The Telegraph 2024-02-23 16:30:32

William Wragg: Hoyle not an ‘impartial referee’

The architect of a motion of no confidence in Sir Lindsay Hoyle claimed the Commons Speaker was not an “impartial referee” as the number of MPs looking to oust him continued to grow. 

William Wragg, who tabled the Early Day Motion expressing no confidence in Sir Lindsay, said the Speaker had “changed the rules of the game” by controversially selecting a Labour amendment to be voted on during an SNP-led debate on a Gaza ceasefire. 

The Tory MP tweeted: “Plain fact is that Mr Speaker acted in a partisan way to meet the needs of Keir Starmer in managing his party. He changed the rules of the game. 

“That is not the action of an impartial referee. All other considerations are secondary in this matter.”

Mr Wragg’s motion was signed by four more MPs today, taking the overall number of backers to 71. Sir Lindsay has apologised to MPs over his handling of the debate on Wednesday.  

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Shamima Begum loses Court of Appeal challenge over British citizenship

Shamima Begum, the Isil bride, has lost her Court of Appeal challenge against the removal of her British citizenship.

Three Court of Appeal judges, led by Lady Chief Justice Baroness Carr, ruled unanimously that it was lawful for the Government to strip her of her citizenship on national security grounds after she travelled to Syria as a 15-year-old in 2015 to join Isil.

Lady Carr told the court that they had rejected her appeal on all five grounds lodged by her lawyers. She said: “It could be argued that the decision in Ms Begum’s case was harsh. It could also be argued that Ms Begum is the author of own misfortune but it is not for this court to agree or disagree with either point of view.

“Our only task is to assess whether the deprivation [of citizenship] decision was unlawful. We have concluded that it was not and the appeal is dismissed.”

Ms Begum’s lawyers had claimed the Government had failed to take account of the fact that she was a victim of trafficking to Syria, that the removal of her citizenship was a breach of her human rights and that it would “de facto” have made her stateless.

The rejection of the appeal means that Ms Begum, now 24 years old, will remain in the al-Roj detention camp in north-eastern Syria for the foreseeable future as she is effectively stateless. Although British born, she had Bangladeshi citizenship until at least she was 21 but the country has made clear it will not accept her.

Begum’s background

Ms Begum, who was born and brought up in Tower Hamlets, east London, travelled to Syria via Turkey and aligned herself with Isil. She married an Islamic State fighter soon after arriving and had three children, none of whom survived.

As the Isil caliphate collapsed, Sajid Javid, the then home secretary, used his powers under the British Nationality Act 1981 to deprive her of her citizenship on the basis that it was “conducive to the public good” as she posed a threat to national security.

She sought to return to the UK in 2019 to challenge the removal of her citizenship but this was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2021. She was therefore forced to lodge her appeal against the revocation of her citizenship from northern Syria without giving evidence in person.

Her appeal was rejected by the special immigration appeal commission (SIAC) in February 2023, a decision that she appealed to the Court of Appeal, which gave its judgement on it on Friday.

Trafficking victim

Lady Carr said Ms Begum had appealed on five grounds, the first of which was that the home secretary had failed to consider whether she had been a potential victim of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation when she travelled to Syria via Turkey.

Her lawyers argued this amounted to a breach of article four of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) that no-one should be held in slavery or servitude.

The SIAC found there had been at the very least “a credible suspicion” that she had been trafficked although it was accepted this was not an “absolute bar” to the deprivation of her citizenship.

However, the Court of Appeal judges rejected the claim that it breached the ECHR, saying there were two obstacles. One was that there was only an “arguable” rather than “actual” breach because of the lack of any conclusive evidence that she had been trafficked.

The second was the “passage of time” between the suspected trafficking in 2015 and the decision to strip her of her citizenship after she had spent four years living with Isil. The judges said there was “a lack of a causal link” between the events of 2015 and home secretary’s decision.

Home secretary’s verdict on trafficking claims

Ms Begum’s lawyers argued that the home secretary had failed to take into account the possibility that she had been a victim of trafficking in breach of common law.

However, Lady Carr said that the home secretary was aware of the circumstances of her departure to Syria and took account of the possibility she had been trafficked. “That assessment was kept under review,” she said.

How far Ms Begum’s decision to go to Syria was a voluntary decision was not binary, said Lady Carr. “Ms Begum may well have been influenced and manipulated by others, but still have made a calculated decision to travel to Syria and align with Isil,” she added.

“The assessment of the national security risk was in our judgement a question of evaluation and judgement and trusted by Parliament to the Secretary of State.”

Making Begum stateless

Ms Begum’s lawyers argued that the home secretary failed to consider that section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981 barred him from making anyone stateless.

Although she retained Bangladeshi citizenship as of February 2019, they said it would “de facto” make her stateless as there was “no realistic possibility” that she could travel to and live in the country.

However, the Court of Appeal judges said the Home Secretary had taken this into account but was not required by law to consider the concept of “de facto” rather than “de jure” statelessness.

Right to be notified of citizenship revocation

Ms Begum’s lawyers said she should have been notified of the home secretary’s intention to strip her of her citizenship and should have been given the opportunity to make representations.

However, the judges said the British Nationality Act 1981 was designed to protect the public from a threat to national security, which could be frustrated by requirements to invite representations prior to a person’s citizenship being removed.

“Notifying a person abroad of an intention to remove their citizenship could enable that person to make a preemptive return to the United Kingdom and frustrate the purpose of the deprivation decision,” said Lady Carr.

She said SIAC was wrong, in its judgement, to say that Begum should have been allowed to make representations but, notwithstanding that, she noted: “It was inevitable that the Secretary of State would have made the same decision regardless of possible representations.”

Breach of equality law

Ms Begum’s lawyers argued that depriving her of her citizenship also breached equality laws in that such revocation powers had been “disproportionately applied to British Muslims”.

The Court of Appeal ruled, however, that there was a specific exemption under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 allowing ministers to take action to “safeguard national security”.

“As such, the national security or deprivation decision was exempt from the duties that arose under Section 149,” said Lady Carr.

Summing up the judgement, she said: “In conclusion, for these reasons, we unanimously dismissed the appeal.”

What next?

Ms Begum’s lawyers have said they will “keep fighting” after she lost the challenge over the removal of her British citizenship at the Court of Appeal.

Solicitor Daniel Furner said: “I think the only thing we can really say for certainty is that we are going to keep fighting.

“I want to say that I’m sorry to Shamima and to her family that after five years of fighting she still hasn’t received justice in a British court and to promise her and promise the government that we are not going to stop fighting until she does get justice and until she is safely back home.”

Her lawyers must now seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, and ultimately, if they fail there, could seek to take it to the ECHR.

Live Plymouth bomb latest: Military prepare to move WWII explosive through city streets – follow live

Emergency services are preparing to move a World War II bomb which was discovered in a Plymouth garden on Tuesday. 

A military convoy will carry the explosive through the city’s streets and then take it out to sea, where it will be detonated.

People near the route were urged to evacuate their homes in the largest peacetime operation of its kind, according to the Ministry of Defence. 

Moving the explosive is “the most dangerous part” of the process, an explosive expert has said.

It was earlier reported the bomb was on the move. 

Follow below for the latest updates.

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”.