INDEPENDENT 2024-02-19 22:34:03


‘Beautiful’ siblings found dead in Bristol pictured for first time

Tributes have been paid to three children found dead in their home in Bristol. Brothers Fares Bash, aged seven, and nine-month-old Mohammed Bash have been named by police along with sister Joury Bash, aged three.

The three were found dead at their semi-detached home in the northeast of the city. A 42-year-old woman has been arrested on suspicion of murder following the discovery in the early hours of Sunday morning. She is being treated in hospital due to injuries, which are said not to be life threatening.

Avon and Somerset Police were called to the home in Blaise Walk, Sea Mills, after a member of the public called with concerns for the welfare of those inside.

On Monday morning, at a briefing at the taped-off street, Chief Inspector Vicks Hayward-Melen said the death of the children had caused “great shock to the whole community”.

And at Sea Mills Methodist Church, members of the city’s Sudanese community came together to share the news and remember the children.

Sadiq Issak was among them. He said: “It’s a really sad day for everyone in the community. What we can do is to get together and show our support for those impacted. “We all knew them well, so it’s hard for us right now – you just feel awful about the children.”

Salwa Bashar lives three miles away in Horfield but knew the family well.

The NHS worker told The Independent: “They were very happy children, very bubbly, especially the eldest child who acts like an adult.

“He was a remarkable boy, not just an ordinary boy he was amazing, intelligent, always trying to help you out, always asking if you were OK.

“He’s so young but he’s like an adult and he’s very curious about everything, trying to figure everything out.

“I’m really sad he’s gone. I said to the mother: ‘One day this boy will be something else, he’s not going to be just a normal boy. He’s going to be a really important person’. And now… I don’t know, I wake up yesterday morning and I’m told he’s gone.”

At a nearby park, Ahmed Egal was with his son who was a friend of Fares. He said: “The children were all so lovely. We’d see them around here often and I’d often speak to the mother as she spoke Arabic like me.

“I also knew the father. We worked together at Royal Mail, he also seemed like a nice person. Everyone in our community is in shock today.”

Hamida Adam was outside the church with her child on Monday morning. She knows the mother well and said the family had visited a trampoline park called AirHop Bristol during the recent half-term holiday.

She said: “She was a perfect mother, a very good carer of her kids and looked after them very well.

“When I close my eyes I see her with her beautiful children. We just want answers on what happened.”

The Independent understands that the father was not in the house at the time of the incident.

Avon and Somerset Police are making a formal referral to the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) on the case. An IOPC spokesperson said it had been informed of police contact with the family earlier this month.

The home is a semi-detached property in a quiet residential street in Sea Mills, four miles northwest of Bristol city centre.

On Monday morning, both Sea Mills Primary School and Sea Mills Community Playgroup closed as a result of the tragedy.

Ch Insp Hayward-Melen said forensic post-mortem examinations were taking place to establish the causes of the three deaths.

Formal identification had not yet taken place, but the next of kin was being given support by specialist family liaison officers.

The officer added: “It’s important to stress we are treating this as an isolated incident and we don’t believe there to be any ongoing risk to the wider community.

“We’ve been humbled by the community response to this tragedy. At a time of great sadness and disbelief, we’ve seen spontaneous acts of care and support.

“This is what being in a community is all about and we’d like to thank all those who continue to offer this important and selfless service.”

She added: “I know people will be eager to have answers, but the major crime investigation team are in the very early stages of what will be a highly sensitive, complex and thorough investigation, and it will take time to establish all the facts.

“We anticipate we’ll need to carry out further enquiries at the scene for the rest of the week and there will be some cordons in place while we do this.”

Darren Jones, MP for Bristol North West, said: “I’m deeply saddened by this tragic news from Sea Mills.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the friends and family of the children, and my thanks go to our emergency services who responded. Avon and Somerset Police will remain in the area but consider this to be an isolated incident.”

Local councillor Henry Michallat said: “My thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the children at this sad and difficult time. I thank emergency service personnel who have responded.”

Search continues overnight for missing toddler who fell into Leicestershire river

A major search and rescue operation continues after a two-year-old toddler fell into a Leicestershire river while out with his family.

The boy was reported missing on Sunday evening after falling into the River Soar in the Aylestone area, with his father entering the water to desperately try and save him. He was taken to hospital following the incident as a precautionary measure, but has since been discharged.

Emergency services, including water rescue teams, were called to the area near Marsden Lane shortly after 5pm, with additional specialist teams joining the search on Monday.

Leicestershire Police have since received support from Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and the Met police forces, with the force also making use of helicopter and aerial technology.

In their latest appeal, the force asked for members of the public who had spoken to officers since Sunday to come forward again.

They also requested that a dog walker who had been walking along the footpath near the Packhorse Bridge to come forward to assist the police with their enquiries.

Assistant Chief Constable Michaela Kerr said: “Our priority for Leicestershire Police is to make sure we find the little boy.

“I would like to thank members of the public for their support yesterday.

“But, at the same time, I’d like to really emphasise how dangerous this area is at the moment and ask that members of the public do refrain from coming back to this location for their own safety.”

She added that the toddler had been with his family at the time of the incident, and that they were receiving support from specialist officers.

Ongoing searches for the boy have been made difficult by recent heavy rainfall and high river levels, which has made the operation challenging for emergency services.

Ms Kerr said: “That’s one of the reasons why it’s so important to us that we don’t have members of the public attempting any search, because it does require real skill in order to do so safely. I am confident we will find him. We are doing everything we possibly can.”

A long-standing resident whose home overlooks Aylestone Meadows said flooding from the River Soar in recent weeks had left parts of the nature reserve in a treacherous state.

The woman, who walks regularly in the area, said a nearby canal and the river sometimes “go into one” during peak flooding periods.

“It’s fast-flowing,” she said of current conditions. “It’s been quite bad. It’s devastating to think how they (family members) must be feeling.”

SAS has power over Afghan sanctuary claims despite investigation

UK special forces have frustrated efforts by Afghan troops to gain sanctuary in Britain despite the fact that some of the Afghan soldiers could be witnesses to crimes allegedly committed by British units.

Hundreds of Afghan special forces soldiers who served in two elite units known as the Triples have had their applications to come to the UK rejected by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) – with some subjected to murder and torture at the hands of the Taliban after being refused help.

In a joint investigation, The Independent revealed numerous cases of former Afghan soldiers who had been denied relocation to the UK even though they had extensive evidence of their work alongside British forces.

Veterans minister Johnny Mercer has reportedly raised concerns about why UK special forces are allowed to play a part in deciding which Afghan Triples come to the UK while an investigation is ongoing into crimes committed by the SAS in Afghanistan. Some Afghan members of the unit Commando Force 333 were partnered with the SAS during the period that is being investigated.

An internal government document shows that any application to the Afghan relocations and assistance policy (Arap) scheme from a Triples member must be approved by the UK special forces (UKSF).

According to sources within the MoD, the UKSF had been refusing to engage with the process, thus not approving many cases, leading to what were effectively blanket rejections.

It is understood that bosses at the MoD felt that it would be too hard to help the Triples come to the UK because the UKSF were failing to cooperate. The MoD has denied that any blanket decisions were made and said that flawed decisions led to Afghans being wrongly turned away.

But they insisted that UK Special Forces did not make the final decisions on eligibility for the Arap scheme.

Ministers have pledged to review some 2,000 applications by those who served in Afghan specialist units.

The Independent has previously reported that questions were asked by officials working for the independent inquiry relating to Afghanistan, which is investigating alleged war crimes committed by the UKSF in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013, over their unwillingness to approve Triples’ cases for UK resettlement.

Independent inquiry officials were particularly interested in the Triples units because they may be able to provide testimony that is relevant to the inquiry, sources said.

Afghan members of Commando Force 333 were partnered with the SAS during the relevant years of the inquiry. Now former members of the SAS have told the BBC that the power the UKSF have over Triples’ relocation to the UK represents a conflict of interest.

One former UK special forces officer said: “It’s a clear conflict of interest. At a time when certain actions by UK special forces are under investigation by a public inquiry, their headquarters also had the power to prevent former Afghan special forces colleagues and potential witnesses to these actions from getting safely to the UK.”

Another former officer said: “At best it’s not appropriate; at worst it looks like they’re trying to cover their tracks.”

BBC Panorama also reported that MoD civil servants felt unable to challenge rejections made by the UKSF, even when there was a strong case that an Afghan soldier should be resettled in the UK.

Two former Triples members, whose pleas for sanctuary were rejected in 2023, told the broadcaster they had witnessed what appeared to them to be war crimes committed by the UKSF.

The Times has also reported that veterans’ affairs minister Johnny Mercer wrote a letter to deputy prime minister Oliver Dowden raising concerns as to why the UKSF were allowed to play a part in deciding which Afghan Triples came to the UK.

Mr Mercer is due to appear before the independent inquiry relating to Afghanistan on Tuesday, making him the first minister to do so.

An MoD spokesperson said: “We are conducting an independent, case-by-case review of all applications from former members of Afghan specialist units, which includes applications from the Triples. This review will consider all available evidence, including that provided by third parties.

“The review is being carried out by independent staff who have not previously worked on these applications.”

Who’d pay $99 to smell like Donald Trump? Eau d’Insurrection, anyone…?

I thought the most outlandish celebrity-scented product I’d see in my lifetime was Gwyneth Paltrow marketing a candle called This Smells Like My Vagina on her website Goop for $75. But, in a race to the, um, bottom, no one’s going to outdo the nuclear levels of toxic chutzpah wielded by Donald Trump.

The former president’s riposte to being fined $355m and deemed malodorous by former GOP congressman Adam Kinzinger is to launch Victory47, a new fragrance in For Him and For Her versions, at a mere $99 a pop. To put this name in its full audacious (some would say delusional) context, the next elected president of the US will be number 47 in its political lineage.

And while Trump may be leading the contenders, he hasn’t yet secured the nomination and faces a host of other lawsuits. So “coming up smelling of Trump” may yet mean a staycation in hotel clink.

Badenoch: Ex-Post Office chair was being investigated for bullying

Former Post Office chair Henry Staunton was being investigated over bullying allegations before his dismissal, the business secretary has told MPs.

Kemi Badenoch said allegations relating to Mr Staunton’s conduct were being examined and concerns were also raised about his “willingness to cooperate” with the formal investigation.

Ms Badenoch’s remarks came during a Commons statement in which she rejected a series of claims made by Mr Staunton, including that he was told by a senior civil servant to “stall” spending on compensation to subpostmasters ahead of the next general election.

She said the claims were a “blatant attempt to seek revenge following dismissal”.

Mr Staunton, who was sacked by the business secretary last month, used a Sunday Times interview to suggest that the alleged request was linked to concerns about the cost of Horizon scandal compensation heading into the election.

Mr Staunton took up the Post Office role in December 2022 following nine years as chairman of WH Smith.

Speaking in the Commons, Ms Badenoch accused Mr Staunton of making “completely false” accusations and said it had confirmed in her mind that “I made the correct decision in dismissing him”.

She told MPs: “Mr Staunton claimed that I told him that someone’s got to take the rap for the Horizon scandal and that was the reason for his dismissal. That was not the reason at all.

“I dismissed him because there were serious concerns about his behaviour as chair, including those raised from other directors on the board.

“My department found significant governance issues, for example, with the recruitment of a new senior independence director to the Post Office board.

“A public appointment process was under way but Mr Staunton apparently wanted to bypass it, appointing someone from within the existing board without due process. He failed to properly consult the Post Office board on the proposal, he failed to hold the required nominations committee, most importantly he failed to consult the government as a shareholder – which the company was required to do.

“I know that MPs will agree with me that such a cavalier approach to governance was the last thing we needed in the Post Office given its historic failings.

“I should also inform the house that while he was in post a formal investigation was launched into allegations made regarding Mr Staunton’s conduct. This included serious matters such as bullying. Concerns were brought to my department’s attention about Mr Staunton’s willingness to cooperate with that investigation.”

On claims to “stall” compensation payments, Ms Badenoch told MPs: “There is no evidence whatsoever that this is true.”

She added: “For Henry Staunton to suggest otherwise, for whatever personal motives, is a disgrace and it risks damaging confidence in the compensation schemes that ministers and civil servants are working so hard to deliver.

“I would hope that most people reading the interview in yesterday’s Sunday Times would see it for what it was: a blatant attempt to seek revenge following dismissal.”

However, responding to the bullying accusations, a spokesman for Mr Staunton said in a statement it was “the first time the existence of such allegations have been mentioned”.

“Mr Staunton is not aware of any aspect of his conduct which could give rise to such allegations,” the statement said. “They were certainly not raised by the secretary of state at any stage and certainly not during the conversation which led to Mr Staunton’s dismissal.

“Such behaviour would in any case be totally out of character.”

For Labour, shadow business secretary Jonathan Reynolds said ministers must ensure claims the government had looked to stall Horizon compensation payments are “shown to be false in no uncertain terms”.

He said: “Yet we do now have two completely contrasting accounts, one from the chairman of the Post Office, and one from the secretary of state, and only one of these accounts can be the truth.”

Ms Badenoch reiterated her denial of the claims and said: “There would be no benefit whatsoever of us delaying compensation.

“This does not have any significant impact on revenues whatsoever. It would be a mad thing to even suggest, and the compensation scheme which Mr Staunton oversaw has actually been completed, and my understanding is 100 per cent of payments have been made, so clearly no instruction was given.”

While Ms Badenoch said the government would not publish all relevant correspondence between the government and Post Office due to the ongoing inquiry, she did say that ministers would “consider publishing correspondence between departments and Mr Staunton in accordance with freedom of information rules”.

More than 700 branch managers were prosecuted by the Post Office between 1999 and 2015 after faulty Horizon accounting software made it look as though money was missing from their shops.

Hundreds of subpostmasters are still awaiting compensation despite the government announcing that those who have had convictions quashed are eligible for £600,000 payouts.

Mr Staunton, in his newspaper interview, had said: “Early on, I was told by a fairly senior person to stall on spend on compensation and on the replacement of Horizon and to limp, in quotation marks – I did a file note on it – limp into the election.

“It was not an anti-postmaster thing, it was just straight financials. I didn’t ask, because I said ‘I’m having no part of it – I’m not here to limp into the election, it’s not the right thing to do by postmasters’.

“The word ‘limp’ gives you a snapshot of where they were.”

Versatile Vienna: from concerts and culture to wild swimming

The elegant city of Vienna, Austria’s capital, perches daintily on the Danube River, and is renowned for being a hotbed of culture. Art and music are woven into Vienna’s very DNA; it has been called the ‘City of Music’ because so many famous musicians, such as Beethoven and Mozart, lived here, and it’s where you’ll find one of the world’s most beautiful paintings – Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss – among a whole host of museums and galleries to lose yourself in. What’s more, it also boasts a wealth of wonderful natural sites and outdoor activities to enjoy, from vast parks, to pretty forests, refreshing pools and stretches of river, all within the city.

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Here are just some of the reasons why Vienna makes the perfect choice…

For great places to stay in this incredible city, Jet2CityBreaks has you covered. You can choose from the likes of Am Konzerthaus MGallery by Sofitel, which combines stylish surroundings with an Art Nouveau character, a sleek cocktail bar and a stunning restaurant offering fine cuisine. Or Ibis Wien Mariahilf, a modern boutique hotel close to the Westbahnhof train station and the famous shopping mile of Mariahilferstraße, where guests can enjoy cocktails in the cosy boutique bar, or dine at the buzzy restaurant.

Boutique Hotel Donauwalzer offers bright, quirky decor, a sleek art deco bar and easy access to the sites, museums, galleries and shops of Vienna. Or immerse yourself in Austrian culture at the Best Western Plus Amedia Wien, located in the city’s third district. Here you can enjoy a lavish buffet breakfast of local delicacies before heading out to explore the local markets and enjoy summer strolls along the Danube.

Alternatively, up the elegance factor with a stay at the Grand Ferdinand, a beautifully restored landmarked building in an enviable location. With St Stephen’s Cathedral, Hofburg Palace, the Museums Quarter, City Park and Vienna State Opera all within walking distance, it makes the perfect luxurious base to explore this fascinating city.

Culturally, you can’t do better than starting with The Kiss. The final painting of what was known as Klimt’s Golden Period, its depiction of two entwined lovers makes use of gold leaf and flakes of gold, silver and platinum, creating a stunning luminous effect that needs to be seen first-hand. Located in the beautiful, 300-year-old Upper Belvedere Palace, the piece rubs shoulders with works by other famous artists, including Monet and Van Gogh. While you’re here, make sure to enjoy a stroll through the landscaped gardens of this elaborate Baroque palace complex.

For even more inspiring artworks and cultural events, head to the MuseumsQuartier Wien, better known as MQ; the area is home to a cluster of museums, galleries and theatres, with dozens of exhibitions that will appeal to adults and children alike.

Finally, immerse yourself in Viennese history with a trip to Hofburg, the former Imperial Palace of the Habsburg dynasty. Once you’ve visited the grand Imperial apartments and the Sisi Museum – dedicated to the Empress Elisabeth, or ‘Sisi’, of Austria – make your way to the Palace’s Spanish Riding School, where you can watch the handsome Lipizzaner horses train, exercise, practice and perform dressage.

You can enjoy all the fun of the fair at the Prater amusement park, from roller coasters to ghost trains, but its standout attraction is the Wiener Riesenrad, or Big Wheel, which sits just by the entrance. Constructed in 1897, it stands 212ft high, and offers incredible views over the city. The iconic structure has even featured in several films, including 1940s film noir The Third Man, and James Bond classic The Living Daylights.

If you’re here in the warmer months, you might be surprised to discover that there are several outdoor swimming spots within the city, perfect for a refreshing dip. Along the Danube you’ll find the likes of Strandbad Gänsehäufel, one of the most popular stretches of the river with locals; An der Unteren Alten Donau, which has piers from which you can dive straight in, comfortable wooden reclining seats and a wide boardwalk; and the lively An der Oberen Alten Donau, known for its pier parties and night swimming.

After any exertion, it’s time to do as the Viennese do, and spend the afternoon in a Kaffeehaus. Kaffee und kuchen is a popular Austrian tradition, and the best-known cake in the country is the Sachertorte, a rich, luxurious combination of chocolate sponge, dark chocolate ganache and a thin layer of apricot jam. Try it in the red-velveted, gilt-mirrored surrounds of the Hotel Sacher, where it’s said to have been first invented, or at the historic Cafe Central, which dates from 1876 and has played host to writers, intellectuals and public figures including Leon Trotsky and Sigmund Freud.

You can also escape into nature via one of the many gorgeous green spaces dotted across Vienna. Prater Park is carpeted in forest and meadow, perfect for picnicking, while the national park of Lobau, known as the city’s jungle, houses more than 800 types of plant and over 100 bird species. There is even a wine region – where you’ll find sprawling vines and rolling hills – in the city’s 19th district.

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The fatal flaw in Israel’s strategy? Warfare won’t make it any safer

Aside from offering him some political “cover” and providing some semblance of national unity, one reason why Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, invited his opposition rival Benny Gantz to join a small war cabinet was to ensure the government had a disciplined, single message to send to its friends and enemies alike. It has not turned out that way.

For some months, various government ministers – some outside the cabinet, but nonetheless attracting attention – have been, to put things as bluntly as they have, shooting their mouths off. Remarks about Palestinians being “human animals” and the like have strengthened the genocide case being pursued against Israel in the International Court of Justice.

Now, Mr Gantz has warned Hamas that unless Israeli and other hostages are released by Ramadan, which begins on 10 March, the ground offensive against Rafah will go ahead.

What is the latest development in the Post Office scandal?

You could call it “Mrs Badenoch vs The Post Office”. There are few spectacles less edifying than a “he says/she says” row between two prominent figures in public life – and especially one in which each combatant’s main aim is to blame the other for some tragic injustice. So it is in the case of Kemi Badenoch, the business and trade secretary, and the former chair of the Post Office, Henry Staunton, whom she sacked on 26 January over the phone. She said someone had to “take the rap”. He disagrees it should be him.

Badenoch said around that time that she had asked Staunton to step down because his position as chair of the board “just wasn’t working”, and that fresh leadership was needed for the organisation because of concerns about “the entire business model” – ie it was about more than just the Horizon scandal.