INDEPENDENT 2024-03-05 16:34:41


St Paul’s Cathedral unveils hidden library available to stay in

St Paul’s Cathedral has unveiled its hidden library, which will be available for a “once-in-a-lifetime” overnight stay in honour of World Book Day.

For only £7, two guests will get the chance to stay in the “secret” room of the historic London landmark on March 15 as well as enjoy a dinner at a nearby restaurant and breakfast the next morning.

It will mark the first time someone has officially slept inside the Cathedral since the Second World War when a voluntary organisation protected the venue from bombing raids.

During their stay, the guests will enter the Cathedral through the Dean’s door and climb the spiral staircase, designed by English architect Sir Christopher Wren more than 300 years ago.

At the top of the staircase, they will be greeted by the library, which hosts a collection of more than 22,000 books, ranging from classics to Penguin Random House US’s forthcoming releases.

They will also be welcomed to the venue by the Dean and receive a tour of the historic Cathedral.

The next morning after breakfast, the guests will climb to the famous Cathedral dome to finish off their stay.

To remember their experience, the visitors will be given signed and stamped copies of the new Penguin Random House US books, including Holly Jackson’s The Reappearance Of Rachel Price and John Grisham’s Camino Ghosts.

Director of visitor engagement at St Paul’s Cathedral, Sandra Lynes Timbrell, said: “The recently restored library at St Paul’s has long been a secret gem of the Cathedral – cleverly concealed by the ingenious architecture of Sir Christopher Wren.

“Some very fortunate guests will now get the chance to delve deeper into the history and wonder of St Paul’s with this truly one-of-a-kind stay.”

The stay will be available through Airbnb, with booking opening on March 12.

The general manager of northern Europe at Airbnb, Amanda Cupples, said they are “thrilled” to open the doors of the library to bookworms, history enthusiasts or those seeking a unique experience in London.

Director of brand strategy at Penguin Random House US, Alyssa Castaneda, added: “This partnership with Airbnb is a true celebration of readers in the most magical of ways.

“From exploring the secret corners of the Cathedral and summiting the famous dome to reading their way through Penguin Random House US’s upcoming releases, this once-in-a-lifetime experience is the stuff of fairytales.”

The one-night-only stay is available for two adults and will cost £7 for the night, with breakfast and dinner included.

Booking for the experience opens on March 12 2024 at 10am at airbnb.com/hiddenlibrary.

Double decker bus smashes into pub near Oxford Street

A double-decker bus dramatically smashed through a building next to a pub near London’s Oxford Street on Tuesday morning.

Emergency services were called after the yellow bus, thought to be the number 8, crashed into the shop front next door to All Bar One in New Oxford Street, near Tottenham Court Road Tube station, shortly after 10am.

Two people were treated by paramedics at the scene, with one taken to hospital.

Police initially said the bus hit a pub, but the London Ambulance Service later clarified that it hit a shop front beside the All Bar One.

Images shared on social media show the vehicle lodged into the front of the stone building with shattered glass on the floor around it.

It’s not clear yet if the neighbouring All Bar One was open at the time of the incident, but according to its operating hours on Google, it opened at 10am.

Have you been impacted by the bus crash? Email alexander.ross@independent.co.uk

One person told the Daily Telegraph the crash sounded “like a bomb”. The woman called 999 and said a group of builders helped pull the driver out of one of the windows on the bus.

She said: “I heard a loud crash and everyone ran out to see what happened. It felt like a bomb. We looked outside and saw the bus had crashed into the shop next door.”

London Ambulance Service sent an ambulance crew and an incident response officer to the scene of the crash. A spokesperson said: “We treated two people. We took one patient to hospital and discharged the other at the scene.”

London Fire Brigade responded with two fire engines and two fire and rescue units from Soho, Euston and Battersea fire stations.

A spokesperson said: “Firefighters are at the scene of a road traffic collision on New Oxford Street in Soho.

“One double decker bus collided into the front of a building. One man left the bus before the Brigade’s arrival and is being assessed on scene by London Ambulance Service crews.

“There are currently no further reports of injuries. Road closures are in place and people are advised to avoid the area at this time.”

A Metropolitan Police spokesperson said: “We were called at 10.16am on Tuesday, 5 March to reports that a bus had collided with a pub in New Oxford Street, WC1.

New Oxford Street, which links to Oxford Street, was closed as the bus was removed from the front of the building.

Transport for London said there were no passengers onboard the Stagecoach London-operated bus at the time of the incident.

Tory MP calls for ‘all wild animals’ to be culled

A Conservative MP has called for all wild animals to be culled.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) dismissed calls by animal rights activists and conservation groups to end the badger cull and instead suggested more animals, such as deer and foxes, should also be culled.

Mr Drax had earlier raised the case of “a beaver being released illegally… in west Dorset”.

According to the Badger Trust, more than 210,000 badgers have been killed since the cull began in England in 2013 in an effort to tackle bovine tuberculosis (TB).

Mr Drax said TB was a “major problem” in the South West, telling a Commons debate on farming: “Culling has proved to work, and can I suggest that rather than talking about stopping culling on badgers and to introduce some other form, that all wild animals have to be culled.

“Because if they don’t their health deteriorates. They don’t have any predators in today’s world. Foxes, deer, badgers. We don’t want to wipe them out, we just simply want them controlled.

“This is just pure common sense.”

He said: “There is no sense, in our view, in reintroducing beavers into small chalk streams, or any other form of stream in Dorset. Beavers dam rivers, they would then be protected no doubt by every organisation that would want it protected, farmland then floods.

“Beavers don’t hang around and say ‘this is my home’, as has been proved in Scotland – they breed and move elsewhere and do the same in other rivers. And, as I understand it, in Scotland they’ve had to be culled because they’ve broken out of the area that was initially given to them.

“Can the Government please look at not only the illegal releasing of beavers into rivers – if indeed this is the case and that hasn’t been proven as yet – but certainly to the legal release and this emphasis on rewilding which, while we all want to see wild animals, there is a proper place and location for each of the various species.”

It comes as beavers are to make a comeback in London for the first time since they were hunted to extinction 400 years ago.

The beavers will be released in Ealing’s Paradise Fields, an eight-hectare site of woodland and wetlands minutes from Greenford Tube station.

At least one male and one female beaver will be released as part of the project, which is designed to protect against urban flooding and create diverse wetland habitats.

The project will mark the first time beavers have been introduced to an urban area in the UK.

Warning of long delays during daytime closure of UK’s busiest motorway

Drivers are being warned of long delays during the first daytime closure of a stretch of the UK’s busiest motorway.

National Highways urged motorists to “only travel if necessary” when it shuts the M25 in both directions between junctions 10 and 11 in Surrey as part of a £317 million improvement project.

The five-mile stretch of carriageway will be closed from 9pm on Friday March 15 until 6am on Monday March 18.

More than 200,000 vehicles are expected to be affected, including many travelling in and out of London, and to and from Heathrow and Gatwick Airports and Channel ports.

Between junctions 9 and 11 the M25 normally carries between 4,000 and 6,000 vehicles in each direction per hour from 10am until 9pm at weekends.

This is the first scheduled daytime all-lanes shutdown on the M25 since it opened in 1986, National Highways said.

The Government-owned company said the action is necessary to enable a bridge to be demolished and a new gantry to be installed.

Four more closures will take place up to September.

No dates have been released for when they will happen, but the next is expected to take place in April.

The project will increase the number of lanes and make it easier to enter and exit the M25 at junction 10, which is one of the UK’s busiest and most dangerous motorway junctions.

National Highways project lead Jonathan Wade said: “Drivers should only use the M25 if their journey is absolutely necessary.

“This is the first of five full closures of one of the busiest junctions on our road network.

“We have spent months planning for these closures and making sure there are diversion routes in place, but there will still be heavy congestion and delays.

“These improvements will bring long-term benefits to drivers who pass through this stretch of the M25, not to mention pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders who will also see positive changes in the area.”

Germany reveals how Russia managed to hack into top-secret military talks

A German military leak that revealed that Britain had people “on the ground” in Ukraine was intercepted by Russia after a “mistake” by a participant on a top-secret, high-level conference call. The person, on the call from Singapore, had used an unsecure line.

Germany’s defence minister, Boris Pistorius, has also claimed that Moscow is likely to have tapped into the call not through a spy or targeted surveillance, but by widespread monitoring.

Speaking on Tuesday morning, he said that the unnamed senior military officer had called in from Singapore where an air show with other high-ranking European military officials was taking place – and then dialled into the Webex call using either his mobile phone or the hotel’s wifi but not a secured line – as would be mandatory for such calls.

“For the Russian secret services, it was a real find… targeted hacking took place in the hotels used across the board,” Mr Pistorius said. “It must therefore be assumed that the access to this [phone] conference was a chance hit as part of a broad, scattered approach.” The defence minister said there was no spy on the call.

“Our communication systems have not been compromised,” he said. “The reason the air force call could nonetheless be recorded was because of an individual’s operational mistake.”

The use of Webex for the call was authorised, he said, noting it was not the off-the-shelf software but a specially certified one with servers in the German military’s computing centres in Germany.

Mr Pistorius said the investigation was ongoing, overall security had been increased and preliminary disciplinary proceedings against the officer were being considered, but that severe personal consequences were unlikely.

“I will not sacrifice any of my best officers to Putin’s games, to put it very clearly,” he said.

He appeared to be attempting to reassure Germany’s allies amid the huge embarrassment over the leaked audio, first released by the editor of Kremlin-controlled news channel RT on Friday.

The 38-minute conversation from a fortnight ago captured the head of the Luftwaffe discussing Britain’s involvement in Ukraine on deploying long-range Storm Shadow missiles against targets up to 150 miles into Russia.

“When it comes to mission planning,” Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz says, “I know how the English do it, they do it completely in reachback. They also have a few people on the ground; they do that, the French don’t.” Reachback is military jargon for obtaining equipment that is not on the battlefront.

The recording also included the senior officers appearing to discuss how Taurus missiles from Germany could be used to target the Kerch Bridge connecting Russia with occupied Crimea.

The authorised call was made using certified services in Germany, said Mr Pistorius.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Pistorius said Germany would take technical and organisational measures to ensure such a leak could never happen again. And amidst growing concern from other Western countries, he said he had spoken with allies, who said trust in Germany remained unbroken.

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, is travelling to Berlin on Thursday, when the topic is likely to come up. But on Monday, a spokesperson for prime minister Rishi Sunak that the leak was a “very serious matter”, adding it was for the German authorities to investigate.

They added: “The UK was the first on our part to provide long-range precision strike missiles to Ukraine, and we would encourage our allies to do the same.

“We’ve been clear from the outset that the UK will provide Ukraine with the necessary aid, including lethal support, to defend itself and reclaim its sovereign territory.”

However, Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood, former chair of the Commons Defence committee, described the leak as “worrying on a number of levels”, while questioning why “basic concept protocols” weren’t followed on the call.

And Germany’s former intelligence chief, August Hanning, warned more Nato secrets could have been obtained following the leak. He told Germany’s Bild newspaper: “This leak could have been just the tip of the iceberg.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said it proved “the direct involvement of the collective West in the conflict in Ukraine”. However, Mr Sunak’s spokesperson said: “It is clearly in the Kremlin’s interest to propagate misinformation.”

Downing Street declined to comment on UK operations in Ukraine beyond saying there was a “small number of troops” providing protection for British diplomats and training for Ukrainian forces.

Former head of the British army, General Sir Richard Dannatt, said those responsible for the leak from the 38-minute call should be “censured pretty heavily”.

Lord Dannatt, who also said he could not comment on British forces in Ukraine, told Times Radio: “I was very disappointed to read that story. I think the German air force officers who were talking on an open line, frankly, should be censured pretty heavily.”

Associated Press contributed to this report

The truth about the £100k gender pension gap

It can be easy to bury your head in the sand when it comes to retirement, especially when it seems a long way off. But if you want to live comfortably when the time comes to stop working, planning ahead is vital. It’s even more important for women, who are on track to have significantly less money than men in later life.

Just as there’s a gender pay-gap, there’s also a discrepancy between how much income men and women have in retirement, too – and it’s even bigger. Research from Scottish Widows shows there is a massive 39% gender pension gap*. This gap grows wider over the course of an average woman’s working life – at 22, there is a £100 difference in pension savings between men and women. By 65, this has grown to a shocking £100,000 difference. For the average woman to level this out, she would have to pay an additional £96 every month over her working life.

Scottish Widows latest ‘Women and Retirement’ report shows that a third of women are not on track to achieve even a basic lifestyle in retirement, covering essential needs, with only a small amount left over for anything else. It means many women won’t have the money to live comfortably, let alone do the things they hope to in retirement, such as travel, socialise and pursue hobbies. The average woman is set to receive £12k per year of income in today’s money during retirement, after paying for any expected housing expenses, compared to £19k for the average man. This includes private pension, other long-term savings, inheritance and the state pension or pension credits.

This gender pension gap is largely driven by deep-seated structural issues. The gender pay/wage gap is a factor, as, naturally, when women earn less, they have less to save. Women are also more likely to work part-time and to take career breaks due to caring responsibilities and a lack of affordable childcare. “Childcare is a huge contributing factor for women, often resulting in them giving up work or reducing their working hours to look after their family,” says Jill Henderson, Scottish Widows’ Head of Business Development. “After women have children the gap between their pension and that of a typical man’s starts to widen. This is because women tend to take on the lion’s share of childcare and employment breaks or part time working – all of which are big drivers of the gender pension gap.” Research found 63% of mothers have either reduced the number of days they worked per week when returning from parental leave or have not yet returned, compared to just over 16% of men.

Some women bear the brunt more than others. “The inability to save has a devastating impact on women’s income and ability to thrive in later life,” says Henderson. “Those women who are in a relationship fare better, but those who are single, divorced or are single mothers are most vulnerable.”

Two-thirds of single women and 60% of divorced women aren’t on track for a minimum lifestyle in retirement, while for single mothers the figures are even starker, at 75%. Working part time, coupled with other financial pressures, makes it much more difficult for single mothers to save for retirement. To make things even more difficult, gaps in work for raising children can also affect eligibility for the state pension. It means that single mothers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty in retirement than the average UK woman.

The overall picture is worrying, but there is some room for optimism. Auto enrolment – where an employer must automatically enrol eligible employees into their pension programme – has nearly doubled the number of females saving into a workplace pension in the last decade. For most people, the state pension will not provide enough income to live comfortably in retirement, so it’s vital to invest in private pension pots.

Recent legislation is set to make two key changes to auto-enrolment; reducing the age requirement from 22 to 18, and removing the lower earnings limit (currently £6,240) which means helps people qualify for auto enrolment and get employer contributions and tax relief from the first ound they earn. “These changes will be most valuable to the young and lower paid, including those who work part-time, most of whom are women,” says Henderson.

The ideal amount to be putting away is 15% of your salary (a combination of what you and your employer pay in, plus any tax relief), but even if you can’t manage that, every little bit makes a difference, especially if you get started today. “People can only save what they can afford to, but we suggest people check in on their pension regularly especially if their situation changes,” says Henderson. Young women are now more likely to start saving earlier in life than men — and the sooner you start, the better the position you’ll be in when you retire.

When it comes to planning for retirement, knowledge is power. Scottish Widows have created a new Beat The Gap tool (www.BeatTheGap.com) to help simplify how people engage with pensions, and make it easier for women (and men) to understand how things like working pattern, and childcare can affect their pension. By inputting some simple information, including gender, age and salary, it plots the user against the UK average pension across their lifetime. You can then see where the gap is most likely to emerge and get tailored tips on how to boost your pension and close the gap.

It’s part of a range of free educational support to help women plan for their retirement.

There’s a long way to go to close the gender pension gap, with many societal changes that need to happen. Until then, being aware of the factors that can affect their pension can help empower women to take the steps they need to ensure a more comfortable retirement, while they wait for the bigger picture to shift.

Find out more about the gender pension gap, plus expert tips and free tools to help you save for your retirement at Scottishwidows.co.uk/yourfuture

*2023 RR and 2023 W&R reports (based on the National Retirement Forecast)

Peers are right to challenge the Rwanda bill

Two years, three home secretaries and £370m later, the Rwanda plan launched by Priti Patel and Boris Johnson has successfully deported the grand total of zero refugees to Kigali.

That, in its way, is something to celebrate. It was always morally wrong and legally problematic to treat people in this way, and placing them at risk of being returned to their countries of origin to be tortured to death was always the wrong thing to do, even if it cost very little.

The fact is that it costs a great deal and for no great purpose. As the latest attempt to revive the scheme arrives in the House of Lords – a hostile environment, if ever there was one – it faces yet more obstacles.

Is Galloway really going to ‘shift the tectonic plates’ of politics?

The aftershocks of George Galloway’s earthquake victory in Rochdale continue to reverberate around the political landscape. As Galloway himself put it, with some hyperbole, he believes his win will “spark a movement, a landslide, a shifting of the tectonic plates in scores of parliamentary constituencies”.

As he took his seat in the House of Commons at the earliest opportunity, even the usual niceties stirred up some controversy. It had been suggested that Galloway would be walked into the chamber and formally introduced by Jeremy Corbyn, an old comrade from the 1980s, and David Davis, the sometimes quixotic former Tory Brexit secretary. After Davis dropped out, the task fell to the father of the House, Peter Bottomley, who’s been an independently minded Conservative MP since 1975, and Neale Hanvey, the Westminster Leader of the Alba Party.

Soon the House will be treated to Galloway’s “maiden” speech (not his first one), and no doubt some dramatic parliamentary moments. No wonder Rishi Sunak said his return is “beyond alarming”.