The Telegraph 2024-03-13 01:00:34

Covid Inquiry appears fundamentally biased, say scientists

The Covid Inquiry appears to be “fundamentally biased” and is failing to examine the costs of lockdown, leading scientists have warned.

In a letter to Baroness Hallett, the inquiry chairman, the group of 55 professors and academics express their concerns that the process is “not living up to its mission” to evaluate the mistakes made during the pandemic, assess whether Covid measures were appropriate, and to prepare the country for the next pandemic.

They warn that a “lack of neutrality” means the inquiry “gives the impression of being fundamentally biased” and appears to have led to “predetermined conclusions, for example, to lockdown faster next time”.

In the letter, published on Tuesday, the group states that the inquiry is neglecting to hear evidence from those who suffered from the “negative effects” of pandemic policy decisions, or scientists who disagree with choices made by the Government.

As the second module of the inquiry comes to a close, they call for this to be urgently addressed and greater focus to be placed on the “economic and social cost of Covid policies to British society”.

The letter was organised by Dr Kevin Bardosh, an expert in infection medicine at Edinburgh University and Prof Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at Oxford University.

Worklessness ‘a worrying trend’

It comes as Richard Hughes, chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility, warned on Tuesday that worklessness had become a “worrying trend” in the economy since the pandemic.

Mr Hughes told the Treasury select committee that the economy had been growing as a result of net migration but now the it was suffering from a reversal in its workforce amid “rising levels of inactivity and a falling participation rate”.

He said: “It looks as though persistently high levels of inactivity seem to be a feature of the post-pandemic environment and one which is worrying from the point of view of human welfare.”

So far, the Covid Inquiry has examined the Government’s resilience and preparedness, as well as decision making and political governance across the UK.

The next set of inquiry modules include one on the Government’s business and financial response, and another focusing on education, children and young people. Academics hope the cost of lockdown policies will be scrutinised more closely in these upcoming sections of the inquiry.

The group includes academics from York, Durham, Bristol and Exeter universities as well as Imperial College London and King’s College London, in fields ranging from global health policy and medicine to ethics, law and statistics.

Dr Bardosh, who is director of Collateral Global, a British think-tank which was set up to examine pandemic policies, told The Telegraph ahead of the publication of the letter that he wanted to write to Lady Hallett before the list of “core participants” is drawn up for the next set of modules.

While anyone can submit evidence to the inquiry, “core participant” groups enjoy special status, including the right to representation and the ability to make legal submissions, suggest questions for witnesses and receive disclosure of documentation.

‘Time to recognise their biases’

“The letter is an attempt to get the inquiry to recognise that they have got some things wrong, they still have time to redirect it to be more impartial,” Dr Bardosh said.

“It is really important that the inquiry recognises they have had these biases and shortcomings in Modules One and Two so they don’t carry it over into the other modules.”

Previously, MPs have written to Lady Hallett to urge caution about the direction of the inquiry. But this is the first time that a group of eminent academics have raised concerns.

The letter goes on to say that the inquiry is taking “key assumptions for granted instead of examining and critiquing them”.

It states: “The consensus position in pre-2020 pandemic plans was that non-pharmaceutical interventions, including lockdown, had weak evidence of effectiveness, and were predicted to cause substantial harm to society, especially if used for prolonged periods.

“This informed the initial response to Covid in early 2020. Yet, the inquiry assumes that these measures are effective and appropriate. As a result, it downplays the harms to society caused by two years of emergency infection control mandates.”

The academics also note that the inquiry “lacks impartiality” in the selection and questioning of expert witnesses.

“It has given preferential treatment to scientific advisers on Sage, who have a vested interest in maintaining the justification for their policy recommendations,” they say.

‘Confrontational rather than inquisitorial’

“Very few scientists with an alternative position have been asked to testify, and the inquiry has been confrontational rather than inquisitorial in its questioning of these views.

“The inquiry has not seriously questioned the hypotheses and assumptions offered to government, especially from government-appointed modellers, which were used to justify Covid policies. Neither has it seriously examined the social and economic costs of lockdown.”

Sage is the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

A spokesman for the inquiry said: “The inquiry was established in June 2022 and is entirely independent. Lady Hallett, chairman of the inquiry, has said repeatedly that she will not reach any conclusions until she has considered all of the evidence; that includes the written evidence.

“The inquiry does not act on assumptions and has called expert witnesses who question the use of lockdowns and other interventions, as well as experts who advised on the imposition of lockdowns.

“The inquiry will consider important issues such as the impact of lockdowns, key scientific and policy questions as well as population health and wellbeing in forthcoming modules. Our modular approach is clearly set out on our website and we will report during the lifespan of the inquiry, with the first report scheduled for this summer.”

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Sunak condemns Tory donor’s ‘racist and wrong’ Diane Abbott comments

Rishi Sunak has branded comments allegedly made about Diane Abbott by the Tories’ biggest donor “racist and wrong”.

Frank Hester is alleged to have told colleagues in a 2019 meeting that looking at Ms Abbott, a former Labour MP who now sits as an independent, makes you “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

On Tuesday night, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The comments allegedly made by Frank Hester were racist and wrong. He has now rightly apologised for the offence caused and where remorse is shown it should be accepted.

“The Prime Minister is clear there is no place for racism in public life and as the first British-Asian Prime Minister leading one of the most ethnically diverse Cabinets in our history, the UK is living proof of that fact.”

Downing Street had previously declined to categorise the comments reported to have been made in 2019 by Mr Hester as racist, instead terming them “clearly unacceptable”.

The new statement came after Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, broke ranks to call the comments racist.

In a post shared on Twitter, Mrs Badenoch said: 

In a further post, she continued: “MPs have a difficult job balancing multiple interests – often under threats of intimidation as we saw recently in parliament. Some people make flippant comments without thinking of this context. This is why there needs to be space for forgiveness where there is contrition.”

Mr Hester gave £10 million to the Conservatives last year, Electoral Commission records show.

On Tuesday, Ms Abbott responded to the comments in a statement.

She did not describe Mr Hester’s comments as racist or misogynistic, but said: “It is frightening. I live in Hackney and do not drive so I find myself, at weekends, popping on a bus or even walking places more than most MPs.

“I am a single woman and that makes me vulnerable anyway. But to hear someone talking like this is worrying.”

She added: “For all of my career as an MP I have thought it important not to live in a bubble, but to mix and mingle with ordinary people. The fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming.”

Police are understood to have been contacted in relation to the original Guardian report into Mr Hester’s alleged comments.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: “On Monday, 11 March officers from the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team were contacted in relation to a report about an MP that appeared in the Guardian.

“We are assessing the matter and are liaising with West Yorkshire Police as the alleged incident is believed to have taken place in Leeds. Officers from the Parliamentary Liaison and Investigation Team remain in contact with the MP.”

It was reported by the Independent that Ms Abbott herself made the original complaint to the parliamentary team.

Earlier in the day, Ms Abbott said she was “hoping for public support from Keir Starmer” despite being suspended from the parliamentary Labour Party in 2023.

The Labour leader went on to defend Ms Abbott several hours later, calling her a “trailblazer” and describing Mr Hester’s comments as “just abhorrent”.

Sir Keir also called on the Conservatives to hand back the money it had received from Mr Hester.

He told ITV’s Lorraine programme on Tuesday morning that he didn’t “buy” assertions that Mr Hester’s comments were not racist or misogynistic.

He said: “I am sorry, this apology this morning that is pretending that what was said wasn’t racist or anything to do with the fact she is a woman, I don’t buy that I’m afraid.

“And I think it is time the Tory Party called it out and returned the money.”

Mr Hester said that he had personally phoned Ms Abbott on Monday to apologise for his comments.

In a statement, a spokesman for the Tory donor said: “Frank Hester accepts that he was rude about Diane Abbot in a private meeting several years ago but his criticism had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin. 

“The Guardian is right when it quotes Frank saying he abhors racism, not least because he experienced it as the child of Irish immigrants in the 1970s. 

“He rang Diane Abbott twice today to try to apologise directly for the hurt he has caused her and is deeply sorry for his remarks. He wishes to make it clear that he regards racism as a poison which has no place in public life.”

Conservative ministers have rebuffed demands that Mr Hester’s donations be returned.

Graham Stuart, the energy minister, defended Mr Hester throughout the Tuesday morning media round.

He told Times Radio that while the comments made were “ridiculous”, he didn’t think Mr Hester “is a man who is a racist”.

Pressed on whether the Tories should return Mr Hester’s donations, Mr Stuart told Sky News: “We can’t cancel anybody from participation in public life, or indeed donating to parties, because they said something intemperate and wrong in their past.”

‘Clearly unacceptable’

Ms Abbott, who has represented Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987, was the first black woman to be elected to parliament.

She was shadow home secretary under former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Both have since been suspended under Sir Keir’s leadership.

In a post shared on Twitter, Mr Hester said that he had been asked by the Guardian to confirm another series of comments made at the same 2019 meeting.

Mr Hester appeared to confirm that he had said: “For me, racism is a hatred and a fear of the other. For me, it is exactly the same as homophobia – it’s not limited to the colour of your skin, it is not limited to religion, it can just be the country next door. It can be northerners and southerners, which we have here.”

He added: “I can confirm that this is an accurate reflection of my view that hatred of others based on race, religion, gender, sexuality or geography is odious and disgusting and that racism – in particular – is a poison that has no place in public life.”

Mr Hester pointed out that his own parents “had roots in another land” and that we “should celebrate those differences which have made us the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy”.

He went on to say that “we should have the confidence to discuss our differences openly and even playfully without seeking to cause offence”.

On Tuesday night, the Guardian reported that Mr Hester had also asked if there was “no room for the Indians” during a packed meeting, before adding: “Climb on the roof, like on the roof of the train there maybe?”

He was also said to have told colleagues ahead of a trip to Malaysia: “I’m looking forward to going to Malaysia, so that I can make new jokes – I don’t know any jokes about Malaysian people but I’m sure we’ll find them.”

A source close to Mr Hester pointed to his insistence that diversity should be discussed “openly and even playfully without seeking to cause offence”.

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Millions of households face £200 jump in energy bills

Households face paying almost £200 extra on their energy bills under plans to keep Britain’s lights on by building more gas-fired power stations.

Experts said the policy, announced by Rishi Sunak on Tuesday, would result in a bill of around £5bn for consumers, equivalent to £178 per household, most likely spread over a decade or more.

Tom Smout, of Aurora Energy Research, which conducted the findings, said: “What consumers are being asked to buy is energy security.

“The priority is to keep the lights on by having backup for the intermittency of renewables.

“An extra 5Gw of new backup generating capacity is needed to keep the lights on. Each gigawatt of capacity will cost about £1bn.”

Documents published on Tuesday by the Government said plans to boost Britain’s energy security by building more gas-fired power stations will be funded by bigger payments to plant operators, resulting in higher energy bills for homes and businesses.

Electricity generators will be paid via the so-called capacity market, an auction system that pays operators to be on 24-hour standby to deliver power when supplies become tight.

The plants will only be fired up when renewable sources like wind and solar fail to deliver, typically due to poor weather.

According to official estimates published on Tuesday, gas plants are only expected to be used for around 700 hours in 2030 – the equivalent of about 29 days.

The predicted figure for 2035 is below half of that and falls to less than 100 hours from 2040 onwards.

It follows a stark warning from ministers that for at least the next two decades Britain risks having too little generating capacity to keep the lights on.

Britain’s ability to generate electricity has become increasingly reliant on the weather as net zero targets spur a shift to renewable power sources such as offshore wind and solar power.

However, periods of low wind and less sunlight, a phenomena known as “dunkelflaute”, create problems for energy supplies as it causes renewable production to plummet.

Announcing the new gas-fired power stations on Tuesday, Claire Countinho, the Energy Secretary, said: “A weather-dependent, renewables-based electricity grid means we will need to have flexible power for when the wind doesn’t blow, and the sun doesn’t shine.

“Without gas backing up renewables, we face the genuine prospect of blackouts.”

Britain has about 32 gas-fired power stations with the capacity to generate about 27 gigawatts (Gw), enough to power around 20 million homes.

But uncertainty over energy policy during the past two two decades means few new ones have been built, leaving Britain with a fleet of ageing gas plants.

More than half face closure within the next few years, slashing generating capacity by 15Gw and leaving just 12Gw of existing plants available to the National Grid.

Another 9Gw of new capacity is already expected, which would take the total to 21Gw

But this falls short of the 22 to 28Gw of gas-fired plants that the Government estimates will be needed in 2035 to keep the lights on.

The new power stations would get most of their income from capacity payments – the money offered by the Government to build power stations and keep them on standby.

If, however, they switched on, they would get more money for the power they generated.

Kisha Couchman, deputy director of Energy UK, which represents suppliers, said: “The pathway to net zero set out by the Climate Change Committee does include a small role for unabated gas to ensure security of supply but the Government must also ensure that there is a clear decarbonisation pathway for these plants, either through carbon capture and storage or hydrogen.”

However, Baroness Brown, vice-chairman of the Climate Change Committee, said: “It is disappointing that the Government seems to be focused on fossil fuels as a stop gap and not long duration energy storage as a secure solution.”

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Queen cracks joke as she is handed Barbie doll in her likeness

The Queen was presented with her own look-a-like Barbie doll as she hosted a Buckingham Palace reception to mark International Women’s Day.

“Brilliant. You’ve taken about 50 years off my life,” she said of the doll, which was dressed in an identical outfit to Camilla, including the same Amanda Wakeley black cape and blue Fiona Clare dress.

She added: “I’m very, very grateful!”

The doll was presented to the Queen by the Women of the World Foundation (WOW), which was celebrating the end of its Girls Festival Bus Tour.

Among the guests at the event were actress Dame Helen Mirren, Baroness Doreen Lawrence, former Spice Girl Melanie Brown and Dame Kelly Holmes.

Krista Berger, the senior vice president of Barbie and global head of dolls at Mattel, flew from Los Angeles to present the doll to Camilla, saying afterwards: “We were just tickled that the Queen wanted to play Barbie.”

Sarah Allen, the PR manager for UK Mattel, said: “We spoke to her office first to check she was happy to receive it and worked with her team on what she would like the doll to wear.”

Camilla, the president of WOW, gave a speech in which she gave a “show and tell”, holding aloft two stones that were thrown at the palace during a suffragette protest on 27 May 1914.

The stones were picked up and handed to Queen Mary, who “decided to keep them for posterity”, she revealed.

The label on one said “Constitutional methods being ignored drive us to window smashing” and the other said “If a constitutional deputation is refused, we must present a stone message”.

The Queen quoted a newspaper report from the time that said the campaigners had managed to evade the sentries and get into the palace quadrangle before using the stones to break two panes of glass.

The women were taken to the police station in the precincts of the palace but the Master of the Household refused to prosecute and they were released.

The Queen told guests: “Now please don’t think for a moment that I am encouraging any of you to evade sentries, or throw stones, or do anything unconstitutional – not least because I am not quite sure how today’s Master of the Household would react.

“But while the more destructive steps taken by the suffragettes could not be condoned today, I wanted to show you these stones because of what they represent.

“In 1914, I believe, they represented hope to the women who threw them. Hope that in the future, they would not be victims of their history, nor of the social and economic forces that were ranged against gender equality. Above all, they represented the hope that it was possible.”

The Queen quoted Christabel Pankhurst, the daughter of suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, who said: “Remember the dignity of your womanhood. Do not appeal, do not beg, do not grovel. Take courage, join hands, stand besides us, fight with us.”

The Queen said: “To which I would only add, let your lives be the stones that will shatter glass ceilings everywhere and inspire generations to come.”

She told those gathered that their achievements and courage were “great causes for celebration”.

The Queen, accompanied by Mathilde, the Queen of the Belgians, and the Duchess of Gloucester, visited the WOW bus, viewing its recording studio and craft sessions, before meeting young people who had taken part in the festival tour which aims to promote gender equality among young people.

Dame Helen, who played the late Elizabeth II in the 2006 film The Queen, said of the new Queen: “I have always been a fan of Camilla, as she used to be known, and a supporter of hers in my very small, insignificant way but it was great to see her in this new role as Queen and to see that mantle falling on her shoulders, which must have been quite a surprise to her.

“As a young girl in England I’m sure she never in a million years imagined that this would be where she would find herself and it looks to me as if she’s doing it beautifully well.”

The WOW Foundation was created by Jude Kelly in 2018 to run the global movement of the Women of the World Festivals, which began in the UK at the Southbank Centre in 2010. It now spans 45 locations on six continents.

The Queen’s attendance at the event meant that she was unable to attend the funeral of Tom Kingston, the husband of Lady Gabriella Windsor.

The private service took place on Tuesday morning at the Chapel Royal, St James’s, followed by a reception in St James’s Palace.

Lady Gabriella, her parents Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Kent and Princess Alexandra were among the 140-strong congregation. The King was unable to attend due to ongoing cancer treatment.

The service was followed by a private cremation. A larger memorial service is expected to be held in due course.

Mr Kingston died from a “catastrophic head injury” and a gun was found near his body, an inquest heard earlier this month.

Gloucestershire coroners’ court heard that Mr Kingston, 45, died on Feb 25 at his parents’ home in the Cotswolds.

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NHS bans puberty blocker prescriptions for children in ‘landmark decision’

Children will be banned from receiving puberty blockers on prescription under NHS rules that come into effect immediately.

Under-18s will now only be able to take the controversial drugs as part of a clinical trial set to start at the end of this year.

Ministers said the “landmark decision” was in children’s “best interests” and would help to ensure youngsters who feel their gender is not the same as their sex are being treated using medical evidence.

The proposals to stop the practice were first accepted by NHS England in July 2022 following recommendations made by a review led by Dr Hilary Cass, the former president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

She warned that the drugs may permanently disrupt the brain maturation of adolescents, potentially rewiring neural circuits in a way that cannot be reversed, and said there was a lack of long-term evidence and data collection on their safety and effectiveness.

The blockers pause the physical changes of puberty such as breast development or facial hair.

Experts have said the “affirmative” approach by the controversial Tavistock clinic, and subsequent referrals for the prescribing of blockers, was sending children on an “irreversible” path without exploring mental health conditions.

‘Not enough evidence to support clinical effectiveness’

Maya Forstater, executive director of women’s rights group Sex Matters, said it was “a momentous development in the course correction of NHS England’s approach to treating childhood gender distress”.

“Many have been calling on the NHS for years now to return to an evidence-based approach,” she said.

“The significance of NHS England’s statement that there is not enough evidence to support the safety or clinical effectiveness of puberty blockers cannot be overstated.”

The Tavistock’s Gender and Identity Development Service (Gids) is no longer accepting patients after being shut down by the NHS, with new regional hubs set to open next month, following a year of delays.

The announcement comes following the culmination of a public consultation on the policy, which was published on Tuesday confirming the decision.

The NHS said: “We have concluded that there is not enough evidence to support the safety or clinical effectiveness of puberty-suppressing hormones to make the treatment routinely available at this time.”

Liz Truss, the former prime minister, said the ban should be extended to private practices as well and called on MPs to back her amendment to the Health and Equality Acts Bill to make their prescription to children illegal.

“I welcome NHS England’s decision to end the routine prescription of puberty blockers to children for gender dysphoria,” she said. “I urge the Government to back my Bill on Friday which will reinforce this in law and also prevent these drugs being supplied privately.”

At least 100 children have been prescribed puberty blockers during the time that the NHS has taken to finalise its decision and policy.

Anyone currently taking puberty blockers will be able to continue using them without joining a clinical trial.

It is understood NHS England hopes to have a research study into the use of puberty blockers in place by December 2024, with eligibility criteria yet to be decided.

Maria Caulfield, the health minister, said: “We have always been clear that children’s safety and wellbeing is paramount, so we welcome this landmark decision by the NHS.

“Ending the routine prescription of puberty blockers will help ensure that care is based on evidence, expert clinical opinion and is in the best interests of the child.”

Kemi Badenoch, the minister for women and equalities, said the “decision is a victory for safeguarding children in NHS care”.

She added she was: “Very pleased to see the changes on ‘exceptional circumstances’ to prescribing puberty blockers.

“Evidence, not ideology, must always inform our approach to children’s health and wellbeing.”

An NHS spokesman said: “NHS England has carefully considered the evidence review conducted by NICE and further published evidence available to date.

“We have concluded that there is not enough evidence to support the safety or clinical effectiveness of puberty-suppressing hormones to make the treatment routinely available at this time.”

‘Holistic approach to care’

In 2021-22, there were more than 5,000 referrals to the Tavistock’s Gids compared with just under 250 a decade earlier.

Following Tavistock’s closure, two new NHS services will open in early April, situated in London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital in Liverpool.

Centres in other regions will be set up at a later date.

The NHS has said children attending these clinics will be supported by clinical experts in neurodiversity, paediatrics and mental health, “resulting in a holistic approach to care”.

Around 250 patients are expected to be transferred to the new clinics from Gids when they open.

Some 5,000 more children and young people are on the waiting list for referral to the new clinics.

The consultation on the future of services received more than 4,000 responses, including around a quarter from members of the public, 22 per cent from patients, 21 per cent from parents, 10 per cent from trans adults and 5 per cent from clinicians.

John Stewart, national director of specialised commissioning at NHS England, told the PA news agency: “Given that the debate is often very polarised, so too were the responses to the consultation.

“Many people said the policy didn’t go far enough in terms of still allowing potential access (to puberty blockers) through research, and others saying clearly they disagreed fundamentally and that these should be routinely available to everyone who believes they need it.”

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Sturgeon making children wear masks was political, Sir Patrick Vallance wrote in Covid diary

Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to force Scotland’s secondary school children to wear face masks was “totally political” and “not based on medical advice”, Sir Patrick Vallance wrote in his Covid diary.

Sir Patrick, who was the UK Government’s chief scientific adviser during the pandemic, noted in August 2020 that “Scotland breaks ranks on face coverings and schools”. 

In extracts published by the UK Covid Inquiry, he said this was despite the four chief medical officers (CMOs) from the home nations issuing a statement the previous day on the risks to children that made no mention of the need for masks.

The statement concluded: “Very few, if any, children or teenagers will come to long-term harm from Covid-19 due solely to attending school. This has to be set against a certainty of long-term harm to many children and young people from not attending school.”

Sir Patrick wrote three days later about Matt Hancock, who was then UK health secretary:

Despite this, Boris Johnson performed an about-turn and announced that face coverings would be mandatory in secondary school communal areas and corridors in areas of England under high levels of Covid restrictions.

The Telegraph’s Lockdown Files disclosed last year that Sir Chris Whitty, England’s CMO, said there were “no very strong reasons” for introducing the change but it was “not worth an argument” with Ms Sturgeon.

Sir Patrick’s diary extracts also addressed Ms Sturgeon’s controversial Covid “elimination” strategy, claiming it had been abandoned by Sept 2020 despite public claims to the contrary.

He noted SNP ministers were “trying to manage numbers like we are!” and “any talk of elimination is long gone”. 

Prof Devi Sridhar, a public health adviser to Ms Sturgeon, was the most high-profile supporter of a “zero Covid” strategy.

But Sir Patrick wrote: “Devi Sridhar and Scotland seem to have forgotten their ‘elimination strategy that England should follow’ as students are locked in Glasgow University and cases soar.”

The final entry, dated Dec 26 2021, noted that the three devolved administrations “get same science + make different political policy choices”.

Sturgeon’s evidence

The extracts were published after Ms Sturgeon’s marathon evidence session before the inquiry in January, during which she was accused of letting her “burning desire” for independence drive her response to the pandemic.

The inquiry also heard accusations that Ms Sturgeon had pursued a doomed “zero Covid” strategy that ignored expert advice as she wanted to be “the person that drove Covid out of Scotland”.

Ms Sturgeon denied the allegations, saying she had listened to a wide range of advisers and was “motivated solely by trying to do the best we could to keep people as safe as possible”.

But the inquiry was shown Cabinet minutes dated June 30, 2020, in which ministers “agreed that consideration be given to restarting work on independence and a referendum”, taking into account “the experience of the coronavirus crisis”.

On Aug 23 that year a “consensus statement” was issued by the four chief medical officers on “the current evidence of risks and benefits to health from schools and childcare settings reopening”.

“We are confident in the extensive evidence that there is an exceptionally small risk of children of primary or secondary school age dying from Covid-19,” it said.

No medical advice

Although it said the virus was transmitted in schools, it said it was “probably not a common route” and argued that “control measures” such as hand washing and reducing face-to-face contact would minimise any risk. No mention was made of masks.

But the following day, Aug 24, Ms Sturgeon told her daily media briefing that her government was in the “final stages” of consulting teachers and councils on recommending staff and pupils in secondary schools wear masks in corridors and communal areas.

The then first minister cited new World Health Organisation guidance recommending face coverings for over-12s in areas where “physical distancing is not possible”.

In his diary entry that day, Sir Patrick wrote: “Scotland breaks ranks over face coverings despite CMO (Whitty) having worked hard to get all CMOs aligned to a very good statement released the day before.”

Three days later, on Aug 27, he said Mr Hancock was “praising himself for mask decision”, in an apparent reference to face coverings not being made mandatory in all English schools.

In another extract, on July 28 that year, Sir Patrick wrote that Scotland was changing its lockdown rules ahead of the UK.

He noted that Boris Johnson ranted that in Scotland “all they have done is tell everyone to stay at home at the English taxpayers expense” before “[Michael] Gove calmed him down”.

After a meeting of Cobra on Sept 25 2020, he said Scotland was “clearly going their own way despite professing wanting to do things together – any talk of elimination is long gone”.

‘Friction at the border’

Later that year, on Nov 22, he noted that Ms Sturgeon had agreed to a Christmas plan “in principle”, which he said meant she “will change”. Five days before Christmas 2020, he noted there were concerns in Cobra about “friction at the border”.

In Feb 2021, he wrote: “Note that most cases were in Scotland which has been bragging about tougher border measures zero Covid etc”.

Writing in Sept 2021, he said the Prime Minister “looks at the Scottish numbers + trajectory + gets concerned”.

The following month, he noted that New Zealand had formally ended its elimination policy, adding: “Scotland gave up their attempt months ago.”

A University of Edinburgh spokesman said Prof Sridhar would not be commenting on the notebooks.

“Professor Sridhar has nothing further to add beyond the comments she made at the Covid inquiry in January.”

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “As Nicola made clear when she gave evidence to the inquiry, every decision she made throughout the pandemic sought to protect people across Scotland as best as possible during an incredible difficult and uncertain time.”

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Drink-driver crashes into car causing it to flip over and explode

A drunk driver crashed into a car causing it to flip over, explode and skid along a motorway on its roof.

Dashcam footage captured the moment Nilen Chauhan’s VW Polo collided with a Mitsubishi L200 on the A14 in Cambridgeshire, sending sparks flying.

The crash was also captured by a camera in the cab of an HGV driver, who swore and exclaimed “Jesus Christ! Oh my God!”.

The driver of the Mitsubishi, whose head was covered in blood, escaped and walked away from the collision at about 6.35am on September 14 last year.

Chauhan admitted being behind the wheel while over the limit and dangerous driving at a hearing at Cambridge Crown Court.

The 27-year-old of Ilford, east London, was sentenced to a 16-month prison sentence, suspended for two years.

He was also given a three-year driving ban and ordered to carry out 150 hours of unpaid work.

After the ban, Chauhan must also take an extended driving test.

Witnesses said they had seen Chauhan weaving between lanes and cutting other vehicles up at speeds of “well over 100mph” for about 10 miles before the crash, Cambridgeshire Police said.

The force said several empty beer bottles and a bottle of whisky were found inside his car.

He was breathalysed at the roadside and recorded 104 micrograms of alcohol per 100 millilitres of breath – three times the legal limit of 35 microgrammes.

Pc Ben Patten said: “This was not a momentary lapse in concentration or an honest mistake, it was a prolonged period of driving at excessive speed, tailgating and undertaking vehicles, all while well over the drink-drive limit.

“The victim who was hit by Chauhan suffered many physical and mental injuries and it is miraculous neither he or another innocent member of the public going about their daily business was not more seriously injured or worse.”

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