INDEPENDENT 2024-02-23 04:34:03


Largest ever class A drugs haul found hidden in bananas at UK port

The largest-ever haul of class A drugs has been seized at a port in the UK – hidden in a bunch of bananas.

The drugs, found at Southampton Port, are worth an estimated £450 million.

The previous largest UK seizure was 3.7 tonnes of cocaine, also found at Southampton, in 2022, and 3.2 tonnes were found on board the tug boat MV Hamal in Scotland in 2015.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) and Border Force seized 5.7 tonnes of cocaine found in a container carrying the fruit from South America on February 8.

The NCA has said the illicit drugs were heading to the Port of Hamburg in Germany for onward delivery.

A spokesman said: “Inquiries are ongoing with international partners across Europe with a view to identifying the criminal networks involved.

“Based on UK street-level prices the cocaine would likely have had an estimated value in excess of £450 million.”

The NCA spokesman explained that the MV Hamal haul was estimated at a value of £512 million because of a difference in cocaine prices experienced in Scotland at that time.

NCA director Chris Farrimond said: “This record-breaking seizure will represent a huge hit to the international organised crime cartels involved, denying them massive profits. The work of the NCA was crucial to making it happen.

“While the destination for the consignment was continental Europe in this case, I have no doubt that a significant proportion would have ended up back here in the UK, being peddled by UK criminal gangs.

“The NCA is targeting international networks upstream and overseas, disrupting and dismantling them at every step. International law enforcement co-operation is essential to this mission.

“Working closely with UK partners like Border Force, we are determined to do all we can to protect the UK public.”

The NCA spokesman said “The domestic cocaine market is dominated by criminal gangs who the NCA believe to be making around £4 billion a year in the UK alone.

“Cocaine trafficking is closely linked to serious violence throughout the supply chain, including firearms and knife crime in the UK. The cocaine trade has seen an exponential rise in associated violence in the past few years.”

Minister for legal migration and the border, Tom Pursglove, said: “This Government takes a zero-tolerance approach to the supply of illegal drugs, and I am grateful to dedicated Border Force officers and the NCA for their work to apprehend this record-breaking seizure.

“This seizure sends a clear message to criminals that they will be caught. Our Border Force officers continue to work relentlessly to protect our borders and ensure the safety and security of the public.”

White supremacist brothers who killed their parents resentenced

Two Pennsylvania brothers sentenced to life in the murder of their parents and younger brother almost three decades ago have been resentenced to terms that may offer them a chance at parole.

A Lehigh County judge sentenced 46-year-old Bryan Freeman and 45-year-old David Freeman to terms of 60 years to life.

Both have served just under three decades in prison for their murder convictions and would be in their 70s before they would be eligible for parole.

Bryan Freeman wept as he expressed remorse and took responsibility for what he called “a terrible crime,” The (Allentown) Morning Call reported. “Everyone deserves to live a safe, happy life free of violence and pain and I took that away from my family and my community. … I would give anything to have my family back and take away all the trauma,” he said.

He also said his religious faith gave him the belief that he would “be able to see my family again and apologize to them and beg their forgiveness.”

David Freeman’s attorney, Matthew Rapa, argued that his client was acting under his brother’s orders.

Bryan and David were 17 and 16, respectively, and authorities said they were affiliated with a white supremacist skinhead movement at the time of the February 1995 slayings of Dennis and Brenda Freeman and 11-year-old Erik Freeman in Salisbury Township. They and an accomplice fled to Michigan, where they were captured three days later.

Both brothers have Nazi slogans tattooed on their foreheads.

A recent US Supreme Court ruling barring life without parole terms for juveniles has resulted in resentencing hearings in such cases.

The Morning Call reported that a defense psychiatrist testified about troubling circumstances during their upbringing that she said helped lead to drinking and drug problems. Another psychiatrist called by prosecutors, however, said some of the language used by the brothers during their assessments seemed designed to minimize their culpability.

Author Wendy Mitchell announces her own death with powerful open letter

Author Wendy Mitchell has died after living with dementia for years and left a final message announcing her own death.

Mitchell, 68, became a best-selling writer after being diagnosed with early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s in July 2014, while working as a rota manager in the NHS.

In a posthumous post shared online, the author revealed how she had taken the decision to refuse to eat or drink any more.

She wrote: “If you’re reading this, it means this has probably been posted by my daughters as I’ve sadly died.”

“In the end I died simply by deciding not to eat or drink any more,” Mitchell wrote. “The last cuppa tea … my final hug in a mug, the hardest thing to let go of, much harder than the food I never craved … This wasn’t decided on a whim of self-pity as you’ll discover by reading on.

“Dementia is a cruel disease that plays tricks on your very existence. I’ve always been a glass half full person, trying to turn the negatives of life around and creating positives, because that’s how I cope. Well I suppose dementia was the ultimate challenge.

“Yes, dementia is a bummer, but oh what a life I’ve had playing games with this adversary of mine to try and stay one step ahead.”

Mitchell lived in Walkington, East Yorkshire, and authored the acclaimed 2018 memoir Somebody I Used To Know and, four years later, What I Wish I Knew About Dementia. Her third book, One Last Thing: Living With The End In Mind, is due to be published in paperback next week.

She added: “Sadly assisted dying isn’t an option in this country. With something that will affect 100 per cent of the population, regardless of wealth, intelligence or ethnicity, it’s amazing how such little value is placed on the act of dying.

“For those that have read my book, One Last Thing, you will understand why I feel so strongly about assisted dying. The only legal choice we shouldn’t have in life is when to be born; for everything else, we, as humans, should have a choice; a choice of how we live and a choice of how we die.”

Mitchell wrote that she had not wanted her dementia to “take me into the later stages” in which she would be reliant on others for her daily needs, saying: “The Wendy that was didn’t want to be the Wendy dementia will dictate for me.”

She added: “I wasn’t depressed, I wasn’t forced or cajoled in any way whatsoever, it was solely down to my choice. I was ready. You may or may not agree with what I’ve done, how and when I’ve chosen to leave this world, but the decision was totally mine.”

Anna Wharton, who was a ghostwriter on Mitchell’s bestselling memoir, described the letter as “the last powerful words from my friend Wendy Mitchell”.

“As desperately sad as I am to lose her, I’m so proud of all that she achieved and for choosing the death she wanted. Her greatest fear was dementia stealing her as a mum. It didn’t. Wendy beat dementia,” said Ms Wharton.

Charities including Alzheimer Scotland and the Lewy Body Society were among those to pay tribute to the “fearless” campaigner, while former Guardian journalist David Brindle hailed her for making “such a huge contribution to the greater understanding and social acceptance of dementia”.

Scout Association referred to police after boy died on hiking trip

The Scout Association faces investigation by the police over the unlawful killing of a teenager while on a hike in north Wales

Ben Leonard, 16, suffered a serious head injury when he fell about 200ft at Great Orme in Llandudno while on a trip with the Reddish Explorer Scouts from Stockport on August 26 2018.

Ben and two friends took a different path from other Scouts, unsupervised by any Scout leaders, who had “lost” the trio on the Orme. He ended up on a 50cm ledge and lost his footing, slipped and fell to his death.

Following a two-month inquest at Manchester Civil Courts of Justice, a jury found Ben was unlawfully killed by the most senior Scout leader on the trip, and an assistant Scout leader, and this was contributed to by neglect by The Scout Association.

The law prevents inquest juries from naming any individual in conclusions.

During the inquest the Scout leader on the trip, Sean Glaister, declined to answer a series of questions from Ben Richmond KC, lawyer for Fieldfisher, the law firm representing Ben’s family.

David Pojur, assistant coroner for North Wales east and central, has referred The Scout Association and an employee to North Wales Police to investigate for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice. No further details on that matter can be reported.

Lawyers for The Scout Association and several other individuals applied to ban the reporting of the police referral, but it was refused by the coroner following an application by members of the press.

At the beginning of the inquest, the third after two previous inquests were aborted, The Scout Association for the first time publicly apologised and accepted responsibility for Ben’s death.

But his tearful mother, Jackie Leonard, told the hearing their apology was five-and-a-half years too late and the treatment of her family had been “disgusting”.

She added: “Like we didn’t matter and like Ben didn’t matter.”

She described her son as a “thoughtful, very funny, extremely witty” boy who joined the Beavers aged five and was an avid reader and film buff and planned to study TV and film at college.

But Mrs Leonard said The Scout Association had tried to portray her son as a “wild child”, taking a “defensive” attitude and until their apology had never accepted being at fault.

The inquest also heard Ben’s family were lied to as the Scout Association was worried about “reputational damage”.

An initial inquest into the youngster’s death was held in February 2020 at Ruthin Coroner’s Court but the jury was discharged by Mr Pojur, who said the Scout Association had failed to provide the court with full information and “created a misleading impression”.

Bernard Richmond KC, told the hearing Ben’s life could have been saved but for the “basic failure of care” to give simple instructions about areas to avoid and routes that were safe on the Orme.

Scout leader Mr Glaister declined to answer questions after being warned by the coroner he did not have to answer, if the answer was to incriminate himself.

The inquest jury heard suggestions Mr Glaister had believed another man, Brian Garraway, group Scout leader, was also going on the trip, only to discover he was not present when he got to their campsite in Snowdonia.

It meant no suitably qualified first aider was present for the trip, which broke Scouts rules for expeditions, and the trip should not have gone ahead.

Mr Glaister agreed he had not warned any of the Scouts, including Ben, not to leave the designated paths up the Orme and he was not aware of the dangers of the cliff edges.

The witness agreed The Scout Association never monitored his activities or ensured any training he was supposed to undergo had ever been done.

Mr Richmond added: “They have hung you out to dry, haven’t they?”

“Yeh,” Mr Glaister said, “This could have happened to any of the leaders on any of the trips we went on.”

Jennie Price, chairwoman of The Scout Association Board of Trustees, said: “We take today’s conclusion extremely seriously. We want to restate our wholehearted apology to Ben Leonard’s family and our deepest sympathies continue to be with his family and friends.

“As an organisation we are committed to learning. The jury heard how in this instance the local leaders did not follow our safety rules and processes. As a result of Ben’s tragic death in 2018, we have already made many changes to our risk assessments, safety rules, training and support we give our volunteers.”

She added: “Keeping young people safe from harm remains our number one priority at scouts. We emphatically refute allegations made in court about any criminal action on behalf of The Scout Association.”

Palaeontologists unveil secrets of 240-million-year-old Chinese dragon

More details of a long-necked creater compared to a Chinese dragon has been revealed for the first time following new research.

The Dinocephalosaurus orientalis fossils were discovered in Guizhou province, southern China.

With 32 separate neck vertebrae, it had an extraordinarily long neck and its flippered limbs and well preserved fish in its stomach region indicated it was very well adapted to an oceanic lifestyle, researchers said.

The reptile was originally identified in 2003, but the discovery of additional, more complete specimens since then has enabled an international team of scientists to depict the creature in full.

Nick Fraser, keeper of natural sciences at National Museums Scotland, was one of those involved.

He said: “This discovery allows us to see this remarkable long-necked animal in full for the very first time.

“It is yet one more example of the weird and wonderful world of the Triassic that continues to baffle palaeontologists.

“We are certain that it will capture imaginations across the globe due to its striking appearance, reminiscent of the long and snake-like mythical Chinesedragon.”

The long neck of Dinocephalosaurus orientalis has drawn comparison with the neck of Tanystropheus hydroides, another strange marine reptile from the Middle Triassic period of both Europe and China.

Both reptiles were of similar size and have several features of the skull in common, however Dinocephalosaurus has many more vertebrae both in the neck and in the torso, giving it a much more snake-like appearance.

Researchers from Scotland, Germany, America and China studied Dinocephalosaurus orientalis over the course of 10 years at the Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology, Beijing, part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

Despite superficial similarities, Dinocephalosaurus was not closely related to the famous long-necked plesiosaurs that only evolved around 40 million years later and which are thought to have been the inspiration for the Loch Ness monster.

Professor Li Chun from the institute said: “This has been an international effort. Working together with colleagues from the United States of America, the United Kingdom and Europe, we used newly discovered specimens housed at the Chinese Academy of Sciences to build on our existing knowledge of this animal.

“Among all of the extraordinary finds we have made in the Triassic of Guizhou province, Dinocephalosaurus probably stands out as the most remarkable.”

The paper describing the animal is published in full in the academic journal Earth And Environmental Science: Transactions Of The Royal Society Of Edinburgh – forming the entirety of the latest volume.

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

The Lindsay Hoyle fiasco highlights the need for reform in the Commons

If the Wednesday night fiasco in parliament was a shameful sight, then the Thursday hangover has been scarcely more edifying. The public, with better things to do than study Erskine May and weigh the merits of standing order 31 of the House of Commons, have witnessed how what was supposed to be a debate on the situation in Gaza – which people do care about – plunge into a procedural quagmire.

By accident, a Labour Party amendment on Gaza – that probably shouldn’t have been accepted, let alone proposed for a vote, and would never ordinarily have been passed – became the formally adopted and unanimous view of the British House of Commons on the Middle East conflict. Absurd. This was not our parliamentarians’ finest hour.

The descent of what ought to have been a serious but low-key debate on an SNP motion, with appropriate time given to a minority party, was a disgrace. It was in fact painfully reminiscent of the worst days of the parliamentary Brexit permacrisis before the 2019 general election. As Geoffrey Cox MP, then attorney general, told the chamber at that time of chaos, any voter observing their proceedings would protest in dismay or despair: “What are you playing at? What are you doing? You are not children in the playground, you are legislators.”

What are the threats to MPs that Sir Lindsay Hoyle is referring to?

Facing MPs to explain himself and to apologise for the chaos that resulted, the speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, elaborated on his previous references to MPs’ safety being a factor in his recent decisions. Once again visibly emotional, Sir Lindsay said that he never again wants to pick up the phone “to find a friend has been murdered”. He added: “I made a mistake – we do make mistakes, I own up to mine.”

His apparently sincere apology and expression of honourable intentions seems to have helped his case with some MPs, especially Conservatives, who’d been angry about the break with convention during the SNP’s Opposition Day debate on Gaza – the SNP now say they have no confidence in Sir Lindsay. The latest remarks by the leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, set the tone for many in her own party, though, by switching blame towards Labour and Sir Keir Starmer: “We have seen into the heart of Labour’s leadership. Nothing is more important than the interests of the Labour Party. The Labour Party before principle, the Labour Party before individual rights, the Labour Party before the reputation and honour of the decent man that sits in the speaker’s chair.”

For now, the “decent man” seems secure, but what is the nature of the violent threats to MPs’ safety he referred to – and are they being allowed to influence and distort democratic debate?