INDEPENDENT 2024-03-03 10:40:09

Body Shop admits breaking employment law with sudden mass sacking

The Body Shop has admitted to breaking employment law in sacking hundreds of people at a moment’s notice, The Independent can reveal.

Administrators for the troubled cosmetics company made some 270 head office staff redundant last Tuesday, telling them over Microsoft Teams that they would not be paid beyond the end of the day and the company would not provide them any form of redundancy package.

The dismissed employees – some of whom had worked there for over a decade – were instead told to claim unpaid wages and holiday pay from the taxpayer-funded Redundancy Payments Service. A further 489 job losses and 75 store closures were announced on Thursday.

Employees on last week’s “brutal” Teams call said their sudden dismissal by Body Shop International Ltd was “affecting people financially and mentally”, with one telling The Independent they had been left “on the verge of losing everything by a company that once valued ethics and community”.

This includes at least 15 women on maternity leave or soon to have their baby, who will now only receive goverment maternity pay as opposed to the packages they were offered while Body Shop employees, according to one new mother made redundant last week.

“When I found out I was pregnant, the good maternity package at [the Body Shop] is what kept me going and I know it’s the same for other mums,” said another woman, who warned the situation had “put a massive financial strain on my family” just weeks before she is due to have her baby.

One employee who had worked at the company for 13 years said the sudden end to their pay meant their February wage was not going to cover their family’s bills. “To be treated this badly has taken its toll on a lot of people affected,” they said.

Another said it had been their “dream job” to be hired last March, only to be left “on the verge of losing everything by a company that once valued ethics and community”, adding: “Never in my working life have I ever been treated like this before.”

They have applied for jobseeker’s allowance, a council tax reduction, and said they plan to ask their mortgage provider to go interest-free for six months “to keep the roof over my head”, adding: “How they can be allowed to treat us like this is beyond me, I don’t even know how they can sleep at night.”

In a response to an email campaign by dismissed workers, administrators at the firm FRP Advisory have now admitted they did not follow “normal regulations” on properly consulting employees or their representatives prior to dismissing them, saying there was “insufficient time” to do so.

Administrators argued in their response on behalf of the Body Shop, seen by The Independent, that they had not properly consulted employees because “a swift reduction” in head office payroll costs was judged to be required, citing their statutory duty to take actions to benefit all of the company’s creditors.

Solicitor Nick Humphreys, of Penningtons Manches Cooper, said that while the email notes there was a tension between the duties owed to employees and creditors, the administrators do appear to be admitting to a breach of duty to employees.

It is not uncommon for companies in financial distress to fail to observe their employee’s rights because of the duty upon directors of such firms to maximise their creditors’ returns, according to Tina Maxey, an employment lawyer at Ellisons Solicitors.

Solicitor Michael Newman, of the firm Leigh Day, said he “would question whether the law has got the balance right between creditors and employees” in such situations, adding: “The creditors will have invested money, but the employees will have also have invested a lot of time and work in the company over the years, and it is a shame that the law prioritises creditors in this situation.”

In reference to the Body Shop’s sudden mass-firing, he added: “For a company renowned for its ethical credentials, it perhaps shows how far it had come from its origins.”

Ms Maxey said a failure to properly consult staff was a breach of their rights but not a criminal offence on the part of administrators or the company, adding: “As long as it has notified the secretary of state of the redundancies, the company can choose whether or not it collectively consults.”

Employees can, however, seek compensation via a tribunal if not properly consulted, and The Times reports that a group of more than 175 Body Shop employees are preparing to pursue a claim through Acas, the government’s advisory, conciliation and arbitration service.

The Insolvency Service said it had been working with Body Shop administrators to ensure employee claims can be processed and paid as soon as possible. “The Insolvency Service’s Redundancy Payments Service will make statutory redundancy and related payments to support eligible employees who have been made redundant,” a spokesperson said.

FRP Advisory has been contacted for comment.

Murder arrest after woman dies and another seriously injured

A woman has died and another woman has suffered life-threatening injuries after an incident in Worcester on Saturday night.

One man has been arrested after police were called to Haresfield Close at about 20:30 on Saturday.

The 58-year-old woman died at the scene.

A man aged 50 has been arrested on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.

Detective Chief Inspector Leighton Harding of the Murder Investigation Unit said: “I understand that incidents of this nature can be alarming, but I would like to reassure the local community that this was an isolated incident and there is no wider risk to the public.

“You will notice a higher police presence in the area in the coming days as officers investigate this incident.

“Our thoughts are with the family of the woman who has sadly lost her life.”

Spanish woman raped during motorbike tour of India with husband

Four men have been arrested in India after a Spanish woman was allegedly raped during a motorbike tour of the country with her husband.

The woman and her husband were attacked on Friday night in the Dumka district of India’s eastern state of Jharkhand, where they had pitched their tent for the night.

The couple, who run an Instagram page documenting their journey by motorbike across South Asia, shared a video detailing their horrifying experience in India.

The couple, bearing visible bruises and injuries on their faces, recounted being physically assaulted and said the woman was raped by seven men.

“They beat us. They put a knife to my neck, and told me they were going to kill me,” the man, whose lower lip was swollen, says in Spanish in the video.

“Something has happened to us that we would not wish on anyone. Seven men have raped me. They have beaten us and robbed us, although not many things because what they wanted was to rape me. We are at the hospital with police. It happened tonight here in India,” the text on the video said.

Dumka police officer Pitamber Singh Kherwar said all the accused have been identified and the four arrested have confessed to raping the woman, according to the Times of India newspaper.

Police said a medical examination of the woman confirmed she was sexually assaulted, and the couple are being treated at a local hospital in Dumka.

The couple were partway through the biking tour across South Asia and had already travelled to Pakistan and Bangladesh. They were heading for Nepal after entering India through West Bengal, officers said.

They pitched their tents in a semi-forested area, some 2km away from the main road. After some time, around seven men entered into their tent and attacked them. They also robbed them of their belongings.

The couple stopped a police patrol vehicle at around 11pm the same night and were taken to a hospital after being found with injuries.

The Spanish embassy in India is in contact with the local authorities and has sent a personal representative to the region, reported EuroNews.

The video of the distressed couple has gone viral on social media with many people expressing outrage. One user called it a “shameful and shocking incident” and a “nightmare”.

Bollywood actor Richa Chadha said: “Shameful! Indians are treating foreigners like they treat their own women. Shame on our rotten society.”

In 2022, close to 90 rapes were reported daily in India, according to data from the National Crime Records Bureau. However, the actual number is likely higher, as a significant portion of cases remains unreported due to prevailing stigma surrounding victims and a lack of trust in police investigations.

The Independent has reached out to Spain’s embassy in India for comment.

Horner opens up on ‘testing’ week for wife Geri Halliwell and family

Christian Horner admits the past week has been “testing” for him and his family as he strode into the Bahrain paddock hand-in-hand with wife Geri Halliwell prior to Saturday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.

The Red Bull team principal was cleared of “inappropriate behaviour” on Wednesday after a three-week internal probe conducted by an external lawyer, following allegations from a female colleague which were strongly refuted by Horner, before WhatsApp texts allegedly between the two parties – some sexually suggestive – were leaked to the media 24 hours later.

Yet Horner has been present in the paddock in Bahrain throughout the race weekend, including Saturday as Max Verstappen eased to a first win of the season, and the 50-year-old accompanied his Spice Girl pop star wife Geri as she entered the Bahrain International Circuit.

The pair, who have a seven-year-old son, shared a kiss inside the Red Bull hospitality unit and were together celebrating Verstappen’s victory by the podium after the race in a clear show of solidarity after a week in the spotlight.

Speaking to media on the paddock, Horner said before the race: “It’s been very testing for my family but we are very strong as a family and our focus is on this race.

“It’s the start of the season, and the team have done an incredible job over the winter to be starting on pole position in the best place possible, so let’s see what we can do in the race.

“We are here to go racing and that is my job. So this is what we are focused on and this is what we are here to do.”

Red Bull’s majority shareholder and Horner ally, Thai billionaire Chalerm Yoovidhya, also joined the duo on the team’s terrace in a very public show of support for the embattled team principal.

Horner, 50, met with FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem and F1 chief executive Stefano Domenicali on Friday at the Bahrain circuit. It remains to be seen how F1 and the sport’s governing body handle the matter in the next few days, after a saga which has overshadowed the first race of the 2024 season.

Horner could yet find himself in hot water with the sport’s governing body, the FIA, with Ben Sulayem having discussed the matter with Domenicali on Friday in Bahrain.

All those who participate in Formula 1 must abide by a set of regulations, with Article 12.2 stating that a competitor could be found in breach of the code for: “Any words, deeds or writings that have caused moral injury or loss to the FIA, its bodies, its members or its executive officers, and more generally on the interest of motorsport and on the values defended by the FIA.”

Horner told the written press on Saturday night: “I am not going to comment on anonymous speculative messages from an unknown source. I am not going to comment on what motives whatever person may have for doing this.

“Obviously, it has not been pleasant with some of the unwanted attention, but the focus is very much on the cars and my focus has been on what is happening on track and the result today demonstrates where the focus is and we move onwards.

“There was a full, lengthy internal process that was completed by an independent KC and the grievance that was raised was dismissed. End of. Move on. You could see what it (the win) meant to the whole team. It is better to do your talking on the track.

“I have always been entirely confident that I would be here and my focus is on the season, and the races we have ahead.”

On the track, however, Red Bull picked up where they left off in 2023 as Verstappen led home a one-two finish for the team, with Sergio Perez finishing second.

When asked after the race if the Red Bull team were united, Horner told Sky Sports: “Yes absolutely. We’re a very strong team, tremendous support and partners, great shareholders. You don’t achieve this type of result without this support.”

Questioned further on whether he would be in his role at the next race in seven days in Saudi Arabia, Horner replied: “Yeah absolutely, I wouldn’t be here otherwise.”

The Red Bull F1 chief, 50, is the longest-serving team principal on the F1 grid, having been at the helm since the team’s inception in 2005.

Horner, who back in 2021 signed a contract extension at Red Bull until 2026, was made a CBE in the New Year’s Honours list for services to motorsport, having previously received an OBE in 2013.

He has been in charge of Red Bull for six constructors’ championship victories and seven drivers’ championship triumphs – three for Verstappen and four for Sebastian Vettel.

Red Bull won 21 out of 22 races in 2023 in their most successful year so far in Formula 1, with Verstappen storming to his third-straight championship.

‘Exhausted’ Queen to rest as Prince William and Princess Anne step up

The Queen is set to take a week off after completing 13 official engagements alone since King Charles was diagnosed with cancer, with royal observers suggesting the monarch will have insisted his “exhausted” wife Camilla should have a break.

The Queen has no royal engagements planned until the Commonwealth Day service on 11 March and will spend a few days of private downtime with her family before jetting off on a private flight tomorrow, the Daily Mail reports, with Prince William and Princess Anne reportedly set to undertake engagements as normal.

Nevertheless, a royal source told the Sunday Times that Camilla “has been buoyed by the public’s reaction” to her taking the reins in recent weeks, adding: “Although she was not expecting to find herself in the position of leading the family, the Queen is absolutely prepared to do whatever needs to be done for the institution.”

Camilla led the royal family at last week’s memorial service for King Constantine of Greece, after William was forced to suddenly pull out of the service for his godfather due to an unspecified “personal reason”.

Earlier, Kensington Palace responded to concerns regarding the Princess of Waleshealth.

The Algarve… but make it luxury. The ultimate indulgent break guide

What does a luxury break look like to you? Chances are, it involves a picture-perfect beach, with miles of golden sands and crystal-clear waters. Perhaps some secret coves, lush lagoons and picturesque villages too. Add in mouth-watering food, incredible local wine, state-of-the-art spas and a spot of designer shopping, and you’ve got all the ingredients for the ultimate, five-star luxury holiday – and you’ll find it all in the Algarve.

Located on Portugal’s southern coastline, the Algarve is one of Europe’s most popular holiday destinations – famously loved by families, sun-seekers (it enjoys over 300 days of sunshine a year) and golfers. It’s also the ideal location for a luxury break. Between five-star resort settings and Michelin-starred restaurants, world-class leisure facilities and one-of-a-kind natural wonders, you’ll find everything you need for a truly exquisite experience.

To help you settle on your perfect holiday, travel experts Jet2holidays offer retreats in more than 50 amazing destinations in their Indulgent Escapes portfolio, including the Algarve. From beachfront boltholes to rural retreats, each hotel in this outstanding collection boasts a five-star rating and is hand-picked for its superb location and service.

With breaks including return flights, generous 25kg baggage, and return private hotel transfers*, all with a low £60pp deposit**, these stays are tailor-made. Plus, you can enjoy thoughtful extras such as complimentary priority lanes passes at your UK airport, two in-flight drinks✝ and a £10pp onboard voucher✝✝, for the ultimate luxury package holiday. Each one is ABTA and ATOL-protected, while has been voted Best Airline – UK by Tripadvisor and Jet2holidays is Which? Travel Brand of the Year 2023.

Here, we explore the best luxury experiences in the Algarve, from five-star stays and Michelin-starred cuisine to soothing spas and blissful boutiques.

The very best holiday starts with accommodation to match, and the Algarve has a huge array of luxury stays to choose from, including intimate hotels, private villas and wellness retreats.

For complete indulgence, set your sights on the region’s selection of luxury resorts, all designed with total relaxation in mind – whether that involves a round of golf, a spot of fine dining, cocktails by the pool or some nourishment in the spa. Couples and honeymooners can enjoy clifftop hideaways featuring wellness centres, poolside cabanas and buzzy bars. While families might prefer to stay in a lavish apartment complex, complete with on-site children’s entertainment and babysitting facilities. All set against a backdrop of stunning sea views, of course.

The Algarve might be famous for its vast beaches and warm climate – but it also holds a reputation as a must-experience foodie destination. From seafood hotspots with incredible ocean views to award-winning restaurants and hidden-gem tabernas, there are gourmet experiences to suit every taste. Sample freshly netted fish in the picturesque port of Olhão, enjoy a meal with a view in Vilamoura’s glitzy marina, or tempt your taste buds in the many upscale options in Quinta do Lago.

Fans of grand gastronomy will be spoilt for choice, as the region has an impressive eight Michelin-starred restaurants – two of which have a coveted two stars. It’s perhaps not surprising that the chefs here are so inspired – such is the incredible array of fresh and local produce available. Grilled sardines are a speciality (there’s even the annual Sardine Festival in Portimão), while signature local dish Cataplana combines succulent clams with onion, tomatoes, seafood, white wine and sausage.

For a real treat, look out for fresh oysters from the Ria Formosa lagoon and octopus from the village of Santa Luzia – dubbed the ‘octopus capital’ of Portugal. And while it may not be fine-dining per se, you can’t visit the Algarve without trying one of its most famous dishes: peri-peri chicken.

There’s plenty to wash it all down with too, as the Algarve has four distinctive wine areas: Lagos, Portimão, Lagoa and Tavira. Best known for its red wines, you should also be sure to try the famous fruity digestif, Medronho, produced in the Monchique mountains.

Luxury is all about enjoying fabulous things, and you won’t be short on beautiful sights around here – starting with the miles and miles of blissful beaches. From the famous aquamarine waters of Praia da Marinha in the central Algarve to the dramatic golden cliffs of Albufeira’s Praia da Falésia, as well as the soft sands of Vilamoura, it’s easy to secure your slice of paradise.

To get a little more off the beaten track, hire a car (we recommend a sporty little number for the full luxury experience) and drive the spectacular coastal roads. Alternatively, head inland to the jaw-dropping mountain landscapes and whitewashed villages.

You could even charter a boat and explore the hidden treasures of the region’s coastline, coves and sea caves. Meanwhile, Ria Formosa natural park – a maze of canals, islands, marshland and beaches – is one of Portugal’s natural wonders and a protected haven for wildlife. It’s great for hiking, bird-watching and snorkelling. The coastal town of Olhão is the perfect starting point to explore the lagoon.

For total tranquility, take a ferry to Ihla Deserta — which translates as ‘deserted island’ — where there are no homes or cars, just one wooden building that houses a renowned sustainable restaurant.

Feeling energetic? Take a swing at some of the best golf courses in Europe, sign up for a surf school, or work on your serve at one of the many tennis courts.

Looking to pick up some unique souvenirs? Or perhaps to treat yourself to a few designer threads? The Algarve has plenty of opportunities for retail therapy, be that in upscale boutiques and large shopping malls, or historic markets and artisan workshops.

Trendsetters should venture to the designer stores of Quinta do Lago, or browse the fashion and jewellery stores at Vilamoura Marina. Faro, Loulé, Portimão and Albufeira all have shopping centres, and there’s even a large designer outlet, where you can browse well-known brands at discounted prices.

Perusing the Algarve’s vibrant markets is another must. With so many to choose from, you can buy everything from fresh fish, olives and cheese to hand-crafted jewellery, ceramics and antiques.

For another way to unwind, you’re never too far from a spa in the Algarve. The medley of luxury hotels boasts incredible wellness facilities, where you can relax with a massage, get a rejuvenating facial, glam up with a manicure, or soothe your muscles in a hydrotherapy pool, hot tub or sauna. Afterwards, order a sundowner cocktail by the pool, sit back and revel in the sweetness of doing nothing.

To make it even easier for you to enjoy the ultimate break in the Algarve, Indulgent Escapes by Jet2holidays provides the perfect luxury package holiday looking look after you at every stage of your journey through their VIP customer service.

Fly to the Algarve from 11 UK airports: Belfast International, Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds Bradford, Liverpool John Lennon, London Stansted, Manchester and Newcastle. To find out more and start planning your trip, visit Jet2holidays

*Unless otherwise stated.

**On bookings made ten weeks or more before departure. Full payment required by balance due date.

Excludes champagne which is payable. One drink per person, per flight. T&Cs apply.

✝✝£10 voucher only available on Jet2shop products, excluding cigarettes and tobacco, non-transferable for cash. One per person above the age of two, per booking. Cannot be used on the in-flight menu.

Rishi Sunak is right to defend free speech and democracy

Rishi Sunak was right to try to set out the boundaries of freedom of expression in his unexpected statement in Downing Street on Friday night. He was right to warn that there are undemocratic elements that are trying to hijack the debate in Britain about the conflict in Gaza.

He was right to argue, as The Independent did yesterday, that it was alarming that the by-election in Rochdale returned a member of parliament who downplays the horror of what happened on 7 October. He was right to warn that “Islamist extremists and the far right”, feeding off each other, are trying to exploit events in Israel-Palestine to try to undermine Britain, “the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy”.

He was right to take a stand against intimidation, and he was even-handed in condemning chants and slogans that make Jews feel unsafe on our streets, but also the abuse of visible Muslims for actions of terrorists for whom they are not responsible.

Rwanda plan costs soar to £500m – but will it ever work?

Immigration remains a major concern for voters, particularly those precious members of the electorate who opted to vote Conservative at the 2019 general election. Yet despite successive pledges, a procession of “tough” home secretaries, strong rhetoric, a constant flow of new laws, and the personal intervention of the prime minister, the news flow on the issue has rarely been favourable. The latest developments seem to be no different…

The latest figure squeezed out of the government by the National Audit Office, an independent watchdog doing crucial work, suggests that more than £500m will be spent on the scheme even before a single refugee is deported. The bulk of the money is irrecoverable; some £370m has been pledged to Rwanda under the terms of the Economic Transformation and Integration Fund, with no conditions on individuals being sent over.