheep in the coming years but it faces angry opposition from farm groups, who say this would put people out of work and destroy farming communities.

New Zealand banned exports of live animals after a vessel carrying more than 5,800 cattle sank in rough weather in 2020, leaving dozens of sailors missing and dead animals floating in the sea.

Men can cut prostate cancer risk by third with small step up in exercise

Men could cut their risk of prostate cancer by more than a third if they improve their fitness levels by just 3 per cent a year, a study has suggested.

Experts have found a statistical link between changes in men’s fitness levels and their risk of developing the cancer for the first time.

The study of more than 57,000 men, with an average age of 41, found that those who were able to increase their cardiorespiratory fitness by 3 per cent each year were 35 per cent less likely to develop prostate cancer, than those who did not.

Researchers measured the amount of oxygen the body uses while exercising at a high intensity to determine their fitness level, also known as the VO2 max.

A person can increase their fitness or oxygen capacity through regular exercise, such as by running, cycling or swimming, at least three times a week.

The men were assessed over an average of seven years during which time 592, or around one per cent, of the 57,652 participants were diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The men were categorised into groups depending on how much their fitness level changed each year. Those with an increase in their fitness level of 3 per cent or more, a reduction by 3 per cent or more, and those who remained stable.

The rate of prostate cancer was highest in the group whose fitness levels fell and lowest in the group whose fitness levels increased.

The researchers said the results “highlight the important role of supporting the general public to increase their cardiorespiratory fitness or aim to reach moderate fitness levels”.

The study noted that there was no statistical significance among the men who were already at a high fitness level.

During the study, 46 people died from prostate cancer, but there was no trend related to fitness.

Previous research has found that people could increase their cardiorespiratory fitness levels by up to 16 per cent a year.

More than 52,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year in the UK, while around 12,000 die each year – the equivalent of one every 45 minutes.

Simon Grieveson, the assistant director of research at Prostate Cancer UK, said that the new research “adds to previous studies showing possible links between exercise and a lower likelihood of getting prostate cancer”.

He said: “Regularly keeping fit and eating a balanced diet are good for every man’s general health and wellbeing. However, we don’t know definitively whether physical activity can lower a man’s risk of getting, or dying from, prostate cancer.

“The earlier you catch prostate cancer, the easier it is to treat it,” Mr Grieveson added.

Prostate cancer is more common in men over 50, black men over 45 and men with a family history of the condition.

It can often show no symptoms during its earlier stages, when it is also more treatable.

Symptoms tend only to occur when the tumour grows large enough to place pressure on the tube carrying urine from the bladder, and so causes frequent need to go to the toilet, the feeling of not emptying completely and a weak flow.

These symptoms are all also common among people with enlarged but benign prostates, such as the condition for which King Charles received treatment for this week.

Matt Lambert, the health information and promotion manager at World Cancer Research Fund, said: “It is widely known that having a higher level of cardiorespiratory fitness is important for our health and longevity, but it can also be protective against certain diseases.

He added: “This year’s cancer prevention action week, starting on Feb 19, is calling on the public to do short bursts of activity throughout their day to increase their physical activity levels and start feeling the benefits, like getting fitter and reducing their risk of cancer.”

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, was conducted by several universities across Sweden and led by the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences GIH, Stockholm.

The nine things every man should know about prostate cancer

Read more

Crossbow attacker shot dead by police named

An armed man who was shot dead by police after breaking into a property in south-east London has been named as Bryce Hodgson.

Firearms officers were called to a cul-de-sac in Surrey Quays, Southwark, just before 5am on Tuesday following reports that an armed man was attempting to break into a house and was threatening those inside.

Residents described hearing screams coming from the property after 30-year-old Hodgson managed to force his way inside. Shots were then heard.

Police and paramedics gave first aid at the scene, but Hodgson was declared dead a short time later.

He is understood to have been armed with a crossbow, a sword, a knife and body armour. 

A spokesman for the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC), the police watchdog, which investigates all firearms incidents, later confirmed that these had been recovered from the scene.

The spokesman said it was believed Hodgson was known to at least one of the occupants in the building where the incident took place.

Mel Palmer, the IOPC regional director, said: “Our thoughts are with all of those affected by this tragic incident. The man’s next of kin have been informed and, in due course, we will be contacting them to explain our role. We will keep them regularly updated throughout our investigation.

“Given that a man has died after being shot by police, our role is to independently investigate all of the circumstances surrounding this incident, including the actions and decisions taken by the police.

“We appreciate that the community will want answers quickly, and our investigators are working hard to establish the facts and piece together what occurred.”

HM Coroner has been informed, and a post-mortem examination will take place.

It is only the fifth fatal police shooting in London since 2020, despite thousands of firearms operations each year.

The last incident took place in November when Giedrius Vasiljevas, a Lithuanian national, was shot dead by a police marksman in Dagenham after threatening to take his own life with a gun.

Neighbours in the quiet street in Southwark said they believed it may have been a domestic incident that involved a row between a man and a woman.

Valeria Bocanegra, 37, who lives on the cul-de-sac, said: “I heard people screaming at each other at 4.56am. It was a woman and a man, and I thought it was a couple fighting.

“It’s a very quiet area, so this kind of situation never happens. The woman was screaming. It lasted for about a minute, then everything became quiet.”

Another neighbour, Akber Baloch, 52, said: “I was sleeping and then I heard some shouting and someone hitting something like a door, bang bang bang. It was a man and a woman shouting. After a few minutes, I heard a police siren and I didn’t hear the gunshot.

“The police came so quickly. I was frightened and afraid, thinking ‘what’s happening?’. I’m really worried now – suppose if someone came and threatened my family when my wife and children are alone? I’m feeling insecure.

“I came here from Pakistan for peace of mind. I’m worried about what’s going on in London – robberies, killings, kidnappings, murders, muggings.”

The IOPC spokesman said: “We have established from police call logs that officers were called to the house at just before 5am following several reports of a man trying to force entry into the property.

“We also have viewed police officers’ body-worn video footage and established that the man, aged 30, was threatening to harm residents inside the address. We understand the deceased man was known to at least one of the occupants at the address.

“Local police officers unsuccessfully attempted to speak to the man who had gained entry to the property, but then called for assistance from armed officers after being threatened.

“After arriving at the scene, the armed officers then entered the house where the man was shot. We can confirm two shots were fired from a police-issued firearm, which will be subject to further analysis.

“Among the weapons found at the scene were crossbows, a knife, a sword and a hatchet. The man, who was wearing body armour, was taken outside the property and given first aid but, sadly, died at the scene.”