The Guardian 2024-02-17 16:31:15


Death of Kremlin critic confirmed by his representatives

Death of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny confirmed by his representatives

Russian opposition leader’s death occurred on Friday, say supporters, but official cause of death remains disputed

The death of Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader, has been confirmed by his representatives after international leaders condemned Vladimir Putin for the demise of his once most significant political challenger.

Navalny, 47, died in jail on 16 February at 2.17pm, said his official spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, citing a message from Navalny’s mother and challenging Russia’s official explanation that Navalny died after a fall at the Arctic penal colony where he was being held.

“Alexei Navalny was murdered,” Yarmysh wrote on X. “We demand that Alexei Navalny’s body be handed over to his family immediately.”

A fractured picture of what happened emerged on Saturday after the confirmation of Navalny’s death, as different accounts of the cause of death and the whereabouts were given by the penal colony to relatives and allies of the Russian opposition leader.

An employee of the colony said Navalny’s body was in Salekhard after it was picked up by investigators from Russia’s investigative committee (IC), said Yarmysh, who has been Navalny’s press secretary since 2014.

In a later statement, Yarmysh said Navalny’s body was not at the Salekhard morgue when his lawyer and his mother arrived on Saturday. There they were told that the cause of death was sudden death syndrome, according to Navalny’s associate and director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, Ivan Zhdanov. Another lawyer of Navalny’s, however, was told by the penal colony’s investigative committee that the cause of death had not yet been established, Yarmysh said.

“The results will supposedly be available next week. It’s obvious that they are lying and doing everything they can to avoid handing over the body,” said Yarmysh, adding that the IC said Navalny’s body would not be handed over to his family until the investigation was complete.

“Everything about the ‘thrombus’ turned out to be a lie, as expected. The body is not being released because the cause of death has not been established,” Zhdanov wrote on X.

The death of the jailed Kremlin critic drew swift condemnation from international leaders, senior western officials and Russian opposition figures on Friday, who placed blame firmly on Russia and called the death a “further sign of Putin’s brutality”.

Navalny had been serving a decades-long prison term on various charges, the latest of which was a 19-year sentence on six counts, in a remote penal colony within the Arctic Circle. He had been behind bars since returning from Germany in January 2021 for charges that he rejected as politically motivated.

His death has been a watershed moment for the country’s fractured pro-democracy movement, which has practically ceased to exist since the 2022 invasion of Ukraine. In cities across Europe on Friday, hundreds of protesters, many of them Russian émigrés, gathered to express their outrage over the death of Navalny, the most formidable domestic opponent of the Russian president.

Confirmation of the opposition leaders’ death came as world leaders gathered at the annual Munich Security Conference to discuss topics including international unity against Russia’s two-year war on Ukraine, the Middle East crisis and the implications that a second Donald Trump US presidential victory would have for transatlantic security.

After Navalny’s death was reported by Russian authorities on Friday, the US vice-president, Kamala Harris said: “Let us be clear, Russia is responsible.” Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, was equally blunt: “It’s obvious he was killed by Putin.” The French president, Emmanuel Macron, saluted Navalny’s “memory, commitment and courage”.

Speaking to broadcasters in Munich on Saturday, the UK foreign secretary, David Cameron, signalled there would be “consequences”, but beyond summoning the Russian foreign ambassador and urging other G7 foreign ministers at the Munich gathering to take action, he fell short of announcing what exact measures would be taken.

“What we do is we look at whether there are individual people that are responsible and whether there are individual measures and actions we can take. We don’t announce them in advance, so I can’t say any more than that. But that is what we will be looking at,” said Cameron.

“Reflecting overnight makes you think what an incredibly brave man this was. His life revealed so much about the true nature of Putin’s ghastly regime. And his death has revealed that all over again.”

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Anthony AlbanesePM says Alexei Navalny’s treatment ‘unforgivable’ and Putin responsible for his death

Anthony Albanese says Alexei Navalny’s treatment ‘unforgivable’ and Putin responsible for his death

Peter Dutton says Russian president a ‘murderous dictator’ while foreign affairs minister Penny Wong says Navalny an inspiring figure

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The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has joined western governments across the globe in holding Vladimir Putin responsible for the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Navalny, 47, died while being held in a jail about 65km north of the Arctic Circle, where he had been sentenced to 19 years under a “special regime”.

Albanese told reporters in Newcastle on Saturday that Australia was shocked and saddened by the news.

“We hold Vladimir Putin and the Russian regime responsible for this death in prison,” he said. “Vladimir Putin is an authoritarian, and we have a divide in the world between authoritarian regimes and democracies.”

Albanese said the government needed “to call out the behaviour of authoritarians like Vladimir Putin”.

On X, the prime minister posted that Navalny’s treatment was “unforgivable”.

The Australian foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, told reporters on Saturday that Navalny was inspiring.

“His resistance, his opposition to a repressive regime was inspiring to so many people around the world, and we make clear we hold the Russian government solely responsible for his treatment and his death,” Wong said.

She said there were already many sanctions on the Russian regime but would not say if the Australian government would take further action against the Russian government.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, branded Putin a “murderous dictator”.

“A very brave man tragically died overnight. Alexei Navalny sought to save his country from a murderous dictator,” Dutton said. “He had been poisoned, tortured and wrongly imprisoned. Ultimately he gave his life for a country and people he loved. And his passing should be mourned.”

The shadow foreign affairs minister, Simon Birmingham, said on X that Navalny died for his values, his principles and the rights of his fellow Russians.

The Russian government claims Navalny died of natural causes. In a statement, the federal penitentiary service for the region where Navalny was incarcerated said he “felt unwell after a walk and almost immediately lost consciousness”.

“All necessary resuscitation measures were carried out but did not yield positive results,” the statement said. “The paramedics confirmed the death of the convict.”

The Kremlin said Putin had been informed but had no further information.

Navalny had expected he could die in jail. He had been held in custody in Russia since returning from Germany in 2021.

Albanese’s comments echo that of other world leaders including the French president, Emmanuel Macron, the UK foreign secretary, David Cameron, the Ukraine president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the US president, Joe Biden.

“He bravely stood up to the corruption, the violence and all the bad things that the Putin government was doing,” Biden said. “In response, Putin had him poisoned, he had him arrested, he had him prosecuted for fabricated crimes, he sentenced him to prison, he held him in isolation … Even in prison he was a powerful voice for the truth.”

The Nationals senator Matt Canavan posted on X that Navalny’s death “is a personal tragedy for his family and a depressing reminder of how many people are not free” but added “it is hard to take seriously the protests of the American government while they hold Julian Assange as an effective political prisoner”.

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‘Putin is responsible’Western leaders turn fire on Russian president over Navalny’s death

Western leaders point finger at Putin after Alexei Navalny’s death in jail

Russian opposition leader’s death described as political assassination attributable to president

  • Chemical burns, poisoning and prison: the persecution of Navalny
  • Long opposed to exile, Navalny dies in dark and dangerous Russia

Western leaders have held Vladimir Putin directly responsible for the death of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, as the US president, Joe Biden, called it “yet more proof of Putin’s brutality”.

Navalny, 47, died while being held in a jail about 40 miles north of the Arctic Circle, where he had been sentenced to 19 years under a “special regime”.

“Make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death,” Biden said in remarks from the White House on Friday.

The death of Navalny, once Putin’s most significant political challenger, is a watershed moment for Russia’s shattered pro-democracy movement, which has largely been jailed or driven into exile since the Ukraine invasion of 2022.

Though Navalny and his many supporters expected he could die behind bars, few thought it would be so soon. Reports of his death sent a shockwave of anger and disbelief through the ranks of his supporters, including his family.

“I don’t know whether to believe the terrible news,” his wife, Yulia, said during a speech at the Munich Security Conference. “But if it is true, then I would like Putin, his staff, his friends, his government, to know that they will be punished for what they’ve done with our country, my family and my husband. They will be brought to justice, and that day will come very soon.”

Navalny’s death raises questions about what tools the west still has to constrain or punish Putin, who has faced sanctions since 2022 and has been indicted by the international criminal court for the abduction of Ukrainian children.

Biden in 2021 promised “devastating” consequences for Russia if Navalny were to die behind bars. However, it is not clear what could restrain Putin from a further crackdown on Navalny’s supporters in Russia and abroad.

In his remarks, Biden praised Navalny’s courage and his decision to return to Russia despite facing near-certain imprisonment.

“He bravely stood up to the corruption, the violence and all the bad things that the Putin government was doing,” Biden said. “In response, Putin had him poisoned, he had him arrested, he had him prosecuted for fabricated crimes, he sentenced him to prison, he held him in isolation … Even in prison he was a powerful voice for the truth.”

Russia has claimed Navalny died of natural causes. In a statement, the federal penitentiary service for the region where Navalny was incarcerated said he “felt unwell after a walk and almost immediately lost consciousness”.

“All necessary resuscitation measures were carried out but did not yield positive results,” the statement said. “The paramedics confirmed the death of the convict.” The Kremlin said Putin had been informed but had no further information.

Western reaction was swift, as top officials from the US and Europe accused the Kremlin of causing Navalny’s death. The Foreign Office summoned the Russian embassy in London, adding “we hold the Russian authorities fully responsible.”

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said: “His death in a Russian prison and the fixation and fear of one man only underscores the weakness and rot at the heart of the system that Putin has built. Russia is responsible for this.”

Putin’s press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, responded angrily, calling western leaders’ remarks “absolutely outrageous and absolutely unacceptable”.

In Moscow, St Petersburg and other cities across Russia, small groups of Russians braved strict anti-protest laws and laid flowers at makeshift memorials to Navalny. More than 100 people were arrested, according to OVD-Info, a Russian rights group that tracks political arrests and offers legal aid.

Navalny had looked healthy when he appeared by video for a courtroom appeal on Thursday. Speaking from prison, he had complained about the frequent fines he had received while in a punitive cell and asked the judge to send him some money “as my own is running out thanks to your decisions”.

The cause of death had not been established, the penitentiary service said. Last year Navalny was treated in hospital after complaining of malnourishment and other ailments caused by mistreatment in prison.

Navalny is survived by Yulia and their two children. On 14 February, his team published an Instagram post dedicated to his wife in which he wrote: “I feel that you are close to me every second and I love you more and more.”

Navalny was last seen by his lawyer on Wednesday, who said “everything was normal then”.

Leonid Volkov, another close ally, said: “We have no reason to believe the state propaganda … If this is true, then it’s not ‘Navalny died’, but ‘Putin killed Navalny’ and that’s the only way [to report it]. But I don’t believe them [for a second].”

In early December, Navalny disappeared from a prison in the Vladimir region, where he was serving a 30-year sentence on extremism and fraud charges that he had called political retribution for leading the anti-Kremlin opposition of the 2010s. He did not expect to be released during Putin’s lifetime.

Supporters and allies were visibly stunned by the news of his death, and many pointed the finger directly at the Kremlin.

Dmitri Muratov, the editor of Novaya Gazeta, told Reuters that Navalny’s death was “murder” brought on by his mistreatment in prison. Mikhail Fishman, a journalist, blinked back tears on the TV Rain channel as he said: “We must learn to live with this news somehow. But we understand the scale of what has happened, that we will mark this as a before-and-after moment.”

The US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told National Public Radio: “If it’s confirmed, it is a terrible tragedy.”

Several other foreign officials also said Putin was directly responsible. “Alexei Navalny fought for the values of freedom and democracy. For his ideals, he made the ultimate sacrifice,” the European Council president, Charles Michel, posted on X. “The EU holds the Russian regime for sole responsible for this tragic death.”

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said it was “obvious” that Putin was behind Navalny’s death. The German finance minister, Christian Lindner, said: “Alexei Navalny fought for a democratic Russia. For that, Putin tortured him to death.”

Navalny, a former nationalist politician, helped foment the 2011-12 protests in Russia by campaigning against election fraud and government corruption, investigating Putin’s inner circle and sharing the findings in slick videos that garnered hundreds of millions of views.

The high-water mark in his political career came in 2013, when he won 27% of the vote in a Moscow mayoral contest that few believed was free or fair. He remained a thorn in the side of the Kremlin for years, identifying a palace built on the Black Sea for Putin’s personal use, mansions and yachts used by the ex-president Dmitry Medvedev, and a sex worker who linked a top foreign policy official with a well-known oligarch.

“He changed what it meant to be a politician in Russia when there was more freedom,” said Ben Noble, an associate professor of Russian politics at University College London and a co-author of Navalny: Putin’s Nemesis, Russia’s Future? “His ability to use social media effectively to reach new audiences, to act as an anti-corruption activist, protest leader, and opposition politician – he was quite extraordinary in this breadth of work. The activation of younger people also led to hope, that politics was something that they could get involved in.”

In 2020, Navalny fell into a coma after a suspected poisoning using novichok by Russia’s FSB security service and was evacuated to Germany for treatment. He recovered and returned to Russia in January 2021, where he was arrested on a parole violation charge and received the first of several jail sentences that would have amounted to more than 30 years behind bars.

“Navalny left one Russia, returned to another, and perished in a third, where political prospects are absent in principle,” wrote Alexander Baunov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. “There are only martyrs.”

Putin has recently launched a presidential campaign for his fifth term in office. He is already the longest-serving Russian leader since Joseph Stalin and could surpass him if he runs again for office in 2030, a possibility since he had the constitutional rules on term limits rewritten in 2020.

“Alexei Navalny will not be forgotten,” said Andrei Kolesnikov, another senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. “He was an absolutely unique example of a fearless politician in a country where politics in the traditional sense of the word was directly prohibited, under threat of repression. In a normal political competition, he would have had a chance to become the head of state.”

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LiveRussia-Ukraine war: ‘Navalny’s body not in morgue,’ says spokeswoman

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s mother was told on Saturday that he had been struck down by “sudden death syndrome”, his team has said.

She was also told that his body would not be handed over to the family until an investigation was completed, his team said. It was not clear where his body was.

Lyudmila Navalnaya was given an official death notice stating the time of death as 2:17 pm local time on 16 February, Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, told Reuters.

“When Alexei’s lawyer and mother arrived at the colony this morning, they were told that the cause of Navalny’s death was sudden death syndrome,” Ivan Zhdanov, who directs Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Sudden death syndrome” is a general term for various cardiac syndromes that cause sudden cardiac arrest and death.

The small town near Canberra that has been without drinking water for 26 days

Boorowa: the small town near Australia’s capital that has been without drinking water for 26 days

Heavy rains ‘compromised’ the filtration system at the Boorowa water treatment plant last month – but locals say the water has always been undrinkable

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An hour-and-a-half from the Australian capital, drinking water has become currency.

Residents in the small town of Boorowa, north-west of Canberra, have been on a boil water notice for almost a month. Most have been buying drinking water. And, as one local discovered, it is also accepted as barter.

James Blackwell, an academic researcher, paid for second-hand goods on Facebook Marketplace with some of his water supplies.

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“I joked with [the seller] and I said, ‘I can pay cash or I can pay in bottled water’,” he says. “She said she hadn’t been to the shops yet, so she took the bottled water.”

Blackwell has started bringing his own bottles to his workplace in Canberra and filling them from the free filtered water stations in the office.

“I was there with a giant Ikea-type bag with bottles of water and people were wondering what I was doing,” he says. “I’m on week three of bottled water.”

The town of 2,000 people was placed on a boil water notice on 22 January after heavy rains “compromised” filtration systems at the local water treatment plant.

But the Hilltops mayor, Margaret Roles, says water quality has been a concern in Boorowa for more than 50 years.

“It’s always been hard water and, although it meets the minimum standard for potable water, people’s expectations are rising all the time,” she says.

The council was faced with a choice of either increasing the size of the weir near Boorowa, which Roles says would leave residents at the mercy of the “vagaries of the river”, or lobbying for a pipeline from the Murrumbidgee River, the intake point for which is more than 50km away at Jugiong.

They chose the pipeline. It already services nearby Harden. The estimated cost of extending the line another 10km, Roles says, is $60m. The New South Wales government this month announced a $825,000 grant, jointly funded by council, for a geotechnical study.

Roles says the town’s growing population, thanks to its popularity with tree-changers who left cities during the pandemic, has strengthened the business case. A new housing development is set to bring in another 120 families.

“Because Hilltops is now 20,000 people and a growing area, we have a much better case to plan for the future,” she says.

‘No one serves tap water’

At Jeremy Clarke’s wine bar, bottled water is on the menu for ice, cocktails, dishwashing and cleaning. As he hauls a four-litre jug of water on top of the bar, Clarke jokes that his biggest revenue stream is now from recycling plastic water bottles.

“The thing in bars, you’re always rinsing,” he says. “It’s a massive hassle with the salad greens, rinsing your implements before they go in the dishwasher … no hospitality place around here serves tap water.”

The town water supply comes from the Boorowa River, which flows through farmland. It doesn’t have the tell-tale discoloration or smell of unsafe water, but Sam Jansen says the taste is unforgettable.

“I remember the day we moved into Boorowa, I ran to the kitchen sink and filled it up with a glass of water. I had a sip and said, ‘Oh mum, the water’s no good,’” she says. “Mum had a try and she said, ‘Oh my God no, you can’t drink that.’ That was 20 years ago.”

The new mother has twice developed an infection twice since having a child by cesaerian section in January. Guidance issued by Hilltops council and a factsheet from NSW Health stated that that town water was safe for showering but Jansen disagrees.

“I’ve never had an infection with any of my births but I’ve never had such a horrendous healing process before,” she says. “I 100% attribute that to the water. It’s not because of my lack of trying, it’s because of the water.”

The state MP for Cootamundra, Steph Cooke, says the lack of safe water is “unacceptable and unfair”

“We have the right to safe and secure drinking water and we have the right to thrive and grow,” she says. “Not only are we unable to service current residents, we have even less hope under the current circumstances of supplying [water] to new residents. It’s holding back the growth and development of Boorowa.”

The federal member for Hume, Angus Taylor, says water quality in the town is a “longstanding issue” and that the current situation is “unacceptable”.

“It’s imperative these water quality issues are resolved as quickly as possible,” he says.

The NSW water minister, Rose Jackson, says there is “no quick fix” to the town’s complex water issues. But she says technical experts from her department will “work closely” with the local council until the current problem is resolved.

“Delivery of clean and reliable water to the community is a key responsibility of the local water utility but we most certainly all have a role to play and we’re doing everything we can to help them,” Jackson says.

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Donald Trump ordered to pay more than $350m

Donald Trump ordered to pay over $350m in New York financial fraud case

Trump also banned from running any New York corporation or entity for three years in devastating blow for ex-president

  • How will Trump pay the penalties?

Donald Trump, his eldest sons and associates have been ordered to pay over $350m by a New York judge who found them guilty of intentionally committing financial fraud over the course of a decade.

“The frauds found here leap off the page and shock the conscience,” Judge Arthur Engoron wrote in his decision. In a devastating blow for the former president who had built his reputation as a successful real estate developer, Engoron barred Trump and two other executives from serving as officers or directors of any corporation or entity in New York for three years. His sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr, were banned for two years.

The three-month hearing was an often heated affair with Trump attacking Engoron in and out of the courtroom. The former president’s decision to take on the judge appeared to backfire.

“Overall, Donald Trump rarely responded to the questions asked and he frequently interjected long, irrelevant speeches on issues far beyond the scope of the trial. His refusal to answer the questions directly, or in some cases, at all, severely compromised his credibility,” Engoron wrote.

In his decision Engoron said the defendants’ “fact and expert witnesses simply denied reality, and defendants failed to accept responsibility or to impose internal controls to prevent future recurrences” adding the defendants “complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological”.

On his social media site Trump attacked the verdict, Engoron and his prosecutors. “This ‘decision’ is a Complete and Total SHAM. There were No Victims, No Damages, No Complaints. Only satisfied Banks and Insurance Companies (which made a ton of money), GREAT Financial Statements, that didn’t even include the most valuable Asset – The TRUMP Brand,” he wrote.

The decision will make it hard for any Trump family member to run the business in the near future. Trump’s adult sons were each fined $4m. Eric Trump acts as the Trump Organization’s chief executive.

The hefty fine comes on top of an $83.3m judgment against the former president in a defamation suit brought by the writer E Jean Carroll. Bloomberg estimates Trump’s net worth at $2.3bn, but it is unclear how much cash Trump has on hand.

The ruling marks the conclusion of a case that was years in the making. The New York attorney general, Letitia James, has been investigating Trump’s business since 2019. James hailed the ruling as a “massive victory”. “No matter how big, how rich, or how powerful you are, no one is above the law. Not even Donald Trump,” she said.

Trump has denied all wrongdoing and will probably appeal the decision.

Prosecutors had asked Engoron for a lifetime ban along with a $370m fine, the amount they said Trump had profited after lying about his net worth and receiving lower interest rates from lenders.

The ruling is a follow-up to a pre-trial judgment Engoron issued in September based on document evidence. Engoron ruled Trump had misrepresented his net worth to lenders and ordered the cancellation of the Trump Organization’s business certificates, essentially ending its ability to continue operation in New York.

In Friday’s verdict, Engoron overturned his initial ruling, saying that “the cancellation of the business licenses is no longer necessary” as he is ordering the appointment of two court monitors to oversee “major activities that could lead to fraud”.

The actual trial was held to determine whether Trump would have to pay a fine. Prosecutors had to show Trump and the other defendants, including Trump’s adult sons and former Trump Organization executives Allen Weisselberg and Jeff McConney, had acted with intent. Forty witnesses testified during the three-month trial.

Prosecutors argued that Trump had lied on government financial statements, allowing him to receive more favorable loans from lenders. One of the most striking examples in the case concerned Trump’s triplex apartment in Trump Tower, which records showed was reported to be 30,000 sq ft but is closer to 11,000 sq ft.

The court also heard that Trump overvalued his Seven Springs estate in Westchester county, New York, telling lenders that the property had development potential, though local residents had blocked Trump’s plans for the property. Trump also valued multiple rent-stabilized apartments in his Trump Park Avenue condominium at market rates.

Trump’s team tried to argue that the valuations were “worthless” because they contained a clause saying as much, an argument the judge rejected.

His lawyers also argued that the discrepancies were the fault of outside advisers and accounting errors, though they persisted for years and contradicted outside appraisals the company had received.

On the stand, Trump argued he could just look at a building and decide its worth. “All you have to do is look at a picture of the building and say: ‘That building,’” Trump said, talking about the Trump office building at 40 Wall Street. “You just look at it and you say: ‘That’s worth a lot more than $550m.’”

In determining the size of the fine, Engoron agreed with prosecutors that Trump saved about $168m in interest by inflating the value of assets. Another $126m came from calculating the “ill-gotten profits” Trump received from selling the Old Post Office building in Washington DC, which Trump would not have been able to purchase, Engoron said, without using false financial statements.

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Letitia JamesThe New York state attorney general who brought down the Trump Organization

Profile

Letitia James: the New York state attorney general who brought down the Trump Organization

James faced a barrage of personal attacks through the trial, but won a ‘tremendous victory’ in her highest-profile case to date

On the morning closing arguments were set to begin at Donald Trump’s drama-filled New York fraud trial, a small crowd of protestors briefly blocked traffic to denounce the former president. “No dictators in the USA,” the group chanted.

When a black SUV rolled up to the courthouse, the protestors changed course. “Thank you, Tish! Thank you, Tish!” they cheered as Letitia James ascended the courthouse steps.

The end of Trump’s fraud trial marked the closing of the New York attorney general’s highest-profile case to date. Though a team of lawyers from her office led the case, James has been the public face of the trial since its start. Sitting behind Trump in court and sometimes casting meme-worthy, incredulous looks at Trump and his team, she has inevitably become a target of his vitriol inside and outside the courtroom.

“I DID NOTHING WRONG, MY FINANCIAL STATEMENTS ARE GREAT, & VERY CONSERVATIVE, THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT THE HIGHLY POLITICAL & TOTALLY CORRUPT NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL SAYS,” Trump wrote, in all caps, on Truth Social in January. “THE CORRUPT AG WANTS $370M AS BUSINESSES FLEE NEW YORK. THEY SHOULD PAY ME.”

James kept her comments on the trial brief, posting summaries of the trial’s happening each week on social media and sometimes offering comments outside the courthouse. On the last day of the trial, long after Trump left the courthouse having delivered a bizarre closing statement, James told reporters: “The personal attacks don’t really bother me.

On Friday James was given a stunning victory. The judge overseeing the case, Arthur Engoron, handed her almost everything she had asked for. Trump was fined over $350m and he and his eldest sons were banned from doing business in New York for years.

“Today, justice has been served. This is a tremendous victory for this state, this nation, and for everyone who believes that we all must play by the same rules – even former presidents,” James said in a statement. “For years, Donald Trump engaged in massive fraud to falsely inflate his net worth and unjustly enrich himself, his family, and his organization.

“Now, Donald Trump is finally facing accountability for his lying, cheating, and staggering fraud. Because no matter how big, rich, or powerful you think you are, no one is above the law.”

It is an argument that James campaigned on when she ran for the attorney general seat in 2018. At the time, the position was embroiled in scandal following abuse accusations against the former attorney general Eric Schneiderman.

Raised in Brooklyn with her seven siblings, James attended public schools before getting her law degree at Howard University in Washington DC. She rose through the ranks as a public defender before entering New York politics as a councilmember and then as public advocate, the first Black woman to hold the watchdog role and one where she filed a record number of suits on behalf of people with disabilities, seniors and tenants.

When she won the attorney general’s office, another first for a Black woman, James vowed to “take that power back” from corporations and corrupt politicians.

“The law is the great equalizer and the biggest pillar of our democracy,” she said in her inaugural speech in 2019. “I will shine a light into the murkiest of swamps and act as a steward of justice.”

Even as Trump’s fraud trial comes to an end, James is still pursuing other high-profile cases, including a civil case against top officials of the National Rifle Association (NRA). James has accused them of violating non-profit law by using NRA funds for their personal benefit.

The case could ultimately see the dissolution of the once-powerful gun lobbying group. Wayne LaPierre, the longtime NRA president at the center of the case, resigned in early January before the trial began, in what James said was an “important victory” for the case in a statement.

James has also found rivals in the Catholic church, who she has sued for mishandling child sexual abuse, and the NYPD over its treatment of Black Lives Matter protestors in 2020. James also filed a lawsuit against Pepsi in November over its single-use plastic polluting the Buffalo River in New York, teeing up a major environmental lawsuit against the beverage company, which is based in New York.

A longtime New York City councilwoman before she became the state’s attorney general, James’ critics, usually political or legal opponents like Trump, have tried to paint her as an opportunist who uses her office to grab national attention.

When James investigated former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, once an ally, for sexual assault, Cuomo accused her of using the investigation for political motives.

“There are many agendas and there are many motivations at play,” Cuomo said during his farewell address in August 2021, after James’ investigation found that he sexually assaulted 11 women.

When it came to his trial, Trump lobbed similar accusations against James, saying inside and outside the courtroom that she is conducting a “witch-hunt” pursuing her own political agenda.

“She’s a political hack, and this is a disgrace that a case like this is going on,” Trump said during one of the untethered rants he made on the witness stand in November. “This is a political witch-hunt, and I think she should be ashamed of herself.”

Serving as a state attorney general is seen as a good launching point for a shot into a state’s governor’s mansion. James briefly ran for governor in 2021, a campaign that lasted only six weeks. She dropped out of the race when it became clear that much of the state’s Democratic party stood behind Kathy Hochul, the lieutenant governor who replaced Cuomo after he resigned.

When James dropped out of the race, she said she “must continue my work as attorney general”. At the time, her office was well underway into its investigation into the Trump Organization’s finances.

“There are a number of important investigations and cases that are underway and I intend to finish the job,” James said.

It is unclear what specific ambition James has for her future, especially given that there are no term limits on New York’s governor or its attorney general.

While James has positioned herself as an ally to Hochul, who is seen as a more moderate Democrat, she has distanced herself from the governor on some issues. In August, James took the unusual step of declining to represent Hochul over the handling of migrants who were being brought to the state. Hochul focused on requiring only New York City to house migrants, a requirement James said she believed applied to the whole state.

For now, James has continued to emphasize that her focus is on the cases in her office. When James ran for her second term in 2022, a race she would win by nine points, her Republican opponent told the New York Times that she had lost sight of New York taxpayers while focusing on her own political ambitions.

In response, James told the Times that ignoring Trump or the NRA would have been a “dereliction of my duty”.

“We’ve been very active,” she told the paper. “And I make no apologies, because this is who I am, and this is what I do.”

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Donald TrumpWith business empire on brink of abyss, tycoon recasts himself as victim

Analysis

With business empire on brink of abyss, tycoon Trump recasts himself as victim

Callum Jones in New York

Former president’s business fortune risks slipping from his grasp after ruling, while he marches closer to the Republican nomination

From Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue to the Trump Building on Wall Street, the Trump World Tower by the United Nations to the Trump International overlooking Central Park, Donald Trump has stamped his name in golden letters on skyscrapers across New York City.

This real estate empire was the springboard for Trump’s ascent from tabloid fodder to reality TV stardom, and ultimately the presidency, all built on his self-projected image as America’s most famous businessman.

While the reality of Trump’s business acumen – and the true extent of his wealth – have long been questioned, on Friday a New York judge forever tarnished his gilded image, finding Trump and his allies guilty of frauds that “shock the conscience” and a “lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological”.

Trump was ordered to pay $354.9m and was banned from leading a New York business for three years after a court found that he and his associates fraudulently overstated his net worth. The Trump Organization was wrenched from his family’s control – and its future looks far from certain.

For decades, the former president has portrayed himself as a brash, bronzed, brilliant businessman who ruled the Manhattan skyline. Whether lecturing Apprentice contestants, charming voters, or bragging to fellow world leaders, he could point to more than a dozen Trump-branded towers as evidence of all he had achieved.

Trump is “the archetypal businessman – a dealmaker without peer”, with a name “synonymous with the most prestigious of addresses”, according to his own company: the “very definition of the American success story”.

But Judge Arthur Engoron’s ruling is a shocking blow to this image. The same buildings which once embodied the former president’s fame and fortune will, for years, remain supervised by court-appointed monitors. For now, Trump has lost control of the corporation which once provided a stage for his persona.

And yet, just as he is separated from his business empire, his political machine is gearing up to propel him back into the Oval Office.

Trump has marched closer to the Republican nomination amid – not despite – these legal woes. He has tried to utilize this trial, and the others he faces, to bankroll his comeback campaign. They amount to politicized “witch-hunts”, he tells loyal supporters, suggesting that they, rather than he, are the true targets.

Minutes after Trump left the first day of his civil fraud trial in October, his machine sent out a fundraising email. “I just left the courthouse,” it began, claiming that politicians were “weaponizing the legal system to try and completely destroy me” and requesting contributions “of ANY amount – truly, even just $1 – to peacefully DEFEND our movement from the never-ending witch hunts”.

Over 11 weeks in a Manhattan courtroom, the Trump Organization was publicly exposed to forensic scrutiny for the first time. This is a business that says it has “set new standards of excellence”, affording Trump “the designation of arguably being the preeminent developer of luxury real estate” in the world. Engoron took an altogether different view.

Before the trial had even started, he ruled that the former president had committed fraud for years by exaggerating the value of his assets.

Now, having heard the evidence, Engoron has imposed an eyewatering financial penalty. How Trump foots this bill is an open question. While his fortune has been pitted at around $2.3bn, the majority of this is tied up in the very business empire at the heart of this case.

The money is still coming in. Trump has proven to be a highly effective fundraiser. His campaign raised about $44m in the second half of last year. His legal battles appear to have provided an additional boost.

But beyond his race to regain the presidency, Trump is now grappling with legal penalties that could destroy the personal cash pile he has said is at his disposal. Even before Friday’s decision, he had been ordered to pay $83.3m to E Jean Carroll. The former president claimed in a deposition last year to have “substantially in excess” of $400m – a huge sum, but one that would be wiped out by these bills.

But this process has a long way left to run. “There’s enough uncertainty that it’s not an immediate concern,” said Gregory Germain, professor of law at Syracuse University. Trump, who has already appealed Engoron’s initial ruling, and is widely expected to do the same with this decision.

On the campaign trail and social media, in the courtroom and the inboxes of supporters, the former president has repeatedly pledged to fight what he argues is a gross injustice. On Friday Trump once again attacked the “tyrannical Abuse of Power” he claims is arrayed against him and the “liquid and beautiful Corporate Empire that started in New York, and has been successful all around the world.”

In November, the American people will deliver their verdict on whose story they believe.

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‘A lack of contrition that borders on pathological’What the Trump fraud verdict says

‘A lack of contrition that borders on pathological’: what the Trump fraud verdict says

Judge Arthur Engoron gave prosecutors the fine they asked for and admonished the former president for showing no remorse

  • Trump ordered to pay over $350m in New York fraud case

New York judge Arthur Engoron passed a searing judgment on Donald Trump and his real-estate company on Friday, fining the former president over $350m and banning him and his adult sons from leading companies in New York for the next few years. The fraud case ruling is a stunning blow to a man who sees himself as a successful real estate mogul and built a political career off of that reputation.

Here are five things we know from Friday’s verdict:

Engoron gave prosecutors the fine they asked for

Engoron fined the defendants $364m – close to the $370m the attorney general’s office asked for when they rested their case in January.

A bulk of the fine comes from two calculations: $168m from how much Trump saved on the interest of several loans, and $126m from the profit he made when he sold the Old Post Office building in Washington.

In his verdict, Engoron said that Trump profited by paying lower interest rates when working with lenders such as Deutsche Bank who, because of the fudged financial statements, believed Trump had a higher net worth.

Michiel McCarty, an expert witness who testified at the trial for prosecutors, calculated that Trump saved $168m with lower interest rates because he inflated the value of his net worth. Engoron agreed to this amount, saying that “defendants’ fraud saved them” from having to pay a higher interest.

Another $126m of the fine came from calculating the “ill-gotten profits” Trump received when he sold the Old Post Office building in 2022. Trump was able to purchase the building, which he turned into a hotel, through the use of inflated financial statements.

“As with so many Trump real estate deals, the Old Post Office contract was obtained through the use of false SFCs (no false SFCs, no deal),” Engoron noted in the verdict.

The judge also fined Don Jr and Eric Trump about $4m individually for the individual profit distribution they received from the sale of the Old Post Office building.

The last $1m is a fine for Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s former finance chief, who was paid $2m in a separation agreement with the Trump Organization. Engoron noted that because Weisselberg was a “critical player in nearly every instance of fraud, it would be inequitable to allow him to profit from his actions by covering up defendants’ misdeeds”.

Engoron did not permanently ban Trump from the New York real estate industry

Prosecutors had asked Engoron to permanently ban Trump from the real estate industry in New York, similar to how entrepreneur and “pharma bro” Martin Shkreli was banned from the pharmaceutical industry in 2022.

Engoron ultimately banned Trump from leading his company – or any company based in New York – for three years, saving him from a permanent ban. Trump’s sons, Eric and Don Jr, were banned from running the company for two years.

Trump and the Trump Organization have also been instructed not to apply for loans from any New York-registered financial firm for three years.

Engoron also reversed his pre-trial ruling ordering the cancellation of the Trump Organization’s business certificates, a move that would essentially have ended its ability to continue operations in New York.

In Friday’s verdict, Engoron overturned this initial ruling, saying that dissolving parts of Trump’s empire was “no longer necessary” as he is ordering the appointment of two court monitors to oversee the business: former judge Barbara Jones, and an independent compliance director to ensure “good financial and accounting practices”.

With this case headed to an appeals court, some legal experts had openly questioned whether Engoron had the authority to order the cancellations. This move draws a line under that debate.

In the verdict, Engoron wrote that the “cancellation of the business licenses is no longer necessary” as the company will be overseen by two court-appointed monitors who will oversee “major activites that could lead to fraud”.

Since 2022, Jones has been serving as a court-appointed monitor overseeing the company’s financial reporting. Engoron has decided that she will remain in the post for at least another three years – with greater powers.

The Trump Organization will now need to get prior approval before submitting any financial disclosure to a third party. On top of this, Jones has a month to propose “the specific authority she believes that she needs to keep defendants honest,” Engoron said.

Engoron thought Trump and his adult children lacked credibility on the stand

Donald Trump spent hours testifying in a bid to persuade a New York judge that he was not guilty of financial fraud. Engoron did not buy it.

The former president “rarely responded to the questions asked, and he frequently interjected long, irrelevant speeches on issues far beyond the scope of the trial,” Engoron wrote in his 92-page decision. “His refusal to answer the questions directly, or in some cases, at all, severely compromised his credibility.”

The judge was equally unsparing in his assessment of the evidence provided by Trump’s eldest sons, who have led the Trump Organization since their father entered the White House in 2017.

Eric Trump “severely damaged” his credibility on the stand, according to Engoron, by repeatedly denying that he had known before the case arose that his father had compiled financial statements valuing his assets and net worth.

Only when confronted with “copious” documentary evidence that he had known about the financial statements as early as August 2013 did Eric Trump “begrudgingly” acknowledge that it “appears” he had known, the judge noted.

On the stand, Donald Trump Jr claimed he did not know how or why Weisselberg left the business after being criminally indicted. The court found this “entirely unbelievable,” Engoron said.

The veteran judge was impressed by Ivanka Trump, the former president’s daughter, whom he described as a “thoughtful, articulate, and poised” witness – although the court found her “inconsistent recall” during questioning by prosecutors and defense lawyers “suspect.”

Engoron was not persuaded by Trump’s arguments

In the verdict, the judge struck down a few core arguments Trump’s lawyers made throughout the trial.

The first was that lenders did not rely on the financial statements when making deals with Trump. It was an argument that was repeated throughout the trial, including when Trump and his sons took the witness stand.

The life of the loans, Engoron wrote, were “based on numbers on [the financial statements], which lenders interpreted in their own unique way”. Engoron said.

A similar line of argument was made by Trump’s lawyers, who often said the reported financial figures were immaterial, or that they didn’t matter to the financial statements. Trump expressed this in his own testimony, when he said that lenders knew how wealthy he was and that was all that mattered.

In his verdict, Engoron appeared particularly frustrated by Trump’s materiality arguments, saying that “faced with clear evidence of a misstatement, a person can always shout that ‘it’s immaterial.’”

Trump and his sons as witnesses also argued that it was the job of their outside accountants to get the financial statements right. But Engoron pointed out that there was “overwhelming evidence adduced at trial demonstrating that [the accounting firms] relied on the Trump Organization, not vice versa, to be truthful and accurate, and they had a right to do so”.

“The buck for being truthful … stopped with the Trump Organization, not the accountants,” Engoron wrote.

A ‘pathological’ lack of contrition

“Absolute perfection, including with numbers, exists only in heaven,” Engoron wrote. “If fraud is insignificant, then, like most things in life, it just does not matter.”

But these frauds were not merely significant: they “leap off the page and shock the conscience,” he continued.

In the face of this, what truly rankled Engoron was Trump and his allies’ refusal to acknowledge almost all the errors at the heart of this case. “Their complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological,” the judge wrote. “They are accused only of inflating asset values to make more money.

“The documents prove this over and over again. This is a venial sin, not a mortal sin. Defendants did not commit murder or arson. They did not rob a bank at gunpoint. Donald Trump is not [the late fraudster] Bernard Madoff.

“Yet, defendants are incapable of admitting the error of their ways. Instead, they adopt a ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ posture that the evidence belies.”

After the ruling, Trump remained defiant. Describing the verdict as a “Complete and Total SHAM,” the former president erroneously claimed his $354.9m fine “based on nothing other than having built a GREAT COMPANY”.

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Elton John to auction off 900 items worth $10m

Elton John to auction off 900 items worth $10m from former Atlanta home

Silver boots, Banksy original, pinball machine and more going under hammer at Christie’s, New York

Fans of Sir Elton John’s flamboyant style will next week have the chance to splash out on his snappiest Versace looks in a huge 900-plus lot auction that includes the contents of the Rocket Man’s $7.2m (£5.7m) Atlanta apartment.

Christie’s auction house in New York’s Rockefeller Center has been transformed into a John emporium for two live – and six online – sales of the singer’s collection, including several pairs of his trademark thick rim spectacles and a vast art collection that features a Love, Lust and Devotion section dedicated to his treasure trove of male art.

John sold his skyscraper condo in Atlanta for $7m in November – 45% more than its asking price. It was bought by the star more than 30 years ago for just under $1m and the singer and his husband, David Furnish, expanded the duplex into a four-bedroom, seven-bathroom residence by acquiring five neighbouring units.

The auctions kick off on Wednesday night, and proceeds from the couple’s house clearance, combined with sales of other items, are expected to exceed $10m.

A Banksy original Flower Thrower Triptych, which shows a man seemingly about to throw something in an act of violence but actually throwing a bouquet, is expected to be the single most expensive item on offer, with an estimate of $1m to $1.5m.

Also on the block are a pair of silver leather platform boots, with the letters E and J picked out in red, that John wore on tour ($5,000 to $10,000); a heart-shaped artwork by Damien Hirst called Your Song that features a picture of John and Furnish with the inscription: “xxx or Elton + David love Damien Thank You” ($350,000-450,000); and a Yamaha Conservatory grand piano, on which John practised hits for the musicals Aida and Billy Elliot ($30,000-50,000).

There is a pinball machine designed for the manufacturer Jersey Jack Pinball that features John’s image and plays his hits including Tiny Dancer and Rocket Man.

John declared himself a Pinball Wizard in the 1975 hit that begins with the lyrics: “Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball. / From Soho down to Brighton I must have played them all.” It is estimated at $10,000 to $15,000, and the proceeds from this lot will go to the Elton John Aids foundation.

Tash Perrin, the deputy chair of Christie’s Americas, said: “This extraordinary collection not only showcases a diverse array of remarkable objects that encapsulate Elton’s unique life, work and art but also provides our clients with a glimpse into the profound impact that the city of Atlanta had on him.

“We take immense pride in presenting this multi-category sale, featuring a refined assortment of photographs, artworks, fashion, and costumes – a testament to a man’s eclectic vision, artistry, and impeccable taste.”

There are so many items of clothes and jewellery that Christie’s is holding three dedicated auctions for them, including one called: The Collection of Sir Elton John: Out of the Closet.

Another is devoted to his Versace collection, which “pays homage to the intimate and influential friendship shared between the legendary musician and the iconic designer”. Christie’s says the collection “offers a glimpse into the profound connection that existed between these two influential figures in the worlds of music and fashion”.

A copy of the catalogue of the collection, called Goodbye Peachtree Road after the location of John’s 13,500 sq ft apartment in Atlanta, costs £50.

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Elton John to auction off 900 items worth $10m

Elton John to auction off 900 items worth $10m from former Atlanta home

Silver boots, Banksy original, pinball machine and more going under hammer at Christie’s, New York

Fans of Sir Elton John’s flamboyant style will next week have the chance to splash out on his snappiest Versace looks in a huge 900-plus lot auction that includes the contents of the Rocket Man’s $7.2m (£5.7m) Atlanta apartment.

Christie’s auction house in New York’s Rockefeller Center has been transformed into a John emporium for two live – and six online – sales of the singer’s collection, including several pairs of his trademark thick rim spectacles and a vast art collection that features a Love, Lust and Devotion section dedicated to his treasure trove of male art.

John sold his skyscraper condo in Atlanta for $7m in November – 45% more than its asking price. It was bought by the star more than 30 years ago for just under $1m and the singer and his husband, David Furnish, expanded the duplex into a four-bedroom, seven-bathroom residence by acquiring five neighbouring units.

The auctions kick off on Wednesday night, and proceeds from the couple’s house clearance, combined with sales of other items, are expected to exceed $10m.

A Banksy original Flower Thrower Triptych, which shows a man seemingly about to throw something in an act of violence but actually throwing a bouquet, is expected to be the single most expensive item on offer, with an estimate of $1m to $1.5m.

Also on the block are a pair of silver leather platform boots, with the letters E and J picked out in red, that John wore on tour ($5,000 to $10,000); a heart-shaped artwork by Damien Hirst called Your Song that features a picture of John and Furnish with the inscription: “xxx or Elton + David love Damien Thank You” ($350,000-450,000); and a Yamaha Conservatory grand piano, on which John practised hits for the musicals Aida and Billy Elliot ($30,000-50,000).

There is a pinball machine designed for the manufacturer Jersey Jack Pinball that features John’s image and plays his hits including Tiny Dancer and Rocket Man.

John declared himself a Pinball Wizard in the 1975 hit that begins with the lyrics: “Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve played the silver ball. / From Soho down to Brighton I must have played them all.” It is estimated at $10,000 to $15,000, and the proceeds from this lot will go to the Elton John Aids foundation.

Tash Perrin, the deputy chair of Christie’s Americas, said: “This extraordinary collection not only showcases a diverse array of remarkable objects that encapsulate Elton’s unique life, work and art but also provides our clients with a glimpse into the profound impact that the city of Atlanta had on him.

“We take immense pride in presenting this multi-category sale, featuring a refined assortment of photographs, artworks, fashion, and costumes – a testament to a man’s eclectic vision, artistry, and impeccable taste.”

There are so many items of clothes and jewellery that Christie’s is holding three dedicated auctions for them, including one called: The Collection of Sir Elton John: Out of the Closet.

Another is devoted to his Versace collection, which “pays homage to the intimate and influential friendship shared between the legendary musician and the iconic designer”. Christie’s says the collection “offers a glimpse into the profound connection that existed between these two influential figures in the worlds of music and fashion”.

A copy of the catalogue of the collection, called Goodbye Peachtree Road after the location of John’s 13,500 sq ft apartment in Atlanta, costs £50.

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February on course to break unprecedented number of heat records

February on course to break unprecedented number of heat records

Rapid ocean warming and unusually hot winter days recorded as human-made global heating combines with El Niño

February is on course to break a record number of heat records, meteorologists say, as human-made global heating and the natural El Niño climate pattern drive up temperatures on land and oceans around the world.

A little over halfway into the shortest month of the year, the heating spike has become so pronounced that climate charts are entering new territory, particularly for sea-surface temperatures that have persisted and accelerated to the point where expert observers are struggling to explain how the change is happening.

“The planet is warming at an accelerating rate. We are seeing rapid temperature increases in the ocean, the climate’s largest reservoir of heat,” said Dr Joel Hirschi, the associate head of marine systems modelling at the UK National Oceanography Centre. “The amplitude by which previous sea surface temperatures records were beaten in 2023 and now 2024 exceed expectations, though understanding why this is, is the subject of ongoing research.”

Humanity is on a trajectory to experience the hottest February in recorded history, after a record January, December, November, October, September, August, July, June and May, according to the Berkeley Earth scientist Zeke Hausfather.

He said the rise in recent weeks was on course for 2C of warming above pre-industrial levels, though this should be the brief, peak impact of El Niño if it follows the path of previous years and starts to cool down in the months ahead.

That would normally be good news if a temperature-lowering La Niña follows, but Hausfather said the behaviour of the climate had become more erratic and harder to forecast. “[Last year] defied expectations so much that it’s hard to have as much confidence in the approaches we have used to make these predictions in the past,” he said. “I’d say February 2024 is an odds-on favourite to beat the prior record set in 2016, but it’s by no means a foregone conclusion at this point as weather models suggest that global temperatures will fall back down in the coming week. So while I think these extreme temperatures provide some evidence of an acceleration in the rate of warming in recent years – as climate models expect there to be if CO2 emissions do not fall but aerosols do – it’s not necessarily worse than we thought.”

The first half of February shocked weather watchers. Maximiliano Herrera, who blogs on Extreme Temperatures Around the World, described the surge of thousands of meteorological station heat records as “insane”, “total madness” and “climatic history rewritten”. What astonished him was not just the number of records but the extent by which many of them surpassed anything that went before.

He said Morocco had seen 12 weather stations register over 33.9C, which was not only a national record for the hottest winter day, but also more than 5C above average for July. The northern Chinese city of Harbin had to close its winter ice festival because temperatures crept above freezing for an unprecedented three days this month.

In the past week, monitoring stations as far apart as South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Colombia, Japan, North Korea, the Maldives and Belize have registered monthly heat records.

In the first half of this month, Herrera said 140 countries broke monthly heat records, which was similar to the final figures of the last six record hottest months of 2023 and more than three times any month before 2023.

Ocean surface heat continues to astonish seasoned observers and raises the prospect of intense storms later in the year. The hurricane specialist Michael Lowry tweeted that sea surface temperatures across the Atlantic main development region, where most of the US category 3 or stronger hurricanes form, “are as warm today in mid-February as they typically are in middle July. Incredible.”

Global sea surface temperatures are in “uncharted territory” according to Hirschi, who expects March to break last August’s record by 0.1C to 0.2C. March is typically the hottest time of the year for oceans because it is late summer in the southern hemisphere, which is home to most of the world’s great seas.

The temperature spikes were expected, though their amplitude came as a surprise. Climatologists are now studying how to attribute weight to the different causes behind such anomalies.

A strong El Niño has pushed temperatures higher, but Francesca Guglielmo, a Copernicus senior scientist, noted this was only one of several heating factors that worked in combination. Every extra tonne of carbon dioxide emitted by humanity increases pressure on the oceans. In some areas, the anomalous heat has also been intensified by weak trade winds, a lethargic jet stream, fluctuations in North Atlantic circulation and reductions in aerosol pollution, which exposes more of the ocean to the sun.

Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist for The Nature Conservancy, said the uncertainty about the interaction of the different factors was a reminder that we do not fully understand every aspect of how the complex Earth system is responding to unprecedented radiative forcing. “This is happening at a much faster rate than ever documented in the past,” she said. “If anything, we are much more likely to underestimate the impact of those changes on human society than to overestimate them.”

El Niño is now weakening, which should ease temperatures in the equatorial Pacific from late spring or early summer. If the North Atlantic remains warm at that time, this could herald intense hurricane activity, Hirschi warned.

Such risks will increase every year unless human carbon emissions are slashed and forest clearance reversed. “Slowing, stopping or reversing the warming trajectory we are on is akin to changing the course of a supertanker. Results are not immediate but the sooner we take action, the easier it will be for us to avoid hitting trouble,” he said.

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Thousands join UK parents calling for smartphone-free childhood

‘It went nuts’: Thousands join UK parents calling for smartphone-free childhood

Local WhatsApp group started by two mothers concerned about online safety attracts more than 4,000 members

More than 4,000 parents have joined a group committed to barring young children from having smartphones, as concerns grow about online safety and the impact of social media on mental health.

The WhatsApp group Smartphone Free Childhood was created by the former school friends Clare Fernyhough and Daisy Greenwell in response to their fears around children’s smartphone use and the “norm” of giving children smart devices when they go to secondary school.

“I’ve got a seven- and nine-year-old. Daisy’s got kids of a similar age and we were both feeling really horrified and worried and just didn’t want them to have smartphones at 11, which seems to be the norm now.”

Fernyhough and Greenwell hoped the movement would embolden parents to delay giving their children smartphones until at least 14, with no social media access until 16.

But what they expected to be a small group of friends who help “empower each other” has turned into a nationwide campaign after the group reached the 1,000-person capacity within 24 hours of Greenwell uploading an Instagram post to promote it.

“We were completely surprised by this,” Fernyhough said. “It just went completely nuts.”

The pair encouraged people to create local groups to cope with the demand. “Before our eyes, within half an hour, there were 30 local groups that sprung up across the whole country and that is just expanding and expanding,” said Fernyhough.

The group, converted into a community to allow more people to join, now has about 4,500 members.

Smartphones expose children to a “world that they are not ready for” because they can access pornography and content on self-harm and suicide, which can have a detrimental impact on their mental health, Fernyhough said. “It struck me that they just don’t need one. They don’t need a smartphone at that age. A brick phone can do everything that they need.”

Ofcom research found that 91% of children in the UK own a smartphone by the time they are 11 and 44% by the time they are nine.

“We thought we had an extreme view and that’s why we wanted to have solidarity with each other, but what we’ve realised is that, actually, it’s like we’ve lifted the lid on something here by mistake and people really need to talk about this and a lot of people have been feeling like us but not feeling they could talk about it,” Fernyhough said.

Esther Ghey, the mother of Brianna Ghey, called earlier this week for a complete ban on social media access for under-16s, and said more people will have mental health issues unless tech companies take action to restrict access to harmful content.

Brianna was murdered on 11 February 2023 and her mother believes she was vulnerable after spending so much time online.

The goal is to change the norm, Fernyhough said, so that when children come to the end of primary school, the class “bands together and says, ‘Let’s all delay until at least 14.’ That means all the kids from your primary school go on to secondary school with a critical mass of peers who are doing the same thing”, reducing peer pressure.

“We don’t want our kids to turn up in secondary school as the only one,” said Fernyhough. “That’s a nightmare and no one will do that to their child. But if 20%, 30%, even 50% of kids are turning up with parents making that decision, they are in a much better position.

“They can live their childhood as they should do, focus on their learning and enjoy the real world without having to spend their life scrolling, which we all know is not good for them.”

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Sutherland stars again as Australia thrash South Africa in women’s Test

Sutherland stars again as Australia thrash South Africa in women’s Test

  • Australia, 575-9, beat SA, 76 and 215, by innings and 284 runs
  • Delmi Tucker and Chloe Tyron resist hosts’ charge for a time

Australia thrashed South Africa by an innings and 284 runs inside three days in a one-sided women’s Test at the Waca Ground.

South Africa were bowled out for 215 in their second innings shortly after tea on day three, despite the best efforts of Delmi Tucker (64 off 181 balls), Chloe Tryon (64 off 153 balls) and Tazmin Brits (31 off 127 balls).

Australia were in an unassailable position after amassing a women’s world-record 575 for nine (declared) in response to the tourists’ measly 76 all out. But the Proteas made Australia fight hard to wrap up victory on day three, frustrating the home side in the 37-degree heat.

Australia’s Test win follows on from 2-1 victories in the ODI and T20 series. South Africa were always going to be up against it in the first women’s Test match between the two nations after losing star all-rounder Marizanne Kapp to illness before the match.

The Proteas rocked up on day three in all sorts of trouble at 67 for three in their second innings, but Brits was the only wicket to fall during the morning session. Ellyse Perry’s seaming delivery caught the edge of Brits’ bat and the ball flew low to second slip. Phoebe Litchfield did well to snaffle the catch, but the umpire wasn’t convinced it had carried and decided to launch a review. Replays were somewhat blurry, but they seemed to indicate Litchfield had just got her fingers under the ball in time.

Comeback kid Sophie Molineux almost snared a wicket just before lunch, but wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy couldn’t hang on to an inside edge from Tryon. The South African batter was given another life on 38 when she was dropped by Beth Mooney at slip.

Spinner Ashleigh Gardner (two for 29) took a diving catch off her own bowling to end Tucker’s stand, and two overs later she had Nadine de Klerk caught for a duck. The impressive Darcie Brown (two for 47) made the most of the new ball by bowling Sinalo Jafta (nine), and it was Annabel Sutherland who got the vital breakthrough when she bowled Tryon.

Sutherland (two for 11) popped up again to dismiss Nonkululeko Mlaba (15), and spinner Alana King wrapped up the innings. It continued a standout match from the 22-year-old, who posted the fourth-highest score in women’s Tests on Friday when she blasted 210 off 256 deliveries.

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Sutherland stars again as Australia thrash South Africa in women’s Test

Sutherland stars again as Australia thrash South Africa in women’s Test

  • Australia, 575-9, beat SA, 76 and 215, by innings and 284 runs
  • Delmi Tucker and Chloe Tyron resist hosts’ charge for a time

Australia thrashed South Africa by an innings and 284 runs inside three days in a one-sided women’s Test at the Waca Ground.

South Africa were bowled out for 215 in their second innings shortly after tea on day three, despite the best efforts of Delmi Tucker (64 off 181 balls), Chloe Tryon (64 off 153 balls) and Tazmin Brits (31 off 127 balls).

Australia were in an unassailable position after amassing a women’s world-record 575 for nine (declared) in response to the tourists’ measly 76 all out. But the Proteas made Australia fight hard to wrap up victory on day three, frustrating the home side in the 37-degree heat.

Australia’s Test win follows on from 2-1 victories in the ODI and T20 series. South Africa were always going to be up against it in the first women’s Test match between the two nations after losing star all-rounder Marizanne Kapp to illness before the match.

The Proteas rocked up on day three in all sorts of trouble at 67 for three in their second innings, but Brits was the only wicket to fall during the morning session. Ellyse Perry’s seaming delivery caught the edge of Brits’ bat and the ball flew low to second slip. Phoebe Litchfield did well to snaffle the catch, but the umpire wasn’t convinced it had carried and decided to launch a review. Replays were somewhat blurry, but they seemed to indicate Litchfield had just got her fingers under the ball in time.

Comeback kid Sophie Molineux almost snared a wicket just before lunch, but wicketkeeper Alyssa Healy couldn’t hang on to an inside edge from Tryon. The South African batter was given another life on 38 when she was dropped by Beth Mooney at slip.

Spinner Ashleigh Gardner (two for 29) took a diving catch off her own bowling to end Tucker’s stand, and two overs later she had Nadine de Klerk caught for a duck. The impressive Darcie Brown (two for 47) made the most of the new ball by bowling Sinalo Jafta (nine), and it was Annabel Sutherland who got the vital breakthrough when she bowled Tryon.

Sutherland (two for 11) popped up again to dismiss Nonkululeko Mlaba (15), and spinner Alana King wrapped up the innings. It continued a standout match from the 22-year-old, who posted the fourth-highest score in women’s Tests on Friday when she blasted 210 off 256 deliveries.

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Second Sydney primary school among four more sites testing positive for contamination

Second Sydney primary school among four more sites testing positive for asbestos contamination

Single piece of bonded asbestos found in a garden bed at Allambie Heights public school

  • Exclusive: Testing regime meant to stop toxic chemicals going into NSW landscape products gamed by suppliers
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A second primary school in Sydney’s north is among four additional sites that have returned positive results for asbestos contamination.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority on Saturday confirmed Allambie Heights public school in northern Sydney, two residential estates under construction in Sydney’s south-west and Munn Park in Millers Point tested positive for traces of asbestos-laden mulch.

A single piece of bonded asbestos was found in one garden bed at Allambie Heights public school, the Department of Education confirmed.

“That garden bed … was already cordoned off,” the department secretary, Murat Dizdar, said on Saturday.

“We did operate on Friday with face-to-face teaching and learning and we’ll be able to do the same on Monday.

“The area has been made safe [for] our staff, students and community.”

A further three private properties returned positive results for asbestos but they are not being identified for privacy reasons and they are not publicly accessible, the EPA’s chief executive, Tony Chappel, said.

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Liverpool West public school was shuttered on Monday due to a positive result.

Authorities have since identified four more schools for precautionary testing following inspections to seven on Friday.

They are: Domremy College in Five Dock, Edmondson Park public school in Edmondson Park, St Michael’s Catholic primary school in Daceyville and Trinity Catholic primary school in Kemps Creek.

North Sydney public school, one of the seven inspected on Friday, returned negative tests for asbestos.

There are more than 3,000 schools across the state but Dizdar said there was no need for widespread testing as the department adopts a case-by-case approach.

“We don’t need to quickly jump to learning from home or decanting a school and that’s not the case here with those four sites either,” he said.

The risk to human health remained low if asbestos was bonded and not disturbed, the EPA chief said.

Meanwhile, the University of Sydney has been identified as a potential contamination site and will be tested this weekend.

The grounds of Sydney Olympic Park Authority have undergone testing after the EPA identified landscaping on a median strip as a priority location.

“The initial batch of testing there are all negative,” Chappel said.

He assured the public the site will be safe for Taylor Swift and Blink-182 concerts, which will definitely proceed.

The City of Sydney was also doing precautionary testing on a number of parks, Chappel said.

Since bonded asbestos was first found at the Rozelle Parklands in Sydney’s inner west in early January, the criminal investigation has grown into the largest in the EPA’s history.

On Thursday, Chappel said it was a “complex, large supply chain” and, while multiple suppliers were being looked at as part of the probe, so far only mulch from Greenlife Resource Recovery had been found to contain asbestos.

Greenlife has insisted it is not responsible for the contamination and that multiple rounds of testing by independent laboratories showed their mulch was free from asbestos before it was distributed to customers.

“We are not concerned about companies providing mulch off the shelves that’s contaminated,” he said.

“Bunnings, Mitre10 and other nursery store products are not in question here.”

The number of positive sites grew to at least 32 on Saturday with more than 300 sites already tested.

About one in 10 sites have returned positive results from the testing, the EPA said.

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Police officer fired at handcuffed man in SUV after mistaking acorn for gunshot

US officer fired at handcuffed man in SUV after mistaking acorn for gunshot

Florida deputy Jesse Hernandez resigned after opening fire when he thought sound of acorn hitting police cruiser was shot from gun

A Florida sheriff’s deputy mistook the sound of an acorn hitting his patrol cruiser for a gunshot and fired multiple times at the SUV where a handcuffed Black man was sitting in the backseat, officials said.

The man, who was being questioned about stealing his girlfriend’s car, was not injured during the 12 November shooting. He was taken into custody but released without being charged. The officer who initiated the shooting resigned.

The Okaloosa county sheriff’s office released the body-camera video and an internal affairs report this week, addressing the acorn for the first time.

Investigators viewing the video from deputy Jesse Hernandez’s body camera saw an acorn falling just before shots were fired, an internal affairs report by the sheriff’s office concluded. The acorn bounced off the patrol vehicle’s roof.

That morning, Hernandez, a sergeant and another deputy had responded to a call from a woman who said her boyfriend had stolen her car and was sending her threatening messages. The woman told deputies that the man had a weapon, the report said.

Police detained the boyfriend and searched his car after handcuffing him and placing him the back of Hernandez’s patrol car.

That’s where he was when the acorn hit the vehicle.

As Hernandez approached the passenger side door of his patrol car, he heard a popping sound which he later told investigators he perceived to be a gunshot. And he said he believed he had been hit.

“He began yelling ‘shots fired’ multiple times, falling to the ground and rolling,” the sheriff’s report said. “He fired into the patrol car.”

Sgt Beth Roberts heard the gunfire and Hernandez’s screams – and began firing into the car as well, the report said.

While the county’s state attorney’s office found no probable cause for criminal charges, the sheriff’s internal affairs investigation determined Hernandez’s use of force was “not objectively reasonable”. Hernandez resigned on 4 December, the sheriff’s office said.

Roberts’ use of deadly force was found to be reasonable, and she was exonerated, the report found.

The Okaloosa sheriff, Eric Aden, said he realizes the situation was “traumatic” for the suspect, and his office has incorporated the shooting into training for other deputies.

He also said he did not believe that Hernandez acted with malice.

“Though his actions were ultimately not warranted, we do believe he felt his life was in immediate peril and his response was based off the totality of circumstances surrounding this fear,” Aden said.

Reviews of the case by the sheriff’s criminal investigations division and the county’s state attorney’s office found no probable cause for criminal charges for Hernandez, who started with the agency in January 2022.

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Inquest into mysterious death provides glimpse into Byron Bay’s underbelly

Inquest into Jackson Stacker’s mysterious death provides glimpse into Byron Bay’s underbelly

Young traveller’s decomposed body was found in a field in 2021, as authorities struggle to establish if it was murder or suicide

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Main Beach at Byron Bay can be a beguiling place, attracting buskers, backpackers and beautiful people from all over the world.

But in the local courthouse this week, a different picture emerged: that of the underbelly of drugs and homelessness that exist beneath Byron’s glamorously chilled reputation. A world in which 25-year-old traveller Jackson Stacker had inadvertently found himself.

A three-day coroner’s inquest into Stacker’s brutal death in 2021 heard how he had set off from Melbourne after nearly finishing an apprenticeship as an electrician, and spent a year and a half on an extended road trip up and down the east coast. He was driving a Toyota Hiace van, given to him by his late grandfather.

Stacker’s mother, Sandra MacFarlane, told the court that in the 12 months prior to his death, “Jackson gave me the impression that he was on a journey of finding himself and enjoying the alternative, non-materialistic lifestyle that he had long been aspiring to live”.

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Mia Kieis told the coroner she met Stacker at Pemstock, a commune on the Daintree river, in north Queensland. “You aren’t allowed to bring anything from Coles or commercial supermarkets, no plastics, only locally sourced food,” she said.

She was instantly drawn to Stacker. “He was a very charismatic, energetic and friendly person. He had great humour.”

At that stage, Kieis said, Stacker knew that psychedelics and marijuana “weren’t agreeable for him, they put him on edge”. But the court would hear that drugs were prevalent during his later time in Byron.

Stranded in New South Wales

Stacker was on his way back to Queensland in July 2021, when the state’s borders closed, leaving him caught in northern NSW.

“He was pretty pissed,” his friend John Van Winegarden told the inquest. “He couldn’t do what he wanted to do. He wanted to go to a music festival in Queensland and to go to Cairns.”

Calan Whitehead, also known as Kilarney, said he had been sleeping rough in the sand dunes when he first met Stacker at the Main Beach car park, a place where drug deals were done. They would smoke weed together, Whitehead told the court, and listen to music.

“He was a really cool guy, really chilled, loved life. He had awesome taste in music, girls flocked to him.” The “stoner crew”, he told the inquest “were always around his van”.

Stacker was a “legend”, Whitehead said, because he let him sleep in the van. “[My bed] was on a bench seat in the front of the van with my legs sticking out the window.”

MacFarlane told the inquest she spoke to her son on 22 July 2021, the last day he was seen alive.

“Everything seemed fine,” she said. “He was always his usual self when we spoke.” Ten days later, when she called him about a parking fine and he didn’t respond, she started to get anxious. “I put some money in his bank account with the online reference of ‘Please call Mum!’”

Exposed to the elements

To Francis Stanek, an abandoned van in a rest stop meant one thing: “accommodation.” Stanek, who was travelling in his own van, told the inquest he had taken a destitute man, a “desperado” called Matty, to Stacker’s van, which he’d found parked at a rest stop at Sleepy Hollow, 40km north of Byron.

The keys were in the ignition, he said, and there was a smell of musty clothes. “It was a total mess, it looked like it had been tossed over,” he told the inquest.

Stanek told the court Matty went through the van and found a digital camera, which he sold for $50 to buy marijuana.

They didn’t find any drugs in the van, Stanek said, but they did find a driver licence and the car’s registration papers. “I started getting a gut feeling. Who would leave their driver’s licence there?”

That same day, on 23 August, a woman in Murwillumbah phoned Stacker’s father, Ian, whose number was on the van’s registration papers. She said she had been offered the van for sale.

Two days later police found Stacker’s body under a tree in a field, near where the van was parked.

Exposed to the elements for about a month, the remains were skeletal, and scattered. Stacker’s scalp and dreadlocks were 14 metres from the body, he was missing teeth, his boots were further away.

Lying face down, Stacker had been wearing his faux fur coat; a hunting knife had gone through his chest “up to the hilt”, forensic pathologist Prof Noel Woodford told the inquest.

Visiting the scene, Stacker’s mother later found one of his teeth under a leaf, the inquest heard. The case was reclassified as suspicious and teeth and three small finger bones were found during a police line search.

With Stacker’s body were two cigarette lighters, matches, a container of gear oil and duct tape, a beanie and a vape.

Stacker’s phone, to which he was “wedded”, has never been found. But it pinged in Grafton on 2 August, the inquest heard, “after what appears to be the most likely date of death”, Louise Beange, barrister assisting the family, told the court.

Self-inflicted or work of assailant?

The coroner heard two police officers linked to the early investigations were on extended sick leave and a third has left the force. None were available to comment.

The inquest heard that no DNA was taken from the vape or oil can; the rest stop was not initially searched and the people closely associated with Stacker were not questioned. Later DNA testing on the knife was “unsuccessful.”

Det Sgt Donna Tutt took over the case last year.

Asked by counsel assisting the coroner, Kirsten Edwards SC, if suicide was the “dominant theory at the start of the investigation”, Tutt said she “can’t comment” on what the officer in charge at that time “was thinking”.

In his report, Woodford stated that due to the decomposition of the body, and lack of soft tissue “it is not possible to say definitely if the knife wound was self-inflicted or by an assailant. A stab wound to the chest is equally consistent with homicide and suicide. I’ve seen in my professional career lots of episodes of or instances of self-inflicted stab wounds to the chest.”

But he told the court, “the knife was used with considerable force, it is not trivial force. Could these wounds have been inflicted by an assailant? The short answer based on the pathology is yes”.

The court heard the fact parts of Stacker’s body were separated was not necessarily evidence of foul play.

Edwards told the inquest that Woodford had indicated in his report that, “in a state of decomposition, very little force would be required to separate the skull from the other remains.” She noted that in his report he “had experience with a badger moving a mandible five metres away from remains”.

Decomposition, Woodford said, revolves “around softening of tissues, the ligaments, the muscles that hold the bone in place”. “That bone has the potential to be moved. Whether or not it is a carnivore or inadvertently knocked by a herbivore like a cow or a sheep I don’t have a view.”

There had been 33 cows in the paddock where Stacker died.

Whitehead told the inquest that in his last days Stacker had been “depressed and upset”. He had been to a “doof party” at Casino and taken LSD. “He was just staring into the fire. At five or six in the morning he was crying. He was really upset.”

On the last day he saw Stacker, Whitehead told the court, he had “let out this enormous scream throughout the car park” and thrown a bicycle down the rocks to the sea. “This little kid kept riding around … crashing into people’s cars and scratching them.”

He said Stacker was wiping away tears as he drove away from the car park for the last time.

Whitehead sent him a message “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do”, and sent a video of a dancing skeleton, but made no further attempt to contact him. “I didn’t have a phone for a while, I didn’t have his number. I was drinking pretty heavily,” he told the court.

When Stacker’s remains arrived home, his mother sat and talked to him, writing a poem that she tearfully read out in court. After seeing footage of his life, the coroner Theresa O’Sullivan was moved to remark, “he was a beautiful boy”.

The inquest continues, with the coroner still accepting submissions.

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