INDEPENDENT 2024-02-20 10:33:50

Cameron government secret post office probe ditched

Ministers in David Cameron’s administration were told that Post Office bosses had dropped a secret investigation that may have helped to prove postmaster’s innocence while continuing to deny that the Horizon computer system was faulty, it has been claimed.

A 2016 internal investigation into how and why cash accounts on the Horizon IT system had been tampered with – which spanned 17 years of records – was suddenly dropped after postmasters began legal action.

According to the BBC, ministers in Mr Cameron’s administration were told Post Office bosses had dropped the inquiry – while denying Horizon computer system was faulty.

Despite the investigation, the organisation still argued in court, two years later, that it was impossible for Fujitsu to remotely access subpostmaster accounts.

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

But the latest revelations raise questions as to how long ministers had been aware of the possibility of remote access and why the government did nothing to prevent the Post Office from saying that Fujitsu could not alter branch manager’s accounts.

Documents obtained by the BBC show how the secret 2016 investigation into Fujitsu’s use of remote access had come out of a review by former top Treasury lawyer Jonathan Swift QC, which had been approved by the then-business secretary Sajid Javid.

But in June that year, when sub-postmasters launched their legal action, the government was told through Post Office minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe that the investigation had been scrapped on “very strong advice” from the senior barrister representing them.

There is no evidence in the documents that then-prime minister Mr Cameron personally knew about the investigation or that it had been ditched.

The revelations follow a series of explosive interactions between the former Post Office chairman, Henry Staunton and current business secretary, Kemi Badenoch, as Mr Staunton accused Ms Kemi Badenoch of making “an astonishing series of claims” and mischaracterisations after she told MPs he had spread “made-up anecdotes” following his dismissal.

The former post office boss has said that he had been told to stall compensation payouts for postmasters affected by the Horizon scandal.

In a statement to the Commons, the business secretary said there was “no evidence whatsoever” of his account and branded it “a blatant attempt to seek revenge” for his sacking.

She also claimed he was being investigated over bullying allegations before he was fired as chairman, and that concerns were raised about his “willingness to co-operate” with the probe.

Hitting back later on Monday, a spokesperson for Mr Staunton said Ms Badenoch had made an “astonishing series of claims” about the saga.

In a statement given to reporters, they said he had recorded the comment about delaying compensation “at the time in a file note which he emailed to himself and to colleagues and which is therefore traceable on the Post Office Server”.

In relation to the alleged bullying investigation, the spokesperson said: “This is the first time the existence of such allegations have been mentioned and Mr Staunton is not aware of any aspect of his conduct which could give rise to such allegations.

“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.”

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

Ms Badenoch had said allegations relating to Mr Staunton’s conduct, including “serious matters such as bullying”, were being examined and concerns were also raised about his “willingness to co-operate” with the formal investigation.

Speaking in the Commons, she also described it as “so disappointing that he’s chosen to spread a series of falsehoods, provide made-up anecdotes to journalists and leak discussions held in confidence”.

Ms Badenoch said it had confirmed in her mind that “I made the correct decision in dismissing him”.

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.”

Chair of the business committee Liam Byrne told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “What we could do without right now is a war of words between the secretary of state and the former chairman, what we really need is ministers writing checks to the hundreds of subpostmasters who need redress, and they’ve been waiting for too long.”

Mr Byrne said he “hopes” to be able to obtain a contemporaneous note Mr Staunton kept after being given the so-called “go slow” order.

He added: “Yesterday I invited Mr Staunton to come before the committee next week, and today we will be sending for the papers that we need to try and get to the truth.

“Crucially, we’ll be sending for that note that Mr Staunton says he made that sets out the go slow order that he says he received from senior civil servants… but which the secretary of state professed no knowledge of yesterday.”

Environment secretary Steve Barclay has given his backing to the business secretary and said that the government is focused on securing justice for subpostmasters caught up in the Horizon scandal.

He told Times Radio that Ms Badenoch is “someone who has an absolute commitment to doing the right thing by those who have suffered what is one of the biggest miscarriages of justice that our country has seen, and also in terms of the importance of statements to the House of Commons. That is something that any minister making a statement takes extremely seriously.”

Asked if he believed Kemi Badenoch, he replied: “Yes.”

Birth certificate ‘returned from Home Office with Israel crossed out’

The Home Office is launching an investigation over a baby’s birth certificate that was returned to her parents “with the word Israel scribbled out”.

The girl’s parents are “very concerned” after the birth certificate was sent off as part of a passport application two weeks ago and returned on Monday with the father’s place of birth defaced, Campaign Against Antisemitism said.

In a reply to a photo of the birth certificate that the charity had posted online, home secretary James Cleverly stated he had asked for it to be investigated “urgently”, vowing he would “see that appropriate action is taken”.

The environment secretary Steve Barclay described the reports as “absolutely shocking”, telling Sky News: “I just heard about it this morning.

“It’s absolutely shocking and appalling, and we absolutely need to get to the bottom of what’s happened. I know the home secretary is absolutely focused on taking action to address this.”

Campaign Against Antisemitism posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, saying: “Two weeks ago, a member of the public sent off a passport application to @ukhomeoffice for his six-month-old baby girl.

“Today, the birth certificate was returned ripped with the word ‘Israel’ scribbled out. The parents are understandably very concerned about this incident.

“We are asking the Home Office to investigate how this happened. The Home Office has responsibility for law enforcement and the security of the Jewish community.

“Confidence in the authorities is at painfully low levels and must be restored.”

Mr Cleverly responded in a comment under the post, saying: “I have asked my officials to investigate this urgently and will see that appropriate action is taken.”

Security minister Tom Tugendhat posted on X confirming the Home Office is investigating.

It comes as a report published last week by the Community Security Trust (CST) found antisemitic incidents in the UK reached an all-time high last year, with the majority being recorded after Hamas’ attack on Israel on 7 October.

The charity, which monitors antisemitism and provides security for the Jewish community in Britain, said there were a total of 4,103 antisemitic incidents in the UK in 2023, up from the previous annual record of 2,261 incidents which had been reported two years previously.

Its chief executive, Mark Gardner, described the “explosion in hatred” against the Jewish community as “an absolute disgrace”.

A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “This is completely unacceptable. When sending off a passport application to the Home Office, the last thing one should ever expect is to have their child’s birthday certificate returned, torn, with the parent’s place of birth scribbled out, just because it is the Jewish state.

“We are assisting the parents, who are understandably very concerned about this incident. We are also asking the Home Office to investigate how this happened.

“The Home Office has responsibility for law enforcement and the security of the Jewish community and the wider public. Confidence in the authorities among British Jews is at painfully low levels and must be restored.”

The Independent has approached the Home Office for further comment.

Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine shot dead in Spain

A Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine last year with a Mi-8 helicopter has been found dead in an underground garage in Spain, Ukrainian officials said.

The body of pilot Maxim Kuzminov was found on 13 February with multiple bullet wounds in southern Spain’s coastal town of Villajoyosa in Alicante, reported Ukrainian and Spanish media on Monday.

Kuzminov defected to Ukraine in August last year and reached the country in a Russian Mi-8 helicopter. He was reportedly living under a different name and identity in Spain with a Ukrainian passport, the report added.

His defection was seen as a major coup for Kyiv following a six-month-long intelligence operation. Ukrainian officials confirmed they had lured him into defecting and arranged for him to land the Mi-8 in Kharkiv.

“He decided to move to Spain instead of staying here [in Ukraine]. From what we know, he invited his ex to his place and was later found shot dead,” Ukrainian news website Ukrainska Pravda reported on Monday, quoting a Ukrainian intelligence source.

A spokesperson for Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence said Kuzminov died in Spain, but did not specify the cause of death. Spanish police officials have not confirmed the victim’s identity but said a body of a gunshot victim was found in the town.

The victim could have been living under a fake identity, according to a source at Spain’s Guardia Civil police force.

Investigators are searching for two suspects who are believed to have fled in a vehicle that was later found burnt and abandoned in a nearby town, reported Spain’s La Informacion newspaper.

The reports of Kuzminov’s death come after Russia’s main opposition leader and fierce Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was found dead in his Arctic prison colony.

Navalny’s widow Yulia has accused Vladimir Putin of poisoning her husband with novichok and hiding his body until traces of the nerve agent are unable to be detected.

‘You can feel very alone’: What’s it really like to freeze your eggs?

It was good to feel like I was taking charge of my own fertility – I’ve always described it as a very expensive insurance policy.” Thirty-nine-year-old Hannah* is talking about the two rounds of elective egg freezing she underwent in her early thirties. Back then, she says, “it was almost a slightly shameful thing”, but the process is now the fastest-growing fertility treatment in the UK. Millennials are hitting traditional life milestones such as home ownership and marriage later than their parents, but women’s biological clocks haven’t changed of course – making the idea of buying more time to have children an appealing one.

Until just over 10 years ago, egg freezing was the preserve of women undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy or facing premature infertility. But in 2012, the American Society of Reproductive Medicine decided that it was no longer an “experimental” procedure. Since then, it has become a potential option for women who aren’t ready to have children yet (often because they haven’t found the right partner) and want to put their fertility on ice. And, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the number of egg-freezing cycles increased from 2,576 in 2019 to 4,215 in 2021, a dramatic rise of 64 per cent.

But it is not a magic bullet – far from it. Egg freezing can be emotionally, physically and financially demanding, raising hopes with no guarantee of success. Earlier this month, Guy’s Hospital in London apologised after the frozen eggs and embryos of more than 100 women were potentially damaged due to faulty freezing solution; incidents like this are extremely rare, but worrying nonetheless.

Still, the idea of a potential “security blanket” for fertility is an appealing one; “insurance policy” is a phrase that crops up again and again in conversations about egg freezing, and for many women who undergo the process, it is a way of regaining a sense of control over their future. Hannah says she had been “happy to live in blissful ignorance” about her fertility until a comment from her sister changed her perspective. “She said to me: ‘Wouldn’t you want to know that you’ve done everything you possibly can to have a child, everything that’s within your power at the moment?’” Amy, 39, had a similar thought process before eventually deciding to freeze her eggs last year, having spent her thirties focusing on her career in the beauty industry. “My mum said to me: ‘It’s basically putting an insurance policy on yourself. If you use it, you’ll be so delighted that you did it. And if you don’t use it, I genuinely don’t think you’ll regret spending the money.’ I thought, she’s right, I’m just going to do it.”

Money is indeed a major factor in whether or not women can even consider egg freezing. It is a very expensive process, and it’s not a one-and-done situation when it comes to payment, either. The HFEA says that the average cost for one cycle is £3,350, but you’ll have to pay for medication and pre-retrieval tests too, plus storage tends to cost between £125 and £350 each year. And if you want to thaw the eggs and transfer them to the womb further down the line, this costs around £2,500 on average. “I really feel for anybody going through it right now,” Hannah says. “Because even a few years ago, it was a lot of money. But now it must be more expensive and even tougher in the current financial climate.”

Meanwhile, 31-year-old Katy is preparing to freeze her eggs later this year. “I’m in that period where a lot of my friends are getting married, quite a few are pregnant or have already had children,” she says. “There’s been a massive shift in the makeup of my friendship group, whereas there’s not been a lot of change in terms of my dating life.” Egg freezing had always seemed quite abstract to her: it was the subject of throwaway comments, rather than an actual possibility. But after realising that becoming a mother “was something I knew I really wanted out of life”, she started to look into the process properly. “I thought, ‘I need to take control of this, to secure my ability to have a baby either with a partner or on my own. It’s something I need to take a bit more seriously.’”

At first, Katy explains, she felt like opting for egg freezing “was quite a sad decision”. But once she had the initial tests and talked through her results with the consultant earlier this year, “that sadness around it turned into… empowerment is probably too strong a word, but I’m pleased I’m doing this. I’m in a position where I’m privileged enough that I can afford to do this. That’s awesome, and hopefully I don’t have to use them, but I’ll kick myself if I don’t do it.”

An egg-freezing cycle typically takes about two weeks and begins at the start of a woman’s menstrual period. Patients must inject themselves with a follicle-stimulating hormone for about 10 days; around 36 hours before the retrieval, they’ll take a “trigger” injection to release the mature eggs. Daily hormone injections in the lead-up can be gruelling. “The first time I did that, I just remember crying for nearly two hours with the needle poised above my belly,” Hannah says. It was an emotional time for Amy, too.  “I was crying for no reason, and I’m not a crier at all,” she recalls. “It really knocked me for six […] and I’m single, so I was going through it on my own.”

It’s a horrible irony of the freezing process: most of the women opting for it are single, so they must embark on a draining prep process alone (and potentially end up feeling more isolated as a result). “Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got phenomenally supportive family and friends, but they don’t live with me, they’re not there when you’re doing injections or you feel sick or whatever,” Amy adds. “So that adds weight to it as well. You can feel very alone when you’re going through it, and you think ‘why am I doing this?’” And what if you’re trying to juggle dating too?  “It was not the easiest time,” Hannah recalls. “I was dating somebody during the first round who was a bit younger than me, and I didn’t tell him about it until I had a big wobble and burst into tears. And the relationship ended pretty much at that point.”

Then there’s the procedure itself, which takes about half an hour or less, usually under deep sedation rather than general anaesthetic. A needle is passed through the vaginal wall and into the ovary, then fluid is gently drawn out of each follicle and checked for eggs, which can then be frozen. Over the past decade or so, vitrification – a speedy freezing method involving liquid nitrogen – has become more widespread, and the survival rate for frozen eggs has increased as a result (although age is the most important factor – the HFEA recommends freezing eggs before you reach 35).

The emotional tumult doesn’t necessarily end here. However old you are, it’s near impossible to make firm guarantees about how many eggs will be collected (the HFEA says that most patients under 38 end up with seven to 14 eggs, but this isn’t always possible). So if the doctors only manage to retrieve a few, the disappointment can be heartbreaking – and patients might end up having to question whether they can afford to embark on this expensive journey again.

Amy had good results in her initial fertility check-up, and went into the process feeling “quite nonchalant”, she says. “And then when I did my first cycle, I didn’t get a particularly great number of eggs. I felt like someone had died. It took me about three days to get over. I didn’t realise how devastated I was – and I still don’t know if that’s because I really want a kid or whether that was me being really competitive with myself. I just felt really disappointed and let down. My body just didn’t respond to the medication the way they would have thought based on my initial tests”.

She eventually underwent two further cycles, which increased her number of available eggs – and she’s glad she did it, because it has bought her time to think about whether she definitely wants children. “It’s given me the freedom and the ability to take a step back and go, ‘do I actually want kids?’” she says. “If you’re in a panic and you’re anxious, you cannot make that level of decision. Don’t get me wrong, there is still an element of me that goes, ‘do I want to have children? Am I going to use the eggs?’ But I think I would be unable to even ask myself the question and have a semi-logical conversation with myself about [it] if I hadn’t frozen my eggs.”

If a woman does eventually decide to use her frozen eggs, whether that’s using sperm from a partner or a donor, first they must be thawed. Clinicians then create embryos through a process called intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), which are later transferred to the womb. It’s hard to find statistics about the success rate, because so few women have actually returned for the next part of the process (that might be because they’re still not ready, or because they’ve ended up conceiving naturally).

Rebecca* froze her eggs nearly seven years ago, but has decided not to use them. She and her husband had always been pretty sure that parenthood wasn’t for them, but in her mid-thirties, she found herself “getting really emotional and worried that we weren’t making the right decision […] so we did it as a hedge, so if we changed our mind somewhere down the line, we would be able to [have children]”.  The process “changed my mentality completely,” she says. “I don’t think I’ve ever been emotional about it again. Over time, it’s reinforced that we have done the right thing, because there’s never been any need or want to revisit… we’re quite happy as we are.” Like Amy, she says that no longer feeling rushed “took all the pressure off the decision […] It became, ‘I can do this when I’m ready and when I want to’, and it’s turned out that that’s never”.

The question of whether or not to become a mother is always a deeply personal one. It’s crucial to recognise that freezing eggs might not guarantee parenthood further down the line. But for some, it can be a (pricey) way of buying peace of mind, even if it’s not a panacea. “I thought, ‘I’m actually never going to regret having this option,’” Amy says. “Even if I don’t use [the eggs], I’m never going to regret investing in myself.”

*Names have been changed for anonymity

Richard Coles says he lied to church and media about celibacy

Richard Coles has admitted to lying to church officials about his sex life while married to his late husband.

The writer, broadcaster and Church of England clergyman is one of Britain’s most recognisable vicars and one of the highest-profile gay religious practitioners in the world.

His late husband, David Oldham, was an Anglican priest. After they began a relationship in 2007, Coles and Oldham entered a civil partnership in 2010 and remained together until Oldham’s death in December 2019.

During their partnership, Coles, 61, maintained that he and Oldham cohabitated on the basis that they didn’t have sex, as Church of England priests are required to practice celibacy.

In a new interview with The Times, Coles indicated that this was untrue, and that he and Oldham lied to continue in their positions in the church.

When journalist Andrew Billen notes that it would have annoyed and upset him to lie about his life in this way, Coles replied: “It wears off pretty quickly… I mean, I felt sometimes like I was in the resistance and they were the Gestapo.

“I mean, I’m overstating it, but what I did feel is that they had no moral cause, so I didn’t feel that I had a moral obligation at all.

“And I’m not the first person to find themselves obliged to lie for institutional reasons in the Church of England,” he added.

The Independent has contacted Coles for additional comment.

As recently as 2020, Coles referred to his relationship with Oldham as being celibate. Speaking to The Guardian of their civil partnership, shortly after Oldham’s death of alcoholism, he said: “It’s just ridiculous but it’s where we are. It kind of worked and it was OK for us, it sort of suited our lives. But I minded having to [be celibate].”

Coles also previously stated that they’d planned to marry after both had retired. Same-sex marriage is not permitted in the Church of England, and could have resulted in both losing their abilities to work as priests.

Coles retired as vicar of Finedon, North Northamptonshire, in 2022 due to his belief that the organisation was excluding gay couples, and his disapproval of what he described as its “conservative, punchy and fundamentalist” direction.

He has been in a relationship with the actor Richard Cant since 2023. According to Coles, Cant’s lack of religious beliefs does not pose an issue in their relationship.

“We went to midnight Mass together this Christmas and he likes the theatre of it because that’s what he does,” he explained to The Times. “He’s not a religious person at all but he’s a very respectful person.”

Coles left his BBC Radio 4 show in 2023 and admitted to feeling frustrated at the “rushed” nature of his departure.

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.

To help you find your next enriching getaway, Jet2CityBreaks offers great-value trips to vibrant, diverse, cultural centres like Vienna, with handpicked, centrally located hotels situated close to top attractions and transport links, so you can make the most of every day. With a low £60pp deposit*, 22kg baggage included and flexible monthly payments** to help spread the cost of your well-deserved city break, it’s never been easier to book your next trip.

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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.