The Guardian 2024-02-02 20:01:07


How undercover police ‘fed’ an autistic 13-year-old’s fixation with terror group

How Australian undercover police ‘fed’ an autistic 13-year-old’s fixation with Islamic State

Court finds counter-terrorism unit’s conduct fell ‘profoundly short’ of minimum standards expected of law enforcement officers

Counter-terrorism police encouraged an autistic 13-year-old boy in his fixation on Islamic State in an undercover operation after his parents sought help from the authorities.

The boy, given the pseudonym Thomas Carrick, was later charged with terror offences after an undercover officer “fed his fixation” and “doomed” the rehabilitation efforts Thomas and his parents had engaged in, a Victorian children’s court magistrate found.

Thomas spent three months in custody before he was granted bail in October 2022, after an earlier bail was revoked because he failed to comply with conditions.

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Thomas, an NDIS recipient with an IQ of 71, was first reported to police by Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and then by his parents because of his fixation with Islamic State, which included him accessing extremist material online and making threats to other students.

On 17 April 2021, his parents went to a police station and asked for help because Thomas was watching Islamic State-related videos on his computer and had asked his mother to buy bomb-making ingredients such as sulphur and acetone.

Thomas was investigated and charged with two terror offences by the Joint Counter Terrorism Team (JCTT), which comprises Australian federal police, Victoria police and Asio members.

The court granted a permanent stay on the charges in October last year, but a copy of the decision has only recently been published.

“The community would not expect law enforcement officers to encourage a 13-14 year old child towards racial hatred, distrust of police and violent extremism, encouraging the child’s fixation on ISIS,” magistrate Lesley Fleming said in the decision.

“The community would not expect law enforcement to use the guise of a rehabilitation service to entice the parents of a troubled child to engage in a process that results in potential harm to the child.

“The conduct engaged in by the JCTT and the AFP falls so profoundly short of the minimum standards expected of law enforcement offices [sic] that to refuse this [stay] application would be to condone and encourage further instances of such conduct.”

Fleming found the JCTT also deliberately delayed charging Thomas with offences until after he turned 14, as it made it harder for him to use the defence of doli incapax, which refers to the concept that a child is not criminally responsible for their actions.

Police also inappropriately searched Thomas’s property shortly before he was charged, Fleming found.

“There was a deliberate, invasive and totally inappropriate search of [Thomas’s] bedroom without lawful excuse.

“The search involved multiple Victoria Police members under the guise of attending to provide support to the family within the CVE [Countering Violent Extremism] framework.

“The conduct of the law enforcement officers involved subterfuge.”

Fleming, who noted that English was not the first language of Thomas’s parents, found his father told police “he was prepared to sacrifice my son for the safety of the Australian community”.

There was no evidence the AFP took any action in relation to the DHHS complaint, Fleming found. An online persona which later communicated with Thomas was activated a day earlier.

How the undercover operation unfolded

After Thomas’s parents spoke to Victoria police, Fleming found a decision was made by the force to manage Thomas “therapeutically”.

His parents provided Victoria police access to Thomas, their home, his phone, his mother’s phone, and to personal information about his school and psychologist.

Less than month after Victoria police started working with Thomas, a case manager was told by a psychologist who was working with them that Thomas’s “verbalisations need to be considered within the context of his ASD [autism spectrum disorder] and possible cognitive impairment.

“One of the key diagnostic criteria for ASD is highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus,” the psychologist told the case worker.

“It is suggested that ISIS represents a circumscribed interest: an intense, narrow preoccupying interest that provides intense focus, social identity for him, a topic to be researched … as well as a topic of conversation that brings him attention.”

A police officer who performed a report based on information downloaded from Thomas’s phone found that he appeared fascinated with China and symbols of the Chinese Communist party and that there were no religious images or verses from the Qur’an present.

Victoria police also arranged for an Imam to meet regularly with Thomas to discuss Islam and answer any questions he may have had.

But three months after his parents went to police, the JCTT started an operation targeting Thomas, code-named Bourglinster.

It would run in parallel with the efforts to counter his violence extremism.

An online covert operative was tasked with communicating to Thomas using two personae: a 24-year-old Muslim man from NSW, and a more extreme person located overseas.

The purpose of the operation was to find Thomas online and “engage him in chat to ascertain his intent if any”, the operative told the court. The strategy was to gather intelligence and information that could be used to charge Thomas with terrorism offences.

On the first occasion Thomas spoke with the operative online, he asked the officer: “are you a spy” and “do you work with the Asio”, to which the operative, in the role of the first persona, responded “I hate these killab [dog]”.

The operative then wrote “should I ask the same of you akhi” to which Thomas replied “I am 13 years old”.

The operative chatted with Thomas on 55 of the next 71 days, including during breaks at school and late at night.

The operative told an operational psychologist, who was expected to provide advice to him about how to communicate effectively online with Thomas, that “this … is a kid on the spectrum, I’m letting him do all the talking [and] just building rapport”.

There were 1,400 pages of online chats between the pair, Fleming found.

The first persona introduced Thomas to the second, more extreme, persona, who encouraged him to make a bomb or kill an AFP member.

But the operative gave evidence that Thomas was naive, and living a “fantasy life online”, including by asking questions like whether he could join the kids’ section of Islamic State.

On 8 August 2021, Thomas sent a photo to the operative which showed him wearing his school uniform, a hoodie and a face mask and holding a knife with “ISIS” written on it in marker.

His house was searched within days, and he was charged less than two months later.

Fleming found that AFP assistant and deputy commissioners had been involved in authorising the operation which resulted in Thomas being charged, and that “the AFP was at all times aware of TC’s age, his complex mental health issues, and his fixation on ISIS”.

A decision to arrest Thomas was authorised by an assistant commissioner after a detective superintendent failed to inform them that they had information the undercover operation was having a negative impact on therapeutically changing Thomas’s behaviour.

Fleming said the prospect of diverting and rehabilitating Thomas was always destined to fail once the operative started communicating with him, and the magistrate could not accept evidence given by police that these efforts had primacy over the criminal investigation.

“It is a nonsense to expect this Court to accept that an effective rehabilitation process can be undertaken when there is a seasoned covert operator online engaging TC, encouraging TC’s fixation and that TC’s rehabilitation team, his parents and his psychologist are oblivious to the existence of the [covert operator].

“The rehabilitation of TC was doomed once the [operator] connected online…befriended TC and fed his fixation, providing him with a new terminology, new boundaries and an outlet for him to express, what was in part, his fantasy world.”

Housing approvals sink to lowest level in 12 years amid rising costs and delays

Australian housing approvals sink to lowest level in 12 years amid rising costs and planning delays

NAB survey finds construction costs and interest rates primary concern among borrowers, while developers cite lengthy approvals process

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Hopes the Albanese government will be able to revive housing construction are fading fast as new approvals sink to the lowest number in more than a decade, while soaring costs threaten to place any homes that are built out of reach for many.

December recorded a drop in dwelling approvals of almost 10% from November, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported on Thursday. Approvals for apartments sank 25.3%. For the full year, approvals totalled about 162,200 – the lowest annual rate since March 2013, according to NAB.

The Housing Industry Association estimates work began on about 100,000 new houses and 70,000 multi-unit homes in 2023.

Tom Devitt, HIA’s senior economist, predicts new house construction will retreat further this year to 95,400 – the lowest since 2012. New apartment construction should grow to 84,400. Still, the combined tally of 179,400 homes would reach only 75% of the federal government’s goal of 1.2m new dwellings over five years from 1 July.

“On the current trajectory, that [target] is not going to be achieved on the present policies,” Devitt said. “All three levels of government need to be on the same page.”

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Over the past five years, an average of about 190,000 new dwellings commenced. The HIA expects that rate to increase to almost 200,000 a year for the coming five years, missing the government’s targets by just over a fifth, or 200,000 dwellings, Devitt said.

Home prices and rents increased by more than 8% nationally on average in 2023, or about twice the pace of inflation. The upward trend has continued into January.

The country’s soaring population meant a record of four people per new dwelling approval – more than double the average density of 1.5 people since 1985, NAB noted this week.

“Unfortunately, a supply fix is not coming in a hurry,” said Tapas Strickland, NAB’s head of market economics. “To put the government’s aspirational target for 1.2m homes over five years in reach, building approvals would need to return to levels achieved through the 2015-17 east coast apartment building boom.”

A December quarter survey by the bank found 75% of participants listed construction costs as a barrier to starting new residential projects, with the ratio rising to 83% in Victoria and 89% in Queensland. Interest rates were cited as a hurdle by 59% of respondents.

Another obstacle was delays in obtaining planning permits, as cited by 46% of those surveyed. This proportion, though, rose to 67% in Queensland and New South Wales.

One large developer told Guardian Australia lengthy and uncertain planning approvals were a greater hindrance than interest rates, labour shortages or more costly materials.

One of its big projects in Sydney took a decade to finish, with multiple changes required to meet local approvals. While planning was quicker in Melbourne, demand in the Victorian capital was relatively weak, squeezing profit margins.

Dale Connor, chief executive of Lendlease Australia, another big developer, said the 1.2m homes target was steep, “particularly when our industry is experiencing labour shortages, but it needs to be ambitious given the current housing crisis”.

“[T]he question isn’t how do we pour concrete and build houses faster, it’s how do we get to the start line quicker, especially in Sydney which is attractive to capital investors but has the longest planning approval time of all the states,” he said.

Planning approval takes Lendlease about six months in Brisbane, 12 months in Melbourne and three years in Sydney.

“If we get the planning right, the capital will follow and more homes will be built,” Connor said.

New South Wales’ share of the five-year target is about 377,000, or just over 75,000 new homes a year.

“The NSW government is starting from a long way back but has taken immediate action to turn around housing completions of the low base of only 48,000 homes delivered in 2022,” the planning minister, Paul Scully, said.

“We announced reforms to the planning rules in December last year to support the delivery of thousands of new homes and a pipeline of housing supply into the future and are determined to meet our housing goals,” he said.

For Victoria, about 53,000 new homes gained approval for construction in the 12 months to last November.

“We’ve set a bold target for 800,000 homes to be built in Victoria over the next decade because we know that housing only becomes more affordable when you increase supply,” a Victorian government spokesperson said.

“We’ve given industry the certainty they need and in the time since releasing the Housing Statement we’ve received record levels of inquiries from industry for developments worth billions of dollars in investment and worked with councils to clear more than half the backlog of planning permits waiting for more than six months for a decision,” the spokesperson said.

To Kerry Pearse, a member of the Housing Matters Action Group advocating for residents across the NSW north coast, adding more supply won’t make much difference if the asking price exceeds what local wages can bear.

“We’re in a huge economic crisis,” Pearse said, adding that families were being forced to share accommodation or leave the area. “It’s a pressure cooker that’s leading to significant hardship and pockets of resentment”.

Nurses, police, council workers and even cafe staff were struggling to afford housing in towns such as Bellingen and Nambucca Heads on current wages, Pearse said. Policies that had favoured investors over owner-occupiers hadn’t helped either.

“It’s a wicked problem due to historic decisions regarding tax incentives, et cetera,” Pearse said. “We are now reaping the impact.”

More heartbreak for Australia as Son Heung-min fires extra-time winner

More Asian Cup heartbreak for Australia as Son Heung-min fires extra-time winner

  • Heroic Socceroos concede equalising penalty in added time
  • Spurs star then scored winner to seal quarter-final 2-1

For 94 minutes Australia looked like they were going to upset the odds and progress to the semi-finals of the Asian Cup at the expense of South Korea’s star-studded team.

But despite leading for much of the game through Craig Goodwin’s brilliant first-half volley, two moments of inspiration from Korea’s star man – Son Heung-min – saw the Socceroos eliminated 2-1 in Doha in the cruellest of circumstances.

Son, whose career has been revitalised at Tottenham Hotspur by former Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglu, had been kept quiet for much of the game.

Then, with only three minutes of added time remaining and his team trailing 1-0, Son turned Harry Souttar and was brought down by a needless challenge in the box by the substitute, Lewis Miller. Another Premier League player, Hwang Hee-chan of Wolves, converted the penalty and Korea had a lifeline they scarcely deserved.

Son wasn’t done though. After the hapless Miller fouled Hwang on the edge of the box in the first period of extra time, Son belted in an excellent free kick and his team will face Jordan in the semi-finals after they beat Tajikistan 1-0.

Aiden O’Neill was then sent off for a crunching challenge on Hwang with his initial yellow card upgraded to a straight red after a VAR referral. Australia, already struggling to hang on after a magnificent rearguard performance in the second half of normal time, were cooked.

It was a devastating way to lose and follows an agonising exit at the same stage against the United Arab Emirates in the 2019 edition of the tournament.

Although Australia had been on the backfoot for much of the second half and conceded a lot of possession, they fashioned the best chances of the actual 90 minutes.

They will rue the chances they spurned, especially two that fell to Mitch Duke, who along with Goodwin, started the match after returning from injury via the bench against Indonesia.

Hwang tapped home in the 32nd minute but it was ruled offside and Australia took the lead 10 minutes later.

Goodwin pounced on a loose pass then worked the ball to Duke, who found Connor Metcalfe, who slipped through Nathaniel Atkinson out wide.

Atkinson lofted the ball to the back post where Goodwin drilled a skidding volley home.

Harry Souttar was booked just before halftime after catching Cho Gue-sung high and would have missed the semi-final through suspension had Australia progressed.

In the 53rd minute, Jo Hyeon-woo saved a seemingly goal-bound header from Martin Boyle, then his follow-up shot, before Duke hooked the rebound over the bar.

Then, in the 84th minute, Bos lofted the ball across goal to Duke, but he turned his diving far post header wide.

Australian Associated Press also contributed to this report.

If Peter Dutton’s opposition are true defenders of the working class, support for Labor’s stage-three overhaul may be their ultimate test

If Peter Dutton’s opposition are true defenders of the working class, support for Labor’s stage-three overhaul may be their ultimate test

Paul Karp

Dutton warned messing with the stage-three tax cuts would end Albanese’s prime ministership. But the alternative has the opposition leader on the back foot

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In February 2023 Peter Dutton told the first joint Coalition party room of the year that the Liberals and Nationals were the “parties of the Australian working class”.

Much like the kid who gives himself a nickname, it was hard to take this self-identification seriously. But it’s worth paying attention to as a statement of Dutton’s intent, if not as a description of reality.

After losing government and a swag of blue-ribbon Liberal seats, the opposition increasingly looks to regional and outer urban areas as key to their path back: places such as Lyons in Tasmania, McEwen, north of Melbourne, and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

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The class politics of Dutton’s internal target seat list helps explain the wobbles we’ve seen on the Coalition side since Labor unveiled its bold plan to halve the legislated stage-three tax cuts for high-income earners to pay for bigger cuts for taxpayers earning less than $146,486.

The Coalition rowed out so hard against Labor’s new policy that a softening of its opposition to more generous cuts for low- and middle-income earners seemed inevitable.

The softening began last week with the deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, clarifying she had not intended to pledge to repeal Labor’s plan if the Coalition were elected.

It continued this week with an inconclusive shadow cabinet meeting producing the vague line that the Liberals and Nationals are the parties of lower tax.

Although several Backbenchers are now openly saying the Coalition should not stand in the way of Labor’s bill, others in the party, like Julian Leeser, are pushing back. Dutton says he doesn’t want to take money off anyone.

The Nationals’ leader, David Littleproud, came closest to articulating what all this might mean in terms of parliamentary votes and future commitments.

He told Sky News on Monday that the Australian people had asked parliament to vote “for all three stages” of tax reform, but if Anthony Albanese’s alternative plan “gets through, then obviously we’ll use that as a starting point to take to the Australian people” and will try to “build on” it in future.

That sounds like: an attempted amendment to restore the original centrepiece of stage three, a flat tax bracket from income between $45,000 and $200,000; probably allowing the bill to pass to prevent a scare campaign; but when it does, promise stage three at the next election.

The reason the Coalition is leaving open the option of voting for changes they despise is simple: many of their current and intended voters stand to benefit.

That is the conclusion of analyses by the treasurer’s office and the Australian National University’s Ben Phillips. It stands to reason, given the income profile of working-class outer urban and regional seats.

The Coalition grumbled anonymously that the tax package was “made for Dunkley” – the seat where the major parties will face off on a byelection on 2 March. The average taxpayer in Dunkley will be $478 better off under Labor’s plan than stage three, according to Phillips.

But there is no need to engage in conspiratorial thinking by inferring a link to the byelection. Some 84% of taxpayers are better off in the first year of the new tax package, or 85% in Coalition electorates.

The independent MP Allegra Spender told the National Press Club on Wednesday that even in her electorate of Wentworth – one of the richest in the country – 66% of taxpayers are better off.

Labor has crafted a tax policy that does exactly what it says on the tin: ensures a tax cut for all taxpayers, a less generous cut for some, to pay for a cost of living relief package for middle Australia.

The reason voting against it is such a daunting prospect for the Coalition is that most people earn less than $146,486, roughly double the average income.

Don’t tell that to Littleproud, who suggested an income of $190,000 – which would put the lucky recipient in the top 4% of earners – is “not a lot in this day and age”.

The Liberals do have a point that if tax brackets don’t move, more and more will be captured in the 37% tax bracket over time.

But to get near an electoral majority the Liberals would have to persuade not just the aspirational, who may one day be worse off when their income reaches the threshold, but also the delusional – people who will never make it but vote against their economic self-interest.

Labor faces a similar class problem in reverse. It came to government by winning more university educated professionals on higher incomes, reaping unusual gains in inner-city seats like Reid, Bennelong, Higgins and Tangney.

These are places where the average weekly household income is more than $2,100, compared with the Australian average of $1,750.

Members there expect blowback but think it’s a fight worth having – and a winnable one – because even in the richest parts of the country more taxpayers are better off.

Before Labor announced its broken promise, Dutton warned that messing with stage-three tax cuts would end Albanese’s prime ministership.

But the generosity of the alternative Labor has crafted seems already to have put Dutton on the back foot.

The pretence of the Coalition being defenders of the working class will be impossible to sustain if the Liberal and National parties oppose tax relief for those they claim to represent.

If Peter Dutton’s opposition are true defenders of the working class, support for Labor’s stage-three overhaul may be their ultimate test

If Peter Dutton’s opposition are true defenders of the working class, support for Labor’s stage-three overhaul may be their ultimate test

Paul Karp

Dutton warned messing with the stage-three tax cuts would end Albanese’s prime ministership. But the alternative has the opposition leader on the back foot

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

In February 2023 Peter Dutton told the first joint Coalition party room of the year that the Liberals and Nationals were the “parties of the Australian working class”.

Much like the kid who gives himself a nickname, it was hard to take this self-identification seriously. But it’s worth paying attention to as a statement of Dutton’s intent, if not as a description of reality.

After losing government and a swag of blue-ribbon Liberal seats, the opposition increasingly looks to regional and outer urban areas as key to their path back: places such as Lyons in Tasmania, McEwen, north of Melbourne, and the Hunter Valley in New South Wales.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

The class politics of Dutton’s internal target seat list helps explain the wobbles we’ve seen on the Coalition side since Labor unveiled its bold plan to halve the legislated stage-three tax cuts for high-income earners to pay for bigger cuts for taxpayers earning less than $146,486.

The Coalition rowed out so hard against Labor’s new policy that a softening of its opposition to more generous cuts for low- and middle-income earners seemed inevitable.

The softening began last week with the deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, clarifying she had not intended to pledge to repeal Labor’s plan if the Coalition were elected.

It continued this week with an inconclusive shadow cabinet meeting producing the vague line that the Liberals and Nationals are the parties of lower tax.

Although several Backbenchers are now openly saying the Coalition should not stand in the way of Labor’s bill, others in the party, like Julian Leeser, are pushing back. Dutton says he doesn’t want to take money off anyone.

The Nationals’ leader, David Littleproud, came closest to articulating what all this might mean in terms of parliamentary votes and future commitments.

He told Sky News on Monday that the Australian people had asked parliament to vote “for all three stages” of tax reform, but if Anthony Albanese’s alternative plan “gets through, then obviously we’ll use that as a starting point to take to the Australian people” and will try to “build on” it in future.

That sounds like: an attempted amendment to restore the original centrepiece of stage three, a flat tax bracket from income between $45,000 and $200,000; probably allowing the bill to pass to prevent a scare campaign; but when it does, promise stage three at the next election.

The reason the Coalition is leaving open the option of voting for changes they despise is simple: many of their current and intended voters stand to benefit.

That is the conclusion of analyses by the treasurer’s office and the Australian National University’s Ben Phillips. It stands to reason, given the income profile of working-class outer urban and regional seats.

The Coalition grumbled anonymously that the tax package was “made for Dunkley” – the seat where the major parties will face off on a byelection on 2 March. The average taxpayer in Dunkley will be $478 better off under Labor’s plan than stage three, according to Phillips.

But there is no need to engage in conspiratorial thinking by inferring a link to the byelection. Some 84% of taxpayers are better off in the first year of the new tax package, or 85% in Coalition electorates.

The independent MP Allegra Spender told the National Press Club on Wednesday that even in her electorate of Wentworth – one of the richest in the country – 66% of taxpayers are better off.

Labor has crafted a tax policy that does exactly what it says on the tin: ensures a tax cut for all taxpayers, a less generous cut for some, to pay for a cost of living relief package for middle Australia.

The reason voting against it is such a daunting prospect for the Coalition is that most people earn less than $146,486, roughly double the average income.

Don’t tell that to Littleproud, who suggested an income of $190,000 – which would put the lucky recipient in the top 4% of earners – is “not a lot in this day and age”.

The Liberals do have a point that if tax brackets don’t move, more and more will be captured in the 37% tax bracket over time.

But to get near an electoral majority the Liberals would have to persuade not just the aspirational, who may one day be worse off when their income reaches the threshold, but also the delusional – people who will never make it but vote against their economic self-interest.

Labor faces a similar class problem in reverse. It came to government by winning more university educated professionals on higher incomes, reaping unusual gains in inner-city seats like Reid, Bennelong, Higgins and Tangney.

These are places where the average weekly household income is more than $2,100, compared with the Australian average of $1,750.

Members there expect blowback but think it’s a fight worth having – and a winnable one – because even in the richest parts of the country more taxpayers are better off.

Before Labor announced its broken promise, Dutton warned that messing with stage-three tax cuts would end Albanese’s prime ministership.

But the generosity of the alternative Labor has crafted seems already to have put Dutton on the back foot.

The pretence of the Coalition being defenders of the working class will be impossible to sustain if the Liberal and National parties oppose tax relief for those they claim to represent.

Ex-finance chief reportedly in talks over guilty perjury plea

Ex-Trump finance chief reportedly in talks over guilty perjury plea

Potential deal with Manhattan prosecutors could see Allen Weisselberg admit to lying on stand, New York Times reports

A longtime Trump Organization executive is said to be negotiating with Manhattan prosecutors over a potential guilty plea for lying on the witness stand in Donald Trump’s fraud trial.

Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s former chief financial officer, who oversaw the company’s finances, is in the early stages of working on a perjury plea with the office of Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The potential deal would intermingle Trump’s separate New York trials: a fraud trial over inflated financial statements, and a second case over a hush-money payment. Although Bragg’s office did not oversee the fraud trial, which is being prosecuted by the office of the state’s attorney general, Letitia James, Bragg’s office has been investigating a criminal case against Trump over an alleged hush-money payment made during his 2016 campaign.

Bragg’s office has charged Trump with falsifying business records. Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, said “legal fees” that were reported on records were actually reimbursements for a payment Cohen made on Trump’s behalf to the former adult film star Stormy Daniels. Weisselberg helped coordinate Cohen’s reimbursement, Cohen has said.

In exchange for pleading guilty to perjury – a crime punishable with prison time – Weisselberg may not be called to the witness stand during the hush-money trial, according to the newspaper. That trial is scheduled to start in March.

Prosecutors are probably hoping that if Weisselberg admits to perjury it would dissuade other Trump allies from lying on the stand. Weisselberg, a decades-long employee of the Trump Organization and staunchly loyal ally of Trump, has also disputed that Trump was involved with the hush-money payment. Discrediting Weisselberg as a witness, even if prosecutors not end up calling him to the stand, could strengthen their case.

Lawyers for Weisselberg did not respond to requests for comment. The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment on the potential deal.

If Weisselberg pleads guilty to perjury, it would be the second guilty plea deal the former Trump Organization executive has made with prosecutors. Weisselberg spent 100 days at Rikers jail in New York City after pleading guilty to tax fraud for dishing out off-the-table benefits to himself and other Trump executives.

Along with the former president, Weisselberg is a defendant in Trump’s civil fraud trial. Trump’s adult sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, and former Trump Organization executive Jeff McConney are also defendants. Trump is being sued for $370m for inflating the value of his assets on government financial statements over the course of a decade.

Weisselberg testified early on in the trial, in October, and was often evasive on the stand, saying he did not recall much about what prosecutors were asking him.

A key moment of his testimony came when Weisselberg was asked about Trump’s triplex apartment in Trump Tower. In financial documents, Trump reported that the triplex was 30,000 sq ft. In reality, the apartment is closer to 11,000 sq ft.

On the stand, Weisselberg said he did not notice the discrepancy on financial documents as he “never even thought” about the apartment. “It was de minimis, in my mind,” he said.

Forbes disputed this statement, though, saying it had emails and notes showing that Weisselberg for years tried to convince the magazine that the triplex was worth more than it actually was. Weisselberg abruptly ended his testimony after the article was published.

Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the fraud trial, has signaled that a verdict for the $370m will be filed by mid-February.

Photoshop scandal shows why transparency is crucial when it comes to AI

Georgie Purcell photoshop scandal shows why transparency is crucial when it comes to AI

Josh Taylor

Nine News editing blunder on MP’s image a harbinger for media world increasingly reliant on artificial intelligence

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It’s been five years since Australia’s last Photoshop scandal, involving then-prime minister Scott Morrison’s white shoes, but it feels like a world away.

This week the Animal Justice Party MP Georgie Purcell had her photo edited to enlarge her breasts and insert a crop into her top that hadn’t been there. Having previously been a victim of image-based abuse, Purcell said the incident felt violating, and that the explanation given by Nine News failed to address the issue.

For its part, Nine blamed an “automation” tool in Photoshop – the recently launched “generative fill”, which, as the name suggests, fills in the blanks of an image when it is resized using artificial intelligence. Nine said the company was working from an already-cropped version of the original image, and used the tool to expand beyond the image’s existing borders. But whoever did alter the image presumably still exported the modified version without considering the impact of their changes.

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The Photoshop blunder feels like a harbinger for a media world that increasingly relies on artificial intelligence, where determining whether something was created by human or machine is ever more murky and AI becomes a convenient scapegoat to explain away mistakes.

The incident also reveals Nine is using AI on images it broadcasts without disclosing the AI manipulation.

In August, Nine’s CEO, Mike Sneesby, said he could “see potential for Nine to use AI to drive meaningful, longer term benefits in content production, operational efficiency and commercialisation throughout the business”.

Adobe’s generative fill tool no doubt offers “operational efficiency”, but should Nine have declared it had started using generative fill and flagged that in images put to air?

Although Nine has apologised and accepted responsibility, the incident appears to breach the (voluntary) Australian AI ethics principles, which advise that people using AI should be identifiable and accountable for the outcomes, and there should be human oversight.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance journalist code of ethics concurs, stating pictures and sound must be true and accurate, and “manipulation likely to mislead should be disclosed”.

On the tech side of things, it raises questions about the dataset Adobe uses to train its AI. Tests conducted by Guardian Australia this week suggested Adobe’s generative fill on images of women would often lead to shorter shorts, something Crikey was also able to replicate.

Adobe said in a statement it had trained its model with “diverse image datasets” and continually tests the model to mitigate against “perpetuating harmful stereotypes”. The company said it was also reliant on reports from users for potentially biased outputs to improve the processes.

“This two-way dialogue with the public is critical so that we can work together to continue to make generative AI better for everyone.”

Part of the mess that AI tools create is not just the fake images, video and audio but the doubt they sow about everything else.

Australia is yet to see a scandal involving a politician claiming an inconvenient audio grab or video is an AI deep fake, but it likely won’t be long.

In the US, right wing political operative Roger Stone last month claimed leaked audio of him threatening to kill Democrats was AI-generated. At the same time, an AI-faked version of US president Joe Biden’s voice was making robocalls that spread misinformation about the New Hampshire primary.

When you can’t tell what is real and what is AI, suddenly everything is suspect. That means for media companies at the very least, and tech companies too, disclosure is crucial.

Globally, legislators are still figuring out exactly how to implement guardrails and progress has been piecemeal. In the United States, legislation has been introduced to criminalise the spread of nonconsensual, sexualised images generated by artificial intelligence after the online circulation of deepfakes depicting Taylor Swift last week.

Australia will probably join in this ban via codes enforced by the eSafety commissioner, but it to has largely been watching from afar. Last month, Australia announced an “expert panel” will be consulted on the best next steps on high risk AI.

And some issues will be covered by existing law. Dr Rita Matulionyte, a senior lecturer in law at Macquarie University, has authored a paper on AI and moral rights. She told Guardian Australia the copyright act, for instance, should prevent “derogatory treatment” of copyright works, such as alteration or mutilation by AI, although there were few cases where it had been successfully argued.

Matulionyte said it was also unclear whether such law would help Purcell, given she was not the photographer, and the manipulation may not be substantial enough.

“If the person in the image was stripped of most/all of the clothes or a background were added that would mutilate the idea behind the picture, then the infringement of the right of integrity would be more likely to succeed,” she said.

In the end, it’s all about transparency.

The government has said it will work with industry to develop a “voluntary code” to label or watermark AI-generated content. Leaving it up to the goodwill of the large companies involved in this technology to do the right thing is clearly not a viable option.

MPs split on support for Labor’s stage-three tax cut changes

Liberal MPs split on support for Labor’s stage-three tax cut changes

Party room divides as some keen to allow new plan while others want to keep up attack on government’s ‘broken promise’ and warn against falling into a ‘trap’

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Liberal MPs are split on whether to support the Labor government’s stage-three tax changes, with some angling to oppose the legislation even as leader Peter Dutton signals the opposition may not stand in the way of larger refunds for millions of Australians.

Julian Leeser has urged his colleagues to oppose the tax changes, while Keith Wolahan warned against falling into a “trap” set by the government. Dutton said the opposition would push for lower taxes, a statement some see as an inclination to wave through the changes, but the view is not universal inside the Liberals ahead of a crucial party room meeting in Canberra next week.

Liberal sources said there were two views inside the party room, with some members keen not to stand in the way of larger tax cuts for lower- and middle-income people, while others were keen to keep prosecuting the government over claims of a broken promise and strongly against winding back the original stage-three tax plan.

Dutton on Friday appeared to indicate a willingness to back the reform. Asked on Channel Nine if the Coalition would stand in the way of Labor’s changes, he responded: “The Liberal party has always been the party of lower taxes, and that’s going to continue.”

Host Sarah Abo continued: “You don’t want to take money away from them, do you?”

Dutton replied: “And we’re not going to.”

His comments were interpreted by some Liberal MPs as backing the move, but the shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor, stressed no decision had been made. Responding to Dutton’s comments, Taylor said: “I’ll reiterate the principle, though, which is the principle that Peter Dutton just articulated, which is that we are the party for lower taxes.”

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The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, goaded the Coalition for not committing to a position.

“Stop stuffing around, stop coming up with all kinds of excuses not to support our cost-of-living tax cut for middle Australia,” he said.

“Come out and say that you’ll enthusiastically back these changes because they are overwhelmingly better for the communities and the country that these LNP members are supposed to be representing.”

Leeser, the member for Berowra and former shadow attorney general, will use a speech at the National Young Liberal Convention in Brisbane on Saturday to accuse the government’s amended stage-three plan of “resurrecting bracket creep”.

“I believe the Coalition should oppose the Albanese tax increases – because we believe in keeping taxes low, governments living within their means and delivering policies that incentivise and grow our economy,” Leeser will say, according to advance speech notes.

“As a Liberal, I will be arguing that we must stand for what we believe and we must oppose Labor’s attempts to ditch the legislated tax cuts. Labor believes this is an opportunity to wedge us. Frankly, I believe it is an opportunity for us to recommit to orthodox economic management.”

NSW senator Andrew Bragg said the Liberals should consider sticking by the original stage three-plan legislated by the Morrison Coalition government, including opposing Labor’s plan to reinstate the 37% tax bracket, which the original plan removed.

“We should insist on the removal of the 37% tax threshold. That was the centrepiece of the reform, it’s been gutted,” Bragg told Guardian Australia.

“We should be opposed to anything which reinstates a tax bracket.”

Wolahan, the member for Menzies, said he wasn’t opposed to backing the changes but that many in the Coalition wanted to see their own modelling on the budget impact of the changes.

“The prime minister has clearly set a political trap for the Coalition, and I welcome Peter Dutton’s decision not to walk into it,” he said.

Jenny Ware, the member for Hughes, suggested the Liberals should negotiate with the government so as to cut the Greens out of discussions.

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, has indicated the party may put a rise to the tax-free threshold, a rise in the jobseeker welfare payment or adding dental into the Medicare system on the negotiating table.

“What Australia does not need is the Greens dictating government policy on this important issue,” Ware said. “Who knows where that will lead, especially as Katy Gallagher has refused to rule out changes to negative gearing.

“Hard-working Australians could be faced with changes to the tax treatment of the family home, superannuation and/or an inheritance tax if the Greens have buy-in to the Labor party’s tax policy.”

MPs split on support for Labor’s stage-three tax cut changes

Liberal MPs split on support for Labor’s stage-three tax cut changes

Party room divides as some keen to allow new plan while others want to keep up attack on government’s ‘broken promise’ and warn against falling into a ‘trap’

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Liberal MPs are split on whether to support the Labor government’s stage-three tax changes, with some angling to oppose the legislation even as leader Peter Dutton signals the opposition may not stand in the way of larger refunds for millions of Australians.

Julian Leeser has urged his colleagues to oppose the tax changes, while Keith Wolahan warned against falling into a “trap” set by the government. Dutton said the opposition would push for lower taxes, a statement some see as an inclination to wave through the changes, but the view is not universal inside the Liberals ahead of a crucial party room meeting in Canberra next week.

Liberal sources said there were two views inside the party room, with some members keen not to stand in the way of larger tax cuts for lower- and middle-income people, while others were keen to keep prosecuting the government over claims of a broken promise and strongly against winding back the original stage-three tax plan.

Dutton on Friday appeared to indicate a willingness to back the reform. Asked on Channel Nine if the Coalition would stand in the way of Labor’s changes, he responded: “The Liberal party has always been the party of lower taxes, and that’s going to continue.”

Host Sarah Abo continued: “You don’t want to take money away from them, do you?”

Dutton replied: “And we’re not going to.”

His comments were interpreted by some Liberal MPs as backing the move, but the shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor, stressed no decision had been made. Responding to Dutton’s comments, Taylor said: “I’ll reiterate the principle, though, which is the principle that Peter Dutton just articulated, which is that we are the party for lower taxes.”

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, goaded the Coalition for not committing to a position.

“Stop stuffing around, stop coming up with all kinds of excuses not to support our cost-of-living tax cut for middle Australia,” he said.

“Come out and say that you’ll enthusiastically back these changes because they are overwhelmingly better for the communities and the country that these LNP members are supposed to be representing.”

Leeser, the member for Berowra and former shadow attorney general, will use a speech at the National Young Liberal Convention in Brisbane on Saturday to accuse the government’s amended stage-three plan of “resurrecting bracket creep”.

“I believe the Coalition should oppose the Albanese tax increases – because we believe in keeping taxes low, governments living within their means and delivering policies that incentivise and grow our economy,” Leeser will say, according to advance speech notes.

“As a Liberal, I will be arguing that we must stand for what we believe and we must oppose Labor’s attempts to ditch the legislated tax cuts. Labor believes this is an opportunity to wedge us. Frankly, I believe it is an opportunity for us to recommit to orthodox economic management.”

NSW senator Andrew Bragg said the Liberals should consider sticking by the original stage three-plan legislated by the Morrison Coalition government, including opposing Labor’s plan to reinstate the 37% tax bracket, which the original plan removed.

“We should insist on the removal of the 37% tax threshold. That was the centrepiece of the reform, it’s been gutted,” Bragg told Guardian Australia.

“We should be opposed to anything which reinstates a tax bracket.”

Wolahan, the member for Menzies, said he wasn’t opposed to backing the changes but that many in the Coalition wanted to see their own modelling on the budget impact of the changes.

“The prime minister has clearly set a political trap for the Coalition, and I welcome Peter Dutton’s decision not to walk into it,” he said.

Jenny Ware, the member for Hughes, suggested the Liberals should negotiate with the government so as to cut the Greens out of discussions.

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, has indicated the party may put a rise to the tax-free threshold, a rise in the jobseeker welfare payment or adding dental into the Medicare system on the negotiating table.

“What Australia does not need is the Greens dictating government policy on this important issue,” Ware said. “Who knows where that will lead, especially as Katy Gallagher has refused to rule out changes to negative gearing.

“Hard-working Australians could be faced with changes to the tax treatment of the family home, superannuation and/or an inheritance tax if the Greens have buy-in to the Labor party’s tax policy.”

UK teenagers sentenced to life in prison for ‘exceptionally brutal’ murder

Teenagers jailed for ‘exceptionally brutal’ murder of Brianna Ghey

Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe were partly motivated by 16-year-old victim’s transgender identity, judge says

  • Shockingly premeditated: how two teenagers planned Brianna Ghey’s murder

The teenage pair who murdered Brianna Ghey have been sentenced to life in prison for an “exceptionally brutal” killing partly motivated by her transgender identity.

Scarlett Jenkinson, who was described by the judge as the “driving force” behind the murder, was sentenced to a minimum of 22 years for what the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said was “one of the most disturbing cases” their lawyers had ever dealt with.

Eddie Ratcliffe, a quiet and studious former champion kickboxer, was given 20 years for killing Brianna, an “out and proud” transgender girl who hoped to become a beauty therapist.

The pair, both 16, were named for the first time before the sentencing after the judge lifted reporting restrictions.

Sentencing, Mrs Justice Yip said: “You both took part in a brutal and planned murder which was sadistic in nature and where a secondary motive was hostility towards Brianna because of her transgender identity.”

She said Jenkinson was motivated by a “deep desire to kill”, and pronounced her concern on hearing that the teenager had “expressed the desire to kill again” after her conviction. She had written a new “kill list” since her detention, which included the names of some of her carers, the court heard.

To both defendants, the judge said: “You picked Brianna because you both thought she would be an easy target.”

Yip warned the pair they may never be released if they “remain a danger”. Though Jenkinson pleaded not guilty to the murder, Manchester crown court heard that since her conviction she had admitted taking part in the stabbing, having previously blamed Ratcliffe for the murder.

She told a psychiatrist she had stabbed Brianna “repeatedly” and had found it “exciting”, and that she killed her because she thought Brianna would stop being her friend. She murdered Brianna so she would “always be with her”, the court heard.

Jenkinson, who was obsessed with serial killers, also admitted to the psychiatrist that she “intended to take parts of Brianna’s body as a token”. She had previously told Ratcliffe she wanted to keep Brianna’s “pretty eyes”.

The court heard that Brianna was stabbed 28 times, but there is no evidence that her killers took any of her body parts.

In addition, Jenkinson admitted she had tried to poison Brianna a few weeks before the murder with red ibuprofen tablets “pretending that they would get her high”.

The court heard Brianna was very ill around that time, and that her mother, Esther Ghey, thought she had appendicitis. She recalled Brianna being very sick and there were red blobs in her vomit, which she thought at the time were red grape skins.

In a statement to the court, Esther said she was devastated that her “lonely” daughter was killed by “someone we believed to be her friend. Someone that we trusted. Someone that I was so happy that she had, fearing that my child had been lonely.”

Jenkinson and Ratcliffe met, aged 11, at Culcheth high school in Warrington and stayed friends after Jenkinson moved to Birchwood high school in autumn 2022, after an incident involving her bringing cannabis edibles into class.

It was at Birchwood that Jenkinson befriended Brianna, who did not attend ordinary lessons because of problems with anxiety and an eating disorder.

Jenkinson, whose mother is a secondary school teacher, told Ratcliffe she had become “obsessed” with Brianna, and she soon put her on a list of children the teenagers wanted to kill. The others were four boys they disliked: one Ratcliffe thought was a “nonce”, another the boy considered a love rival, and two who had been mean to Jenkinson’s boyfriend.

Brianna became their focus after they failed to lure one of the others out via a fake social media profile. She would be “easier” to kill, they agreed, in one of thousands of text messages exchanged in the run-up to the murder on 11 February last year.

The teenagers plotted her murder meticulously at the age of 15, with Jenkinson handwriting a plan for how, where and when they would stab Brianna. They even had a code word – “gay” – to signal the start of the attack in Culcheth Linear Park in Warrington.

They carried it out almost to the letter, stabbing Brianna 28 times before they were disturbed by a couple walking their dogs.

Ratcliffe met Brianna for the first time on the day of the murder. While planning the killing, he repeatedly referred to her not as “she” but “it”, and a “femboy thing” – and said he “just wanted to see what size dick it has”.

Yip said his messages were “transphobic” and “dehumanising”.

Giving evidence, Ratcliffe insisted he was not transphobic, and blamed the murder on Jenkinson.

But it was his hunting knife, bought on a ski trip to Bulgaria over the 2022-23 Christmas break, that was used to stab Brianna.

Police found it in his bedroom after his arrest, the day after the killing. Brianna’s DNA and his were detected on the knife. Brianna’s blood was also discovered on his shoes and coat.

There was no forensic evidence linking Jenkinson to the weapon, and no spots of blood were found on her clothing. In her post-conviction confession, she claimed that was because they had been washed.

In the dock, the teenagers never looked at each other and were separated by security guards and intermediaries employed to ensure they understood the court process. Neither reacted as the sentence was passed, with Jenkinson playing with a green fidget toy.

An initial psychiatric assessment of Jenkinson suggested she had traits of autism and ADHD, but the psychiatrist changed his diagnosis post conviction, saying she had “a severe form of conduct-dissocial disorder, one of the features of which is having no empathy”.

Yip said this provided “some explanation” for how Jenkinson could commit such a “dreadful murder” but did not lower her culpability.

She told the teenager: “Scarlett, I have concluded that the primary motivation for Brianna’s murder was your deep desire to kill. The messages reveal your fantasies and show your sadistic motives. Brianna’s murder was exceptionally brutal.”

After his arrest, Ratcliffe was diagnosed with autism and the judge accepted that his social skills were “not as developed as most people of your age”. But she said “Your autism cannot provide any real excuse for the offence”.

Manchester crown court heard that after he was charged with Brianna’s murder, Ratcliffe stopped talking. He was diagnosed with “selective mutism”, speaking only to his mother. The trial was delayed for months as his legal team struggled to take instructions from him.

When it eventually began, at the end of last year, he was given special dispensation by the judge to type his evidence, telling the jury that science was his favourite subject at school and he had wanted to study microbiology at university.

Giving evidence, Jenkinson admitted to an obsession with what her barrister called “dark materials” but said it was all fantasy that she had never acted on.

She had downloaded a special browser on her phone to watch “real” murders and torture on the dark web, and kept detailed notes about serial killers including Richard Ramirez, the “Night Stalker”.

Nicola Wyn Williams, a senior prosecutor at the CPS, said: “This sentencing hearing concludes one of the most disturbing cases that the Crown Prosecution Service has had to deal with.

“At just 16, Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe are convicted killers, responsible for the brutal murder of a vulnerable young girl who thought they were her friends. They have been given a life term of imprisonment and have shown no remorse.”

Esther Ghey said of the killers: “I have moments where I feel sorry for them, because they have also ruined their own lives, but I have to remember that they felt no empathy for Brianna when they left her bleeding to death after their premeditated and vicious attack, which was carried out not because Brianna had done anything wrong, but just because one hated trans people and the other thought it would be fun.”

Insurer Zurich claims it is victim of fraud involving Australian company

Insurer Zurich claims it is victim of fraud involving Greensill and Sanjeev Gupta

Company draws Greensill Capital founder and Gupta’s Liberty businesses into case at high court in London

The Swiss insurer Zurich alleges it has been the victim of fraud in a counter-claim in London over the demise of the Greensill business empire, drawing the financier Lex Greensill and the metals magnate Sanjeev Gupta into a £320m court battle.

Zurich Insurance Company was last year sued in the high court by the administrators of Greensill Bank, which entered German insolvency proceedings in 2021, in a dispute over trade credit insurance.

In its defence and counter-claim, dated 26 January, Zurich alleges that the claims against it arise out of a “fraudulent scheme” involving Lex Greensill, Greensill Capital UK, Sanjeev Gupta and three of Gupta’s Liberty businesses – part of the GFG Alliance – court filings show.

A spokesperson for Lex Greensill said he “wholly rejects” allegations that were without foundation and which would be “robustly addressed” in his defence and any counterclaims.

A GFG Alliance spokesperson said: “GFG Alliance was not involved in any insurance arrangements which Greensill had in place and any attempt to link us to the Greensill insurance is misplaced.”

The 2021 collapse of Greensill, whose Australian founder received a British state honour in 2017 and which once counted David Cameron, now foreign secretary, as an adviser, sparked a raft of litigation and criminal and regulatory investigations.

Zurich alleges that deliberate or reckless misrepresentation and non-disclosures entitled it to avoid insurance policies, refuse claims and deny requests for any return of premiums paid, the court filing showed.

Its allegations include that accounts receivable purportedly being sold by Liberty to Greensill Capital were not genuine, that a Receivables Purchase Agreement was a “sham” and that it was not told that Greensill Bank was under investigation in Germany or about the “true nature” of the business between Greensill and Liberty.

“Each of the said non-disclosures was committed by Mr Greensill in deliberate or reckless breach of GBAG [Greensill Bank] and GCUK’s [Greensill Capital’s] duties of fair presentation,” Zurich alleged in the filing.

Greensill, a specialist lender, pledged to help clients manage their finances by paying the bills they owed suppliers – in effect lending them money – while taking invoices from their suppliers as collateral, known as supply chain financing. The loans were repackaged into bonds and sold to investors.

Greensill foundered in 2021 after its main insurer stopped providing cover for billions of dollars of debt in portfolios it had created for clients including the Swiss bank Credit Suisse.

Greensill’s largest client, Gupta’s GFG Alliance, has been under criminal investigation in Britain since 2021 for suspected fraud and money laundering in an matter that includes its financing arrangements with Greensill Capital. GFG has consistently denied any wrongdoing.

Should Zurich be found liable in court under its policies, it is claiming a corresponding entitlement against Greensill, Gupta and their companies under its counter-claim.

Firm recalls almost all its vehicles sold in the US over warning light problems

Tesla recalls almost all its vehicles sold in the US over warning light problems

Recall of more than 2m Teslas will be done with a software update as company comes under increasing scrutiny from US officials

Tesla is recalling nearly all of the vehicles it has sold in the US because some warning lights on the instrument panel are too small.

The recall of nearly 2.2m vehicles announced on Friday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is a sign of stepped-up scrutiny of the electric vehicle maker. The agency also said it has upgraded a 2023 investigation into Tesla steering problems to an engineering analysis, which is a step closer to a recall.

Documents said the update will increase warnings and alerts to drivers. The agency says that the brake, park and antilock brake warning lights have a smaller font size than required by federal safety standards. That can make critical safety information hard to read, increasing the risk of a crash. NHTSA said it found the problem in a routine safety compliance audit on 8 January. Tesla has identified three warranty claims potentially related to the problem, but has no reports of crashes or injuries.

The warning light recall will be done with a software update, documents posted Friday by the agency said. It covers the 2012 through 2023 Model S, the 2016 through 2023 Model X, the 2017 through 2023 Model 3, the 2019 through 2024 Model Y and the 2024 Cybertruck.

Owners of the electric vehicles will not have to bring their vehicles into a dealership, though, as recalls in the modern era often entail downloading software patches from home. Tesla has already started releasing the software update, and owners will be notified by letter starting on 30 March.

Shares of Tesla Inc, which have been in a downward trend since July and slumped after the company’s fourth quarter earnings report last week, fell another 2.7% in early trading on Friday to levels not seen since May of last year.

In December, NHTSA pressured Tesla into recalling more than 2m vehicles to update software and fix a defective system that is supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when using Autopilot.

The recall came after a two-year investigation by NHTSA into a series of crashes that happened while the Autopilot partially automated driving system was in use. Some were deadly.

The agency said its investigation found Autopilot’s method of making sure that drivers are paying attention can be inadequate and can lead to “foreseeable misuse of the system”.

The added controls and alerts will “further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility”, the documents said.

But safety experts said that, while the recall is a good step, it still makes the driver responsible and does not fix the underlying problem that Autopilot is not reacting to stopped vehicles. They said that Tesla’s driver monitoring system that relies on detecting hands on the steering wheel did not stop drivers from checking out.

Tesla says on its website that its Autopilot and “full self-driving” systems cannot drive the vehicles, and that human drivers must be ready to intervene at all times.

In February of last year, NHTSA also pressed Tesla to recall nearly 363,000 vehicles with its “full self-driving” system because it can misbehave around intersections and doe not always follow speed limits. The recall was part of part of a larger investigation into Tesla’s automated driving systems.

It raised questions about CEO Elon Musk’s claims that he can prove to regulators that cars equipped with “full self-driving” are safer than humans, and that humans almost never have to touch the controls.

Musk at one point had promised that a fleet of autonomous robotaxis would be in use in 2020. The latest action appears to push that development further into the future.

In addition, Tesla is recalling more than 1.6m Model S, X, 3 and Y electric vehicles exported to China for problems with their automatic assisted steering and door latch controls.

China’s State Administration for Market Regulation announced the recall in early January. It said Tesla Motors in Beijing and Shanghai would use remote upgrades to fix the problems.

When the automatic steering function is engaged, drivers might misuse the combined driving function, increasing a risk of accidents, the notice said.

The recall to fix the door unlock logic control for imported Model S and Model X EVs affects 7,538 vehicles made between 26 October 2022 and 16 November 2023. It is needed to prevent door latches from coming open during a collision.

Tesla was the top seller of electric vehicles in the world last year, but China’s BYD beat the company in the fourth quarter. BYD is the leader in the booming China market.

The steering investigation upgrade, also announced Friday in documents, covers more than 334,000 Tesla vehicles.

The investigation was opened in July of last year after the agency received a dozen complaints about loss of steering control in 2023 Model Y and 3 vehicles. Now the agency says it has 115 complaints, and it received another 2,176 after requesting information from the company.

Agency documents say drivers are reporting loss of steering control, often accompanied by messages showing that power-assisted steering has been reduced or disabled. Some complained of an inability to turn the steering wheel, while others said it required more effort.

A message was left on Friday seeking comment from Tesla.

In one case a driver told NHTSA that they could not complete a right turn and ran into another vehicle.

The agency said there have been multiple allegations of Teslas blocking intersections or roadways. Over 50 vehicles had to be towed, according to the consumer complaints.

Many of the complaints reported the problem happened between 5mph and 35mph. The highest reported speed that alleged an inability to turn was 75mph, the documents said. The agency said it is looking into possible steering rack failures.

Judge throws out case against activist and other London protesters

Judge throws out case against Greta Thunberg and other London protesters

Court rules not enough evidence provided to prove defendants failed to comply with section 14 order at anti-fossil fuel rally

Greta Thunberg and four others charged with public order offences over a protest in London have been cleared after a judge ruled that they had no case to answer.

Thunberg was charged alongside Christofer Kebbon, Joshua James Unwin, Jeff Rice and Peter Barker with “failing to comply with a condition imposed under section 14 of the Public Order Act”.

They had been taking part in a protest outside the InterContinental hotel in Mayfair, the venue for the Energy Intelligence Forum (EIF), a fossil fuel industry summit attended by corporate executives and government ministers.

All were arrested after the senior officer at the scene enacted the section 14 order to impose conditions on the protest, which had blocked access to and from the hotel for guests and EIF delegates.

At the conclusion of the prosecution case on Friday, the second day of their trial at Westminster magistrates court, Judge Laws agreed that the crown had failed to present enough evidence to prove their case.

Laws said the conditions imposed on protesters were “so unclear that it is unlawful”, which meant “anyone failing to comply were actually committing no offence”.

The judge said the protest was “throughout peaceful, civilised and non-violent” and he criticised evidence provided by the prosecution about the location the demonstrators should be moved to, saying the only helpful footage he received was “made by an abseiling protester”.

He added: “It is quite striking to me that there were no witness statements taken from anyone in the hotel, approximately 1,000 people, or from anyone trying to get in. There was no evidence of any vehicles being impeded, no evidence of any interference with emergency services, or any risk to life.”

Raj Chada, representing Thunberg, Kebbon and Unwin, had argued that his clients had not had the details of the section 14 order properly communicated to them by the arresting officers.

In each case, Chada said, “It is unclear as to what the condition was or what was communicated, and so what the defendants should know or didn’t know; and so the prosecution case fails at this stage.”

Going through the evidence of each arresting officer in turn, Chada argued that each had failed to properly communicate the details of the condition placed on the protest. In the case of Kebbon, the officer told him he was being arrested for section 14 “obstruction”; and in the cases of Unwin and Thunberg, officers gave incorrect details of the location to which the order redirected protesters.

“In relation to Miss Thunberg, [the officer] was asked [while giving evidence] specifically about what the condition was, and he said Piccadilly Place,” said Chada.

“Does that exist?” asked Laws.

“Not on the map we have,” Chada replied. “It is not the condition. Whatever it is, it is not the condition.

“We say for good measure that the condition that was in the charge is not the condition that was communicated to the officers’ supervisors. But our primary submission relates to that which was communicated to each of the three that I represent, which does not meet what the charge says, simple as that.”

Earlier, the officer who arrested Thunberg told the court he did not take into account her media profile when giving her time to comply with a restriction placed on the protest she was attending.

PC David Lawrence said he knew who the high-profile Swedish activist was when he approached her to instruct her to comply with the order.

Lawrence said he had been called to the protest and asked to enforce the section 14 order that had been made by the senior officer at the scene. “We moved into the crowd and started telling people to move their protest on to the pavement,” he told the court.

“I spoke to a few people initially, and then we approached a group in the centre of the crowd. I initially spoke to a female and she left; after that I spoke with Thunberg. I asked what her intentions were and asked if she wished to remain and she would be arrested, and if she wanted to leave and continue her protest on the pavement.

“She replied in words, by saying: ‘I’m staying.’ I then informed her that she would be arrested and removed from the area.”

Laws said he arrested Thunberg because “she was breaching a section 14 public order notice”.

Under cross-examination by Chada, Lawrence admitted he did not know the precise location to which protesters were being asked to relocate.

After Lawrence indicated that he knew who Thunberg was, Chada asked him: “Did you take into account the photographers and the ease with which she can move?”

“We had officers moving them [the photographers] out of the way,” Lawrence replied, adding that another woman he had asked to move had been able to leave without difficulty.

Pointing out that that individual did not have the same public profile as Thunberg, Chada asked Lawrence: “Did you give any account to that to allow her more opportunity to move, any further time?”

“Any further time? No,” Lawrence replied.

Laws said he would grant Chada’s request for the government to pay his legal fees and Thunberg’s travel costs.