INDEPENDENT 2024-04-07 16:04:21


‘Hardest Geezer’ becomes first person to run the length of Africa

A British man known as the “hardest geezer” has finished running the entire length of Africa after a gruelling challenge that has taken nearly a year.

Russ Cook, from Worthing, West Sussex, was joined by supporters as he crossed the finish line in Ras Angela, Tunisia, the most northern point of the African continent on Sunday.

He began his 16,000km (9,941 miles) journey from the most southern point, Cape Agulhas in South Africa, on 22 April 2023.

Mr Cook has faced visa complications, health scares and an armed robbery in his bid to become the first person to run the full length of the continent.

In the hours before completing the challenge he posted on the X social media platform: “Can’t believe it’s nearly over. See you at the shell garage soon boys & girls.”

Throughout the venture, called Project Africa, Mr Cook has raised more than £650,000 for two charities, the Running Charity and Sandblast.

For the final day of his challenge, Mr Cook invited his supporters to take on the last marathon with him, with many flying out to Tunisia to run alongside him.

“How can you be tired when there’s this many people running with you?” he told Sky News.

This is a breaking news story. More to follow…

King’s former butler forced to deny fake story spread by Russia as BBC defends Kate coverage

The King’s former butler has been forced to deny a fake story about Charles selling Highgrove House as the BBC has had to defend its coverage of the Princess of Wales’s cancer diagnosis.

Among the series of untrue claims being made about the British royal family by a Russian disinformation network in its ongoing information war with Ukraine is that the monarch has sold the royal residence to Volodymyr Zelensky for £20m.

Charles’ ex-butler Grant Harrold, who is now a royal commentator, was falsely claimed to have confirmed the sale in an interview. His spokeswoman told The Times: “This story is completely false and Grant has made no comment on this.”

It comes as The Independent understands the BBC received just over 100 complaints about its coverage of Kate’s health from people who believed it was “excessive and insensitive”.

Kate revealed she was undergoing treatment for the disease in an emotional video message released on 22 March.

In a statement issued on Friday in response, the corporation, which aired the full video, said it was “mindful” of its reporting approach and did not speculate on details that had not been made public.

Fernandes scores shock equaliser for Man United against Liverpool

Liverpool face Manchester United looking to take another step towards the Premier League title under Jurgen Klopp. The Reds come to Old Trafford for Sunday afternoon’s late kick-off after title rivals Manchester City and Arsenal both played on Saturday.

Klopp’s side also have a score to settle after United’s stunning 4-3 win in the FA Cup quarter-finals ended Liverpool’s pursuit of the quadruple, but the Reds have since won twice on the bounce in the Premier League – with the title now in their hands with eight games of the season remaining. And the latest meeting between these bitter old rivals is just another in a series of huge games that could decide whether the title stays in Manchester or moves to either London or Liverpool come May. 

Follow all the action from Manchester United vs. Liverpool in the blog below and get the latest odds and tips on the match, here.

Jeremy Clarkson opens up about ‘sad’ Clarkson’s Farm disaster

Jeremy Clarkson has revealed how a plan to bring “happiness” to Clarkson’s Farm backfired in a “shell-shocking” way.

The series, which follows the ex-Top Gear host’s attempts to run a 1,000-acre farm in the Cotswolds, has become one of Prime Video’s biggest hits since it started in June 2021. A long-awaited third series starts in May.

Clarkson bought the land in 2008 and, after the villager who ran the farm retired in 2019, he decided to see if he could run it himself.

The TV star has now shared behind-the-scenes details of the show, revealing how the idea of free-grazing his pigs – a rare breed called Sandy and Black – ended in disaster. Clarkson had been warned by land agent Charlie Ireland that it wouldn’t be as simple a task as he was thinking, stating: “Pigs need round-the-clock care.”

The TV star learnt this the hard way when many of the piglets died, with some of them being crushed accidentally by their mothers. In fact, so many piglets died that it left those working on the show feeling distressed.

“I reckoned the pigs would provide something that’s sadly lacking in farming today: a bit of genuine happiness,” Clarkson told The Sunday Times.

“Instead, it was almost unbelievably sad. I’ve never seen Lisa [Hogan, his girlfriend] so upset. The film crew looked shell-shocked.”

Clarkson continued: “We had a catastrophically high level of deaths and I was desperately worried we were doing something wrong, but it turned out we weren’t, it was just that pigs are bad mothers – the Sandy and Black particularly so. That’s why it’s a rare breed.”

The troubles have not ended there; Clarkson admitted that “behind-the-scenes, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong”.

He told the outlet how the wettest March in many years ruined his potatoes and spring barley, while he has to constantly contend with regulations.

However, the show’s success provides motivation to continue and, reflecting on why it has become such a hit, Clarkson said: “It was an enjoyable way of learning about where your food comes from. Because lecturing people doesn’t work. Television is rather obsessed with organic and diversity and sustainability, rather than where food actually comes from and the actual people who make it for you. I think it’s been a very useful programme for making people go, ‘Bloody hell, you work very hard doing that and earn no money at all.’”

Clarkson’s Farm returns to Prime Video on 3 May.

Reform UK drops two more candidates over offensive social media posts

Nigel Farage’s Reform UK has dropped two more election candidates and suspended a third over a series of offensive remarks, reportedly including a slur about “brown babies”.

The right-wing challenger party has suspended its South Shropshire candidate Pete Addis after a slew of comments posted online were exposed.

Vulgar social media posts uncovered by the Mail on Sunday showed he had called for Sir David Attenborough to be “killed off” and made a racist joke about “brown babies”.

Reform said it has removed Mr Addis, as well as Amodio Amato, who reportedly said London is an “Islamic State” and that there would be “a Muslim army run by Sadiq Khan”.

A spokesman for the party said: “Amodio Amato and Pete Addis have been removed from their candidature with immediate effect, for comments that clearly breach any basic idea of decency. Iris Leask has been suspended pending further investigation.”

Ms Leask reportedly called for meat-eaters to “eat other humans” and for the human race to be “obliterated”.

Mr Addis told the Mail on Sunday that he “obviously” regretted his remarks and that they were “a joke”.

They are only the latest Reform UK candidates to be dropped amid accusations they made racist or offensive posts on social media.

Campaign group Hope Not Hate found tweets by candidates Jonathan Kay and Mick Greenhough in which they made derogatory comments about Muslims and black people.

Mr Kay, who was standing for election in South Ribble, tweeted in 2019 that Muslims “never coexist with others” and should be deported, and claimed Africans had IQs “among the lowest in the world”.

Mr Greenhough, who was the Reform candidate in Orpington, tweeted in 2023 that “the only solution” was to “remove the Muslims from our territory” and in 2019 said Ashkenazi Jews were a “problem” and had “caused the world massive misery”.

Hope Not Hate, which campaigns against the far right, said the pair were “wildly unsuitable for public office”.

Both men were removed as Reform candidates on Wednesday, following the publication of Hope Not Hate’s findings.

A spokesman for the party said: “Reform has removed our candidates for Orpington and South Ribble.

“We want to make it crystal clear that while we defend our candidates’ right to freedom of speech vigorously, we act fast when we find that individuals’ statements’ fall beneath our standards.

“Labour and Conservatives also have candidates that make statements that fall below acceptable standards, but we move faster than others in acting decisively.”

Reform has now ditched nine candidates for the upcoming election following complaints about their comments on social media.

Benjamin “Beau” Dade was dropped as the candidate for Swindon South following a similar investigation by Hope Not Hate; while Ginny Ball in Rutland and Stamford; Nick Davies in North East Bedfordshire; David Carpin in Henley and Thame; and Roger Hoe in Beverley and Holderness, have all been sacked for comments made on social media.

The party has also drawn criticism over some of its other candidates, including a convicted animal abuser and a fortune-teller who sold spells for £200 on the OnlyFans website.

Increased scrutiny of Reform comes as the party is consistently sitting at third place in the polls, behind the Conservatives. It is not expected to win any seats in this year’s general election, but could deprive the Tories of majorities in tens of closely-fought battles across the country.

Your 5-step money audit: effective ways to boost financial fitness

The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute financial advice. This information is from an independent third party, these are their own views and do not necessarily constitute the views of American Express.

It can be easy not to think too much past your next pay cheque when you’re young – but the sooner you start getting smart about money, the more you’ll be able to enjoy life not just now, but in the future, too. So, when it comes to your financial health, are you in peak condition and on top of all your vitals? Or slightly sluggish and not quite sure why?

If you’re more in the latter camp, the good news is that it’s never too late to get on top of your finances and implement simple, effective ways to get them in shape.

“When it comes to money, the sooner you start engaging with it, taking control and becoming more confident about your finances, the better,” says Ellie-Austin Williams, founder of financial wellbeing community ‘This Girl Talks Money’ and author of Money Talks: A Lifestyle Guide for Financial Wellbeing.

“Sometimes, when we don’t have a lot of money, feel like we don’t understand it or have a grip on it, it can be easy to stick our heads in the sand. But tackling your finances needn’t be scary, difficult or time-consuming. Even just sitting down for an hour or two and crunching some simple numbers around incomings and outgoings will put you in a better position. And once you’ve got some simple foundations in place, you’ll feel more engaged and on top of things. It sets you up to succeed financially, and be in the best place to navigate any changes in circumstances.”

Here, Ellie shares her top five tips for fixing your finances in 2024, from budgeting to saving and spending…

Understanding your own relationship with money and the emotional drivers behind it is the first step to getting to grips with your finances. “Money is fundamentally a tool that is there to facilitate other things in your life,” says Ellie. “It shouldn’t be the end goal, so being excessive at either end of the scale – either as an extreme spender or an extreme saver – can suggest some deeper rooted issues within your relationship with money.”

Ultimately it’s all about balance. Spending in an out of control fashion or beyond your means isn’t good – but neither is holding onto money for the sake of it or feeling guilty any time you buy something for yourself.

“There is a real fine line,” says Ellie. “Sometimes people think they’re really great with money because they hardly spend anything, but the accumulation of money is not the end goal in life for the majority of people. For most, money is about reaching a certain level of security, and then using money to facilitate things they enjoy, or that bring happiness to others around them.”

Taking some time to look at where your money is going, identifying what your emotional triggers with money are, and assessing whether you’re too frivolous or too cautious, is an important first step in taking control of your finances.

“It’s important to challenge your own behaviours, and beliefs about those behaviours on either end of that scale,” says Ellie. “Ask yourself where it comes from – were your parents good or bad with money? Did you pick up behaviours from them? And realise that you can change your approach to money. With some simple tweaks, you can have a much happier relationship with it.”

To get a handle on your finances and feel instantly more in control, sussing your monthly incomings and outgoings is crucial. “For some, the idea of a budget can sound restrictive,” says Ellie. “So I would reframe it as having a plan for your money so you can get it to do what you want it to do.”

The traditional ratio for budgeting is 50/30/20 – with 50 per cent of your income going on needs (so bills and living expenses), 30 per cent on wants (your disposable income) and 20 per cent on savings. “Obviously this will differ from person to person, and with the current cost of living, and high rents and mortgages, this isn’t always feasible. It can be a helpful framework to aim towards, but don’t stress if you’re not fitting those numbers perfectly.”

You don’t have to have a budget that is super restrictive, either. “Just knowing how much you’ve got coming in and how much you’ve got going out will give you information that you need to be able to make better spending and saving decisions, and to feel like you are going in the direction that you want to be financially. It doesn’t have to mean sitting at home with a spreadsheet. There are so many great apps now that you can use to easily analyse your spending and create and stick to a budget – Moneyhub and Emma are good ones to try. Finding something that you like using, so you can sustain this, is key.”

Even if you can’t afford to put much away each month right now, the important thing is building the habit. “Ideally you would aim to put a minimum of 10 per cent, and up to 20 per cent, of your post-tax income away into savings, but if that’s not possible please don’t worry about it,” says Ellie. “If you can only save £20 a month at the moment, that’s still a start.”

The easiest way to do it is to treat your savings like a bill that has to be paid each month. “Set up an automatic payment so that when you get paid or when all your bills go out on the first of the month, then your money also goes into savings,” says Ellie. “That way you’re not relying on your willpower.”

Put it somewhere that you can’t see or access it easily. “I always think out of sight, out of mind, so it’s easier to forget that it’s there, which is what you want with your savings,” says Ellie. ”Set up a different account to the one you use every day and look for a high interest rate – it really does add up. Make sure that you’re not just putting it away into an account that you’ve had for years where you’re earning 0.1% interest.”

Ellie recommends working towards having an emergency fund – ideally three to six months worth of expenses – in case you suddenly need it. Once you’ve saved that you can put additional money into fixed accounts with a higher interest rate, where you can lock the money away.

“If you’re saving up for a house deposit, look at a Lifetime ISA, which is a specific type of account for first-time buyers, where the government tops up the amount that you contribute by 25 per cent,” says Ellie. “There are caveats to it, including certain criteria you have to meet and a property price limit of £450,000, but for a lot of people it’s a great scheme.”

Investing can feel like a scary prospect, but it can also be a great way to grow your money further. But where do you even start?

“The first thing I say to people when they’re thinking about investing is, are you paying attention to your pension?” says Ellie. “Because your pension is an investment. It’s a long-term retirement savings account which is invested and the benefit is that, if you’re employed, you’re getting employer contributions, and it’s tax efficient. In that sense, a lot of people are already investing and don’t realise it, which makes the concept a little bit less scary. So making sure your pension is on track is a priority.”

If after that you’d like to try investing elsewhere, a stock and shares ISA is the most tax efficient way to start investing. “But the key really is just getting yourself comfortable with the basics of investing and how it works,” says Ellie. “You don’t have to be an expert, but understanding the risk, the reward, the compound interest, why investing is different to saving, and the opportunity that it can have… This gives you the confidence to get started and understand your own risk appetite.”

There are countless books, podcasts and Facebook groups aimed at beginner investors that will help you to understand the foundations – but you’ll learn as you go, too. “You don’t need to be an expert before you start. The majority of beginner investors are not picking companies stocks, they’re using automated robo-advisors where it’s all set up and done for you. It costs a little bit more in fees, but it’s a good way to get started. And you don’t have to start off investing with thousands of pounds. You can start with £5 or £10.”

There’s inherent risk in investing, so a cautious approach can get you comfortable with the up-and-down nature of it. “Starting out small can really help to build up your confidence. You can then increase the amount that you’re investing once you feel like you understand how it works and how your money is performing.”

Naturally, one of the best ways to boost financial fitness is by increasing your salary, but it’s something many of us struggle to do.

The easiest place to start, Ellie suggests, is in your current job. “Being proactive about salary negotiation is important at any stage of your career,” says Ellie. “Don’t think you need to wait to be offered a pay rise because you could be waiting a long time. Make sure you’re doing things like keeping track of your achievements, milestones and positive feedback so that when it comes to performance reviews you’ve got everything you need to make a good case for promotion or for a pay rise.”

If you haven’t had a pay review for a long time, speak to your line manager and see if you can get a sit-down in the diary. “Make sure that they know that you are proactively looking to advance.”

There are also options to bring in extra income outside of your job – but taking on a side hustle isn’t for everyone, and can lead to burn-out if you’re not careful. “But if you are in a situation where you want or need some extra money, then think about ways that you can apply the skills that you already have to earning extra income,” says Ellie. “Use the skills you’ve already got in your toolbox because you’ll be more likely to be able to charge a better rate for something you’re already experienced in. Try to find something that’s flexible and you can work around your main job. And ideally that you’ll get some enjoyment out of as well.”

Also look for other easy ways to bag extra cash. “When used well, credit cards can help you to manage your money and allow you to tap into lots of benefits,” says Ellie. “Understanding how to use a credit card is the starting point, especially knowing that it’s important to clear your balance every month to avoid paying interest. Then know how the rewards schemes work and make sure that you’re getting those perks like cash back or travel points.”

Using a credit card in place of a debit for everyday purchases can help maximise these rewards, so long as you use it sensibly. “Choose the amount that you’re going to spend on that credit card each month, so that you know how much you need to have in your current account,” says Ellie. Then set up a direct debit to clear the balance. “That way you’re spending on the card to get the benefits and you know that you’ve got money to pay it off. It’s an easy way to make a credit card work for you.”

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Western leaders face hard choices to help Ukraine resist Putin

The overwhelming majority of the British people stand with the Ukrainian people in their time of need. The Ukrainians’ brave resistance against Vladimir Putin’s aggression meets all the tests of a just war, and it is in our national interest that Putin should not succeed.

Now, however, we are coming to the hard part. Two years have passed since the Russian attempt to take Kyiv, and the balance of the war has started to shift in Putin’s favour. Ukrainian forces have had to retreat from Avdiivka, close by Donetsk, the capital of one of the eastern provinces claimed by Putin.

How should Ukraine and its allies respond to this setback? The Independent carries two exclusive articles that point the way. One, by Lord Sedwill, the former cabinet secretary, argues that Britain and its European allies must increase defence spending. The other, an interview with Maksym Zhorin, the Ukrainian commander who led the retreat from Avdiivka, sets out a warning about what will happen if we do not.

Lewis Hamilton sharply hits out at Mercedes strategy in Japan

Lewis Hamilton was left feeling exasperated during Sunday’s Japanese Grand Prix, imploring midway through the race for his Mercedes team to “change the strategy.”

Seven-time F1 world champion Hamilton, who joins Ferrari next year, finished ninth at Suzuka and again behind team-mate George Russell – who finished seventh.

Mercedes opted for a bold tyre strategy following the early red flag, switching to a hard tyre as they attempted to try a one-stop strategy after the restart.

However, with cars comfortably overtaking both Hamilton and Russell, the 39-year-old was unhappy with the direction his team took, stating sharply over team radio: “Change the strategy!”

Mercedes did in the end opt for a two-stop strategy, but could not recover any positions and Hamilton finished ninth – two spots lower than his starting grid spot of seventh.

Questioned about whether a different strategy may have been better, Hamilton said post-race: “I don’t know what it would have been. We still had two really terrible tyres to run through.

“A real challenge today. I think I picked up a bit of damage, I had huge understeer for the first stint. The hard tyre was pretty bad, medium tyre was much better. In general, the car was just pretty bad here.” Hamilton, on Saturday, had said his Mercedes car felt better than it had done for “three years.”

His P9 finish maintains Hamilton’s worst-ever start to a Formula 1 season, picking up just 10 points from the first four races. He is currently ninth in the drivers’ championship, 67 points off leader and winner on Sunday Max Verstappen.

Mercedes boss Toto Wolff said afterwards: “We ended up where we started, it was very difficult. The third stint was enough for a podium but an atrocious first stint, we need to find out what it was.”

On the tyre strategy, Wolff added: “It was the right thing to do at the beginning. Then it suddenly dropped two seconds a lap, from that moment it was clear it wouldn’t last.

“There’s no excuse, we’ve got to sort it out. This is life testing for us. The car is becoming quicker.”

A Mercedes spokesperson said after the race about the strategy gamble: “With our tyre allocation, we were able to give ourselves the possibility of looking at either a one or a two stop after the red flag – hence the hard tyre restart.

“Ultimately, as the race progressed, the tyre degradation showed that the two-stop was going to be the quickest way to the flag. Our second and third stints showed solid pace compared to those around us, including the McLarens and the Ferraris.

“We knew that Suzuka would not be our strongest track though and, with time lost being overtaken on the offset strategy (one of the downsides of this strategy), we couldn’t make it back to P6 which was likely the maximum today.”