INDEPENDENT 2024-02-03 20:18:45


Police reveal new footage of raid in search for Clapham fugitive

Detectives hunting the fugitive suspect in the Clapham chemical attack have revealed new footage from a raid in Newcastle which uncovered containers marked with a “corrosive” warning.

Sex offender Abdul Ezedi is being sought by police in connection with an incident where a mother and two children were doused with an alkaline substance in south London on Wednesday night, and detectives say they have received dozens of calls with information, including multiple possible sightings.

According to a relative, who vowed to “bring him in by myself if I have to”, Ezedi was reportedly in a relationship with the 31-year-old mother, who remains in a critical but stable condition and is believed to have sustained life-changing injuries

Ezedi was last seen boarding a southbound Victoria Tube at King’s Cross less than 90 minutes after the attack in Clapham, police revealed, as they published the last-known image of the 35-year-old fugitive, featuring severe burn marks down the right side of his face.

Have you been affected by this? Email barney.davis@independent.co.uk

Michelle O’Neill makes history as Northern Ireland’s first nationalist first minister

Northern Ireland’s devolved government has reconvened and made history by appointing Michelle O’Neill as the first nationalist first minister.

The appointment of the Sinn Fein vice-president is a pivotal moment for Irish nationalism as it ends the dominance of pro-British unionists as first ministers.

Taking up the post, she pledged to work with unionists to build a better future for Northern Ireland and work “tirelessly” to improve the country alongside DUP MLA Emma Little-Pengelly, who was nominated as deputy first minister.

Addressing the chamber after her appointment was confirmed and she affirmed the pledge of office, Ms O’Neill said the restoration of the institutions marked a “moment of equality and progress”.

“A new opportunity to work and grow together,” she said. “Confident that wherever we come from, whatever our aspirations, we can and must build our future together.”

The two top jobs in the ministerial executive wield equal power and responsibility but the elevation of a republican to the office of first minister, by virtue of Sinn Fein becoming the region’s largest political party in the 2022 assembly election, is undoubtedly a significant symbolic moment for Northern Ireland.

The devolved government reconvened after the DUP, the largest unionist party in the region, walked out in February 2022 in protest at the UK’s post-Brexit trade arrangements.

It agreed to stop its boycott after getting fresh concessions from party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson which he says has effectively removed the Irish Sea trading border on goods remaining within the UK.

The proceedings commenced with the process of nominating a speaker, with former DUP leader Edwin Poots elected to the role.

Ms O’Neill said the public was “relying on each of us to act in their best interests and to serve our whole community in good faith.

“We must make powersharing work because collectively, we are charged with leading and delivering for all our people, for every community,” she said.

“In common cause, we must make life better for workers, families, communities. To create hope and opportunity.”

Ms O’Neill urged all MLAs to be “respectful of each other”.

“The days of second-class citizenship are long gone,” she said. “Today confirms that they are never coming back.

“As an Irish republican, I pledge cooperation and genuine honest effort with those colleagues who are British, of a unionist tradition and who cherish the union. This is an assembly for all – Catholic, Protestant and dissenter.

“Despite our different outlooks and views on the future constitutional position, the public rightly demands that we cooperate, deliver and work together.

“We must build trust and confidence in our ability to do that. That will require courage and ambition not just from us who are elected but from the public.

“We can all invest in this and the more of us that do the better the chance it has.”

The republican leader said those in the new ministerial executive “undoubtedly face great challenges” as she listed the issues besetting public services in the region.

She said ministers had to work together to challenge the UK government to provide more funding for Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris hailed the restoration of powersharing while addressing media in the Great Hall in Stormont following the nomination of First Minister Michelle O’Neill, Deputy First Minister Emma Little-Pengelly and Speaker Edwin Poots.

“It’s a great day for Northern Ireland, it’s a great day for everyone here, a great day for businesses across this place and public services here,” he said.

And Irish minister for foreign affairs Micheal Martin hailed the “special day for the people of Northern Ireland”.

The tanaiste also congratulated Ms O’Neill and Ms Little-Pengelly on their appointments.

“I wish them both well in what will be very demanding roles. I look forward to working with them, and with their executive colleagues,” he said.

“I also want to congratulate Edwin Poots on his election as speaker of the assembly.”

Referring to the long path ahead, Mr Martin added: “While the last few weeks and months have focused on restoring the assembly and executive, the hard work now begins in earnest.

“Northern Ireland faces a number of real challenges. An executive working collectively – and prioritising real, everyday needs over questions of identity – can meet these challenges.

“The [Irish] government stands ready to support the work of the executive and to work in partnership with the British government in this.”

Jonnie Irwin shared heartbreaking regret after terminal cancer diagnosis

A Place in the Sun presenter Jonnie Irwin has died aged 50, his family announced on Friday (2 February).

The former TV host had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in 2020. After initially keeping his illness private, Irwin revealed his condition in November 2022 after being told the cancer had spread from his lungs to his brain.

The news of his death was shared on the presenter’s Instagram account alongside a statement.

“It is with heavy hearts that we share the news of Jonnie’s passing. A truly remarkable soul, he fought bravely against cancer with unwavering strength and courage. Jonnie touched the lives of so many with his kindness, warmth, and infectious spirit,” the post read alongside a photo of Irwin and his wife Jessica Holmes.

Tributes have quickly poured in for Irwin, with Jasmine Harman – his Place in the Sun co-presenter of more than 200 episodes – saying her “heart is broken”.

Thousands of pro-Palestine supporters march through London

More than 10,000 pro-Palestine supporters have marched in central London calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, in the first such demonstration since the UN’s top court ordered Israel to ensure it does not commit acts of genocide.

Scotland Yard estimated that around 10,000 demonstrators marched through the capital’s West End of London, with the crowd swelling to double that size for the speeches in Whitehall.

Hundreds of officers from the Metropolitan Police were on duty with additional dispersal powers as the march started at Portland Place and headed to Whitehall.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) said it was the “eighth national march held for the Palestinian people”, following Hamas’s brutal massacre on 7 October in which 1,200 people were killed and more than 240 kidnapped before Israel retaliated with months of attacks on the Gaza Strip, killing and wounding thousands.

It comes as the UK becomes increasingly embroiled in rising tensions in the Middle East, with Britain and the United States striking Houthi targets in Yemen in response to attacks on shipping in the Red Sea.

Iraq warned the region was “on the brink of the abyss” on Saturday after the US struck 85 targets at seven facilities across Syria and Iraq in retaliation for a drone attack last week which killed three American troops and injured dozens more in northeastern Jordan.

Demonstrators in London carried banners on Saturday which read “end the killing”, “free the children” and “freedom to Palestine”, accompanied by harrowing images of the bloodshed since the conflicted erupted.

Officers were on the look out for offensive placards and banners, with staff also monitoring the protest by CCTV to sport other offences or to find suspects, a spokesperson said.

PSC director Ben Jamal said: “We are marching again because we know we are on the right side of history and we will stand always with the oppressed and never with the oppressor.”

More than 27,000 people have been killed and 66,000 wounded by Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the Hamas-controlled territory’s health ministry said on Thursday.

Ahead of the march, Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Ward, who is leading the policing operation, said: “We respect the right of people to protest, but other Londoners and visitors have rights as well.

“I understand the cumulative impact of repeated protests since October on businesses, residents and those who want to travel into the West End. Getting the balance between competing rights can be difficult, but we will do it independently, impartially and always within the law.”

Earlier this week, Britain said future funding for a UN relief agency that helps Palestinians hinges on the outcome of inquiries into allegations that staff took part in the 7 October attack on Israel.

Foreign Office minister Andrew Mitchell said the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) is “critical” to delivering humanitarian aid into Gaza and the region, but added the UK is “appalled” by the allegations of agency staff being involved in the atrocities.

The UK joined the US, Australia, Italy and other countries in pausing funding for UNRWA after it sacked a number of staff accused of taking part in the October attack. The funding pause has sparked concerns about the impact the decision will have on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Meawhile, several opposition MPs have pressed the UK government to suspend arms sales to Israel following an interim ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The ICJ stopped short of ordering a ceasefire in Gaza in a genocide case filed by South Africa, but it demanded that Israel tries to contain death and damage in its military offensive.

Additional reporting by PA

Queen ‘thought Meghan’s wedding dress was too white for a divorcee’

The late Queen thought that the Duchess of Sussex’s wedding dress was “too white” because she had been married before she met Prince Harry, a new book has claimed.

Ingrid Seward, the former editor-in-chief of Majesty magazine, wrote in her book My Mother and I that Elizabeth II only revealed her opinion to her closest confidantes.

The Queen’s cousin Lady Elizabeth Anson is said to have been among those confidantes and reportedly claimed the monarch thought the dress was improper for a divorcee.

“In the monarch’s view, it was not appropriate for a divorcee getting remarried in church to look quite so flamboyantly virginal,” Seward wrote in an extract of the book.

The book also reports that the late Prince Philip nicknamed the Duchess of Sussex “DoW” because she reminded him of the Duchess of Windsor.

The divorcee Wallis Simpson’s frowned-upon relationship with Edward VIII caused a crisis in the monarchy in the twentieth century, leading to his abdication of the throne.

Meghan was previously married to film producer Trevor Engleson but they divorced four years before she married Harry in 2018.

The late Queen was also not comfortable with Prince Charles standing in for Meghan’s father to walk her down the aisle and was concerned about 96-year-old Philip’s decision to walk without a stick during the wedding, according to the extract of the book published in the Daily Mail.

Queen Elizabeth II was also reportedly upset at Harry’s attitude during the wedding preparations, and that their relationship was “quite badly damaged by it all”, a rupture that worsened when Harry decided to give up being a working royal.

It comes as a senior Netflix executive announced the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have “a bunch” of new projects in development at the streaming giant.

Harry and Meghan signed a five-year deal with Netflix that is estimated to be worth $100m (approximately £78m) in 2020, after they resigned as senior members of the royal family and relocated to the US.

Under the deal, the couple have released a six-part series titled Harry & Meghan about their relationship, marriage, and decision to leave the UK and move to Los Angeles.

Unmissable New York State experiences

Events in Clapham must not be used to block genuine asylum claims

Abdul Shokoor Ezedi is the subject of a nationwide manhunt in connection with a horrific assault in south London, involving a mother, two girls and some bystanders who attempted to intervene in the attack. This must primarily be a police matter, to be dealt with through the criminal justice system, with the interest of the victims and the safety of the public central at all times. A crime has been committed, and one of extreme violence that has, so it is said, left those affected with “life-changing” injuries.

Understandably, it has captured the public’s attention and sparked concerns. Quite rightly, the issue of using corrosive substances to injure and disfigure people is one that horrifies, and attention needs to be paid to the ready availability of acids and corrosive alkalines which, in the wrong hands, can be just as dangerous as a firearm or a blade. These assaults were carried out on a residential street and, as far as can be judged, with some forward planning.

Inevitably, because Ezedi has been granted asylum in the UK, this aspect of the case has also attracted comment, some rational and constructive, but far too much which merely seeks to use the misery of the victims of this assault for predictable and spurious political purposes.

How Turkey has dealt another blow to Rishi’s ‘stop the boats’ plan

Rishi Sunak’s promise to “stop the boats” has suffered another setback. The Home Office has declared Turkey an unsafe country for the purposes of asylum, meaning deporting anyone there could risk their life, in breach of domestic and international human rights law.

It is not the biggest setback he’s faced – everything to do with the Rwanda scheme has been far more embarrassing and damaging – but it’s undoubtedly an uncomfortable end to a difficult week. Questions about the asylum system as it has worked under successive Conservative governments have also been raised by the case of the chemical attack suspect, Abdul Ezedi. So on an important issue where the government hopes to gain some political advantage over Labour, the headlines continue to be all about chaos and failure.