INDEPENDENT 2024-03-19 01:04:19


Barack Obama visits Downing Street for surprise meeting

Barack Obama has visited Downing Street for a surprise meeting at No 10 with Rishi Sunak.

The former US president – who served in the White House between 2009 and 2017 – waved at reporters outside before he entered the prime minister’s residence for a previously undisclosed private meeting at 3pm.

A Downing Street spokesperson insisted the visit was an “informal courtesy drop in” as part of the former president’s visit to London.

They added: “President Obama’s team made contact and obviously the prime minister was very happy to to meet with him and discuss the work of the Obama Foundation.”

Mr Obama left No 10 after around an hour following a meeting with Mr Sunak.

The former US president said “I’m tempted” when asked questions by the media as he re-emerged and got into a Range Rover car with Jane D Hartley, the US ambassador to the UK, just after 4pm.

The Barack Obama Foundation is a nonprofit organisation focused on social mobility that was founded by the former president back in 2014.

The last time Mr Obama visited Downing Street was eight years ago in 2016.

The former president met with then prime minister David Cameron at Number 10 for talks ahead of the Brexit vote.

He warned the UK would be at the “back of the queue” for US trade deals if it left the European Union.

The two leaders also held a joint news conference at the Foreign Office. Mr Obama said the US “wants Britain’s influence to grow – including within Europe”.

The talks come as Mr Sunak said he has “confidence for the future: as he battles to shore up his position as prime minister following rumours that his party is looking to replace him ahead of a general election.

Mr Sunak’s failure to turn around the Tories’ opinion poll deficit has fuelled speculation about Conservative MPs considering replacing him with Commons Leader Penny Mordaunt in an attempt to avoid a general election disaster.

Business secretary Kemi Badenoch told plotters seeking to oust the prime minister to “stop messing around” and end the “Westminster psychodrama”.

Ms Badenoch suggested “one or two MPs” are behind the Westminster rumours and they should not be allowed to “dominate the news narrative”.

She told BBC Breakfast: “I’m sure if Penny was here, she would be distancing herself from those comments.”

Ms Mordaunt has not publicly commented on reports about a bid to elevate her to the Tory leadership, but a source close to her rejected them as “nonsense”.

Nottingham Forest hit with points deduction and move into relegation zone

Nottingham Forest have been handed a four-point deduction after breaching the Premier League’s profitability and sustainability rules (PSR).

The club were referred to an independent commission in January after reporting losses exceeding the permitted amount in the three seasons up to and including the 2022-23 campaign.

The deduction drops Nuno Espirito Santo’s side down into the relegation zone of England’s top flight, with Luton climbing a place to 17th.

A Forest statement read: “Nottingham Forest is extremely disappointed with the decision of the commission to impose a sanction on the club of four points, to be applied with immediate effect. We were extremely dismayed by the tone and content of the Premier League’s submissions before the commission.

“After months of engagement with the Premier League, and exceptional cooperation throughout, this was unexpected and has harmed the trust and confidence we had in the Premier League. That the Premier League sought a sanction of eight points as a starting point was utterly disproportionate when compared to the nine points that their own rules prescribe for insolvency.

“We were also surprised that the Premier League gave no consideration at all to the unique circumstances of the club and its mitigation. In circumstances where this approach is followed by future PSR commissions, it would make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for newly promoted clubs without parachute payments to compete, thus undermining the integrity and competitiveness of the Premier League.

“Even after the club had missed the PSR reporting deadline, it still took steps to ensure Brennan Johnson was sold before the end of the transfer window. That was a clear demonstration of our respect and support for PSR.”

The sanction follows a similar penalty against Everton earlier in the season, with an initial 10-point deduction reduced to six on appeal.

If Forest appeal, their case must be heard and concluded by 15 April.

All Premier League clubs are monitored for their adherence to PSR, with each side allowed to lose a maximum of £105m over three seasons after certain deductible costs are taken into account.

The City Ground club fall some way below this but are subject to different limits, having spent two of the three seasons in question in the Championship before their promotion back into the top flight.

Forest, who are owned by Greek media mogul Evangelos Marinakis, subsequently spent significantly in an effort to sustain their Premier League status, successfully staying up last season.

The Premier League has attempted to speed up sanctions for breaches of PSR to allow sanctions like points deductions to be levied in the same season as the charge is brought.

Everton could yet face another sanction after being charged alongside their East Midlands rivals in January, while Manchester City were hit with 115 charges in February 2023 in a case that is likely to take much longer to conclude.

This is the first time that two Premier League clubs have been docked points in the same season.

Forest conceded a late equaliser against relegation rivals Luton at Kenilworth Road on Saturday.

“Let’s wait and see with the decision,” Nuno said after the 1-1 draw. “Whatever happens, we keep on going and fighting. Nine games to go, we have nine finals.”

Humans have been speaking for a lot longer than we originally thought

New research has pinpointed the likely time in prehistory when humans first began to speak.

Analysis by British archaeologist Steven Mithen suggests that early humans first developed rudimentary language around 1.6 million years ago – somewhere in eastern or southern Africa.

“Humanity’s development of the ability to speak was without doubt the key which made much of subsequent human physical and cultural evolution possible. That’s why dating the emergence of the earliest forms of language is so important,” said Dr Mithen, professor of early prehistory at the University of Reading.

Until recently, most human evolution experts thought that humans only started speaking around 200,000 years ago. Professor Mithen’s new research, published this month, suggests that rudimentary human language is at least eight times older. His analysis is based on a detailed study of all the available archaeological, paleo-anatomical, genetic, neurological and linguistic evidence.

When combined, all the evidence suggests that the birth of language occurred as part of a suite of human evolution and other developments between two and 1.5 million years ago.

Significantly, human brain size increased particularly rapidly from 2 million BC, especially after 1.5 million BC. Associated with that brain size increase was a reorganisation of the internal structure of the brain – including the first appearance of the area of the frontal lobe, specifically associated with language production and language comprehension. Known to scientists as Broca’s area, it seems to have evolved out of earlier structures responsible for early humanity’s ability to communicate with hand and arm gestures.

New scientific research suggests that the appearance of Broca’s area was also linked to improvements in working memory – a factor crucial to sentence formation. But other evolutionary developments were also crucial for the birth of rudimentary language. The emergence, around 1.8 million years ago, of a more advanced form of bipedalism, together with changes in the shape of the human skull, almost certainly began the process of changing the shape and positioning of the vocal tract, thus making speech possible.

Other key evidence pointing to around 1.6 million BC as the approximate date humans started speaking, comes from the archaeological record. Compared to many other animals, humans were not particularly strong. To survive and prosper, they needed to compensate for that relative physical weakness.

In evolutionary terms, language was almost certainly part of that physical strength compensation strategy. In order to hunt large animals (or, when scavenging, to repel physically strong animal rivals), early humans needed greater group planning and coordination abilities – the development of language would have been crucial in facilitating that. Significantly, date-wise, human hunting began around two million years ago – but seems to have substantially accelerated by around 1.5 million years ago. Around 1.6 million BC also saw the birth and inter-generational cultural transmission of much more sophisticated stone tool technology. That long-term transfer of complex knowledge and skills from generation to generation also strongly implies the existence of speech.

What’s more, linguistic communication was probably crucial in allowing humans to survive in different ecological and climatic zones – it’s probably no coincidence that humans were able to massively accelerate their colonisation of the world around 1.4 million years ago, ie, shortly after the likely date of the birth of language. Language enabled humans to do three key forward-looking things – to conceive of and plan future actions and to pass on knowledge.

“That’s how language changed the human story so profoundly,” said Professor Mithen. His new research, outlined in a new book, The Language Puzzle, published this month, suggests that before around 1.6 million years ago, humans had had a much more limited communication ability – probably just a few dozen different noises and arm gestures which could only be deployed in specific contexts and could not, therefore, be used for forward-planning. For planning, basic grammar and individual words were needed.

Professor Mithen’s research also suggests that there appears to be some continuity between very early human languages and modern ones. He believes that, remarkably, some aspects of that first linguistic development 1.6 million years ago still survive in modern languages today. He is proposing that words, which – through their sounds or length – describe the objects they stand for, were almost certainly among the first words uttered by early humans.

Indeed, future research may be able to tentatively recreate the likely organisation and structure of those first languages. Although the birth of language seems to have occurred around 1.6 million years ago, that birth represented the beginning of linguistic development, not its culmination.

For hundreds of thousands of years, language only very gradually became more complex, ultimately gaining in sophistication after the emergence of anatomically modern humans 150,000 years ago.

Indefinitely held prisoner says ‘I’m not that person now’

A prisoner trapped under an abolished indefinite jail term has told a parole board “I’m not that person” anymore as he pleads for release in a landmark public hearing.

Nicholas Bidar is the first IPP prisoner to have his parole bid held in public after new laws came into force to increase transparency around parole decisions.

Controversial imprisonment for public protection (IPP) sentences were scrapped in 2012 amid human rights concerns, but not retrospectively, leaving thousands languishing in jail for years beyond their minimum tariff.

The 36-year-old was handed an indefinite jail term with an eight-year minimum tariff for a string of robberies and using a gun to resist arrest aged 20 in 2008.

But more than 15 years later he is still being held in a maximum-security Category A prison with no release date.

Ahead of the landmark hearing, Mr Bidar told The Independent how the reality of his uncertain sentence has impacted him, adding: “Every day feels like torture. I struggle daily to get through the day.”

At the hearing held at prison on Monday, Mr Bidar, who was also convicted of further assaults committed in prison and a period in which he escaped custody, he said he does not recognise the version of himself that committed those crimes.

He told the panel of three Parole Board members at HMP Long Lartin: “I look back at it now as if it wasn’t even me. It sounds mad yeah, it’s as if I’m in jail now for someone else’s crimes because I’m not that person.”

He told the board members: “I apologise for what I have done. I recognise everything I have done. I am not a nutter I am not going to go out and commit some crazy violent offence – it’s not in me.

“I just want to go home. I just want to go home. My mum is getting older. I will stick to all the rules. I am not going to commit any offence. You can put any tag on me. Keeping me here is just making me worser [sic]. It’s just making everyone worser.”

He insisted he would not go on to reoffend if he were released or moved to open conditions, adding that he has avoids violence on a daily basis at the high security prison.

“Every two weeks, every three weeks, someone is getting stabbed here…hot watered,” he said. “I am avoiding all those sorts of things. I am not getting involved in criminal activity.”

Despite previously escaping custody, he insisted he would never abscond again, adding: “This is my one chance and I am aware of it.”

He told the panel he hopes to find work as a personal trainer or a barber if released and he has the support of his mother and sister.

However, giving evidence to the panel, his prison offender manager refused to recommend Mr Bidar for release or move to open conditions, insisting inappropriate or negative behaviour has been a “pattern throughout his whole sentence”.

Although he has completed programs available to him in prison, she said he needs to “consolidate” the work that he’s already done at a Psychologically Informed Planned Environment (PIPE) unit.

“Mr Bidar can be a very clever gentleman when he’s in that frame of mind but he can also be very rude and quite petulant when he’s challenged,” she told the panel.

She raised concerns about comments made to female prison staff and added that he has a problem with authority.

Mr Bidar, who takes medication for ADHD, admitted he can be “inappropriate, cheeky or rude” and said there had been “blips” in his behaviour, but added: “I may tell someone of f*** off one day but I don’t think it deserves to keep me in here for another two years in high security jail treating me like some murderer or psychopath.”

Questioned about a previous incident in prison where he was sanctioned for being drunk and shouting abuse at his cell door, he said: “That doesn’t mean I should stay in here for another two years…every day is torture. I s*** and p*** in a bucket. It’s just hell man.

“I just want one chance – that’s all I want. If I mess it up it’s on me.”

A senior prison officer who gave evidence to the panel said Mr Bidar worked as cleaner and rehabilitation representative for the wing – a role in which he supports prisoners who are struggling.

“Basically it’s to allow him to work out with prisoners on the wing that are struggling behind their bars,” he told the hearing. “He gets them out, works out with them…just working out and talking to try and integrate them on the wing.”

A prison psychologist told the panel Mr Bidar was at moderate to high risk of further violent offending but said the risk was “not imminent” and declined to recommend his release or his move to open conditions.

However a second psychologist urged the panel to release Mr Bidar and said the “primary driver” of examples of poor behaviour in prison were his “hopelessness”.

“I do think that he’s deteriorating in Category A and I haven’t stated that in my report. But listening to him today… I am worried that he’s going to go backwards with the lack of progression,” the psychologist told the panel.

In the statement issued to The Independent through his lawyer from inside the Worcestershire jail earlier this month, Mr Bidar said he has completed his sentence plan and is ready for release – adding that a 2021 parole board previously recommended he should be moved to open conditions.

Despite the parole board decision, the move was blocked by the secretary of state for justice who refused to downgrade him from a Category A high-risk prisoner.

He argues this has left him a “political prisoner” until the justice secretary Alex Chalk agrees he should progress.

“I’m exhausted by the sentence. Life is passing me by. I did wrong. I’ve spent a long time doing courses and those who assess me have consistently said I’ve completed my sentence plan,” he previously told The Independent.

“I need a chance. A life licence is a heavy burden and one I take seriously. I would not return to prison. I want to spend time with my family.”

In a statement earlier this month, a Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “We have reduced the number of unreleased IPP prisoners by three-quarters since we scrapped the sentence in 2012.

“We have also taken decisive action to curtail licence periods and continue to help those still in custody to progress towards release by improving access to rehabilitation programmes and mental health support.”

A parole board decision is expected within 14 days.

Zac Goldsmith banned from driving after he was caught speeding 7 times

Former environment minister Zac Goldsmith has been banned from driving for a year after he was caught speeding seven times last year.

The Conservative peer, 48, was handed the ban for offences including exceeding speed limits in a hybrid electric Volkswagen Golf on roads in Paddington, Chelsea and Twickenham between April and August 2023.

He was also caught speeding on two motorways, most recently in December, Westminster magistrates’ court heard today.

On 27 April 2023, he was caught travelling along Chelsea Embankment at 29mph, despite the limit being 20mph, according to court papers.

Just over a month later, on 31 May, the Tory environmentalist drove at 46mph on the A316 in Twickenham, which has a 40mph limit. He was caught speeding on that same road on 3 August, while driving at 47mph.

A month before the August incident, on 18 July, Lord Goldsmith exceeded the 20mph limit on Bayswater Road, next to Kensington Gardens, while travelling at 28mph.

He was also caught driving at 62mph in a 50mph zone at the M25 intersection with the M3 in December, and at 73mph between junctions 20 and 19 of the M4 in September – breaking a 50mph temporary speed limit.

Benjamin Waidhofer, defending, said Lord Goldsmith had shown remorse for his offending and is “not someone who is manifestly defying the usual speed limits”.

Having pleaded guilty to all of the offences, the peer was fined £5,500, and ordered to pay a surcharge of £2,000 and costs of £700.

He is the latest big name to be prosecuted under the single justice procedure, which was introduced in 2015 to allow courts to sit in private and deal with cases based on paperwork alone.

Lord Goldsmith ran unsuccessfully against Labour candidate Sadiq Khan to be London Mayor in 2016.

He served as a minister in Boris Johnson’s government after being elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Goldsmith of Richmond Park.

But he later resigned from Rishi Sunak’s government in June 2023 over what he described as an “apathy” towards the environment.

Algarve golf break goals: All-round trips that will suit you to a tee

Stretching 125 miles along Portugal’s southern coastline, the Algarve is famous for its beautiful beaches, golden cliffs and warm climate. It’s also known for being one of the world’s finest golf destinations. With over 40 courses and resorts across the region, there’s no shortage of options, no matter your level or budget. Choose from courses overlooking the ocean, or those surrounded by lush greenery and rolling hills. Spectacular views are matched by first-class amenities, making the Algarve the perfect spot for an indulgent golfing getaway.

To make your break even better, if you book with Jet2holidays, you can find the perfect golf-friendly base in this beautiful region, ideal for resting and relaxing between rounds.

From hotels with golf courses on-site or close by, to a choice of three, five or seven-night stays with a number of golf rounds included in the price, plus travel to and from the course and the option to add 22kg golf carriage to your booking, Jet2holidays ensures your trip tees off perfectly. All holidaysinclude accommodation, return flights, transfers and 22kg baggage, all wrapped up in an ABTA and ATOL-protected package for a low £60pp deposit*. There are thousands of Free Child Places** available, and infants under two go free✝. Meaning it couldn’t be easier to book a great value getaway with the Which? Travel Brand of the Year 2023 and Tripadvisor’s Best UK Airline.’

To help you plan the perfect trip, we’ve plunged into the Algarve golf scene, from its incredible courses and key tournaments, to the best locations to play…

The Algarve’s standing as one of Europe’s top golfing destinations began in 1966, when British businessman John Stilwell created the region’s first traditional grass golf course near Portimão in the west of the region. The course was designed by British golfer, Sir Henry Cotton, who moved to the Algarve after retiring from the sport and recognised its potential as a golfing destination. Cotton went on to design more courses in the Algarve, as did other legendary players and golf architects, including Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Rocky Roquemore and Ronald Fream.

In the years since that first course opened, the Algarve has built a reputation as something of a golfer’s paradise. Portugal was named ’World’s Best Golf Destination’ at the 2023 World Golf Awards – and almost half of the country’s golf courses can be found in the Algarve. The area plays host to many important international tournaments, including the Portugal Masters, which is part of the PGA tour.

Why are the courses here so special? There’s the stunning scenery for a start. Play a round here and you’ll be surrounded by an abundance of natural beauty, from turquoise oceans and lagoons to dramatic clifftops and mountains. Then there’s the facilities: many of the region’s most famous courses are part of luxury resorts that also offer excellent food and drink options, spas and wellness centres.

Whether you want to be right by the ocean or further inland, prefer a hilly course or a flat one, are looking for 27, 18 or 9 holes, there is a huge variety on offer. The courses are often as challenging as they are beautiful, and you can expect to be making shots over ravines, lakes and beaches.

There are courses dotted the whole width of the Algarve, starting in the west, with many near the historic and beautiful town of Lagos, as well as the dramatic coastline of Sagres and the panoramas of the Serra de Monchique mountain range. In central Algarve, in the area between Vilamoura, Quinta do Lago and Vale do Lobo, you’ll find some of the most exclusive resorts in the region. The area is home to many of the most stunning courses in Europe, perched on clifftops or overlooking lakes, set amidst umbrella pines and golden cliffs. In Sotavento (the eastern Algarve), courses are more level, but still set amidst spectacular scenery, with some overlooking the Ria Formosa Natural Park and River Guadiana.

Wherever you choose to play, many golf courses in the Algarve have accommodation on-site, whether that’s a luxury five-star hotel or family-friendly self-catering options. Most are within easy reach of bustling towns and picturesque villages, so when you’re done teeing off, you’ll find a wealth of attractions to explore, including Michelin-starred restaurants, stylish bars, bustling markets and designer boutiques.

While the Algarve does attract plenty of pro golfers (Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy have been spotted on the region’s courses), it’s a great destination for all abilities, even complete beginners. Those wanting to learn the basics or improve their handicap can book into one of many golf academies and schools, which offer everything from a few hours one-on-one tuition to intensive week-long courses, many led by PGA pros. Specially designed golf fitness classes can help you improve skills like mobility, balance and rotation.

For those already feeling confident about their game, there are many amateur competitions and championships to sign up for throughout the year. Meanwhile families can have fun in golf parks with themed mini adventure courses.

And if you need a break from all the chipping and putting, there are plenty of other activities for you to try your hand at, from surfing or sailing to tennis, kayaking and horse-riding. Or just take some time out to relax and explore this beautiful part of the world.

To make it even easier for you to enjoy the ultimate break in the Algarve, Jet2holidays provides the perfect package holiday, looking after you at every step of the way with award-winning customer service and In-Resort Customer Helpers to ensure your stay goes smoothly.

With accommodation to suit every budget and need, Jet2holidays offers a range of hotels, apartments and villas with a variety of board options, from Self Catering to All Inclusive Plus.

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

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

** One free child place per two paying adults. Subject to availability. T&Cs apply, please see www.jet2holidays.com/promotions#fcp for further details.

Applicable for all infants under the age of two years on the date of return. Infants are not entitled to a flight seat (they must be seated with a parent or guardian) or a 22kg baggage allowance.

We must combat racism and sexual harassment in the ambulance service

Whoever forms the next government, one of the greatest challenges that will confront them from day one is how to return the NHS to the condition that the public rightly expect – free at the point of use, high-quality care, short waits, and value for money for the taxpayer.

All of these will cost money, require careful reform (it is generally held), and need the cooperation of a hard-working professional workforce.

Balancing these tasks will be an awesome responsibility, overlaid as they are by the constantly growing demographic pressures on the service. However, one reform that can be introduced immediately to great benefit and at little cost is to eradicate the culture of racism and sexual harassment that has apparently taken hold across the ambulance service.

It sounds mad, but could ditching Sunak help save the Tory party?

In the past week, Rishi Sunak has suffered the defection of Lee Anderson, a donor race row and, inevitably, yet more speculation about his leadership. He’s ruled out an election on 2 May, declaring that economic and political recoveries are “around the corner” and urging nervous colleagues to “stick to the plan”.

He is sticking to his public working assumption of an election in the second half of the year. That means getting through the summer, finally making the Rwanda plan effective, “stopping the boats”, and voters benefiting from more tax cuts, lower inflation and lower interest rates in the autumn. But even some in No 10 fear that the present situation is unsustainable.

Sunak says “all Conservatives are united in wanting to deliver a brighter future” for Britain, which is arguable; and that he’s “not interested in Westminster politics”, which would be highly unusual for a man in his line of work. The impression is growing of a man who is losing control of events and of his own party, his authority seeping away, his own future passing out of his hands. No surprise, then, that there’s a bit of plotting going on…