INDEPENDENT 2024-02-23 10:34:03


Killer nurse Lucy Letby in final bid to appeal convictions

Child serial killer Lucy Letby’s bid to challenge her convictions is due to be considered by the Court of Appeal at a hearing in April.

Lawyers for Letby will ask senior judges for permission to bring an appeal against all her convictions at the hearing in London provisionally listed for April 25, a judiciary spokeswoman confirmed on Friday.

The nurse, 34, had an initial application to take forward her challenge refused by a single judge without a hearing last month.

But she is able to renew her efforts before a panel of three judges at the hearing in nine weeks’ time.

If judges again decline to give permission, it will mark the end of the appeal process for Letby.

If she does receive permission, then the appeal will be heard at a separate hearing at a later date.

In August 2023, Letby, of Hereford, was sentenced to 14 whole life orders after she was convicted of the murders of seven babies and the attempted murders of six others, with two attempts on one of her victims.

The offences took place at the Countess of Chester Hospital’s neonatal unit, where Letby worked as a nurse, between June 2015 and June 2016.

The jury in Letby’s trial at Manchester Crown Court was unable to reach verdicts on six counts of attempted murder in relation to five children.

She will face a retrial at the same court in June on a single count that she attempted to murder a baby girl, known as Child K, in February 2016.

A court order prohibits reporting of the identities of the surviving and dead children who were the subject of the allegations.

UK’s largest ever class A drugs haul found hidden in bananas

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.”

Four dead and 15 missing after Valencia tower block inferno

At least four people were killed after a huge fire ripped through two residential buildings in Valencia, Spain, with desperate residents rushing to their balconies to escape.

Around 19 people were missing and at least 13 people injured in the blaze which broke out in the city centre on Thursday evening.

Firefighters rushed to help people inside the 14-storey buildings in the Campanar area of the port city as flames burst out of windows and a cloud of black smoke rose into the night sky.

The fire that broke out around 5.30pm local time also spread to an adjoining building and people were urged to stay away. Firefighters battled to douse the flames which spread quickly due to strong winds and the material of the building.

Residents could be seen waiting for rescue on balconies, and firefighters used a crane to rescue two residents from one of the balconies.

Soldiers from Spain’s military emergency unit were deployed and medics set up a large tent to tend to the injured on the scene.

Initial emergency service reports said there were at least 13 people injured with fractures, burns and smoke inhalation. The 13 included six firefighters.

It was not immediately clear how many people were in the buildings or how many were rescued.

Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez posted on the X platform saying he was “shocked by the terrible fire in a building in Valencia“ adding that he had offered the city “all the help that is necessary.”

“I want to convey my solidarity to all the people affected and recognition to all the emergency personnel already deployed at the scene,” he said.

The building where the fire initially erupted contains 138 flats and houses some 450 residents, according to EL Pais.

A teenage boy was seen trapped on the first floor of the building and firefighters attempted to rescue him, a woman told TVE.

A resident of the second floor of the building told broadcaster La Sexta that flames overpowered the building rapidly after it reportedly started on the fourth floor.

“The fire spread in a matter of 10 minutes,” the man said. He added the material on the facade of the building could have led to fire spreading rapidly.

David Higuera, an engineer, told El País said the outer layer of the building made up of aluminium plates with a foam insulator is “very good at insulating against heat and cold, but very combustible”.

Grange Hill actor Stuart Organ dies aged 72

Grange Hill star Stuart Organ has died aged 72, his representatives have confirmed.

The British actor was the longest-serving cast member on the BBC children’s TV show, playing headmaster Peter Robson.

Organ “died peacefully at home after a short illness”, it was announced on Friday (23 February).

He began his acting career in Leeds in 1975, and went on to appear in sci-fi series Doctor Who and portrayed Kevin Cross in the soap Brookside.

The actor will be best remembered for his 15-year stint on the BBC show, where his character arrived as the head of PE in 1988, and was promoted to the headmaster role 10 years later.

The show, which ran from 1978 to 2008, was about life in a London comprehensive school, and made headlines for tackling big issues such as drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and mental illness. It went on to make household names of characters such as Zammo McGuire, played by Lee MacDonald, and Tucker Jenkins, played by Todd Carty.

Organ left the show in 2003 after it was announced that production was moving to Liverpool.

His career also included appearances in medical dramas Casualty and Holby City and a number of 1990s films including Those Glory Glory Days, festive movie Present Spirits and Fork In The Road. More recently, Organ provided voiceovers for Star Wars video games and played a doctor in the Netflix series Bridgerton.

Organ started his professional career at Leeds Playhouse in a performance of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, a spin-off of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and would also tread the boards as Judge Turpin in Queens Theatre Hornchurch’s Sweeney Todd.

His other theatre roles include An Englishman Abroad, in which he played Guy Burgess in a 2003 production in York and Major Powell in the play Corpse, performed in Hornchurch in 2007.

With additional reporting from PA.

‘Everybody hates them’: MLB stars condemn Nike see-through uniforms

Major League Baseball stars have complained about see-through trousers designed by Nike ahead of the 2024 season, amid a series of concerns about their new uniform.

The new uniforms are meant to be lighter and more comfortable than previous iterations, but players have told the MLB they are unhappy with a number of elements including the fit, the garish numbers and lettering on the back of the shirt, and the translucent appearance, according to ESPN.

Major League Baseball Players Association confirmed on Thursday that the organisation is relaying concerns from players to the league about the Nike-generated, Fanatics-produced uniforms.

“It’s disappointing that we’ve landed in a place where the uniforms are the topic of discussion,” MLBPA executive director Tony Clark said on Thursday. “Each conversation with the guys is yielding more information with what we’re seeing.

“A lot of the rhetoric is confirmation that the pants are see-through,” Clark said. “It’s been an ongoing conversation where each day has yielded something new that doesn’t seem to make as much sense as you would like it.”

MLB officials say the new uniforms improve mobility by providing 25 per cent more stretch and also will dry 28 per cent faster. The lettering, sleeve emblems and numbering are less bulky in an attempt to make uniforms more breathable and comfortable.

Commissioner Rob Manfred previously said he expects criticism to fade, but that was before the below-the-belt complaints.

“I know everyone hates them,” Phillies shortstop Trea Turner said last week. “We all liked what we had. We understand business, but I think everyone wanted to keep it the same way, for the most part, with some tweaks here or there.”

The MLB said adjustments are being made to the shape and fit of the uniform following player feedback.

Nike told ESPN: “We always put the athlete at the center of everything we do. We worked closely with MLB players, teams and the league to create the most advanced uniforms in the history of MLB which are lighter and more flexible.

“The quality and the performance of our product is of the utmost importance to us. We will continue to work with MLB, the players and our manufacturing partner to address player uniforms.”

Some players don’t know if they like the new trousers, because they don’t have them yet. The San Diego Padres played their first spring training game against the Los Angeles Dodgers on Thursday in last year’s pants.

Veteran pitcher Joe Musgrove wasn’t sure when the Padres were supposed to get their new trousers.

“Hopefully by Opening Day,” Musgrove said. “We tried stuff on last year, we tried stuff on again in spring, but the samples they gave us, they didn’t have the proper length for anybody, so it’s hard to gauge if they fit right or not.”

Musgrove shrugged off the controversy, saying that it was far from the most important thing he’s worried about this spring, even if it’s a little annoying.

“Pants are pants — we’re going to wear them,” he said. “If they don’t fit right, you’ll deal with it.”

Additional reporting by AP

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?