INDEPENDENT 2024-03-27 01:04:36


Children in Gaza ‘paper thin’ due to malnutrition – as pressure intensifies for ceasefire deal

United Nations officials and aid workers on the ground in Gaza have warned of “paper thin” children and a “cruel death by famine” within the besieged territory – as international pressure mounts to hammer out a ceasefire during fraught talks taking place in Qatar.

After months of infighting, the UN Security Council passed a resolution on Monday calling for an immediate truce.

Hamas has rejected the latest proposal for a ceasefire deal as it wants any truce to lead to an end to the war. Israel says it is willing to consider only a temporary pause in the fighting.

After six months of war, aid workers say time is running out for 1.1 million Palestinians who are either on the cusp of famine or already experiencing such conditions.

In Gaza, Unicef spokesperson James Elder described seeing “paper thin” children in a hospital in the north and incubators full of underweight babies from malnourished mothers.

“Lifesaving aid is being obstructed. Lives are being lost,” he said. “I saw children whose malnutrition state was so severe, skeletal.”

Speaking to The Independent from the European Gaza Hospital near Khan Younis – a city that has been the focus of one of Israel’s most ferocious ground assaults – veteran humanitarians said the situation was “beyond comprehension”.

“The only words to use are ‘paper thin’. There are children and women with literally no flesh on them, which only complicates the recovery process when they are injured,” said Arvind Das, head of the Gaza team for the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

He told The Independent that he and his colleagues would normally administer supplements and intravenous fluids to the malnourished, “but we had none to give”.

Dr Konstantina Ilia Karydi, an anaesthetist working with the EMT at the hospital, called the situation “unimaginable”. “This hospital had an original capacity of just 200 beds, and at the moment it has expanded to 1,000 beds,” she said. “There are around 22,000 people that have been displaced from other parts of Gaza sheltering in the corridors and in tents inside the hospital.”

Dr Husam Basheer, an orthopaedic surgeon there, said supplies were so low they sometimes lacked gauze for surgery.

Mr Das, who has spent decades manning emergency responses in Afghanistan and Syria as well as in South Sudan, Sudan, Central African Republic and Iraq, said the “catastrophe” in Gaza right now is beyond anything he has ever seen.

He warned that, even if a ceasefire was in place, there would need to be an immediate opening up of all access points to Gaza to handle the “unprecedented” crisis.

“I thought I had seen everything, that I had seen the worst, but not until now,” he told The Independent, adding that his “heart was breaking”.

“The situation is rapidly collapsing. I have not seen such a crisis like this anywhere else in the world. The war must stop immediately and in a sustained way. We do not have time to lose. This is a complete failure of humanity.”

UN agencies have blamed Israel for restricting aid to Gaza, labelling it a possible war crime – an accusation vehemently denied by Israel.

There appears to be no end in sight for the war, which erupted in October when Hamas militants launched a bloody attack on southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people and taking around 250 hostages, 134 of whom remain inside the besieged enclave.

Since then, Palestinian medics in the Hamas-run territory say Israel’s unprecedented bombardment of the 42km-long strip has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians, the vast majority of them women and children.

The fighting has left much of the Gaza Strip in ruins, displaced most of its residents, and created widespread hunger.

On Tuesday, an expert told the UN’s Human Rights Council that she believed Israel’s actions amounted to genocide, and called on countries to immediately impose sanctions and an arms embargo.

“I find that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the threshold indicating the commission of the crime of genocide against Palestinians as a group in Gaza has been met,” Francesca Albanese, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in the Occupied Territories, said in Geneva.

Israel’s diplomatic mission in Geneva, which did not attend the session, rejected her findings. “Instead of seeking the truth, this special rapporteur tries to fit weak arguments to her distorted and obscene inversion of reality,” it said.

Israel also categorically denies “strangling aid” to Gaza, despite claims from several UN aid agencies that Israel is using hunger as a weapon.

But pressure is mounting for more aid access routes into Gaza to be opened. At the moment there are two land crossings open in the south of Gaza, and none in the north – where civilians rely on dangerous airdrops and the rare delivery of aid that has been driven up from the south.

Mr Das described the IRC’s medical teams working in hospitals overflowing with patients, and said that there are 30,000 displaced people under heavy shelling from Israeli tanks.

The group said that, since 7 October, the Israeli military has conducted more than 400 attacks on healthcare facilities and personnel in Gaza, which means every single hospital has been affected.

Citing the Palestinian health ministry, they said that at least 340 healthcare workers have been killed and more than 160 others have been detained.

There have also been reports of allegations that healthcare workers have been subjected to torture. Israel denies targeting civilians and medical staff – and also denies allegations of torture.

Mr Das said that in the centre of Gaza, in Deir al-Balah, he visited a shelter for the internally displaced, which before the war was a centre for vocational training and was meant to hold just 500 people.

He found it packed with 80,000 people inside and 30,000 people outside.

“There was one toilet for every 700 people. Each person had just a 1.5-metre square space – women were compelled to deliver their babies in that.”

He said there were outbreaks of hepatitis and other viral diseases and that deadly dehydration and malnourishment were now common.

On Tuesday, the UN’s humanitarian office, OCHA, called for Israel to revoke an apparent ban on food deliveries to northern Gaza by UNRWA, which is also the largest UN agency operating and delivering aid.

Israel said on Monday that it would stop working with UNRWA in Gaza, blaming the aid agency for perpetuating the conflict. It has accused 12 of UNRWA’s 13,000 members of staff of taking part in Hamas’s attack.

The agency said Israel had told it that it would no longer approve its food convoys to northern Gaza, and that such requests had been denied since 21 March. UNRWA also said that it only had sufficient funds to run its operations until the end of May, after many donors paused their funding.

“The decision must be revoked,” OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke told a UN briefing in Geneva. “You cannot claim to adhere to these international provisions of law when you block UNRWA food convoys.”

Meanwhile, talks for a truce are limping on in Doha, despite initial reports that they might break down over Hamas’s demand for an end to the war and Israel’s fury at the UN resolution calling for a ceasefire.

The resolution, which calls for the release of all hostages held in Gaza but does not predicate the ceasefire on it, only passed after Israel’s closest ally, the US, abstained from voting.

Since then, Hamas has rejected the latest proposal, saying it will hold on to the hostages until Israel agrees to a more permanent ceasefire, withdraws its forces from Gaza, and releases hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including top militants.

Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz told Army Radio on Tuesday that the resolution was to blame for emboldening Hamas by signalling that international pressure would end the war without the militant group having to make any concessions.

Benjamin Netanyahu – who in a rage even cancelled an Israeli delegation to Washington – said it proved that Hamas is not interested in continuing negotiations towards a deal.

For weeks, the sides have been discussing a potential truce of around 42 days, during which around 40 Israeli hostages would be released in return for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Israel says it is willing to consider only a temporary pause in the fighting, while Hamas wants any deal to lead to an end to the war.

Mr Netanyahu’s office said that Hamas had made “delusional” demands, which it said showed that the Palestinians were not interested in a deal. Hamas has accused Israel of stalling at the talks while it carries out its military offensive.

UK foreign office minister Andrew Mitchell joined world leaders in welcoming the UN resolution calling for a ceasefire as a “significant step”, which the UK government was focused on making sure was “implemented as quickly as possible”.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, David Lammy, described it as a “turning point” in efforts to stop the fighting in Gaza.

Mr Das said the fighting had to stop immediately and that there must be an immediate opening of access points into Gaza to avert the worst disaster.

“This is a stain on humanity. No matter what your politics, it is too painful to see women and children and incidents of people dying and suffering like this. I have not seen this before.”

Animal lover cared for hat bobble all night thinking it was a sick baby hedgehog

A worried animal lover burst into an animal rescue centre with an eerily still baby hedgehog she had desperately scooped up to safety from the side of the road.

Concerned it “hadn’t moved or pooped all night” despite being given cat food, she anxiously waited for the vet to come back into the lobby to deliver some painful news: “It’s not a hedgehog – it is a hat bobble.”

The caring stranger had brought the fluffy accessory to Lower Moss Wood Nature Reserve and Wildlife Hospital, in Cheshire, first thing on Thursday after looking after it for several hours.

The vet on shift Janet Kotze told The Independent: “She was an older lady, maybe sixties or seventies, well-spoken and well-meaning.

“She said she could see something on the roadside that looked like a hedgehog.

“From a distance you take it at face value. She didn’t handle it at all – she scooped it in a box with some cat food and left it alone in a warm, dark place. She did everything so well. She barely peeked at it because she didn’t want to stress it out.”

Dr Kotze said she knew it wasn’t a hedgehog when she opened the box.

“It was pretty obvious to us but I can also see how she was mistaken,” the vet added. “I went back out and explained, ‘I’m sorry it’s just a bobble.’

“She said: ‘You’re joking! Oh my goodness, how did I do that?’

“She was so concentrated on doing the right thing. She was concerned it hadn’t moved or even pooed. That would be spooky if it had.”

The 57-year-old added she has “never seen like it in my five years here”.

She said: “One time someone brought in a doll that a crow got stuck in. That was strange, but then again every day here is different.

“People normally do admissions forms but we never got to that stage. She just grabbed the box and left. She had a heart of gold and followed all the advice to a tee.”

Staff wrote in a post on Facebook: “Our hearts melted as a kind soul thought she was rescuing a baby hedgehog, only to discover it was a fluffy pom-pom from a bobble hat. This adorable ‘hoglet’ still got all the love, complete with some cosy TLC.

“Remember, kindness knows no bounds, even when it’s to a faux furry friend. Please remember, if you spot a hedgehog out during the day, it’s a sign something is not right.

“Pop them in a box with a warm source and seek help from your local vets. Let’s keep our prickly friends safe!”

The charity, which offers educational trips for schools and other groups, looks after about 2,000 injured animals every year.

Robert Halfon quits as minister in fresh headache for Rishi Sunak

Robert Halfon has resigned from Rishi Sunak’s government in a shock announcement, saying he will not stand as an MP at the next general election.

Quitting as skills, apprenticeships and higher education minister, Mr Halfon told the prime minister: “I feel that it is time for me to step down at the forthcoming general election, and in doing so, to resign as a minister in your government.”

Mr Halfon added: “I believe that across the country, there is a quiet admiration for your work ethic, integrity and ability to solve complex problems faced by our country.”

Mr Halfon said he would “wholeheartedly” support the PM from the back benches ahead of the next general election while championing his Harlow constituency.

It came as armed forces minister James Heappey officially left his role in government, weeks after announcing he would step down.

Mr Heappey is also quitting as an MP at the next general election. The minister, who served in the army in Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland before joining parliament, said in a letter published online that he had made a “painful decision” to stand down as a candidate in the upcoming general election.

He continued: “I have concluded that now is the time to step away from politics, prioritise my family, and pursue a different career”.

In a letter to Mr Heappey, the prime minister said: “You have made an important contribution to government and your support to consecutive Conservative administrations at the Ministry of Defence has been commendable.”

And, responding to Mr Halfon’s resignation, Mr Sunak said: “I was very sorry to hear of your decision to step down from government, as well as your intention to stand down at the next election.”

The unexpected resignation of Mr Halfon is the latest blow to Mr Sunak, who is facing a brutal set of local elections within weeks.

Mr Heappey and Mr Halfon are the 62nd and 63rd Conservative MPs to announce plans to step down at the general election, expected to be held in October.

Leo Docherty will replace James Heappey as armed forces minister, while Luke Hall has been appointed to the Department for Education following the departure of Robert Halfon.

Other moves in the mini-reshuffle triggered by the ministers’ resignations include Nus Ghani becoming minister for Europe at the Foreign Office and Alan Mak becoming a junior minister jointly in the Department for Business and Trade and the Cabinet Office.

Kevin Hollinrake, who as Post Office minister held a junior ministerial role, has now been promoted to minister of state in the Department for Business and Trade.

Calls for free vapes to be handed out in emergency departments

Giving out free vapes to smokers in emergency departments, along with advice on giving up cigarettes, could help thousands more people quit each year, a study has suggested.

The opportunistic approach could be helpful to people who are less likely to engage with stop smoking services, researchers said.

Academics from the University of East Anglia (UEA) conducted the trial between January and August 2022 in six emergency departments in the UK.

While visiting, some 484 patients who smoked daily were offered brief advice from a dedicated stop smoking adviser while awaiting discharge, along with an e-cigarette starter kit and referral to stop smoking services.

A second group of 488 patients was given written information on how to access stop smoking services, but were not referred directly.

Smoking habits were assessed six months later, with researchers offering members of the study a carbon monoxide test to confirm if they had given up cigarettes.

It was found that those referred to services and offered vape kits were 76% more likely to have given up compared to the other group, with 7.2% quitting smoking at six months compared to 4.1%.

They were also more likely to attempt to quit, according to the study.

Self-reported seven-day abstinence from smoking at six months was a little over 23% in the group offered more advice compared to 13% in the group signposted to services.

Researchers said that providing smoking cessation support in emergency departments should be considered to “reach groups of the population that may not routinely engage with stop smoking services but have the most to gain from stopping smoking”.

Dr Ian Pope, of UEA’s Norwich Medical School, added: “Swapping to e-cigarettes could save thousands of lives.

“We believe that if this intervention was widely implemented it could result in more than 22,000 extra people quitting smoking each year.”

Office for National Statistics figures show about 6.4 million adults in the UK were smokers in 2022.

According to the NHS, smoking costs England about £17 billion a year due to health service costs, loss of earnings, unemployment and early death.

Dr Pope said: “Attending the emergency department offers a valuable opportunity for people to be supported to quit smoking, which will improve their chances of recovery from whatever has brought them to hospital, and also prevent future illness.”

Trial co-lead Professor Caitlin Notley, also of UEA’s Norwich Medical School, said vapes can “be an attractive option” to help people stop smoking.

“We know that they are much less harmful than smoking tobacco, and that they have been shown to help smokers quit,” she added.

“About half of all people who smoke will die prematurely, losing on average 10 years of life, and for every death caused by smoking, approximately 30 more people are suffering from a smoking-related disease.

“Smoking-related cancers, respiratory and cardiovascular diseases severely impact people’s quality of life as they get older and are a huge cost burden for the NHS.”

Hazel Cheeseman, deputy chief executive of public health charity Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), said the findings “are compelling” and should be “carefully considered by those in the NHS and local government who are planning services for smokers”.

“This type of low-cost offer of support combined with an e-cigarette and located where smokers are accessing existing care is exactly what we need to make rapid progress in our efforts to reduce smoking, particularly for disadvantaged groups,” she added.

The findings of the study, which was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), have been published in the Emergency Medicine Journal.

An NHS spokesperson said: “Smoking costs the NHS and the taxpayer billions every year in avoidable health and social care costs.

“Encouraging more people to stop smoking tobacco will support them to have healthier lives.”

Don’t pity working-class people, says Peaky Blinders creator

Steven Knight has said the lives of working-class people can be “beautiful and glamorous” and do not need to be pitied.

The Peaky Blinders creator, who is the son of a blacksmith, discussed the making of his explosive new BBC drama, This Town, which stars newcomer Levi Brown, Peaky Blinders actor Jordan Bolger, and Downton Abbey actor Michelle Dockery.

The six-part series tells the story of a band’s formation against a backdrop of violence, capturing “how creative genius can emerge from a time of madness.”

The 64-year-old told the Radio Times that he was eager to get the portrayal of both place and community right.

“As with Peaky, the first thing I said to the directors was this isn’t: ‘What a shame, these poor working-class people!’ This is beautiful and glamorous – it’s the Wild West, it’s mythology.”

He continued in praise of urban spaces: “If you live at the top of a tower block you can see the whole world, you see the curve of the Earth. Look at those places with a certain mindset and they’re bloody gorgeous.”

Working together with series director Paul Whittingon, who also directed The Moorside starring Sheridan Smith, the pair worked to capture the energy and spirit of working-class spaces including housing estates.

“The idea is that the [housing] blocks and the council estates look beautiful,” he said in an interview with PA, acknowledging they can be perceived in a negative light. The writer called the show his “love letter to Birmingham and Coventry”.

As well as staying faithful to the setting, Knight hoped to capture something of his experience of working-class spirit in his protagonist’s character and confidence.

“There was a huge amount of arrogance and inexperience amongst working-class people at that time; an idea that there was no pre-existing definition of what you are and what you could achieve – you could just do what you want. That seems to have disappared now.”

Knight has previously received praise for the creation of Midlands-based hit series, Peaky Blinders, which starred Oscar-winning actor Cillian Murphy as Tommy Shelby.

A 2018 Ofcom report, “Representation and Portrayal on BBC Television”, noted that “despite the programme’s focus on a criminal family in a poor area of the city, people [of the region] liked that it offered complex characters instead of stereotypes, with the additional layer of an authentically presented historical setting.”

This Town will be released on Sunday 31st March, with all episodes becoming instantly available to stream on BBC iPlayer at 6am. The first episode will then air on BBC One at 9pm.

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

China has soured what was once a promising relationship

Speaking, appropriately enough, at the launch of a new generation of nuclear-powered and armed submarines in Barrow, the prime minister warned of the “epoch-defining challenge” from China. With palpable frustration, Rishi Sunak declared that the country is “behaving in an increasingly assertive way abroad” and that it represents “the greatest state-based threat to our economic security”.

He is entirely right about that. The curious case of the Electoral Commission hack in 2021, blamed by the security services on Chinese actors, confirms just how keen these agents are on probing the digital infrastructure of the British state, and, in this instance, harvesting the personal details of 40 million voters.

More targeted has been their fairly blatant hijacking of the email accounts of parliamentarians such as Sir Iain Duncan Smith and crossbench peer David Alton. They then impersonated them in almost comically crude fashion – proving that even a superpower has its limits.

Why is Johnny Mercer facing jail over the special forces inquiry?

Johnny Mercer, the veterans minister, has been given until 5 April to reveal the names of special forces officers who told him about war crimes in Afghanistan – and he faces being fined or up to a year in jail if he refuses.

He is understood to have promised whistleblowing troops that he would protect their identity if they came forward with what they knew about the unlawful killings by British troops of unarmed Afghans, information that he has passed to the public inquiry into allegations of such crimes.

However, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave, the former judge who is chairing the inquiry, has accused Mercer of a “misguided understanding of the term integrity and an inappropriate sense of loyalty”, and has served the minister with a notice under the Inquiries Act 2005 requiring him to supply the names to the inquiry in confidence.