INDEPENDENT 2024-02-07 12:11:03


Old Bailey evacuated after ‘explosions’ heard near criminal court

The Old Bailey has been evacuated after reports of explosions nearby, with smoke seen pouring from a building next door.

London Fire Brigade said they had been called to smoke issuing from the Central Criminal Court. Seven fire engines and 25 firefighters have been dispatched and are on the scene.

The Recorder of London, Mark Lucraft KC, told The Independent staff inside court heard several loud bangs and saw black billowing smoke from a suspected fire in a power substation at the back of the court building.

“There was a fire. What most of us heard was some loud bangs and black billowing smoke. Power went off in the building. As far as I’m aware it’s the substation that’s sited in the Old Bailey building, so we are just waiting for U.K. power to come and see it before the fire brigade can go in.”

London Fire Brigade said in a statement: “Firefighters are currently responding to reports of smoke issuing from a building on Warwick Lane, London. Please avoid the area as we respond.”

Inside the Old Bailey’s Court 5, where the trial of Constance Marten and Mark Gordon is in its third week, the lights started to flicker at around 10.40am before the power went out leaving the court in darkness.

Shortly afterwards, the fire alarm was sounded.

Hundreds of people were evacuated, filing out of the building’s front entrance.

BBC Journalist Nick Johnson reported live from X: “Black acrid smoke coming from rear of Central Criminal Court, Old Bailey – lights flickered inside before it was evacuated – firefighter says fire in section of building where electrical substation sits.”

More follows on this breaking news story….

Dentists offered £20,000 ‘golden hello’ to work in under-served areas

The chairman of the British Dental Association’s General Dental Practice Committee has warned the government’s new dental recovery plan “won’t halt the exodus from the workforce or offer hope to millions struggling to access care”.

Dentists will be offered a “golden hello” payment of up to £20,000 to address the shortage of dentist appointments in the UK.

The plans, which the government hopes will boost dental appointments across the country by 2.5 million next year, will also see patients able to view which local dentists are accepting new NHS patients at the touch of a button.

But Shawn Charlwood has warned that “nothing here meets Government’s stated ambitions, or makes this service fit for the future”.

He added: “Ministers wanted to stop dentistry becoming an election issue. By rearranging the deckchairs they’ve achieved the exact opposite.

“The crisis will remain a burning issue in communities across this country until we get real change.”

The plans come after hundreds of people were seen queuing in Bristol after an dentist opened up its books for NHS patients earlier this week.

Under the NHS Dental Recovery Plan, dentists are expected to be paid more for their NHS work and dental vans would be rolled out in rural and coastal areas so people in the most isolated communities will still be able to access help.

Dentists will also be offered cash for new patients under plans to boost dentistry across England. Around a million people who have not seen a dentist for two or more years are expected to benefit as officials offer a “new patient payment” of £15 to £50.

This morning, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said that those images “will resonate with millions of people across the country who are in exactly the same position after 14 years of Conservative government”.

Access to NHS dentistry has been one of the main concerns highlighted to Healthwatch England.

People have told the patient champion organisation that they have struggled to find up-to-date information about practices taking on new NHS patients.

Healthwatch said that as a result patients have lived with ongoing pain and in extreme cases, patients have resorted to DIY dentistry such as pulling out their own teeth.

The dental recovery plan was to be launched on Wednesday but many of the details were accidentally leaked after health officials sent an early version of the dental recovery plan to MPs of all parties on Tuesday afternoon.

The shadow health secretary has criticised the government for “only doing something about it now an election is coming” and that it is “contract reform that is really needed”.

He told the BBC that should Labour win the general election, he would meet with British Dental Association “the following Monday to start the process of contract reform, because I think it’s that urgent.”

He also said that although the government’s plans will go “someway to plugging the shortfall”, only contract reform can will allow the government to recruit and retrain the NHS dentists we need.

“This would be a week one priority for me if I’m the next health secretary,” he added.

Amanda Pritchard, NHS chief executive, said: “The health service will now introduce a wide range of practical measures to help make it easier for people to see a dentist, from incentivising dentists to take on new patients to supporting dentists to be part of the NHS in areas where access is challenging.

“Recovering dentistry is a priority for the NHS and this plan is a significant step towards transforming NHS dental services for the better.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak said: “NHS dentistry was hit hard by the pandemic and while services are improving – with 23% more treatments delivered last year compared to the previous year – we know that for too many people, accessing a dentist isn’t as easy as it should be.

“That’s why we’re taking action today to boost the number of NHS dentists, help cut waiting lists and put NHS dentistry on a sustainable footing for the long-term.

“Backed by £200m, this new recovery plan will deliver millions more NHS dental appointments and provide easier and faster access to care for people right across the country.”

Louise Ansari, chief executive at Healthwatch England, added: “Across England, we have seen major access issues in NHS dentistry. The dentistry recovery plan is a good start in addressing these serious problems.

“However, in the long run more radical solutions are needed to get NHS dentistry back on track.”

Humiliation for Haley as she loses to ‘none of the above’ in Nevada

Republican presidential contender Nikki Haley only managed a second place finish in the Nevada Republican primary on Tuesday, suffering the humiliation of scoring fewer votes than the “none of these candidates” box on Silver State ballot papers.

Donald Trump was not in contention in the state-run primary but will instead appear in Nevada’s GOP-organised caucus on Thursday, where his only challenger is Texas pastor Ryan Binkley and which he is expected to win easily, picking up a further 26 delegates and further cementing his dominance of the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination.

Ms Haley’s defeat did not cost her any delegates but does severely weaken her claim to be able to mount a serious challenge to the front-runner.

It also places even greater pressure on her performance in South Carolina when that state’s primary arrives on 24 February.

Ms Haley is a native of the Palmetto State and served as its governor before joining Mr Trump’s administration as ambassador to the United Nations but is nevertheless trailing her old boss in the polls by a wide margin.

Joe Biden meanwhile comfortably won the Nevada Democratic primary on Tuesday, beating author Marianne Williamson as was widely expected.

Poignant shot of polar bear resting on iceberg wins top photography prize

A “breathtaking” image of a young polar bear drifting off to sleep on an iceberg has won the Wildlife Photographer of the Year People’s Choice Award.

The shot, captured by British amateur photographer Nima Sarikhani, came top in a public vote that saw a record 75,000 nature and photography enthusiasts choose their favourite picture from shortlist of 25 images.

Dr Douglas Gurr, director of the Natural History Museum, which runs the annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, said the picture is a visual representation of the impacts of climate change and habitat loss.

Mr Sarikhani, from London, said he wanted the photograph to inspire hope, as polar bears are incredibly adaptable and there is still time to “fix the mess we have caused” to their environment.

After three days searching for polar bears in thick fog off Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, the expedition vessel Mr Sarikhani was on changed course to where there was still some sea ice, and encountered two of the animals.

Just before midnight, a young male climbed on to a small iceberg and used his paws to scrape away the ice to carve out a bed for himself, allowing Mr Sarikhani to capture the moment the bear drifted off to sleep.

He said: “I am so honoured to have won this year’s People’s Choice Award for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year, the most prestigious wildlife photography competition.

“This photograph has stirred strong emotions in many of those who have seen it.

“Whilst climate change is the biggest challenge we face, I hope that this photograph also inspires hope.

“Polar bears are incredibly adaptable and, in some areas, increasing in number, and there is still time to fix the mess we have caused.”

Dr Gurr said: “Nima’s breathtaking and poignant image allows us to see the beauty and fragility of our planet.

“His thought-provoking image is a stark reminder of the integral bond between an animal and its habitat and serves as a visual representation of the detrimental impacts of climate warming and habitat loss.”

Among the 25 pictures, four shots that also proved favourites with voters included the interaction between a pond turtle and a northern banded groundling dragonfly, and a starling murmuration forming the shape of a bird.

Two lionesses grooming a cub and two moon jellyfish illuminated by the aurora borealis in a fjord in Norway were also among the highly commended finalists in the public vote.

The shortlist for the People’s Choice Award was chosen by the Natural History Museum and an international judging panel from almost 50,000 images submitted for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition.

The five images will be displayed online at www.nhm.ac.uk/wpy/peoples-choice and at the Natural History Museum in London until June 30 2024.

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The King has done us all a service by being open about his diagnosis

A cancer diagnosis is a deeply personal thing, so King Charles should be lauded for the openness with which he has shared his news with the world.

The impact of that openness should not be underestimated: it is likely to encourage people to book potentially life-saving check-ups, and the increase in cancer awareness should hopefully provide a boost to the charities and care groups that advance research and support those in need.

That his announcement represents a break with tradition is also worthy of note; it is a welcome move at a difficult time.

What does the launch of Liz Truss’s PopCon tell us about the Tories?

Liz Truss has launched (yet) another Tory grouping, in her latest attempt to steer the Conservative Party to the right. It is a further blow to Rishi Sunak’s efforts to unite his party ahead of the general election.

Popular Conservatism, or PopCon for short, aims to influence the debate on what should be included in the Tory election manifesto. But it will also put down a marker for what many Tories privately expect to be an inquest into a crushing election defeat.