The Telegraph 2024-02-23 04:30:26


‘We just can’t fight’: Ukraine soldiers’ Western support dries up

Parked up on a winter-grey Donbas wheatfield, a Ukrainian military officer pointed out the distant skyline of the city of Avdiivka – or what was left of it…

‘From the river to the sea’ projected onto Parliament as police stood by, 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. 

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said the projection of “genocidal language” onto Parliament was “a wake-up call for Britain”. 

Police officers were present in large numbers at the demonstration in Parliament Square but decided not to take action. The Metropolitan Police later said it could not intervene because broadcasting a slogan onto Parliament was not a criminal offence unless the message broke the law, which officers did not believe was the case.

Mr Percy told The Telegraph: “It’s a weak and pathetic response, which we’ve come to expect from the Met – a force that has at times appeared to act more like a PR arm for the protesters than a law enforcement agency.

“There’s no doubt that chant is genocidal. It denies Jews self-determination in their homeland, calls for the destruction of the state of Israel and, more importantly, it is chanted by people and promoted by groups who are in many cases openly anti-Semitic and who call for Jews to be wiped out.

“It should be pursued because it is already a crime to incite racial or religious hatred, and I am sorry that the police are again choosing not to act on a racist genocidal chant.”

A Met Police spokesman said: “This is a chant that has been frequently heard at pro-Palestinian demonstrations for many years, and we are very aware of the strength of feeling in relation to it.

“While there are scenarios where chanting or using these words could be unlawful depending on the specific location or context, its use in a wider public protest setting, such as last night, is not a criminal offence.”

Other messages projected onto Parliament by protesters including “Stop bombing Gaza,” “Ceasefire now” and “Stop war now”. The rally was organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has been behind regular marches.

The Campaign Against Anti-Semitism said the weekly pro-Palestinian marches had “made our capital city a no-go zone for Jews, and repel law-abiding Londoners”.

It said the intimidation of MPs meant “our democracy itself is under attack, and those responsible for safeguarding it are in dereliction of their duty”.

One former Cabinet minister warned that the Met was “increasingly losing the trust of the public they are there to serve and protect”, saying: “We are witnessing a subversion of our democracy through the projection of offensive slogans upon our Parliament and the way in which democratically elected members are now being threatened and subject to constant abuse.

“The lack of police action only seeks to normalise public hate and offensive acts and behaviour. They are making a mockery of the very laws and the powers they have which protect our democratic values and ability to live our lives through the rule of law.”

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.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Percy had spoken out during a Commons debate that saw many MPs express fears over their safety and warn that threats from “Islamist extremists” were stifling democracy.

He told the Commons of a 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.”

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 Met’s handling of months of pro-Palestinian protests in London, with Matthew Offord, the MP for Hendon, north London, saying: “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.”

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.

“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 told 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.

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 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.

Disgruntled dentist threatened to stab and behead MP

A disgruntled constituent who tweeted his MP suggesting he would be “stabbed, shot, beheaded” during a four-year campaign of harassment has been ordered to be detained.

Amit Kerai, 34, was handed a hospital order after he pleaded guilty to making the threat in August 2022 against Labour’s Barry Gardiner, MP for Brent North in London.

Kerai sent the tweet to Mr Gardiner after contacting the MP’s office on Aug 4 2022, the Old Bailey heard on Thursday.

In a victim impact statement read in court Mr Gardiner said he is “aware Members of Parliament are increasingly being threatened and two of my colleagues have been murdered in the course of their work”.

He added: “I consider the level of security offered to MPs to be lamentably poor.

“I refuse to allow these threats to reduce my accessibility to my constituents and I still hold surgeries and take public transport and attend other public meetings, but I feel that the job of being a Member of Parliament now places a much greater strain on my staff and family than when I began in Parliament 25 years ago.”

Putting other people in fear

Kerai, a dentist, also admitted two charges of putting other people in fear of violence by harassment with abusive and threatening emails, tweets and telephone calls between 2019 and 2022.

The defendant, of Barnet, north-west London, sent an electronic communication with intent to cause distress or anxiety on Aug 2 2022 to call centre staff at the General Dental Council.

The court heard he had a grudge after being made subject to an interim suspension by the General Dental Council, which later was made permanent.

Fellow dentist Keith Percival, from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight dental council, was also a victim of his hate campaign.

Mr Percival said in a victim impact statement that the hundreds of personal tweets sent by Kerai “occupied his daily thoughts”.

He was more worried about the impact on his daughter, Emily Vidovic, and her safety, as she had an administrative role for the same organisation.

‘Threatening and sinister’

She received calls of a “threatening and sinister nature”, and Kerai had accessed her Instagram account so concerns were raised he might be seeking her home address, the court heard.

Kerai had “destroyed” Mr Percival’s day-to-day health and wellbeing, he added.

Sally Mertens, prosecuting, said Ms Vidovic “has a young family and is afraid because of the threats to kill and threats of violence towards her”.

She had been made to feel “uncomfortable, anxious and nervous” and it had had a “major impact on her”.

Ms Vidovic found the images posted online “highly distressing”.

War, sexual violence and death

She was starting out her career and “already feels her reputation has been ruined”.

A call from Kerai to Ms Vidovic was played to the court in which he said “I might actually come to your house and cut off your head”.

Kerai sent an estimated 10,400 tweets which included graphic images of the war in Ukraine, sexual violence and death.

Kerai also admitted charges of possessing cocaine and cannabis found during his arrest on Aug 5, 2022.

Judge Mark Lucraft KC said Kerai has been diagnosed with a “persistent delusional disorder” and sentenced him to a hospital order under section 37 of the mental health act as well as a restraining order.

Demands for money

He said: “Over a four-year period you carried out what can only be described as a campaign of harassment.

“Not only was it deeply offensive, threatening, abusive and unpleasant, it also had a significant impact on all those affected by it.”

Kerai made “many baseless accusations” which included criminal activity and alleged the victims were “racists and fascists”, the judge added.

The harassment included making demands for money, defamation, intimidation, blackmail and coercion, the court heard.

Kerai had appeared at the Old Bailey by video link from a secure mental health unit.

Physician associates ‘illegally’ prescribe opiates to hospital patients

Physician associates have “illegally” prescribed drugs to patients at NHS hospitals, The Telegraph can reveal.

The support staff at Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust prescribed medications including opiates and sedatives to patients on 22 occasions, according to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request.

Physician associates (PAs) are healthcare workers meant to assist doctors by carrying out basic clinical tasks. They are only trained for two years and have no legal right to prescribe drugs.

The trust says the prescriptions were the result of an IT blunder that gave PAs access to the electronic prescribing system for seven months.

The role of PAs in the NHS is increasingly contentious, with critics arguing their two-year postgraduate course provides insufficient training and could put patients at risk.

On Wednesday night, the hospital trust would not confirm whether any PAs who prescribed these medications without legal authorisation had lost their jobs as a result.

In nearly all circumstances, it is a serious criminal offence for anyone other than a doctor, dentist, pharmacist or vet to supply controlled drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The Telegraph understands that the trust has not referred any of the PAs involved in this incident to West Yorkshire Police.

Conservative peer Baroness Foster said the “practice of PAs illegally prescribing” uncovered by The Telegraph added to concerns already raised about the risk that PAs pose to patient safety.

The Telegraph has previously published allegations from doctors at 24 trusts who alleged that PAs had illegally prescribed drugs and ordered scans with ionising radiation. But this is the first time an NHS hospital group has admitted to inadvertently giving associates the ability to prescribe.

Between July 2023 and January this year, PAs at the trust – which runs two hospitals – prescribed controlled medications to patients including the opiate painkillers oxycodone and codeine.

They also prescribed the sedatives lorazepam, diazepam and midazolam, the latter of which is often used in end-of-life care. The medications are classed as “controlled” by the Government because of their risk of harm and addiction.

The data was released in response to an FoI request from a member of the public.

Calderdale and Huddersfield said that “a hard control has now been implemented to prevent any further PA prescribing incidents” and insisted that no patients had been harmed. But the disclosure has fuelled concerns among critics of the amount of power being handed to PAs.

Peers to debate PA regulation

On Monday, peers will debate a motion that could derail government plans to bring PAs under the General Medical Council (GMC). Allowing them to be regulated by the GMC could lead to PAs later being given the authority to prescribe drugs.

Solicitor Sean Caulfield at Hodge Jones & Allen explained that: “If a physician associate has innocently carried out acts of supplying controlled drugs, which they were not authorised to do, it might not be in the public interest to prosecute them.

“However, if anyone, physician associate or otherwise, intended to supply or did supply controlled drugs, knowing it would be illegal, that would be different. In those circumstances, the Crown Prosecution Service may think it is in the public interest to prosecute.”

Calderdale and Huddersfield stressed that their PAs, who work in medicine, surgery and accident and emergency, “are instructed that they are not legally able to prescribe”.

The regulation of controlled substances in healthcare was greatly strengthened after an inquiry found that serial killer Harold Shipman used strong painkillers to murder at least 215 people without detection.

This is however not the first time the trust has been criticised over its management of controlled drugs. In 2018, the Care Quality Commission watchdog gave its two hospitals – Calderdale Hospital and Huddersfield Royal Infirmary – a safety rating of “requires improvement” in part because, “medicines, including controlled drugs, were not managed effectively in critical care and the urgent and emergency services”.

‘Go back to the drawing board’

At the debate next Monday, Green Party peer Baroness Bennett will be “begging the Government to go back to the drawing board to find a different way forward that has the support of medical professionals, communities and patients”.

The British Medical Association wants the draft legislation to be amended so that the Health and Care Professions Council have oversight of PAs instead of the GMC, claiming licensing doctors and non-doctors together “increases the risk of patients mistakenly believing PA care equals doctor expertise”.

Baroness Brinton, the former Lib Dem health spokesman, who also opposes GMC regulation of PAs, said the “very worrying” incident raised serious governance questions: “There are very senior clinical managers in the hospital trust who should have been all over this.”

A Trust spokesman said they “fully understand the prescribing rights for different parts of our workforce” and they “investigate [any issues] and take immediate action under the appropriate policies and procedures”.

The Department for Health and Social Care said GMC regulation of associates had “cross-party support and will boost patient safety” and that the council “will operate strict fitness-to-practice procedures and set education and training standards.”

They added that the role of PAs is “to support doctors, not replace them” and that the staff “carry out clinical duties such as taking medical histories, carrying out physical examinations, and developing and delivering treatment and management plans.”

West Yorkshire Police said, if made aware of concerns, they would work with trusts “to understand if criminal offences have been committed” and all reports are “assessed according to threat, risk and harm”.