The Telegraph 2024-04-04 01:00:38


Judges to look at softer sentences for ‘deprived’ criminals

Judges have been told to consider more lenient sentences for offenders from “deprived” or “difficult” backgrounds.

The Sentencing Council, the official body responsible for setting guidelines for judges and magistrates, has for the first time spelt out “mitigating” factors relating to disadvantage that courts should consider before passing sentence.

The guidelines on “difficult and/or deprived background or personal circumstance” state that these factors include poverty, low educational attainment, experience of discrimination and insecure housing.

The council went ahead with the changes, which took effect on Monday, despite warnings from Alex Chalk, the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, who said the guidance was “patronising” and “inaccurate”, and risked making poor schooling and poverty excuses for offenders to commit crimes.

During the consultation, concerns were also raised that the new guidelines could lead to better-off, middle class offenders from secure homes being “unfairly disadvantaged” by being handed tougher penalties for the same offence. 

It was also pointed out that many people from deprived backgrounds do not offend.

The Blue Collar Conservatives, a group founded by Esther McVey, the minister for common sense, told the council: “We believe this is extremely patronising, not least to law-abiding working class communities.

“Often it is actually those who come from the poorest communities who will be the victims of the crimes in these cases. Low educational attainment and poverty are not excuses to commit crimes.”

Feedback ‘predominantly negative or neutral’

The Sentencing Council admitted that judges and magistrates privately consulted over the plans had been “predominantly negative or neutral”, with many saying they already took such factors into account.

However, it decided to proceed with the proposal because it argued that spelling out such mitigating factors would ensure they were applied in a “consistent and appropriate” way and improve “transparency and fairness”.

As a result, judges and magistrates have been told they should consider 12 factors of “disadvantage” in determining an offender’s responsibility for a crime, how the factors bear on criminals’ behaviour and the effect of any sentence that might be imposed on them.

The factors include negative experiences of authority, early experience of offending by family members, negative influences from peers and difficulties relating to the misuse of drugs and alcohol. 

This excludes being voluntarily drunk at the time of an offence, which is an “aggravating factor” in sentencing.

In his response to the consultation, seen by The Telegraph, Mr Chalk said: “The Government is clear that many of the examples of difficulty or deprivation that have been set out in the consultation, such as low educational attainment and poverty, ought not to be relied upon as excuses to commit crimes.

“Presupposing that relatively low income for example (or indeed other deprivation) indicates a propensity to commit crime risks appearing patronising at best, or inaccurate at worst.

“Moreover, many in society, including no doubt judges and MPs, will have encountered young people from modest educational or financial backgrounds who have shown scrupulous integrity and a commitment to leading a law-abiding life.”

Middle class disadvantaged

One respondent warned of harsher sentences for middle class offenders, saying: “The other danger is that defendants who exhibit the flip sides could be unfairly disadvantaged – those who are not poor, those who live in secure housing, those who have the security of family life.”

Another described it as over-prescriptive. “This is an incomplete and potentially misleading attempt to identify the ‘nth’ degree of mitigation. The court is capable of identifying endless additional factors in relation to the particular individual and the particular offence – let the court do that,” they said.

Asked why the Sentencing Council went ahead with the changes, a spokesman said the guidance was phrased to strike a balance by drawing courts’ attention to “potentially relevant considerations” without being over-prescriptive. 

For example, it talked of factors that “may” be relevant or “may” have a bearing on offending, he said.

It comes as the Ministry of Justice faces a prisons overcrowding crisis, with fears that jails could run out of space within weeks. 

Courts have already been told by one of Britain’s most senior judges that they must consider overcrowding as a factor in whether to spare an offender from jail.

An MoJ spokesman said: “Sentencing decisions are made by independent judges who already take into account the circumstances of each case in line with guidelines set out by the Sentencing Council.”

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Allies must accept we are in ‘a pre-war world’, says Shapps

Nato countries that do not spend two per cent of GDP on defence spending are playing “Russian roulette” with the West’s future, Grant Shapps has warned…

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Watch: Ambulance explodes after dropping off 91-year-old patient

Footage shows the moment an ambulance exploded moments after a 91-year-old patient in a wheelchair was dropped off at her home.

David and Marilyn Brinklow were having a cup of tea when they heard a huge bang and saw flames in their front garden at Barton-under-Needwood, Staffordshire.

Minutes earlier, the private ambulance had dropped off the couple’s neighbour following a stay in hospital.

The footage shows two care workers wheeling the woman to her home in the village at around 1.45pm on March 14.

One of the care workers is seen checking the ambulance after a passer-by spots smoke pouring from the engine and alerts them.

Minutes later, the vehicle explodes with such force that its roof is ripped off and flies 50ft into the air before crashing through the Brinklows’ garage.

Firefighters managed to extinguish the flames, but the ambulance was completely destroyed. 

Nobody was injured in the blast, which caused extensive damage to the Brinklows’ home and set fire to their garden.

The heat was so intense that the back of their Honda Civic melted, while their living room windows shattered and their curtains were singed.

Mrs Brinklow, 74, said: “It was like a Hollywood movie. I suffer with my nerves, and it didn’t do me any good.

“I keep having flashbacks. There was nothing left of the ambulance and all the bits of it, like a volcano, were flying off like glass and started burning our nets. It’s horrible to talk about.”

Mr Brinklow, a 69-year-old retired carpenter, said the house suffered smoke damage and the electricity to the garage was cut off.

He said: “It went off like a roman candle. I was shocked – it was like a horror show. It’s incredible no one was killed. Our neighbour was in the ambulance a short time before it exploded.

“The heat was so bad the back of our car literally melted. We just want the insurance company to hurry up so we can repair our home.”

EMED, a private ambulance company that provides patient transport, said it was investigating the cause of the explosion.

A spokesman said: “On Thursday 14th March, during a routine patient drop-off in Barton-under-Needwood, the engine of our ambulance caught fire.

“Unfortunately, some of the neighbouring properties suffered damage, which we are now managing through our insurer.

“All our ambulances undergo robust safety checks on a regular basis, and our absolute priority is the safety of our patients and the communities we serve.

“We are working closely with the vehicle manufacturer and an independent safety consultant as part of our ongoing internal investigation.”

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China and Iran will cheer if Ukraine fails, warns Lord Cameron

China and Iran will “cheer” if the West allows Ukraine to fail and Vladimir Putin to succeed, Lord Cameron has warned.

Speaking at a conference in Brussels about the future of the Nato military alliance, the Foreign Secretary said there was the possibility of an “incredibly bright” future where Putin failed in Ukraine and Volodymyr Zelensky’s country was able to recover its territory.

However, Lord Cameron went on to warn: “There is another future for Nato, for the West, for Britain, and that is one where we allow Ukraine to fail, we allow Putin to succeed, and the celebrations will be held mostly in Moscow and of course in Beijing and in Tehran and in North Korea.

“And that is a very bleak future, not only because I believe other European countries would be at risk but all of the world would look around at America and Britain and the European powers and wonder how willing we were to stand up for our allies, how reliable we were as an ally.

“Even the absolute key to Nato of Article 5, allies in Europe would start looking to each other and wondering how much they could really trust each other when they said they would stand up and stand by and oppose aggression.”

You can join the conversation in the comments section here

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Plastic-free vegan leather shoe grown from bacteria in 14 days

A faux-leather shoe has been grown from bacteria in a lab in just 14 days and programmed to dye itself black.

The plastic-free vegan creation was cultivated by researchers at Imperial College London (ICL) from genetically engineered microbes.

It is the first time bacteria have been designed to produce a material and its own pigment simultaneously.

Researchers believe the process could be adapted to produce vegan materials with vibrant colours and even patterns, and to offer alternatives to fabrics such as cotton and cashmere.

Lead author Prof Tom Ellis, from ICL’s department of bioengineering, said: “Inventing a new, faster way to produce sustainable, self-dyed leather alternatives is a major achievement for synthetic biology and sustainable fashion.

“Bacterial cellulose is inherently vegan, and its growth requires a tiny fraction of the carbon emissions, water, land use and time of farming cows for leather.

“Unlike plastic-based leather alternatives, bacterial cellulose can also be made without petrochemicals, and will biodegrade safely and non-toxically in the environment.”

Manufacturers are trying to move away from synthetic chemical dyeing because it is environmentally toxic. The black dyes which are used to colour leather are particularly harmful.

The self-dyeing leather alternative was created by modifying the genes of a bacteria species that produces sheets of microbial cellulose – a strong, flexible material that is already commonly used in food, cosmetics and textiles.

Genetic modifications “instructed” the same microbes that were growing the material to also produce a dark black pigment called eumelanin.

The cellulose was grown around a shoe-shaped mould to give it the shape of a traditional ‘upper’ and after 14 days had taken on the correct shape.

To encourage the shoe to turn black, it was subjected to gentle shaking at 30C (86F) to activate the production of black pigment from the bacteria so that it dyed the material from the inside.

The team, who worked with the London-based biodesign company Modern Synthesis, also made a black wallet by growing two separate cellulose sheets, cutting them to size and sewing them together.

Co-author Dr Kenneth Walker, who conducted the work at ICL and now works in industry, said: “Our technique works at large enough scales to create real-life products, as shown by our prototypes.

“From here we can consider aesthetics as well as alternative shapes, patterns, textiles, and colours.

“The work also shows the impact that can happen when scientists and designers work together. As current and future users of new bacteria-grown textiles, designers have a key role in championing exciting new materials and giving expert feedback to improve form, function and the switch to sustainable fashion.”

As well as the prototypes, the researchers demonstrated that the bacteria can be engineered using genes from other microbes to produce colours in response to blue light.

Produced coloured proteins

By projecting a pattern, or logo, onto the sheets using blue light, the bacteria respond by producing coloured proteins which then glow.

This allows them to project patterns and logos onto the bacterial cultures as the material grows, resulting in the designs forming from within the material.

The research team is now experimenting with a variety of coloured pigments to use those that can also be produced by the material-growing microbes.

Prof Ellis added: “Microbes are already directly addressing many of the problems of animal and plastic-based leather, and we plan to get them ready to expand into new colours, materials and maybe patterns too.

“We look forward to working with the fashion industry to make the clothes we wear greener throughout the whole production line.”

The research, carried out alongside Modern Synthesis, a London-based biodesign and materials company which specialises in innovative microbial cellulose products. was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.


Alternatives need to be desirable as well as green

By Stephen Doig

The rise of vegan and lab-grown alternatives isn’t new but it’s encouraging that the movement is gathering pace among established fashion brands and emerging businesses. These new offerings are impressive in their scientific boundary-breaking but do they make you want to wear them?

It’s a tricky subject; how to harness that all-important covetability with a conscience in how you make it. Stella McCartney has been one of the most vocal advocates of alternatives to both animal-derived and synthetic materials with her version of “leather” coming from Mirum, a hard-wearing product made from natural rubber.

Our grandmothers were in furs

Animal agriculture causes 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, and while a great deal of leather is a byproduct of farming, clearly more sustainable methods are sorely needed. A forecast from a 2023 report predicts that cell-cultured leather is expected to expand from a $4.05 million business in 2022 to $8.15 million by 2030, so clearly there’s a movement – particularly among the new generation of consumers – to evolve how we create accessories such as shoes and bags

Our grandmothers might have been in furs and (ethically questionable) diamonds, but their Gen Z descendants may well be in cultured bacteria backpacks (doesn’t sound quite as glamorous, does it?)

The self-dyeing element of this new vegan leather is an interesting development; the dyeing and tanning process usually involves chemical processes and a great deal of water. Global brands such as Zegna, for example, focus on a natural dyeing process, harnessing materials from local flora and fauna,.

But there’s also a great deal of greenwashing where brands claim to have created sustainable and ethical practices in finding alternatives to animal products – see the furore around fake fur being filled with toxic microplastics.

The aesthetics of the prototypes from ICL might be a little challenging – the shoe could almost be a knock-off Rick Owens Paris catwalk at a push but it’s not exactly desirable to the mainstream. However, the sentiment is a noble one. It’s a step – no pun intended – in the right direction.

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Buckingham Palace tourists can enjoy balcony view for first time

The image of the Royal family waving from the Buckingham Palace balcony to the crowds below is embedded in the national conscience.

Now, for the first time, members of the public will have the chance to witness the view from the royals’ perspective as the East Wing of the palace is opened to visitors.

Guided tours will take in the Centre Room, which leads onto the balcony.

Although there is no access to the balcony itself, visitors will be able to peek through the net curtains to experience the view that the King and Queen enjoy as they wave to the crowds on the Mall.

A palace insider said: “Visitors won’t be able to step out onto the balcony but they will certainly experience the impact and the atmosphere of that room, as well as the view from the window.”

The decision to open up the East Wing reflects the King’s desire to make royal residences more accessible to the public. It follows the announcement that Balmoral is also to be opened up for the first time, allowing visitors a glimpse into some of the rooms where Elizabeth II spent her final days.

Tickets, costing between £100 and £150, sold out in less than 24 hours, with the Balmoral website briefly crashing because of the demand.

The East Wing of Buckingham Palace, which encompasses the front façade, has never before been opened to the public.

It was built between 1847 and 1849 after Queen Victoria commissioned the architect Edward Blore to draw up plans for alterations that would increase the accommodation for her growing family.

The building, enclosing what had previously been an open, horseshoe-shaped courtyard, was funded by the sale of the Royal Pavilion, George IV’s seaside retreat in Brighton, in 1850.

Many fine ceramics and furniture from the Pavilion, which reflected George IV’s love of Asian art and design, were transferred to the new wing and inspired the Chinese-themed décor of its principal rooms.

First occupied by Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and their children, it is still used by the Royal family for official meetings and events.

Small groups of visitors, led by expert guides, will be able to stroll through the rooms on the Principal Floor, furnished with highlights from the Royal Collection.

Principal Corridor

The tour will take in several rooms along the red-carpeted Principal Corridor, which runs the length of the wing.

The corridor itself features almost 30 paintings by artists including Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Thomas Lawrence and Franz Xaver Winterhalter.

The paintings at the north end of the corridor are primarily portraits of Queen Victoria and her family, as well as scenes depicting important events in her life.

Among them is a painting called God Save the Queen, by John Charlton, which shows Queen Victoria arriving at St Paul’s Cathedral for her Diamond Jubilee Thanksgiving Service on June 22, 1897.

Yellow Drawing Room

At the southern end of the corridor is the Yellow Drawing Room, where Elizabeth II recorded her Christmas address to the nation in 2004.

The room is decorated with recently restored Chinese hand-painted wallpaper from the 18th century.

Visitors will see two hexagonal, nine-tiered Chinese porcelain pagodas and the Kylin Clock, which incorporates two turquoise Chinese lions.

Centre Room

Halfway down the corridor, as its name suggests, is the Centre Room, which leads out onto the balcony.

The King chose this room to record his Christmas message last December.

The room features a newly restored glass chandelier, shaped to resemble a lotus flower, as well as two Chinese 18th-century imperial silk wall hangings, presented to Queen Victoria by Guangxu, emperor of China, to mark her Diamond Jubilee in 1897.

There are also many Chinese porcelain vases, which were originally supplied to George IV in 1807.

Visitors will also see the Privy Purse entrance area, the Privy Purse staircase and a caged lift that dates from the early 1900s and carries the cypher of Edward VII.

Two years of building work

The wing will be opened to the public following an extensive refurbishment programme that began in 2018.

The works are part of the 10-year Buckingham Palace reservicing programme to upgrade the historic building’s infrastructure, improve access and preserve it for future generations. 

The current phase, which began last summer, involves the removal of about 70,000 objects from the North Wing, which was expected to take 18 months, before two years of building work.

Conversations about the prospect of guided tours in the East Wing began about two years ago, with sources revealing that it felt like a “good opportunity” to widen access as the newly refurbished rooms are “so beautiful”.

A limited number of East Wing Highlights Tours will run daily throughout July and August, beginning on July 15.

The tours must be booked in addition to the standard admission ticket to the State Rooms at Buckingham Palace, with the combined ticket costing £75.

Tickets will go on sale on April 9, with priority access given to Royal Collection Trust email subscribers before the remaining tickets go on general sale the following day.

Artwork and decorative arts

The palace will be open seven days a week throughout July and August for the first time since 2019, returning to five days a week in September.

The Royal Collection Trust looks after the artwork and decorative arts amassed by monarchs and manages the public openings of the King’s official residences

As a charity, it does not receive public money, funding its work through admission charges to the royal residences and other commercial activities.

Its finances were therefore severely affected by the lockdowns introduced during the coronavirus pandemic, reporting a £15 million deficit in the 2021-22 financial year.

However, last summer it emerged that the trust had returned to profit for the first time since the pandemic – generating £8 million of income during the previous financial year.

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O2 customers ‘misled about renewal deals by third party’

Customers of O2 have claimed they have been misled about renewal deals after being cold-called by a third party.

Users of the mobile network claim to have faced bills of hundreds of pounds after their contract was changed from one with O2 to one with a company called plan.com.

Ofcom, the industry regulator, has said it could consider investigating after customers were allegedly told they would remain with O2, only to be later told they had left the network at potentially huge costs.

In a phone call recorded by BBC Radio 4’s You and Yours programme, a call handler acting on behalf of plan.com told potential customers they were the “official partner of O2” and they were “helping you to renew your contract with O2 itself”.

Asked by a reporter if she would still be a customer of the telecoms giant, the operator replied: “You will be an O2 customer only, your number remains the same, your network remains the same …We are just offering you a better deal.”

Other customers told the programme their phones were cut off after they were not given codes to transfer their number to the new provider. In one case a customer was told they would need to pay hundreds of pounds to exit the new contract with plan.com, despite believing they had never left O2. Plan.com later cancelled the exit fee.

More than 23 million customers

Plan.com is one of a number of “wholesale partners” that work with O2 and are primarily focused on providing solutions to businesses rather than everyday consumers.

Customers can be liable for the rest of their contract if they leave early and according to You and Yours, some have faced huge bills.

O2 has more than 23 million customers of its own but it provides more than 34.1 million connections through other providers such as giffgaff, Tesco Mobile, Sky Mobile and Lycamobile which use its network.

Plan.com was founded in 2014 by entrepreneurs Dan Craddock and Keith Curran and says that it aims to transform the business telecoms market. It states on its website how its vision has seen “our market share and revenue growth skyrocket” and that “growth has been explosive”.

On the Isle of Man-based company’s website, Mr Craddock says that “never before has a single platform had the power to give partners and customers so much control”.

‘We take non-compliance very seriously’

Plan.com did not respond to requests for comment by the Telegraph, but the BBC reported a spokesman for the firm as saying that “the referral of prospective customers to plan.com is carried out by a third party company”.

“Unfortunately, we do not have the knowledge or liberty to speculate how they get the phone numbers or how they conduct their business operations.

“In our agreement with them, they are prohibited to identify themselves as an employee, representative or agency of a direct network provider or Plan.com. We take non-compliance very seriously and we’re committed to investigate and address how this may have happened.”

O2 said that plan.com was a wholesale partner which sold contracts that used the network but they were owned and managed by plan.com.

A spokesman for Ofcom said: “We’re aware of complaints regarding plan.com. While we cannot resolve individual consumer complaints, we will consider whether it’s appropriate to take action if we see evidence of widespread harm. When we open investigations, we announce these on our Enforcement Bulletin.”

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