INDEPENDENT 2024-03-24 01:04:14

Mother of missing Briton begs Joe Biden to make boyfriend give answers

The mother of a Brit who vanished from her boyfriend’s yacht has pleaded with president Joe Biden “parent to parent” to appeal for Ryan Bane to come forward for formal questioning.

Sarm Heslop, 41, vanished from her American boyfriend Ryan Bane’s 47-foot luxury catamaran in the Caribbean on 8 March 2021. He is believed to have been the last person to see her alive.

The former flight attendant from Southampton, Hampshire, was last seen boarding Mr Bane’s boat where she had been working as a chef on Caribbean tours, after the couple matched on Tinder eight months earlier.

They had been out for dinner at the bar 420 to Center on St John, before returning to the £500,000 catamaran.

In a powerful open letter this week, Ms Heslop’s mother Brenda Street wrote: “I have reached the end of my patience and trust with the US Virgin Islands Police Department (USVIPD) who have neglected from the outset to communicate and carry out basic Police duties.

“When I met with the USVIPD in March 2022 and questioned their lack of action on that fateful night they looked me in the eye and admitted to ‘forgetting to call the coast guard, that was our fault, we forgot to do it’.

“This was their first admittance of failing to carry out their duties. Their communication since has been appalling and my daughter’s case is riddled with failures.”

She urged the president to appoint another government agency to take over this case, release CCTV of her last movements, investigate the failings of the USVIPD and appeal for Mr Bane to come forward for formal questioning.

She finished: “I would hope, and expect as a parent yourself, that you recognise, respect and empathise with the trauma I am going through and so I ask you, parent to parent, to show your understanding by taking action, acknowledging this letter and helping me find out what happened to my daughter.”

At the time of her disappearance, Mr Bane said the couple watched Netflix and fell asleep. He called 911 at about 2.35am the next morning, told police that he had been woken by the anchor alarm and went to investigate – and realised she was missing. Ms Heslop’s wallet, passport and phone had been left on board, and he said she might have fallen overboard.

The sea captain waited until 11.46am the next day to call the coast guard – a nine-hour gap which her friends and now family want him to provide a timeline for.

Mr Bane has never been formally interviewed by police and no forensic search of the boat, Siren Song, was ever carried out.

In the days after Ms Heslop’s disappearance, Mr Bane told family he was searching for her as he reportedly hired an attorney and declined to be interviewed by Virgin Islands Police. He sailed away in the days after the disappearance and was spotted in Caribbean islands before pictures recently emerged of him hitting the gym.

It is believed that Bane has returned to his family home in his home state of Michigan and is training to be a pilot.

The letter came as Ms Heslop’s best friend and flatmate for eight years Kate Vernalls, 42, joined the chorus of voices urging Mr Bane to come forward.

She told The Independent: “She had this energy about her, we hit it off straight away. I think I was definitely like who is that person? She was so confident – not in a bad way, she just gave off such a happy vibe.

“You can’t tell her she’s not going to do something. All you can do is support her. She would send photos of her adventures.

“She wasn’t trying to escape – it’s just what she wanted to do. She wasn’t living a dream, it was her reality.”

On Mr Bane, she urged him to come forward and clear his name, adding: “I think there is a huge amount of frustration that just builds to anger. But it’s just human behaviour – why do you not think you should be speaking to the police?

“If your name is all over the press and your face is on television, if you have nothing to hide, come forward and speak to us or the police and give an official statement.

“There is one person who knows more than anyone what really happened to Sarm. Unless he did genuinely sleep through everything.”

She added: “It is time for you to have your say, give your side of the story. We’re not going to stop pushing for answers or looking for her so come forward.

“We are never going to give up.”

It has also emerged Mr Bane has a domestic violence conviction dating back to 2011.

In a statement, a lawyer for Mr Bane said: “While we empathise with Sarm’s family’s frustration, Ryan Bane had nothing to do with Sarm’s disappearance. Ryan is heartbroken that Sarm went missing … The coastguard was twice on the vessel conducting a search and questioning Ryan. They had unfettered access to the vessel and Ryan answered all questions posed to him.”

A UK Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are assisting the family of a British woman who has been reported missing in the US Virgin Islands and are in contact with the US Virgin Islands Police and the US coast guard.”

Ex-National Trust chief says charity going ‘in wrong direction’

The National Trust is going in the “wrong direction” and there are “serious flaws” in the way the organisation is being run, a former chair of the charity has said.

Sir William Proby said he was reluctant to come forward and criticise the organisation or his successors but has concerns about where the charity is headed.

His comments come after a right-wing think tank accused the National Trust of being “undemocratic” and engaging in a “subversion of democracy” over changes to voting at its annual meeting.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Sir William said: “The National Trust has always attracted controversy. This is because of its importance in our national life and the passion which so many people feel for what it does. This is healthy and should be welcomed by the management and board of trustees.

“A truly democratic structure allows these issues to be debated, voted on, and the organisation can move on. Stifling dissent will only lead to a running sore of disaffected members outside the organisation, which inevitably will damage this great institution.”

Sir William added that he hoped the report would prompt the charity to restore its “democratic principles” and take another look at its governance structures.

The report, called National Distrust: The End of Democracy in the National Trust, was compiled by Zewditu Gebreyohanes, a senior researcher at the Legatum Institute think tank.

Ms Gebreyohanes is also the former lead of Restore Trust, a National Trust members’ campaign group that wants the charity to stick to its remit of the protection of historic building and away from “wokeness”.

The report criticises the new “quick vote” system implemented by the charity which allows members at the National Trust to vote for all the leadership recommendations in one go.

It claims this was brought in without the prior knowledge of members, is undemocratic and was introduced in 2022, just a year after the Restore Trust was created.

“A recent National Trust members’ resolution calling for the abolition of Quick Vote was defeated only with the use of over 54,000 Quick Votes, meaning that almost 80 per cent of votes cast against the resolution were themselves Quick Votes,” it says.

“All candidates endorsed by Restore Trust – the grassroots campaign of critical members seeking to return the Trust to its statutory aims – would have been elected in both 2022 and 2023 had the results of each Trust-endorsed candidate not been inflated by over 55,000 and 72,000 Quick Votes in those years, respectively.”

It alleges that if a political party had been in charge of drawing up the reforms, the public would see it as “a significant abuse of power” and a “subversion of democracy”.

The report makes two recommendations: the first is that Lucy Frazer, the secretary of state for culture, media and sport, should introduce legislation to prevent anti-democratic measures; and the second is that the Charity Commission should open an inquiry into the National Trust, which is Europe’s largest conservation charity.

A spokesperson for the National Trust said: “The National Trust is an independent charity, regulated – like all UK charities – by the Charity Commission.

“We have open and democratic governance processes, and are accountable both to our regulators and to our members. Our members firmly rejected a resolution suggesting government oversight in our work via an ombudsman at our AGM in 2022.

“‘Quick Vote’ was introduced following advice from our independent election services provider that it is standard practice for large membership bodies. We will continue to take advice on what is standard electoral practice from accountable, regulated institutions that are experts in this field, and which have their own transparent systems of governance.”

London is overpriced, flat and boring: so what is it for?

Growing up in Belfast in the late 1990s and early 2000s, any kid with a creative mind, an adventurous spirit or an entrepreneurial streak had one ambition: get yourself to London. London was where our lives would begin, a vast international incubator for good ideas.

We’d be inspired by the talented generations before us, galvanised by influences from people from other countries, and surely we’d find people with the money to make things happen.

Today, London has plenty of people with money. But London is no longer happening. It feels flat, overpriced and boring. Why? Because London has pushed out the people with ideas, hopes and dreams that made it an exciting place to be.

Endrick gives England and Gareth Southgate another issue to solve

After the controversy about the new England shirt, the concerns about the players wearing it. After the needless culture wars, the more pertinent footballing decisions that beckon for Gareth Southgate. A year that could end 58 of hurt for England began with a first defeat since the 2022 World Cup quarter-final and a performance to ward off suggestions they should be favourites for Euro 2024.

A glamour game did not live up to its billing, but the excitement was provided by a weakened Selecao team. On a night when many a young England player hoped to make an indelible mark, the rookie to etch his name into history was instead Endrick, the 17-year-old who became the youngest scorer in a senior international at Wembley. For their rather more experienced manager, Dorival Junior, a 26th and most prestigious job brought an ideal start.

But England’s display was less “jogo bonito” than “jogo mediocre”. The players who needed to play well didn’t, or not to the extent of resolving Southgate’s selection dilemmas for the summer. Paper aeroplanes were being flung in the crowd, but too few players booked their place on the flight to Germany.

Perhaps the biggest cheer greeted Kobbie Mainoo when he came on for his debut; the injured Jordan Henderson may reflect that he would be unlikely to be afforded such a reception if he came on. But if injuries afforded an opportunity to many another, too few grasped it. Ben Chilwell, Conor Gallagher, Anthony Gordon and Ollie Watkins started. Ezri Konsa played the majority of the game. None can say with any confidence he has booked his spot at the Euros. Chilwell, as the only specialist left-back other than the sidelined Luke Shaw, always occupied a unique position in Southgate’s plans, but he was no more than reasonable.

Watkins scarcely preyed on the inexperience of Brazil’s two debutant centre-backs; he came closest when he stabbed a shot over. Gordon had a curling effort parried by Bento and a half-volley blocked by the newcomer of a goalkeeper after a well-worked free-kick by Declan Rice. Yet he lacked the irrepressibility he often possesses in a Newcastle shirt. His England debut was respectable but by no means remarkable. Gallagher, meanwhile, scarcely suggested he could complete a triangle by complementing Jude Bellingham and Rice.

Konsa, whose international bow came at full-back when Kyle Walker limped off, struggled to keep up with Vinicius. He is not alone in that and the fixture may have rendered his a thankless task. But even with Ben White out of the reckoning, he may only be fifth-choice right-back.

Yet when the goal came, it reflected worst on the substitute Lewis Dunk, who gave the ball away. Vinicius scurried clear, Jordan Pickford parried his shot and Endrick, already Brazil’s youngest player for 57 years, scored the rebound.

England should not argue the scoreline was an injustice. They had three major let-offs before the break; Brazil, shorn of some of their stardust and normal starters, with five debutants starting and a trio of World Cup qualifying defeats in autumn, nevertheless showed more incision.

Vinicius sprang the offside trap to meet Lucas Paqueta’s pass and catch Pickford in no-man’s land. The paradox was that, for such a speedy player and one who had escaped from Walker, his shot lacked the pace required, allowing the stand-in England captain to retreat and clear off the line. He did so in semi-comical fashion, thrashing a clearance into the back of the unwitting Maguire’s head.

Some 23 minutes later, Paqueta fired a shot against the post. His was a curiosity of a performance, with enviable class in possession but, had it been a competitive game, he would probably have been dismissed before the break for fouls on John Stones and Bellingham.

If Brazil sometimes resorted to the illegal to stop Bellingham, they could have led after a moment of English incompetence. With a clumsy touch, Maguire gifted Raphinha an opportunity but he angled a shot just wide. It was not a night for Maguire to win over his doubters. Alongside him, Stones looked altogether slicker.

Ahead of them, however, England looked disjointed. If it was understandable they lacked cohesion and chemistry, with Walker’s exit exacerbating the longest injury list of Southgate’s tenure, an experimental side was granted chances, if only to secure places on the bench in Germany.

Instead, arguably England’s best players – without producing particularly memorable performances – were the certainties: Stones, Rice and Bellingham. Most of the replacements, too, had a point to prove and did not. Jarrod Bowen was at least bright in his cameo while the rather more experienced Marcus Rashford missed a couple of opportunities to equalise. Endrick perhaps ought to have doubled the lead with an injury-time break, but Pickford saved.

It mattered not for Brazil, who won anyway. But England’s ineffectiveness may count against some of these players when Southgate hands out the last remaining spots in his summer squad.

Gisele Bündchen denies cheating on Tom Brady with jiu-jitsu trainer

Gisele Bündchen has hit back at cheating rumours surrounding her split from Tom Brady.

In an interview with The New York Times, published on 23 March, the model addressed how her relationships and divorce continue to generate headlines.

Bündchen, 43, announced her split from Brady, after 13 years of marriage, in October 2022. Since then, she has been romantically linked to her jiu-jitsu trainer Joaquim Valente.

As she has been photographed with Valente, some fans were quick to assume that she cheated on Brady with Valente. However, Bündchen flat-out denied the allegations.

“That is a lie,” she told The New York Times. She continued: “I really don’t want to make my life a tabloid. I don’t want to open myself up to all of that.”

Bündchen slammed tabloids that have criticised women and their relationships, and explained how this scrutiny affects celebrities’ families. The model is mother of two children – Benjamin, 14, and Vivian, 11 – with Brady.

“This is something that happens to a lot of women who get blamed when they have the courage to leave an unhealthy relationship and are labelled as being unfaithful,” she said. “They have to deal with their communities. They have to deal with their family. Of course for me, it just happens to be a little bit amplified.”

She said that her relationships will stay out of the spotlight. “No one really knows what happens between two people, only the two people in the relationship,” she said.

Bündchen then revealed that she is dating someone, seemingly confirming her relationship with Valente, who she has been romantically linked to since November 2023.

“This is the first time I am seeing someone that was a friend of mine first,” she told The New York Times. “It’s very different. It is very honest, and it’s very transparent.”

In 2022, Bündchen and Brady announced the decision to end their marriage. In a statement posted on Instagram, she wrote: “With much gratitude for our time together, Tom and I have amicably finalised our divorce. My priority has always been and will continue to be our children whom I love with all my heart. We will continue co-parenting to give them the love, care and attention they greatly deserve.”

In recent months, the model has been spotted with Valente, a martial arts teacher. The two have been spotted together in Costa Rica, grabbing dinner and jogging. However a source told People in January that while the pair share a tight bond, they have not put a label on their relationship.

During an interview with Vanity Fair this month, Bündchen also addressed Valente. While she did not confirm if they were dating or not, she praised him and his brothers.

“I think, at this point, unfortunately, because I’m divorced, I’m sure that they’re going to try to attach me to anything,” she said. “I’m so grateful to know all of them, because not only have they helped me and helped my kids, but they have become great friends, and Joaquim especially.”

The model added: “He’s our teacher and, most importantly, he’s a person that I admire and that I trust. It’s so good to have that kind of energy, to have my kids around that type of energy.”

The Independent has contacted a representative for Bündchen for comment.

History, heritage, cuisine and culture in Split, Croatia

Historical buildings, pine forest hills and breathtaking views of the Adriatic Sea are just a few things to expect on a fun-filled trip to the old-world coastal city of Split. This ancient sliver of the country is steeped in eclectic history and blessed with abundant natural beauty, a dynamic food scene, and more cultural attractions you can shake a stick at. It’s an all-rounder, ideal to visit no matter the season and even for a quick city break since there are plenty of direct flights from UK cities, including Birmingham, Bristol, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, London and Manchester. Here’s our must-see, must-do guide to this stunning city…

Split is Croatia’s sportiest city, often referred to as The City of Sport, thanks to the number of professional athletes that hail from the city. In fact, Split is the city with the highest number of Olympic medal winners per capita. You can see their names proudly presented on Sports Walk of Fame on the city’s west coast, including Wimbledon champion Goran Ivanišević, double world high jump champion Blanka Vlašić, and ex–NBA star Toni Kukoč.

Catch a basketball game featuring the legendary KK Split, one of the most successful clubs in Europe, at the Gripe Sports Hall, or watch a football match with HNK Hajduk Split at the Poljud Stadium to feel the electrifying passion of local fans. If you’d rather participate, take advantage of Split’s drop-dead coastal location by trying windsurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding or sailing; many places offer equipment rental or lessons. Or, to keep it traditional, try your hand at ‘picigin’ – a local ball game from Split that is played at the beach.

For a more cerebral experience, immerse yourself in the city’s rich history, from Roman walls to UNESCO heritage sites and historical Old Towns. Wander through preserved Roman streets lined with Gothic and Renaissance buildings and visit the oldest cathedral building in the world, Diocletian’s Palace, built between 295 and 305 A.D. The beautiful basement halls here (more commonly known as the substructures) are one of the world’s best-preserved complexes from the era of classical antiquity and central to the historical centre of Split being added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1979.

Dip your toe into the world of Croatian art at the Ivan Meštrović Gallery, wholly dedicated to the sculptor himself, renowned for his powerful and expressive works. There’s also the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments, which delves deep into the city’s history across more than 20,000 artefacts. Plus, the museum itself is an architectural masterpiece.

If you want to learn all about the city’s history and citizens, the City Museum of Split is a must-visit. It was founded in 1947 at the stunning palace of the Papalić family and is a stunning example of late-Gothic style architecture.

There’s also the Ethnographic Museum of Split, situated inside a former residential complex in the southeastern quarter of Diocletian’s Palace. The museum holds a vast collection of artefacts that showcase the traditional way of life, customs, and cultural practices of the people of the Dalmatia region and beyond. You’ll find everything from household items and religious objects to traditional tools and clothing.

Leave some time in your itinerary to explore the city’s natural wonders and incredible beaches. Ideally situated on the Adriatic coast, Split houses some of Croatia’s finest and most picturesque beaches. Bačvice Beach is one of the most popular in the area, perfect for shallow bathing and basking in the sun; plus, there are many bars and restaurants along the front, and concerts take place throughout the summer months.

There’s also Bene Beach, located on the northeastern part of the leafy Marjan Forest Park, often referred to as the green oasis of Split. It’s usually a little quieter, so it’s perfect for finding a secluded spot, sheltered beautifully by the trees that border the shoreline. Hiking or biking in the forest park Marjan is also a great way to experience the natural landscape of the Dalmatian Coast. You can follow many routes through fragrant pine forests and scenic viewpoints – the Marjan Hill Viewpoint overlooks the entire Old Town. Finish off with a dip in the sea to cool off.

Kašjuni Beach is known for being particularly beautiful, surrounded by lush greenery and rocky cliffs. It tends to be a little quieter and less crowded with calm, crystal-clear water, ideal for snorkelling and swimming. While on the southern side of Marjan, you’ll find Kaštelet Beach, a small but peaceful fine-pebbled beach with shallow banks, perfect for dipping in and out of between basking in the sun.

Follow the scenic coastal promenade from the city centre, and you’ll eventually reach Trstenik, home to a well-equipped, picturesque beach popular amongst water sports enthusiasts. Here, you can enjoy windsurfing, kitesurfing, kayaking, paddle boarding and more. The surrounding neighbourhood is chock full of restaurants, shops and places to stay should you want to spend a few nights here.

Split also serves as an ideal hub for day excursions, offering easy access to the stunning Dalmatian islands and hinterland, each brimming with natural and cultural treasures. From the city, you can visit several of Dalmatia’s spectacular islands, including Brac, Hvar, Vis, Solta and many more. Bisevo Island is one of the most popular to visit, where the remains of a 1050 AD Benedictine monastery lay, and the Blue Cave, one of the must-see natural attractions in the country, renowned for its incredible glowy sun rays that shine through cracks in the cave, creating a magical blue glimmer.

Just a half-hour drive from the city centre, you’ll find idyllic hiking trails on mountains such as Mosor, Kozjak, and Biokovo. There’s also the Cetina River, where you can participate in heart-pumping rafting and canyoning adventures.

As a cultural hub, Split boasts a diverse timetable of not-to-be-missed events throughout the year, including Sudamja, Stories of Diocletian, Advent – Winter Joys, Split Summer Festival, the Split Carnival, Month of Gastronomy and the Split Marathon.  In recent years, the city has also emerged as a sought-after filming destination, hosting productions such as Game of Thrones and the Dark Tower movie. So it’s pretty fitting that the city is home to the Mediterranean Film Festival and the International Festival of New Film.

Food-wise, Croatia’s diverse and delicious cuisine varies significantly from region to region, with coastal areas focusing more on seafood dishes like grilled fish, octopus salad, and black risotto. Learn all about Croatian fare at a local cookery class, where you’ll get to sample and make delicious dishes and take recipes back home.

Split’s culinary scene is constantly evolving, with many restaurants opening in the city, especially in the historic centre and its surroundings. Several restaurants have been recognised by the world-famous Michelin Guide, but there are many more worth visiting, with menus brimming with local Mediterranean cuisine, often with a creative twist added by some of Croatia’s best chefs. Most of the local restaurants’ menus are made with regional, fresh produce, including just-caught seafood.

For an authentic Croatian experience and the most local atmosphere, travellers should dine at a traditional tavern-style konoba restaurant, the Dalmatian version of a tavern, where you can enjoy fresh fish and seafood and popular local meat dishes.

The local diet is also rich in seasonal vegetables, which vegetarians can enjoy in many of the city’s restaurants, with plenty of spots specialising in vegetarian and vegan fare.

Wine and olive oil are essential components of Split’s gastronomic makeup, meaning that restaurants are always stocked with exceptional Croatian wines, particularly those produced within Dalmatia. You can enjoy them with dinner or at a local wine tasting.

If you’re looking for local produce, Ribarnica is stocked with fresh seafood plucked out of the neighbouring Adriatic Sea. While Pazar Green Market is the place to go for fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs, cheese, cured meat, honey, and sweet treats, for delicious eats you can sample on the spot, or take home for a slice of Split you can reminisce with.

For more Split travel ideas and inspiration, head to Visit Split or check out Instagram or Facebook

There is still time for the West to change Israel’s mind on Gaza

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund – a body worthy of trust and respect, and well acquainted with conditions on the ground – “Rafah is Gaza’s last hope”.

In that case, the Israeli government’s continued apparent determination to launch an armoured ground assault on Rafah, coupled with the most recent failure by the UN Security Council to agree to call for a ceasefire, removes the last vestige of hope for the nearly 2 million displaced persons – many of them children – sheltering in flimsy tents around the city in southern Gaza.

If the record of the last five months or so since the atrocities of 7 October is a reliable guide to what will happen next, what remains of Rafah will be pulverised, many thousands more innocent civilians will be killed, maimed and orphaned, the incipient famine will intensify across the territory – and what is already a humanitarian disaster will grow still more hopeless.

Are politicians ever justified in using private jets?

The home secretary, James Cleverly, spent some £165,561 last year chartering a private jet for a one-day round trip to Rwanda to sign a fresh treaty that would, supposedly, negate the UK Supreme Court’s finding of fact that Rwanda is not a safe third country for the deportation of refugees. The sudden urgent demand for new assurances about human rights from the Rwandans was, it is fair to say, politically driven, as the prime minister sees the Rwanda plan as the key “deterrent” in his struggle to “stop the boats” full of asylum seekers crossing the English Channel.

The revelation is troublesome because it reinforces the charge that this is a government with a profligate attitude to taxpayers’ money; that its ministers enjoy indulging themselves; and that the Rwanda scheme is, as Cleverly once repeatedly remarked in probate, a “bats***” crazy waste of money. Chartering a private jet is also, if anyone still cares, one of the most environmentally destructive ways to travel by air. Politically, the turbulence generated by such trips can be extremely distressing…