INDEPENDENT 2024-02-28 22:34:48


Gallagher’s late winner cements his place as Chelsea’s next hero

Chelsea survived an FA Cup scare as Conor Gallagher came off the bench to score a last-minute winner and seal a 3-2 victory over Leeds at Stamford Bridge.

The substitute lashed the ball past the visitors’ goalkeeper Illan Meslier to grab what had looked an unlikely victory for much of the game, never more so than when the Blues fell behind inside eight minutes to the first of two goals from Mateo Joseph.

Mauricio Pochettino’s side rallied and looked to have put their woeful start behind them when first Nicolas Jackson and then Mykhailo Mudryk netted to send them in 2-1 up at the break.

Leeds would not lie down easy though, and Joseph headed them level after evading Trevoh Chalobah at the far post on the hour mark.

The home support bubbled with disquiet, sensing another cup mishap after Sunday’s Carabao Cup final loss to Liverpool. Then came Gallagher’s late intervention to keep hopes of a Wembley return in May alive.

The opening 10 minutes were dominated by Leeds. They might have taken the lead when Daniel James found space on the edge of the box and acrobatically lobbed an effort wide.

It was a let-off for Chelsea, but they did not heed their good fortune. From the goal-kick, Axel Disasi played a short pass inside the penalty area that left Moises Caicedo vulnerable. Leeds snapped at his heels, dispossessing him, and the ball broke to Joseph, who cracked it past Robert Sanchez as Chelsea’s defence pointed fingers.

The first mutterings of discontent among the home support started, but they were doused before they had time to take hold. Caicedo made partial amends for his earlier error, sliding a precise ball through that split Leeds’ defence. Into the space strode Jackson, and he placed it into Meslier’s bottom corner to ease Chelsea nerves.

Thereafter they settled, and deservedly took the lead after 37 minutes. Noni Madueke carried the ball up through midfield and poked it to Malo Gusto wide on the right. He fed Raheem Sterling, who crossed for Mudryk to cap the move with a delightful finish, glancing it with a deft right foot wide of the goalkeeper and in.

James skied one over the bar from six yards as Leeds threatened an instant reply. Jaidon Anthony went closer when he curled wide from outside the box, a reminder that a stiff challenge might await Chelsea in the second half.

Daniel Farke’s team had won nine in a row in the league. Here they went up against Premier League opponents with the courage and skill to suggest they would fare well should they return to the top flight, but their hosts were giving ample encouragement.

The equaliser was straight forward and entirely avoidable from Chelsea’s point of view. Anthony was given space on the right to assess options and size up a cross. Stealing away at the far post was Joseph, and his marker Chalobah paid him little heed as he stepped outside the defender and nodded past an exposed Sanchez.

The murmurs of disapproval began again from the stands, though they were largely drowned out by the away fans’ vocal support. They deserved better than the heartbreak that came as the clock ticked over to 90 minutes.

Enzo Fernandez was the architect of the winner, darting infield and through the heart of the defence and finally finding the pass that Chelsea had craved throughout the half. Gallagher, with fresh legs from the bench, let the ball run across him and with a swing of his right boot lashed Chelsea into the quarter-finals.

Police assess hate speech complaint against Lee Anderson

The Metropolitan Police say they are assessing a report of hate speech made against MP Lee Anderson after he accused the mayor of London of being controlled by Islamists.

Scotland Yard said a report was received a day after the former Tory deputy chairman made the remarks that unleashed an Islamophobia row.

The Ashfield MP was stripped of the Conservative whip over the weekend after he claimed that “Islamists” had “got control” of Sadiq Khan and that the first Muslim London mayor had “given away our capital” to such extremists.

The Met does not provide information on named individuals.

However, after a report in The Sun newspaper, the force said on Wednesday: “A report was made to police on Saturday, 24 February. Officers are assessing this report.”

The assessment could result in a full investigation or a dismissal because of a lack of sufficient evidence.

Mr Anderson’s comments sparked outrage across the political spectrum.

But the MP, who is now sitting in the House of Commons as an independent, has continued to refuse to apologise and said prime minister Rishi Sunak made a mistake in suspending him.

Instead, days after the first criticism, he launched a fresh attack on Mr Khan, accusing him of enjoying protest scenes in Whitehall that cause disruption to parliament and cast the government “in a bad light”.

When Mr Anderson was asked on Channel 5 News whether he would take back last week’s remarks, said he would probably change his words slightly, adding: “I think it’s all political. I think he almost enjoys seeing these scenes on Whitehall and on Parliament Square, which disrupts parliament, which puts my government in a bad light.

“I think he just turns a blind eye. It’s politics.”

The East Midlands MP has not ruled out standing for Reform UK, formerly known as the Brexit Party, at the next election.

GB News, the right-wing broadcaster that pays Mr Anderson a £100,000 salary, on top of his £86,584 MP’s pay, to present a show on its network, reported that he met Reform leader Richard Tice on Sunday, only 24 hours after being deprived of his Tory affiliation in the Commons.

Senior Conservatives have described Mr Anderson’s attack on Mr Khan as wrong, but have so far stopped short of describing them as “Islamophobic”.

The Labour London mayor has urged the prime minister to call the remarks racist and Islamophobic.

Critics said Mr Sunak’s reluctance to describe the comments as Islamophobic was weak.

Conservative MPs have struggled to answer clearly when asked to condemn Mr Anderson’s remarks, merely describing them as wrong.

Mr Sunak has been forced to deny the Conservative party has “Islamophobic tendencies”.

Serial rapist who murdered woman found naked 19 years ago jailed

A violent man who murdered a 27-year-old woman and dumped her body in a remote area of Scottish woodland has been jailed for life, nearly two decades after committing the horrific crime.

Iain Packer was accused of strangling Emma Caldwell and concealing her body in South Lanarkshire in April 2005, as well as raping or sexually assaulting 21 other women.

Packer has now been locked behind bars for a minimum term of 36 years after being convicted of 33 charges which spanned two decades, all of which he denied at the High Court in Glasgow.

Since his guilty verdict, Police Scotland apologised for how the original inquiry was handled, after Miss Caldwell, her family and his other victims were “let down” by the investigation.

Miss Caldwell was last seen between 12.30am-1.30am on 5 April 2005 on London Road, Glasgow, and was reported missing by her family five days later.

At the time, Ms Caldwell was living in a hostel in Glasgow after leaving home and becoming addicted to heroin following the sudden death of her sister.

The body of the victim, who was a sex worker at the time, was discovered in the woods on 8 May 2005. She was found by a dog walker with a “garotte” around her neck, prompting one of Scotland’s largest murder investigations.

A frequent user of sex workers, other women had raised concerns about Packer’s behaviour with the police, yet he was not arrested or charged for 17 years despite admitting to the police in the initial investigation that he had previously taken Ms Caldwell to the forest for sexual purposes.

Instead, the police focused their investigation on a group of Turkish men, until a team of cold case detectives re-examined the case in 2015.

Outside the court, the family of Miss Caldwell said Police Scotland failed their daughter and Packer’s rape victims due to a “toxic culture of misogyny and corruption”, adding in a statement: “Instead of receiving justice and compassion, they were humiliated, dismissed and in some instances arrested, whilst the police gifted freedom to an evil predator to rape and rape again.”

During the trial, Packer admitted under cross-examination that he had paid Ms Caldwell for a sex act in 2004 and had continued to have sex with her after she had asked him to stop.

He said he was “ashamed” of his actions towards her and described his behaviour towards another sex worker as “disgusting”.

He denied her murder, however, telling the court: “It wasn’t me who killed her. It wasn’t me. I didn’t do anything to her.”

Evidence was also heard from multiple other women who had been brutally attacked by Packer, with his behaviour described as “violent” and “obsessive”.

The court heard a soil sample taken in 2021 from the site where Miss Caldwell’s body was found was a “97% match” with soil found in his blue work van, and Packer was charged by police in February 2022.

Packer, from Glasgow’s East End, was first reported to police in March 1999 after a sex worker stole a tax disc from his vehicle to have proof of his identity after he raped her.

He preyed on “young, vulnerable and drug-addicted” sex workers in the city’s red light area, and had a pattern of violent behaviour which included strangling women, the court heard.

Packer worked for a. family business and presented himself as a “jack the lad”. But he enjoyed “treating women rough” and wearing women’s underwear, according to one victim who was assaulted between 1993 and 2004, near the Tennent’s Brewery in the East End – an area where many attacks took place.

A friend of Miss Caldwell told the court Packer “would not leave her alone”, while another sex worker gave a statement saying she was “petrified” of him.

Packer was investigated by journalists in 2015, which led to the case being reopened, and he admitted “instigating” an interview with BBC journalist Sam Poling in 2018 to “clear his name”, before claiming he had never visited the woodland.

However, he later admitted to visiting Limefield Woods on six occasions, including with Miss Caldwell.

Following his conviction, Assistant Chief Constable for Major Crime and Public Protection Bex Smith said: “Emma Caldwell, her family and many other victims, were let down by policing in 2005. For that we are sorry.

“A significant number of women and girls who showed remarkable courage to speak up at that time also did not get the justice and support they needed and deserved from Strathclyde Police.”

She added it was “clear” that further investigations should have been carried out, which subsequently caused unnecessary distress to her family and the other women who had been affected.

“Iain Packer was a calculating sexual predator who targeted women over many years. It is hard to comprehend how anyone could carry out such despicable, ruthless acts,” she said.

“He took Emma’s life for his own gratification in the most appalling circumstances and cruelly left her body in remote woods hoping to cover his tracks.

“But time is no barrier to justice and I would urge anyone who has been the victim of sexual violence to please come forward and speak to us.”

Wonka actor breaks silence on disastrous Willy’s Chocolate Experience

A stand-up comedian hired to play Willy Wonka at a widely criticised chocolate factory experience has spoken out after furious parents demanded refunds.

Willy’s Chocolate Experience organiser Billy Coull apologised for his “vision of the artistic rendition of a well-known book that didn’t come to fruition” and offered 850 people their money back before closing the Glasgow experience on Saturday.

One parent complained of arriving to find a “disorganised mini-maze of randomly placed oversized props, a lacklustre candy station that dispersed one jelly bean per child, and a terrifying chrome-masked character that scared many of the kids to tears”.

Did you attend the event? If so email barney.davis.ind@independent.co.uk

The Wonka-esque impersonator Paul Connell, 31, spoke to The Independent about how he got the gig and how the chaos unfolded.

“I’m constantly applying for more acting jobs and comedy work, then I got a phone call on Thursday saying, ‘Congratulations you are going to play Willy Wonka, we will send you over the script and dress rehearsal is tomorrow’,” Mr Connell said. “The script was 15 pages of AI-generated gibberish of me just monologuing these mad things.

“The bit that got me was where I had to say, ‘There is a man we don’t know his name. We know him as the Unknown. This Unknown is an evil chocolate maker who lives in the walls.’

“It was terrifying for the kids. Is he an evil man who makes chocolate or is the chocolate itself evil?

“They even misspelt my contract but I do have a legally binding ‘Coontract’ [sic]. But I stayed up all night learning it, thinking this would make sense in the dress rehearsal when I see all the tech.”

But at the Friday evening dress rehearsal hours before opening, he turned up to find the “immersive and enchanting” Willy Wonka experience was, in fact, an empty warehouse with a few plastic mushrooms.

“In some ways, it was a world of imagination, like imagine that there is a whole chocolate factory here,” he said. “I spoke to the people running it and thought, surely by the morning it won’t look like this, and then I turned up in the morning and it absolutely did.

“At the end of my monologue, I was supposed to suck up the Unknown Man with a vacuum cleaner. I asked them if they had a vacuum cleaner and they said, ‘yeah, we haven’t really got there yet, so just improvise’.

“So I started to cut things out, thinking that would be silly.

“All the actors were lovely people. We gathered together in the morning and said, ‘We’re probably not going to get paid for this but kids are still going to come up. Let’s make this as magic as possible for them’.

“I was making jokes but we were told to give them one jelly bean and a quarter cup of lemonade,” he continued. “No chocolate at the chocolate experience. There was supposed to be a chocolate fountain somewhere but I never saw it.

“I was told I would get a 15-minute break every 45 minutes after each group went through.

“But I ended up playing Willy Wonka for three and a half hours straight. I didn’t know where I ended and Wonka began. I was losing my mind by that point.

“The organiser came up to me, saying, ‘You’re spending too much time with the kids, we need to get them through as quickly as possible’.

“By this point, I was visibly angry. I was like, now there’s going to be a lot of disappointed kids.”

The actor said he finally managed to get a lunch break, deciding to spend it sitting in his car staring at the floor trying to avoid the sight of crying children being turned away by security.

“When I came back, that’s when everything kicked off,” he explained. “There was an angry mob at the door not being let in. I had to wedge my way through.

“I was Wonka and it’s my face everywhere. But I am just a last-minute actor, really, I didn’t organise anything.

“People were shouting, people who put on the event were crying. There were arguments, people running around everywhere – the set had been trashed.”

He called another huddle of the two other Willy Wonkas and the nearest Oompa Loompas, adding: “We decided to just walk away.

“It was actually getting quite dangerous for us. But it was heartbreaking, to be honest.

“There were kids in costume better than ours, crying. I used to be a teacher and that was triggering for me.

“One thing I want to make clear is everyone has been so nice to the actors in person and on the day, the people who were there understand we did our best.

“We didn’t take any abuse but we gave abuse to the people running it. The whole thing was disrespectful to the families and us as promising actors.

“There were three Willy Wonkas but I was the most unlucky because I went first and stayed for three and a half hours doing it through either commitment or stupidity.”

Planning a stand-up tour soon, the actor, originally from Hull, said he had moved to Glasgow to follow his dream of becoming a stand-up comedian after googling what is the funniest city in the UK.

He finished: “It’s a night I’ll try to forget. Sadly, not only will I remember it, everyone I know will remember it too.

“We as actors were brought in last minute and we just did our best for the kids.”

Stuart Sinclair, who travelled two hours to attend the experience with his family, told The Independent: “It was nothing short of shocking.

“But all the cast that were there did their absolute best. Unfortunately, they were all sub-contractor actors hired by Illuminati and haven’t been paid either.

“They were in as much shock as us. But it was probably worse for them because this is their job and made them look bad when it wasn’t their fault.”

Organiser Billy Coull, the director of immersive events company House of Illuminati, told STV News: “I’m really shocked that the event had fallen short of the expectations of people on paper.

“My vision of the artistic rendition of a well-known book didn’t come to fruition. For that, I am absolutely truly and utterly sorry.”

BA employee ‘ran £3m immigration scam from Heathrow check-in desk’

A former British Airways employee has been accused of running a £3 million immigration scam from a Heathrow check-in desk, before absconding to India after being bailed by the police.

The 24-year-old suspect is said to have charged people £25,000 to wave them through Terminal 5 and onto planes heading towards Canada without valid visa documents.

The majority of his alleged customers were Indian citizens, who were allegedly told to fly to the UK on a temporary visitor visa.

After this, they would book flights to Canada without a visa, despite this being a requirement for Indian passport holders, who are not eligible under the country’s electronic travel authorisation scheme.

Other travellers who benefitted were also UK-based asylum claimants who were at risk of being denied the right to remain and faced deportation, the Times reported.

The suspect, who was employed as a BA check-in supervisor, would allegedly direct his customers to his desk and override the system, confirming that he had seen proof of a visa.

It is also claimed he would process passengers at the boarding gate, with those passengers immediately claiming asylum upon arrival in Canada.

Suspicions were raised by officials after a pattern emerged that showed customers on BA flights to Vancouver or Toronto arriving without a visa.

The man was arrested on 6 January and bailed before absconding to India with his partner, who also worked for the airline, the Times reported.

British Airways confirmed it is assisting the authorities with their investigation, and the UK Border Force and Metropolitan Police are liaising with their Indian counterparts.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “It would be inappropriate to comment while an investigation is ongoing.”

The Independent has reached out to Interpol and Delhi Police for comment.

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.

What’s behind the crisis in council services – and can Labour fix it?

England’s councils are in financial crisis and many will collapse in the coming years, according to the Local Government Information Unit. It warns that, unless the funding system is reformed, more than half the councils who responded to its survey will be unable to balance their books over the next five years.

Two-thirds of councils say they are cutting services, and many are pushing council tax and charges higher. All of which is on top of the deep cuts suffered during the “age of austerity” after 2010.

The problem has been highlighted by the plight of Birmingham City Council, which last year had to issue a Section 114 (s114) notice, in which a local authority’s finance director is required by law to give notice the council can no longer afford to keep operating. It refers to the relevant part of the 1988 Local Government Finance Act. The widening crisis will not be easy to contain.

What’s behind the crisis in council services – and can Labour fix it?

England’s councils are in financial crisis and many will collapse in the coming years, according to the Local Government Information Unit. It warns that, unless the funding system is reformed, more than half the councils who responded to its survey will be unable to balance their books over the next five years.

Two-thirds of councils say they are cutting services, and many are pushing council tax and charges higher. All of which is on top of the deep cuts suffered during the “age of austerity” after 2010.

The problem has been highlighted by the plight of Birmingham City Council, which last year had to issue a Section 114 (s114) notice, in which a local authority’s finance director is required by law to give notice the council can no longer afford to keep operating. It refers to the relevant part of the 1988 Local Government Finance Act. The widening crisis will not be easy to contain.