The Telegraph 2024-02-22 16:30:28


Police stood by as ‘From the river to the sea’ projected onto Parliament, says MP

Police stood by as the slogan “From the river to the sea” was projected onto Parliament on Wednesday night, a senior Jewish MP has said. 

Andrew Percy, a Tory backbencher, raised concerns after pro-Palestinian protesters beamed the slogan onto the Elizabeth Tower, which houses Big Ben.

He spoke out during a Commons debate on Thursday that saw many MPs express fears over their safety and warn that threats from “Islamist extremists” were stifling democracy.

It came after Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, sparked angry scenes on Wednesday by breaking with convention to select a Labour amendment on Gaza.

He said he had made the decision after being warned of threats to the safety of Labour MPs if they were not allowed to vote on their party’s proposal.

Thousands of pro-Palestinian activists had gathered in Parliament Square, chanting slogans that could be clearly heard in Parliament. Protesters then beamed the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” onto the Elizabeth Tower.

Mr Percy warned the Commons of the rising tide of anti-Semitism, saying: “For months I’ve been standing up here talking about the people on our streets demanding ‘death to Jews’, demanding Jihad, demanding intifadas as the police stand by and allow that to happen,” he said.

“Last night, a genocidal call of ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ was projected onto this building. That message says no Jew is welcome in the state of Israel or in that land. This is going to continue happening because we’re not dealing with it.”

Penny Mordaunt, the Commons Leader, told Mr Percy that the authorities were looking into who projected the message and that prosecutions would be brought.

Mr Percy was not the only Tory MP to criticise the Metropolitan Police’s handling of months of pro-Palestinian protests in London, with Matthew Offord, the MP for Hendon, north London, warning: “Many of my constituents have faced a level of anti-Semitism that we’ve never seen before.

“My constituents remind me not only of the calls for jihad on the streets of London and the Metropolitan Police refusing to do anything about it. They also remind me about men driving through north London threatening to rape Jewish women and the CPS [Crown Prosecution Service] then declining to prosecute them.”

Theresa Villiers, the MP for Chipping Barnet, warned that there was “a climate of hardline support which has seen anti-Semitism on the streets of our capital city and my constituents from the Jewish community feeling intimidated about coming into the centre of London”.

Robert Jenrick, a former immigration minister, added: “We have allowed our streets to be dominated by Islamist extremists, and British Jews and others to be too intimidated to walk through central London week after week.

“Now we’re allowing Islamist extremists to intimidate British Members of Parliament. This is wrong. It has to stop.”

Ms Mordaunt said “British Jews are suffering a grotesque level of hatred and abuse which quite frankly shames our country”.

She added: “There cannot be any tolerance or quarter given to those individuals that threaten and try to prevent MPs conducting their business and honouring the obligations they have to their constituents to use their judgment when they come into this place.”

The debate was triggered after chaotic scenes in the Commons on Wednesday night, which were sparked by the SNP’s bid to force a vote on a Gaza ceasefire.

Sir Lindsay went against the advice of his clerks by selecting a Labour amendment to the SNP’s motion, angering both the Scottish party and the Tories.

He made his decision following intense lobbying from Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, who is said to have warned him about the threats Labour MPs were facing. But it sparked a furious response, with SNP and Tory MPs walking out of the chamber en masse at one point in protest.

The Speaker apologised to MPs and denied suggestions he had made the decision to spare Sir Keir the embarrassment of a damaging rebellion, insisting he had been motivated by the safety of Labour MPs.

Live Politics latest news: Sunak criticises Hoyle’s ‘very concerning’ actions over Gaza vote

Dozens of Tory MPs and the SNP are pushing to hold a formal vote to oust Sir Lindsay Hoyle as Commons Speaker. 

A total of 64 MPs have now signed a motion of no confidence in Sir Lindsay after his handling of a Gaza ceasefire debate yesterday resulted in chaotic scenes in the House of Commons. 

Stephen Flynn, the leader of the SNP in Westminster, told the Commons Speaker to his face in the chamber that the party does not believe he can “continue in your role” and “we do not have confidence in your ability to do so”. 

Mr Flynn said there should be a vote on the Speaker’s future “at the earliest possible occasion”. 

Meanwhile, William Wragg, the Tory MP who tabled the Early Day Motion of no confidence, asked Penny Mordaunt, the Commons Leader, how a formal debate and vote could be held. 

Ms Mordaunt said the Government “will listen to any requests for debates in Government time and members will also know other routes to secure a debate”. 

Sir Lindsay told MPs today that he had made the “wrong decision” in his handling of yesterday’s debate but said he had been driven by a desire to protect MPs from harm.

You can follow the latest updates below and join the conversation in the comments section here

One of Britain’s tallest magnolia trees felled over health and safety fears

A magnolia tree believed to be among the tallest in Britain has been felled over health and safety concerns.

The 60ft tree, which was planted in a back garden in Dorset more than 50 years ago, was cut down after it was found to be in a state of decay.

The owners of the property in Poole had to apply for permission to remove the magnolia because it was covered by a tree protection order.

The local authority granted approval after the owners warned it could fall and damage their own and neighbouring properties.

But those living nearby expressed disappointment there was no solution to keep the tree, which often received visitors during spring to see its blossom.

Neighbour Steve Trew said: “It is a shame. We’ve only been here a few years but we thought it was a lovely tree and were very disappointed when it went.”

The council previously stated that the giant magnolia, which was located in the Lilliput neighbourhood of Poole, contributed “significant visual amenity” to the area and was a “fine example of an unusual tree, therefore it has rarity value”.

The tree preservation order was put in place during the 1980s, after the original owner of the property died and neighbours became concerned a new resident of the house might want to remove the magnolia.

But council records showed some neighbours had since complained that the tree had grown too big for the garden and produced enough petals to fill five wheelie bins a year.

The magnolia is the latest high-profile tree to be cut down or threatened.

Last year Haringey Council brought in masked security officers after a bitter row broke out over a 120-year-old plane tree.

The council said it had no choice but to cut it down after the insurers of two nearby houses, responsible for subsidence on the property, threatened legal action.

‘Obvious decay’

A report by arboricultural consultant Andrew Cleaves had found decay in the Lilliput magnolia, but said it was inconclusive whether it had yet reached a critical point.

Mr Cleaves found fungal fruit bodies on the tree, believed to be either Ganoderma australe or applanatum, both of which cause white rot.

He said the fungi appeared well established and was “causing obvious decay in the north stem and causing symptoms in the crown”.

Mr Cleaves said the tree’s exposed position to prevailing winds from nearby Poole Harbour meant there was a risk it could fall and damage properties.

He said in the report: “Whether the condition of the tree has yet reached a critical point probably cannot be pinpointed without testing using internal decay detection equipment, however the direction of travel is clear; the decline in the crown and decay in the stems can only worsen.”

Graham Whitehall, of the Dorset Lake Community Group, said it was a shame to lose the “magnificent” tree, which had grown well above the average 20ft height of a magnolia.

”It’s a difficult one, I’m a big tree lover but I think this was the right tree in the wrong place,” he said.

The owners will now have to plant a Maidenhair, also known as a ginkgo biloba, that is at least 6.5ft tall, and within 16ft of where the magnolia had previously been, under conditions laid down by the council.

Post Office boss was not fit to work for Church, suggests Justin Welby

Paula Vennells should have been prevented from working for the Church of England in the wake of the Post Office subpostmasters’ scandal, the Archbishop of Canterbury has suggested.

Ms Vennells, who was the Post Office’s chief executive from 2012 to 2019, held four senior advisory positions within the Church and is reported to have been shortlisted to become Bishop of London in 2017.

She took up the advisory roles after the Horizon scandal emerged and the Post Office agreed to pay out £58 million in compensation in 2019.

More than 700 subpostmasters were prosecuted between 1999 and 2015 after faulty Horizon accounting software suggested that they had stolen money.

The release of the ITV drama Mr Bates vs the Post Office earlier this year reignited the scandal, but fewer than 100 convictions have been overturned to date in what has been described as the most widespread miscarriage of justice in British history.

The Most Rev Justin Welby, who Church sources have claimed “endorsed” Ms Vennells for Bishop of London, has now admitted that “questions should have been asked about the inappropriateness” of Ms Vennells’ seniority in the Church in his first comments since her work came to light last month.

“As has been said more generally about Paula Vennells’ involvement in various committees and working groups in the Church of England, by 2019 and 2020, it is clear that more questions should have been asked about the appropriateness of that involvement when more had come to light about the Horizon scandal,” he said in a written reply to a question submitted to General Synod, the Church’s legislative body.

“We recognise this and will need to reflect on it.”

Meanwhile Lord Cameron has said the government he led should “deeply regret” the Post Office scandal.

Speaking to the BBC during a visit to Brazil for a G20 meeting, the former prime minister described “the appalling way” post office branch managers had been treated.

He told the broadcaster: “I’ve said very clearly already many times, I think anyone who has been in government for the last 15, 20 years or perhaps more, should deeply regret what’s happened.

“That’s why it’s so important we have the public inquiry, we get to the bottom of what’s happened, and crucially we get that compensation money out to the people who’ve suffered.”

Lord Cameron was prime minister between 2010 and 2016, a period which took up more than a third of the time prosecutions were taking place.

The Foreign Secretary’s comments come days after a BBC report suggested his government knew that the Post Office had dropped an investigation which may have helped clear sub-postmasters.

The 2016 investigation was reportedly commissioned to look into why some branch manager’s cash accounts had been accessed and changed remotely.

However, it was abruptly axed when sub-postmasters launched legal action.

The BBC report stated that there was no suggestion the then-prime minister knew about the investigation personally or that it had been ditched.

In previous interviews he has claimed that he “cannot recall” being personally briefed about the Horizon scandal.

Church sources have claimed that in 2017 Ms Vennells made a four-person shortlist to become the Bishop of London, the Church’s third most senior position after the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, despite her never having served as a vicar, area dean or junior bishop.

The Church has declined to “confirm or deny” those claims.

In the Archbishop’s 2018 book Reimagining Britain, Foundations for Hope, he praised Ms Vennells for having “shaped my thinking over the years”.

She was ordained a priest in 2006 and served as part-time assistant minister at St Owen in Bromham, Beds, until April 2021, when she resigned from active ministry after the Court of Appeal quashed the convictions of 33 sub-postmasters.

Ms Vennells has not been stripped of permission to officiate, the most severe punishment in the Church’s powers. She has been backed by Alan Smith, the Bishop of St Albans, who said she should not be judged on the ITV drama which is “a bit like The Crown where it diverges from actual fact”.

The Archbishop’s comments came amid a series of questions asked by Anglicans about Ms Vennells, who gave up her CBE last month, ahead of this week’s Synod, which will meet from Feb 23 to Feb 27.

Her senior roles within the church included providing ethical investment advice to its Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) between January 2019 and April 2021 and joining the Archbishops’ Coordinating Group for the pandemic in March 2020.

‘Satisified of her suitability’

Alan Smith – not the Bishop of St Albans but the deputy chair of the EIAG – admitted in response to one question that the EIAG “was aware” of the allegations against Ms Vennells when it appointed her but remained “satisified of her suitability” on the “basis of what was known then”.

She also undertook a review of Church buildings in the spring of 2019 and discussed this in February 2020 with the board of the Church Commissioners, which manages the Church’s assets.

In the review, Ms Vennells said some within the Church had told her that it needed to close 1,000 churches to balance its books, a claim that has now been rebuffed by the Revd Canon Dr Flora Winfield, the third most senior Church Commissioner.

“I do not know how they arrived at this figure,” she said. “It is not one recognised or endorsed by the Church Commissioners as a body.”

The Archbishop’s comments follow accusations by Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, that Henry Staunton, the former Post Office chairman, lied when he claimed a senior civil servant had told him to delay compensation payments for sub-postmasters so that the Tories could “limp into” the next election.

The Church of England and Ms Vennells were approached for comment.

Home Office contractors suspended after ‘Israel’ crossed out on birth certificate

James Cleverly has said staff working with the Home Office have been suspended after the word Israel was crossed on a baby girl’s birth certificate, as her father considers legal action.

Israel, a father of three from Edgware, north London, said he and his wife, Dorin, felt like a “target” after discovering their baby Ronnie’s identification documents had been defaced.

Staff contracted by the Home Office are accused of scribbling out the word “Israel” from the six-month-old Jewish child’s birth certificate.

The incident, which Israel likened to something out of 1930s Nazi Germany, prompted the Home Secretary to call for an “urgent review”. Staff were also suspended.

On Wednesday, Mr Cleverly said in a tweet: “We apologise to the family for the offence caused and I have ordered an urgent review of a birth certificate being defaced.

“While we establish the facts, our commercial partner has suspended some staff.

“The matter is totally unacceptable. We will not tolerate anti-Semitism.”

It is claimed the family was not informed personally about the suspensions, but had been told the Passport Office was “aware of the situation”.

Israel, a 32-year-old engineer who chose not to disclose his second name, told MailOnline: “I am worried because the Home Office said some staff had been suspended – not just one person – which for me raises concerns that these people working for the company were in a hostile environment.

“We are very happy that the Government took swift action but I hope whoever this public servant is is banned.

“I would like to sue them personally for the damage they have carried out to my daughter’s birth certificate, my property.”

Ronnie had now been issued a new birth certificate, Israel said.

The father said despite the Government’s swift action, he still had safety concerns about his personal details being accessed by those who defaced the document.

“I am very glad the government is doing its best and I really hope it’s not too late for something to happen. I am worried that they might have my details or social media,” he told MailOnline.

‘Hate gang’ 

He added: “How are they accepting [staff] who do not meet the Government’s standards or values?

“The Government absolutely needs to make sure when they get people working in their system they should be vetted and everything should be checked to ensure they are not part of a hate gang or any sort of hateful organisation.”

The family sent off the document on Feb 6 to obtain a British passport for Ronnie.

But when they received the returned certificate on Feb 12, the place of birth for her father – Israel – had been scribbled out with a black pen.

A picture of the birth certificate, which was released by the Campaign Against Antisemitism, shows a single scribble on the document in the birthplace box for the father, while the mention of Israel for the mother’s place of birth remains intact.

Israel also claimed the certificate arrived ripped, in a soft envelope and invalidated.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism, which is supporting the family, said the incident was “completely unacceptable”.

Private company Sopra Steria also said it was “shocked and saddened” by the allegations and is treating the incident with “the utmost seriousness”.

In a statement, a Sopra Steria spokesperson said: “We are shocked and saddened by these reports and are working closely with the Home Office to ensure appropriate action is taken.

“We have commenced a full investigation into the handling of the documentation and are treating this incident with the utmost seriousness.

“In the interim, one of our service delivery partners has suspended members of staff while the investigation is ongoing.”

Both Sopra Steria and the Home Office have refused to say how many staff have been suspended.

Sopra Steria announced it had been awarded a five-year Home Office contract in 2020 to “deliver a modern, digital service to securely validate and digitise passport application forms and supporting evidence”, adding that the appointment built on a “successful 11-year partnership” with the UK Government’s passport office.

The French technology firm, whose UK head office is in Hemel Hempstead, said it would provide the service alongside storage and information management services company Iron Mountain from two sites in the Hertfordshire town and Corby, Northamptonshire.

The work involves scanning, validating and uploading a digital copy of “key documents for British passport applications” for processing before storing and returning documents to customers, the company said at the time.

Lyle’s Golden Syrup ‘throwing away history’ with rebrand, says founder’s descendant

The rebranding of Lyle’s Golden Syrup has been derided as “feeble and woolly” by a descendant of the company’s founder who insisted “don’t junk a classic”.

Alexander Linklater, whose great-great-great grandfather Abram Lyle designed the original dark green and gold packaging of a dead lion being swarmed by bees in 1883, questioned why its makers had decided to “throw away 141 years of proven branding”.

Tate & Lyle Sugars, which owns Lyle’s Golden Syrup, have replaced the logo to show a rather abstract lion’s face with a single bee flying around its mane to try and appeal to a “21st-century audience”.

Lyle’s original artwork references the Old Testament story of Samson tearing apart an attacking lion with his bare hands.

On his return, Samson finds that a swarm of bees have created a hive with honey inside the carcass, which Samson gathers for himself and his parents.

The packaging features the Biblical quotation from the story “Out of the strong came forth sweetness”.

It is the world’s oldest unchanged brand packaging, and holds a Guinness World Record, having remained almost identical since 1883.

Tate and Lyle rolled out the rebrand across the full product range, excluding the classic tin, which retains its original illustration.

Mr Linklater, a 55-year-old journalist and biographer, urged the company: “Don’t junk a time-proven classic design.”

He told The Telegraph: “They are changing something that is both very distinctive and familiar to something generic and woolly.

“It was Britain’s oldest brand. The rebranding is a move away from what was a real piece of commercial history.”

“I do not think the feeble woolly-shaped lion is very good. Why throw away 140 years of proven branding?”

Mr Linklater disclosed how his ancestor detested his partner Henry Tate with the pair only being able to merge their companies after Lyle’s death.

He said “nothing remains” today of his great-great-grandfather’s original business, following the Second World War where subsequent death duties had wiped out the company’s liquid assets.

Lyle was a deeply religious lifelong teetotaler of “ frightening temper and fierce morality”, Mr Linklater said, and had been brought up in poverty in the industrial town of Greenock before he moved to London.

Lyle, a Presbyterian, died in 1891 from pneumonia with thousands lining the streets in Greenock at his funeral where he had been provost, Mr Linklater added.

On Tuesday, Tate & Lyle Sugars faced criticism from Church of England members who claimed the rebrand “eradicates” the Christian messaging in its logo.

Tate & Lyle Sugars apologised for the upset caused and said religion played “no part” in the decision to change the branding.

James Whiteley, brand director for Lyle’s Golden Syrup, said: “We’re excited to unveil a fresh redesign for the Lyle’s Golden Syrup brand.

“While we’ll continue to honour our original branding with the heritage tin, consumers need to see brands moving with the times and meeting their current needs.

“Our fresh, contemporary design brings Lyle’s into the modern day, appealing to the everyday British household while still feeling nostalgic and authentically Lyle’s.

“We’re confident that the fresh new design will make it easier for consumers to discover Lyle’s as an affordable, everyday treat while re-establishing the brand as the go-to syrup brand for the modern UK family, featuring the same delicious taste that makes you feel Absolutely Golden.”

Caroline Quentin re-invents herself as gardening influencer in her 60s

Caroline Quentin has spoken of her surprise at becoming an Instagram “influencer” in her 60s with an account about the joys of gardening.

The actress and presenter, best known for her appearance in Men Behaving Badly, has brought out a gardening book to capitalise on her social media success.

Asked about her new career as an influencer, Quentin told Good Housekeeping magazine: “And why not? It’s wonderful that, in my 60s, I’m suddenly doing something entirely different.

“I’m amazed that what started as an Instagram account has sort of blossomed into something much bigger.”

Quentin, 63, has amassed more than 150,000 followers on Instagram, posting pictures from her 35-acre garden near Exmoor.

She explained that spending time in nature had been a “security blanket” for her since she was very young.

“My childhood was quite chaotic,” Quentin said. “My mother, who had bipolar disorder, would often spend time in psychiatric hospitals… When I was 10, I was sent to boarding school with these horrible, grumpy matrons and regimented bath and mealtimes.

“I was a painfully shy child – I still am shy beneath my loud persona – and I remember being so homesick and discombobulated by everything in my life. But getting out in nature and watching things grow felt like time out from the ‘real’ world. It was an opportunity to leave all the sadness and crazy things behind.”

She added that wild swimming now affords her the greatest happiness. “When you’re young, you think happiness is shouty parties, but actually it’s peace,” she said.

Quentin’s book, Drawn to the Garden, mixes gardening tips and stories with recipes using homegrown fruit and vegetables.

The former actress shares her Devon home with her second husband, Sam Farmer. She was previously married to the comedian Paul Merton.

Quentin now wishes that she spent more time with her two children, now aged in their 20s, when they were young.

“God, I missed them. I mourned them terribly when I was away. I think that’s probably why I feel so bad about it, because it left a hole in me,” she said.

“People said, ‘Oh, they’re young for such a short period of time,’ and I didn’t listen. I thought I knew better and I didn’t. I should have said no to work and yes to them, but because I was the breadwinner, I thought I had to do it. But you can’t turn back the clock, you have to live with these things.”

Farmer was a runner for a television production company when the couple met, and then became a stay-at-home dad.

Quentin said that the secret of their happy marriage is constant communication.

“You have to speak, speak, speak. I’ve nagged Sam from day one to do that because I can’t bear sulking or silence.

“For him, it’s the other way round. He has to tell me to be quiet and do an Instagram post instead of talking to him all day.”

The full interview is in Good Housekeeping’s April issue, on sale now.