INDEPENDENT 2024-02-11 00:03:55

Mother killed in police smash while heading for dream 40th birthday holiday

Tributes have been pouring in for a “much-loved” mother and grandmother who was killed in a horror crash on the M25, as her vehicle became caught up in a police car chase.

Zoe Hawes, from Canvey Island, had been looking forward to going on holiday to celebrate her 40th birthday with her husband when the incident happened near St Albans at around 4am on Sunday.

As the “heart” of her family, the mother-of-eight and grandmother-of-two has left “an enormous hole that will never be filled”, her devastated loved ones said in a tribute.

Officers had been chasing a stolen white Citroen van, which was then involved in a collision with Ms Hayes’ car as well as two other vehicles between junctions 22 and 21A.

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A second man, travelling in a different vehicle, was also killed, while a man in his twenties has been arrested on suspicion of causing death by dangerous driving. No police cars were involved and the pursuit had been stood down before the collision.

As a matter of course, the incident has been referred to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which has confirmed it is now investigating the involvement of Hertfordshire Constabulary prior to the collision.

Officers are now appealing for witnesses, information and dash cam footage regarding the crash.

In a statement released by police, Ms Hawes’s family said: “Zoe was the heart of our blended family. She was a role model to everyone and the centre of our family.

“She was a very much loved mum, stepmum, sister, aunt and lovely young nanna. She was a friend to many. She was very much looking to go on holiday to celebrate her 40th with her husband. Sadly, a holiday and birthday she didn’t get to celebrate.

“We are all trying to pull together as a family and are devastated to lose Zoe in this tragic way.

“We wouldn’t have changed her for the world and she leaves an enormous hole in our family that will never be filled.

“We love you and will miss you forever xx.”

A fundraiser has been set up to raise money to support Ms Hawes’ children who face a life without their “beautiful, kind-hearted” mother, as well as to contribute towards funeral costs.

The GoFundMe page reads: “The very sad news came on Sunday that Zoe Hawes – who is loved by her husband, children, family and friends – was tragically taken too soon…. Let’s give Zoe the beautiful send-off she deserves.”

It adds: “Zoe has left a massive hole in a lot of people’s lives – she was truly loved by so many people.”

Writing on social media, a former school friend said she was “absolutely heartbroken and devastated” upon hearing the news.

Another friend described Ms Hawes as an “amazing, lovely” woman in a post on Facebook. She said: “[Ms Hawes] cares and adores her family. Life is so cruel – am heartbroken and devastated that family lost their mum and nan.”

IOPC regional director Charmaine Arbouin said: “Our thoughts are with all those affected by this tragic incident.

“Given that police officers were pursuing one of the vehicles before the fatal collision, it’s important that we independently investigate the actions and decision-making of the officers involved.

“We will ensure that our enquiries do not impede the police investigation, and we will keep those involved regularly updated.”

Anyone with information regarding the incident is being encouraged to come forward by contacting the police on 999 or by emailing Essex Police at

Palestinian girl, 6, found dead with the paramedics who tried to save her

A six-year-old Palestinian girl who called authorities begging for help as the lone survivor of an attack in Gaza City has been discovered dead. She died alongside a pair of paramedics who were trying to save her.

The girl, Hind Rajab, was with family members — her aunt, uncle, and her three cousins — racing in their family car to outrun Israeli tanks and escape the city.

Tanks ultimately fired on the car, killing Hind’s relatives. The little girl survived the initial assault long enough to call emergency operators to try to find help. Gunfire can be heard just before Hind’s call abruptly ends, the BBC reports.

On Saturday, paramedics with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society managed to reach the area where Hind’s relatives were killed. Prior to that, the area had been closed off due to it being an active combat zone.

They eventually found a black Kia, its windows blown out, its doors riddled with bullets. That was the car Hind and her family were in when they attempted to flee the city.

A paramedic reported that Hind’s remains were found among the bodies of her family members. She appeared to have died from gunfire and shelling.

The black Kia was not the only vehicle destroyed on the street; the paramedics also discovered the remains of an ambulance just a few meters away. The Red Crescent said that an ambulance was sent to answer Hind’s call for help, but never returned.

The PRCS has accused Israel of intentionally destroying the ambulance and killing its paramedics.

“The [Israeli] occupation deliberately targeted the Red Crescent crew despite obtaining prior coordination to allow the ambulance to arrive at the scene to rescue the child Hind,” the organisation said in a statement.

The group told the BBC that it had previously coordinated with the Israeli army to obtain assurances that they could safely retrieve Hind. Those alleged agreements were reportedly not honored.

Nibal Farsakh, a spokeswoman for the PRCS, told the BBC that their paramedics could see the spot where Hind was trapped, but that there was nonstop gunfire making a rescue impossible.

Hind’s mother is also calling for accountability for Israel.

“For every person who heard my voice and my daughter’s pleading voice, yet did not rescue her, I will question them before God on the Day of Judgement,” she told the BBC. “Netanyahu, Biden, and all those who collaborated against us, against Gaza and its people, I pray against them from the depths of my heart.”

Israel has not released an official statement regarding Hind, her family, or the deaths of the paramedics.

The Independent has reached out for comment.

In the past, Israel has accused Palestinians of using ambulances to transport weapons and fighters, and hospitals as hideouts. This has allowed the Israeli military to justify attacks that would typically be considered war crimes under the International Criminal Court’s standards.

‘Won’t vote for Bone’s puppet’: Inside the Wellingborough by-election battleground

If the Tories were trying to hold onto disgraced ex-MP Peter Bone’s seat, you could be forgiven for not noticing.

On a grey Wednesday morning in early February, during the 20-minute walk from Wellingborough station to the town centre, there was not a single Conservative poster or billboard to be seen.

This is the very same market town that voted in Boris Johnson’s government in 2019 with a whopping 18,540 majority.

As the large Victorian terraced houses give way to smaller shops and family-run bistros, you finally pass Conservative candidate Helen Harrison’s campaign headquarters.

It is a derelict single room with a clamped car parked outside. Bar some of Ms Harrison’s posters hung in the window and a chair shoved in the back corner of the room, you wouldn’t think anyone had been inside for years – least of all a campaign team from the most electorally successful political party on the planet.

But talking to people in the town, it soon becomes obvious why the Tories appear to be keeping their powder dry. Despite Mr Bone’s chunky majority, they are fighting a seriously uphill battle.

Not only are the Conservatives 20 points behind Labour in the national polls but local voters are furious at the conduct that led to Mr Bone’s ejection from parliament.

The once senior Tory was booted out after being found to have indecently exposed himself to a staff member and trapped him in the bathroom of a hotel room.

According to many of the residents, the Tories did themselves few favours by selecting Ms Harrison, who happens to be Mr Bone’s partner of several years, to replace him.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak and his cabinet have shown little regard for the contest, with not a single minister nor the PM showing up to campaign in the seat.

After being told by several locals that they would not be voting, largely because “they [politicians] are all the same”, some voters elaborated on why they would not support the Conservatives next Thursday.

“I’m not voting for Peter Bone and his little puppet [Ms Harrison],” one ex-Tory voter told The Independent.

Ms Harrison is a 51-year-old physiotherapist currently serving as a Tory councillor in North Northamptonshire. She was one of the directors at Grassroots Out, a pro-Brexit pressure group which was co-founded by Mr Bone in the run-up to the 2016 EU referendum.

Mr Bone’s partner is an ardent supporter, despite the damning parliamentary report into his conduct, and has said she is proud” to have the former Tory MP on the campaign trail with her.

She has also claimed that the standards panel which found him to have exposed himself to an aide and physically struck him had “got it wrong”.

And, with Mr Bone at her side when knocking on doors in Wellingborough and Rushden, she has claimed people are not raising her partner’s conduct with her as an issue.

Another man said he usually votes Lib Dem, but Ms Harrison’s candidacy has spurred him to vote tactically for Labour next Thursday.

“The Tories have picked Peter Bone’s girlfriend and that means he’ll be running it, and we don’t want that,” he added.

A third Labour voter, who had also supported the Lib Dems in the past, said the party’s candidate, Gen Kitchen, had won him over. The man, who runs a U3A art class at the Victoria (community) Centre, said: “Gen has won my vote because she came to a painting class and did all her handshakes and introductions.

“But after all that, she rolled up her sleeves and helped the volunteers clean and tidy.”

“You’ve got to,” said Ms Kitchen, whose honeymoon was cut short by the damning report into Mr Bone’s conduct that sparked the by-election.

The 28-year-old former waitress, councillor and charity worker said it’s her natural instinct to help clean up, and she even does it at the local bingo.

She was born in Northamptonshire to navy parents who think the idea of her becoming an MP is “a bit mad”.

But Ms Kitchen, who went to a local state school during the last Labour government, is determined to fight for the constituents she says have been “left behind under Conservative leadership”.

She hit out at Mr Bone and the local Tory-run council, saying they have not applied for levelling up money and are leaving the high street to decay.

“Why aren’t they bringing innovative ideas to the high streets? They’re supposedly the party of business, and they are just not there.”

At one point, strolling through the Wellingborough town centre, there were 18 kebab shops and 18 barber shops all within a 10-minute walk.

One voter, a former doctor living in a more affluent neighbourhood, said the town had changed for the worse over 30 years. “It used to be a quite quaint village town but now the town centre is just run down,” he said.

He said he has voted for Labour and the Liberal Democrats in the past but would vote Labour this time because of Mr Bone’s misconduct.

But not all voters have made up their minds, Hassan Ben Ali told The Independent he would vote but “they are all the same”.

He complained about the cost of living crisis and the government’s handling of Brexit but said he was still considering backing the Conservatives.

And Mr Ben Ali criticised Sir Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak’s stance on Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

And, several hours after alighting from the train at Wellingborough station, The Independent finally found a house with two posters outside backing Tory candidate Ms Harrison.

But, asked whether she wanted to talk about her support for the Conservatives, the occupant declined.

The Independent was also one of many media outlets denied access to Ms Harrison. A Labour MP said the party’s tactic seems to be to hold on to as many diehard Conservative voters as they can while encouraging as low a voter turnout as possible.

“She is trying to sneak in by the back door,” the MP said.

And while support for the Tories was hard to come by, Ms Kitchen has a mountain of her own to climb. Even in Sir Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide, Wellingborough was Labour’s second most marginal seat, with a majority of just 187.

If Labour wins next Thursday’s by-election it would not just put Sir Keir Starmer on course for power but would suggest he is heading for a Blair-style landslide of his own.

England cling on for dramatic win over Wales in Six Nations

England’s ambition of making a fresh start on their return to Twickenham failed to produce the hoped-for fireworks but they at least had the resilience to dig out a 16-14 victory over Wales.

For the first time in Six Nations history, Warren Gatland’s team led at the interval in their great rival’s stronghold after storming 14-5 ahead through a penalty try and Alex Mann touch down.

But the favourites hit back when Fraser Dingwall went over in the left corner before George Ford stepped up to land the decisive penalty in the 72nd minute, rewarding a more polished second half.

Relive all the action from Twickenham in the blog below:

Moana 2? Toy Story 5? Disney is getting desperate

You might have assumed it would be a bigger whoop. When Disney announced, on Wednesday, that the hit children’s animation Moana will be getting a theatrically released sequel, it felt less like a victory lap than an act of desperation. The original film, a musical seafaring adventure starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson as a puckish demigod, was an unmitigated hit with audiences and critics. The problem is that Moana 2, out this November, had already been announced back in 2020 – only as a straight-to-streaming miniseries. The film will, it seems, be a sort of stitched-together re-edit of this original project. And Disney didn’t stop there: studio boss Bob Iger also announced release dates for Toy Story 5, Zootopia 2 and Frozen 3, among others.

So relentless is the churn of franchise mania that casual viewers seem unable to work up much enthusiasm. There’s simply too much stuff. Disney’s animation wing has had its ups and downs before, of course. The so-called golden age of animation in the 1930s and 1940s gave way to a slow, decades-long decline. Then came the Disney renaissance of the late Eighties and Nineties, spearheaded by filmmaking duo John Musker and Ron Clements (The Little Mermaid; Aladdin; Hercules). After this, there was the acquisition of Pixar and a pivot towards computer-generated animation. It’s hard to deny that Disney is now in the midst of another slump: the company has become strung out on sequels and franchises, fruitlessly chasing an old and familiar high.

This isn’t a problem exclusive to Disney animation. The company’s live-action slate is just as turgidly backward-looking, from the identikit Marvel blockbusters to the myriad CGI-slathered “live-action” remakes of its most popular animations. (A live-action Moana remake, separate from the sequel but still bringing back Johnson, is also in the works.) But there’s a particular sweatiness to the idea of Moana 2. Significantly, Musker and Clements are absent from the sequel, having parted ways with Disney after four decades; missing, too, is Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Hamilton songwriter responsible for much of the original’s musical effervescence.

Amid the glut of franchise revisits, Disney has released a handful of original releases over the past few years – including the Pixar films Turning Red, Luca, Soul and Elemental, and the non-Pixar animations Encanto and Wish. If there’s one big positive to take from Moana2’s reimaging as a feature film, it’s that Disney honchos seem to be losing faith – to some extent, at least – in the inherent wisdom of the straight-to-streaming business model. Depriving films such as Encanto of a cinematic release is a losing gambit for everyone involved. Audiences miss out on the chance to experience these films in the immersive way they were intended. Cinemas miss out on the revenue. Disney misses out on the box office earnings, typically in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And all for the sake of what? The supposed reputational allure of exclusivity.

A film like Elemental – an animated romcom set in a city where the inhabitants are the physiological embodiments of fire, water, air or shrubbery – offered compelling evidence for the value of a theatrical release. When Elemental first hit screens in 2021, it was deemed a flop. Week after week went by, though, and it kept making money; ultimately the Pixar animation made half a billion dollars. Wish, Disney’s fantasy fable from last year, was less of a success story, but still managed over $200m, despite pretty crummy reviews. That Disney are now sticking their straight-to-streaming pandemic Pixar releases into cinemas after the fact testifies to a dawning scepticism about the long-term viability of the streaming model. To this extent, the Moana news can only be a good sign.

And yet, staring down the barrel of the remorseless sequel-making machine, I find it hard to feel too rosy. Moana 2 and Toy Story 5 are the symptoms of a company that has chased the “safe option” down a dead-end alley, that has spent years picking away at itself until there’s nothing left but bone. With that said, I should add that I am not the target audience for these children’s films. Of course, kids are not going to be as jaded to the corporate cynicism of these sequels as an adult with properly developed critical-thinking skills. But children deserve originality and invention. Consciously or not, they crave it too. If Disney isn’t going to give it to them, someone else will have to.

‘Moana 2’ is out in cinemas later this year

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The Tories’ incompetence has made a mockery of our justice system

In this government’s effort to have as many public services as possible break down simultaneously in an election year, the backlogs in the criminal justice system are often overshadowed by NHS waiting lists, a dysfunctional asylum system, bankrupt local councils, overcrowded prisons, stretched universities and labour shortages in teaching, policing and social work.

But the delays in the courts are reaching crisis point. The Independent reports that criminals are now gaming the system by pleading not guilty, calculating that trial delays mean that they are likely to escape justice.

This is the opposite of the way incentives are supposed to operate in the system. Perpetrators are encouraged to plead guilty at an early stage in return for a lighter sentence and an earlier start to rehabilitation. This is better for them and for the rest of us, saving the cost of a trial and making reoffending less likely.

After the great U-turn, what exactly is Labour’s green policy now?

As the smoke clears from the burning rubber of Labour’s U-turn in its plans to deal with the climate crisis, a more robust set of policies has emerged.

The party put out a statement on Thursday that said: “As part of the party’s finalisation of policies for a general election campaign, Labour has reconfirmed its commitment to the policies announced through the Green Prosperity Plan, to create jobs, cut bills and unlock investment.”

This is striking for two things: one, its pretence, almost worthy of Theresa May, that nothing has changed; two, that it doesn’t mention the climate crisis or net zero or anything to do with the environment apart from the word “green”.