INDEPENDENT 2024-03-15 10:03:54


Drivers facing M25 chaos told to go ‘decorate bathroom or something’

“Avoid travelling completely or find something to do at home: decorate the bathroom or something” – so says Jonathan Wade, senior project manager for National Highways, ahead of the first weekend closure of the M25.

The unprecedented shutdown of the jam-prone circuit is being talked about locally as “carmaggedon”, with 100 vehicles per minute potentially jostling for space with weekend shoppers.

London’s orbital motorway will shut in both directions between junctions 10 and 11 in Surrey from 9pm on Friday 15 March to 6am on Monday 18 March while improvement work is carried out “to make journeys safer and improve traffic flow”.

Junction 10 is the key intersection on the southwest quadrant of the motorway, where the M25 meets the A3 to Guildford and Portsmouth.

Normally up to 6,000 vehicles per hour – or 100 cars, coaches and trucks per minute – would use the five-mile stretch of the M25 at weekends.

National Highways has prescribed a diversionary route that more than doubles the five-mile distance between the two junctions and meanders through suburban shopping areas such as West Byfleet.

Speaking exclusively to The Independent’s daily travel podcast, Mr Wade said the M25-A3 junction, designed in the 1980s, “simply cannot handle the volume of traffic that it’s currently being asked to to handle”.

He said: “There’s unfortunately a very high collision rate.”

To reduce congestion and the number of accidents, National Highways is increasing the number of lanes. To enable this to happen, a bridge must be demolished.

Mr Wade said an overnight closure would not permit enough time to remove the bridge.

“Neither can we just partially demolish it and come back the following night, because we can’t leave it in an unsafe condition with the risk of bits falling off it onto the traffic during the day.

“So this is one occasion, I’m afraid, where we really don’t have any choice.

“It’s not going to be a particularly pretty picture over the coming weekend: there aren’t any immediately obvious diversionary routes.

“Please, if you can either avoid travelling completely, find something to do at home – decorate the bathroom or something or play in the garden.

“If you must go: travel by train, walk, use a bicycle. I don’t mind really, what you do.

“Avoid driving anywhere around those diversionary routes around Painshill, Byfleet, West Byfleet on on the eastern side of Woking. It will be in your interests.”

National Highways is urging motorists to ignore sat-navs if the devices recommend alternative routes. The fear is that an entire area of north Surrey could become gridlocked.

Mr Wade vowed that the planned reopening at 6am on Monday would happen.

“If in the very early stages, we see things for any reason not going to plan, we have the ability to pull the later stages

“It’s going to be bad enough closing the M25 for a Saturday and Sunday. The the idea that it should still be closed even at 6am on a Monday morning really is, is doesn’t bear thinking about.

“So we have that ability to to stop later stages of the work.”

“I’m as confident as I can be that the M25 will be open no later than 6am.”

The Royal Horticultural Society’s flagship garden, Wisley, is very close to Junction 10. The society is telling prospective visitors: “RHS Garden Wisley will try to remain open as normal throughout and we look forward to welcoming you.”

Coach operators are warning passengers of delays and curtailed routes.

National Express, which connects the UK’s two busiest airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, will continue to run services, though a spokesperson said: “Delays are expected and customers are advised to allow plenty of time for their journey.”

Travellers can travel between the two airports by rail, with a single change of train at Farringdon in central London. The journey time is about 90 minutes.

The coming shutdown will be the first of five weekend closures of the M25 this year. National Highways will assess the effects of this weekend’s project before announcing future dates.

Listen to Simon Calder’s podcast on the M25 closure

British woman murdered in France ‘dream home’ after asking for tape

The mentally ill neighbour of a British woman who was living her “dream life” in a quaint French hamlet was sentenced to life in prison for strangling and beating her to death.

Susan Higginbotham, 67, was found dead in September 2021 in her home in Esclottes, a village of just about 150 people, 35 miles east of Bordeaux.

She was attacked by her neighbour Hicham Bahloul, 42, who had returned after spending almost half of his life in psychiatric hospital care, reported Connexion France.

He suffered from several psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, the court heard.

On Wednesday, Bahloul was sentenced to 30 years in prison after he confessed to killing Higginbotham and asked his lawyers to request for a maximum sentence.

The British pensioner moved to France in 2016 and was described as “happy” and “funny”, and “a good friend” who was “living her dream life” in the country, the court heard.

She lived in Mansfield in Nottinghamshire and worked as a finance director in a company before moving to France.

Bahloul told the Lot-et-Garonne Assize court that he attacked the woman after he was annoyed with her for repeatedly asking to borrow Sellotape, the report said.

He later said he murdered her because he wanted to get away from his family and spend his time in jail.

The investigators revealed graphic details of the woman’s murder during which she was strangled with a “piece of cord” and punched and kicked more than a dozen times.

“I have a client who feels safe in prison and wants to stay there. He struggles with freedom,” his lawyer said, adding that it is the first time in his 27 years of career he has seen such a case.

Bahloul told the court that “If you let me out, I’ll do it again”.

“The need to attack others has been part of his life for years. He attacked many people during his various hospitalisations, patients and nursing staff. He took pleasure in it,” his lawyer said.

One of Higginbotham’s friends from England who was present during the hearing told Ouest France: “She often asked me: ‘Am I making the right decision?’, and I replied: ‘Absolutely’.”

The woman’s brother who lived in England remained in the country due to poor health.

William swerves Harry at Diana tribute – as Dutch king mocks Kate over photoshop furore

William swerved his brother Harry at a memorial event for their late mother last night, fuelling speculation of a rift between the two princes.

The Duke of Cambridge attended the event at the Science Museum in London on Thursday night in person, where he gave a speech to mark the Diana Legacy Award’s 25th anniversary.

He said his mother taught him that “everyone has the potential to give something back”.

Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex, addressed those in the audience via video link after William had left.

He spoke for about half an hour after the ceremony concluded and said: “Thank you very much for inspiring so many others and at the same time protecting my mother’s legacy, I really appreciate that.”

Elsewhere, the Dutch king poked fun at the Princess of Wales’s photo-editing row.

King Willem-Alexander was greeting members of the public in Zutphen when a little girl made a reference to a photograph of his whole family. “Really? At least I didn’t Photoshop it,” he said.

Earlier this week several major picture agencies pulled the first official photograph of Kate after her surgery amid concerns that it could have been manipulated.

The princess later apologised, saying: “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing.”

Rishi Sunak finally gives his verdict on an early May election

Rishi Sunak has ruled out holding a general election on May 2, when voters are set to go to the polls for the local elections.

The prime minister has remained vague about the date of the next national poll, saying only that his “working assumption” is that it will take place in the second half of the year.

But in an interview with ITV News West Country, Mr Sunak definitively ruled out a general election on May 2.

He said: “In several weeks’ time we’ve got elections for police and crime commissioners, for local councils, for mayors across the country – they’re important elections.”

Asked whether there would be a general election on the same day, he said: “There won’t be an election on that day.” He did not rule out an early election in the spring or summer more broadly.

The statement comes off the back of mounting speculation in Westminster that the prime minister was preparing to call a general election to coincide with local elections in order to stave off rebel plans to overthrow him and reap an advantage from the spring budget.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt cut a further 2p off national insurance during the spring statement in a last-ditch bid to woo voters.

Labour has been particularly keen to talk up the prospect of a general election in May, with shadow cabinet office minister Jonathan Ashworth betting Sky News presenter Kay Burley £10 that the election would take place then.

Mr Sunak has indicated the election will take place later this year, but has previously said that 2024 will be an election year.

Speaking to ITV, he said: “I said at the start of this year, my working assumption was we’d have an election in the second half of this year.

“And nothing has changed since I said that.”

Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden said the British people had “the right” to expect a general election on May 2.

He said: “Until the day to call it has passed, we are prepared for the election to take place on the usual day in the election cycle.

“Rishi Sunak should stop squatting in Downing Street and give the country what it desperately needs – a chance for change with a Labour government. The prime minister needs to finally come clean with the public and name the date of the election now.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said the comments showed the PM was “running scared” of a May election.

He said: “He knows that voters will not put up with this Conservative government’s failure on the NHS and the cost of living crisis any longer.

“That is why lifelong Conservative voters have switched to the Liberal Democrats in their droves and will vote for a hardworking local champion, rather than another Conservative MP who will take them for granted once again.”

Mr Sunak’s comments came as former cabinet minister Sir Brandon Lewis became the latest Conservative MP to say he will leave parliament at the next election.

The Great Yarmouth MP’s decision to stand down means there are 61 Tories who have said they will not fight their current seat at the next election, although a small number are thought to be looking for different constituencies.

A total of 97 MPs have now said they will not fight their current seats, more than at any election since 2010 when 149 MPs stood down from the Commons.

Man critical after he was shot with his own gun during fight on New York subway

A man has been left critically injured after he was shot multiple times with his own firearm on a moving subway train in New York City after he allegedly got into a fight with another passenger.

During the busy evening rush hour, the train was arriving at Hoyt Schermerhorn station in downtown Brooklyn on Thursday around 4.45 when officers nearby heard shots being fired.

The New York Police Department say a 32-year-old man is with detectives, while a 36-year-old man has been taken to a local hospital, where he is in critical condition and undergoing surgery. Police have not released the identities of either man and the relationship between the two is currently unknown.

However, the police added that the 36-year-old victim was also acting “aggressive” in this altercation, as he was the one who displayed both a firearm and a razor blade or knife while on the moving train.

Michael Kemper, the New York Police Department’s chief of transit, said at a news conference after the incident that the 32-year-old man got onto a northbound A train on the subway in the afternoon; the 36-year-old man was already on the train.

The 36-year-old allegedly approached the other man, with witnesses describing him as “aggressive and provocative,” Mr Kemper said.

Words were initially exchanged, but their argument escalated into a physical altercation multiple times.

At one point, the 36-year-old displayed a knife or a razor blade toward the 32-year-old man, but he put it down while words were still being exchanged, and the fight again got physical.

The 36-year-old man then got out a firearm from his jacket, and walked towards the other man “in a menacing way,” all the while yelling at him.

“During this physical confrontation, that gun, we believe, was removed from the 36-year-old by the 32-year-old, and the 32-year-old fired multiple shots, striking the 36-year-old,” Mr Kemper said.

As all of this was unfolding, the moving train pulled into the station, where multiple officers happened to be feet away.

The officers were on scene within seconds, giving medical assistance, calling an ambulance and rounding up witnesses.

The 36-year-old man who was shot has been taken to a local hospital in critical condition.

Some witnesses who were in the carriage as the terrifying fight was transpiring managed to capture video footage of the incident.

One video captures a woman screaming, “Let me out!” in a packed train carriage, before the sound of shots being fired rattled through the station as the train doors open.

Passengers can be seen sprinting off the train, some of whom are screaming, and into the station as the shots ring out.

A journalist from ABC News was also at the scene during the frightening situation. She posted on her X account footage of passengers all huddled together, crouched on the floor as the train remained stationary on the platform.

Officers can be seen patrolling up and down the platform, as the passengers who appear to be visibly terrified, duck down and look to the ground.

Other footage has captured the two men in a physical scuffle on the train.

Janno Leiber, the chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said at the news conference that is is “absolutely outrageous” that someone would bring a gun onto the subway and start a fight.

“The victim here, the police said, appears to be the aggressor. But the real victims are the people I saw in those videos who were having a harrowing time because they’re on a train with somebody with a gun,” Mr Lieber said.

The MTA chairman also has called to “get rid of guns,” adding that the subway is no place for firearms.

This incident comes just over a week since New York Governor Kathy Hochul sent the National Guard to subways to help police conduct random bag searches of passengers in an attempt to crack down on crime.

Ms Hochul said she would deploy 750 National Guard members within the transport network to assist the police, hoping that it would create deterrence of crime on the subway.

Charges are yet to be determined and the investigation is ongoing.

Island-hopping in the Ionian sea: a guide to Greece’s idyllic islands

Mamma Mia! It’s time to start thinking about a summer holiday, and there’s nowhere more picturesque and dreamy than a Greek island. With an estimated 1,600 isles, although not all are inhabited, there’s plenty to choose from that guarantee sparkling seas, golden sands, rugged nature, delicious food, and a warm welcome.

To help you find your ideal Greek island holiday this summer, travel experts Jet2holidays offer great-value breaks in more than 50 amazing destinations, including 21 in Greece. Hotspots and hidden gems, all boards and budgets, flexible stays and fab flight times – there’s something for everyone. With just a £60pp deposit*, 22kg baggage included and flexible monthly payments** to help spread the cost of your well-deserved holiday, it’s never been easier to get your next Greek getaway booked. 

What’s more, with the Jet2holidays sale now on, you can enjoy even better value on your break with up to £240 off† all holidays. Simply sign up for a myJet2 account, visit your independent travel agent or call the Jet2holidays contact centre. Book now and let the countdown to sunshine begin.

Here’s our pick of some of the best islands Greece has to offer…

Stunning beaches are a given in Greece, and in Corfu, the most beautiful include Agios Georgios, a long, horseshoe-shaped bay with a mix of sand and pebbles fringing calm, clear waters. Down the northwest coast is the pretty village of Palaiokastritsa which boasts six sheltered bays and offers boat trips to the fascinating Blue Caves. For a beach as romantic as its name, head to the Canal d’Amour, where a series of unique rock formations create intimate, narrow channels; legend has it that couples who swim between the sea walls together, stay together!

Explore the cobbled streets of Corfu Old Town, and take in pastel-coloured Venetian architecture while looking out for the new and old Fortresses which loom over the harbour. Base yourself at the swish Olivar Suites on the southeastern coast, a restful haven set in olive groves, away from the bustle.

Lefkas, also known as Lefkada, is an island connected to the Greek mainland by a causeway. Head to the beach at Porto Katsiki, located below a set of huge, looming cliffs which create a unique and dramatic landscape. Another gem is nearby Egremni, a classic, Caribbean-style stretch of white sand, fringing crystal-clear turquoise water, while if you fancy windsurfing, head to Vasiliki. On the east coast, check into the four-star, beachfront Porto Galini Sea Side Resort and Spa; handily, it’s just 15 minutes’ drive from Lefkada Town.

Also formerly under Venetian rule, landmarks including Church of the Pantokrator and the ruins of Agia Mavra Castle are worth a look. Escape to a pretty coastal village, such as Agios Nikitas or Nikiana, where you can take a table at a seafront taverna, and tuck into local speciality Englouvi lentils served with riganada (bread with olive oil, vinegar, and oregano). For a foray into nature, head to the spectacular waterfalls of Dimossari, near Nydri village.

Also known as Zakynthos, Zante is a popular island in the Ionian Sea, with a plethora of alluring beaches. The most famous is Navagio, which is surrounded by dramatic, honey-coloured cliffs and often called ‘Shipwreck Beach’ after the cargo boat which ran aground there in 1980, another must-visit is Agios Nikolaos, a serene pebbly stretch on Zante’s northern shore.

Stay at the luxury Domes Aulus Zante Autograph Collection, a laidback beachfront paradise on the south coast, near the quiet resort town of Kalamaki, where you can spot endangered loggerhead turtles. Zante has its own Blue Caves, a set of geological formations turned azure by the reflections of the sea, while its capital, Zakynthos Town, offers architecture influenced by its former Venetian, French and English rulers. Don’t miss the imposing Church of Agios Dionysios with its signature bell tower, and the ruins of the old Venetian Castle.

Sprinkled with Hollywood stardust, scenic Kefalonia was the location for the Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz movie, Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. Key scenes were shot in the harbour town of Sami, the stunning Antisamos beach and in the picturesque fishing village of Fiscardo. Kefalonia’s jagged coastline is made up of limestone cliffs, bays and strips of dazzling white sand, like Myrtos Beach in the north. Other standout beaches include Skala, bordered by thick trees and rocky outcrops, and the unusually named Xi beach, where white cliffs contrast with rare, rust-coloured sand.

Stay at the luxurious, contemporary, adults-only Thalassa Boutique Hotel Kefalonia on the southwest coast, a short drive from capital, Argostoli, where you can explore the Archaeological Museum, Municipal Theatre and historic castles and monasteries. For something more adventurous, explore the vast azure lake inside Melissani cave or hike Mount Ainos, the island’s highest peak, covered in pine forests and home to wild horses. Visit a winery such as Robola or Haritatos for a tasting.

Jet2holidays, the UK’s number one tour operator, offers package holidays you can trust where everything’s included. With you every step of the way, Jet2holidays has an incredible range of great-value, expert-rated getaways for all types of holidaymakers, across more than 50 stunning destinations. From the five-star luxury of Indulgent Escapes by Jet2holidays® to the compelling cities of Jet2CityBreaksVIBE by Jet2holidays for Insta-worthy stays that suit your style to family-friendly Jet2Villas, the boxes are ticked for every age, budget and interest. What’s more, with holidays secured for just £60pp deposit* and flexible payment options**, plus a host of perks like 22kg baggage and return transfers included††, it’s easy from start to finish. It’s all ABTA and ATOL-protected too, so you can enjoy sunshine with peace of mind. To find out more and book with the best, head here.

*On bookings made ten weeks or more before departure. **Terms and conditions apply. Please visit www.jet2holidays.com/part-payment for details. †Based on 4 people. On all holiday departures until 31 October 2025. . T&Cs apply. £60pp discount does not apply to Free Child Places. See http://Jet2holidays.com/promotions#60OFFMYJET2SALE ††Transfers are not included as standard on Jet2CityBreaks. Jet2Villas packages include car hire instead of transfers.

The initiative to tackle ‘extremism’ is little more than a distraction

Extremism” is something that (almost) everyone is against, it is impossible to define – and difficult to neutralise. Michael Gove, secretary of state for communities, has made a much-trailed attempt to solve the conundrum of extremism and, in large part, he has failed. To be fair, it is not entirely Mr Gove’s fault because all he has been trying to do is turn the curiously aimless speech Rishi Sunak made on the steps of 10 Downing Street after the Rochdale by-election into concrete policy.

The Rochdale contest was a fiasco, a veritable festival of extremism and the election of George Galloway a minor disaster, but there’s nothing in what Mr Gove proposes that would stop anything like that from happening again. Indeed, it is quite possible that the government’s new approach will do more harm than good: needlessly stigmatising Muslim groups, feeding the victim syndrome and paranoiac appeal of the far right, and generally dragging the kind of identitarian politics that ministers usually deprecate into the centre of political debate.

Mr Gove has issued a list of five groups that could be deemed unsuitable to receive public funds or for the government to “engage” with. He also said they would be investigated over extremism fears.

Abbott looks set to regain the Labour whip but others are out of luck

Hateful abuse from a major Tory donor, Frank Hester, directed at Diane Abbott has provided a timely reminder that she has been on the receiving end of racism and misogyny since she became Britain’s first female black MP, in 1987.

She is also now one of the longer-serving MPs of any party but, despite the recent wave of sympathy, her future parliamentary career remains in extreme jeopardy. She had the Labour whip removed last year after she wrote a letter to a newspaper that her party leadership considered carried antisemitic sentiments, was out under investigation, but there is no sign of a conclusion to that process or any indication if she will be allowed back into the parliamentary Labour party. Indeed, it seems that mystery often surrounds such disciplinary matters in the people’s party, despite it being led by a distinguished lawyer. Some interesting questions arise…