INDEPENDENT 2024-04-09 01:07:51

US goes dark in the ‘Great North American Eclipse’

A total eclipse of the Sun plunged a stretch of North America into darkness on Monday, with millions of spectators across the US, Mexico and Canada hoping to catch a glimpse of the rare event.

It was North America’s biggest eclipse crowd ever, with the path of totality crossing directly over 44 million people.

More were drawn in from across the world thanks to the lure of clear skies and up to four and a half minutes of midday darkness in some places.

Almost everyone in North America was guaranteed at least a partial eclipse, weather permitting.

The best weather was seen in Mexico and at the tail end of the eclipse in Vermont and Maine, as well as New Brunswick and Newfoundland.

“Cloud cover is one of the trickier things to forecast,” National Weather Service meteorologist Alexa Maines explained at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Science Centre on Sunday. “At the very least, it won’t snow.”

First picture of woman after remains found in Croydon park

Detectives investigating human remains found in a park in Croydon have released a picture of the victim.

Scotland Yard said the family of 38-year-old Sarah Mayhew, from Croydon in south London, have been informed of her death and are currently being supported by family liaison officers.

A 44-year-old man and a 48-year-old woman were arrested on Saturday on suspicion of Ms Mayhew’s murder and both remain in custody.

An investigation was launched last Tuesday after officers received reports of possible human remains found on Rowdown Fields in Croydon.

DI Martin Thorpe, leading the murder probe, said: “My thoughts are with Sarah’s family as they deal with this heartbreaking news. No family should have to lose a loved one in such tragic circumstances, and we will continue to provide our support as our investigation progresses.

“The two people in custody were known to Sarah and at present we are not looking for anyone else in connection with her death.”

Chf Supt Andy Brittain, lead for policing in Croydon, added: “While I hope these updates will offer some reassurance to the local community, we are aware of the understandable concern this incident has caused across New Addington.

“Your local policing teams will continue to be visible and available to discuss your concerns, and answer any questions you may have as best we can. We repeat our thanks for the support and patience of the public, which has allowed officers to carry out important enquiries at the scene.”

Searches of the area near New Addington were subsequently conducted, involving police forensics and dog teams, with a large cordon in place for days.

Local residents expressed their shock at the discovery. Matthew Popoola said: “It’s really shocking to hear there were human remains here.” Sam Urquhart, 52, added: “No one expects body parts to be found, do they?”

Matthew Popoola, who lives locally, said of the discovery: “It’s quite barbaric. It’s not really a normal thing around this area.”

Anyone with information that may assist the investigation who has yet to speak with police is asked to call 101, quoting reference 1656/02Apr.

Paula Vennells could be sanctioned by MPs for misleading parliament

MPs are mulling sanctions against former Post Office boss Paula Vennells after it was revealed that she may have known remote access to the Horizon system was possible two years before denying it to parliamentarians.

The cross-party business and trade committee has announced “all options on the table” as it looks into taking action against former Post Office CEO Paula Vennells in relation to potentially misleading parliament on the Horizon scandal.

The announcement follows allegations that Ms Vennells was briefed by the Post Office’s general counsel that a unit in Bracknell’s Fujitsu headquarters could access subpostmaster’s accounts remotely.

In tapes obtained by Channel 4, Post Office chief lawyer Susan Crichton confirms twice that Ms Vennells was aware of the allegations two years prior to the Post Office halting prosecutions against its own sub-postmasters, and two years before the former chief executive told MPs in 2015 that it was not possible for subpostmasters’ accounts to be accessed remotely.

The former post office boss denied to parliament in correspondence that remote access was possible, and these denials were used in the court case against sub-postmasters, including Alan Bates, as late as 2019.

Committee chair Liam Byrne has said his committee is “deeply concerned by the latest revelations” and “will be exploring options for penalising the leadership that presided over the scandal.”

The Labour MP added: “All options are on the table, including the Commons exercising its powers in relation to contempt of parliament.

“We have to make absolutely sure that we don’t jeopardise any future legal action or undermine Sir Wyn Williams’ public inquiry. I will present my committee with options upon Parliament’s return later this month for careful consideration.”

If someone is found in contempt of parliament it means that something has interfered with parliament or obstructed its member’s duties. It is loosely defined, and only parliament decides whether something counts as contempt.

In the past, contempt has been used when someone has misled the House, engaged in financial misconduct, leaked parliamentary proceedings or defied a command.

In July last year, the privileges committee found that former prime minister Boris Johnson had committed “repeated contempts of parliament” when he had “wilfully misled” parliamentarians over partygate.

The committee recommended that Mr Johnson should not be entitled to a former member’s pass, which enables most former prime ministers and lawmakers to gain automatic access to parliament and would have recommended he be suspended from the House of Commons for 90 days, had he not already resigned.

Some MPs have accused the punishments for contempt of being weak, as it is no longer customary for parliament to imprison or fine perpetrators.

In 2019, former Vote Leave director Dominic Cummings was found in contempt of parliament after he refused to attend an evidence session after being summoned by the digital, culture, media and sport select committee.

Mr Cummings was admonished in the House of Commons but little further action was taken, leading some MPs to demand the strengthening of parliamentary powers.

The business and trade committee is expected to discuss any further actions when parliament returns from recess.

The Post Office was approached for comment.

Wes Streeting: I’ll take on unions and middle-class lefties over broken NHS

Wes Streeting has warned that the NHS will get no extra funding from Labour without “major surgery” or reform, including more use of the private sector.

The shadow health secretary insisted he would not be put off by “middle-class lefties” who cry “betrayal” over using the private sector to bring down waiting lists – adding he was “up for the fight” with NHS unions.

It is the latest in a series of bold statements about the health service by Mr Streeting, who said Labour will only give the NHS an extra £1bn pounds if medics work weekends to ensure more patients are seen.

He wrote in The Sun: “The NHS is a service, not a shrine. It is judged by how well it serves the public, not how heavy a price we’re paying for failure.”

But he was warned that his plan was not a permanent fix to the health service’s problems and that use of the private sector could “bake in” the health inequalities which already exist in the NHS, with more private hospitals based in affluent areas such as London and the South East.

Mr Streeting doubled down on his comments during an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, telling the show: “There’s a principled argument here, which is that those who can afford it are paying to go private, are being seen faster, and their outcomes and their life chances and their quality of life will be better. Those who can’t afford it are being left behind. And those tend to be people from working-class backgrounds like mine, and I think that’s a disgrace.”

He also said that the “howls of outrage” from those who are concerned about NHS privatisation are “water off a duck’s back” because: “I don’t think I could look someone in the eye who’s waiting for months and months, sometimes over a year in pain and agony for treatment, and tell them that they should wait longer because my principles trump their timely access to care.”

Quizzed about whether it was right to write for The Sun, he said he made “no apology whatsoever for making sure that the widest possible audience is hearing Labour’s alternative, especially on one of the biggest crises facing our country, which is the crisis in the NHS.”

The shadow health secretary has long been a staunch proponent of NHS reform and has made it clear that Labour will take a preventative approach to healthcare in a bid to reduce demand on the NHS.

Labour has repeatedly said it will not make any unfunded spending pledges and that shadow ministers must consider reform before cash due to the UK’s economic woes.

Mr Streeting was recently critical of the NHS, calling it a “20th-century service that hasn’t changed with the times and isn’t fit for the modern era” and that “If the NHS doesn’t change, it will die.”

The shadow health secretary’s comments have evoked ire from campaign organisation Every Doctor, which has said Mr Streeting is “attempting to make an argument for unnecessary NHS reform and privatisation by pitting one group of voters against another”.

Tim Mitchell, president of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, told The Independent: “With NHS capacity stretched to breaking point, use of the independent sector helps ensure NHS patients waiting for surgery get their operations more quickly. However, we cannot rely on spare capacity in the private sector for a permanent fix.

“We need more NHS operating theatres, theatre staff and ring-fenced beds for surgical patients, as well as measures to ensure surgical trainees don’t miss out when operations are moved to the private sector.”

Mr Streeting has previously come head to head with healthcare unions over Labour’s plans for the NHS. The shadow health secretary highlighted what he had called a “something-for-nothing culture in the NHS” and accused the British Medical Association (BMA) of being out of touch. The BMA’s deputy chair Emma Runswick called his comments “incredibly disappointing”.

The use of private hospitals for NHS patients has increased in recent years.

According to figures published by NHS England in 2022-23, 4.5 million NHS-funded appointments, which include outpatient appointments and cancer treatments, were carried out by private hospitals compared to 3.2 million in 2019-20.

Dr Sarah Scobie of the think tank the Nuffield Trust, said using the private sector for NHS patients happens already and is one “pragmatic response” but warned, “we need to be careful not to overstate the role of the private sector as a long-term solution, it is no magic fix, and does nothing to strengthen or boost the amount of planned care the NHS itself can carry out itself.”

She also said that the use of private hospitals “does not benefit everyone equally” because areas which are more prosperous with lower levels of poor health have more private providers located where they live – including London and the South East.

“It’ll be patients in these areas that will be seen quicker, while patients with more complex health needs or living in areas of more deprivation will continue to wait longer for NHS services to carry out their procedure. There is a very real risk that this approach if used longer-term could bake health equalities even deeper into our health service.”

Labour’s health blitz comes amidst a raft of distressing headlines about the state of the UK’s health service. Figures uncovered by TheIndependent showed that the number of people dying needlessly in A&E soars on a Monday as hospitals are stretched to the limit and failing to discharge patients at the weekend, while The Times reported that more than 150,000 patients had to wait more than 24 hours for a hospital bed in 2023.

The dire statistics will be a major blow for Rishi Sunak who pledged to reduce NHS waiting lists as one of his five key pledges when he became prime minister.

Mr Streeting said that it would “take time” for Labour to rebuild the NHS’ capacity, “just as it’s taken over a decade for the Conservatives to break the NHS to the point of the worst crisis in its history”.

Chief secretary to the Treasury, Laura Trott MP said Labour’s promises were “completely unfunded”: “They cannot say how they would pay for their social care promises or how they will plug their £2.7bn black hole because they do not have a plan. Without a plan, Labour will have to put up taxes – taking us back to square one.”

Meanwhile, Reform UK launched a press conference to attack Labour’s health plans, as leader Richard Tice accused Labour of “betraying decent working people”. He claimed that “no one’s listening to what the Tories say any more” but “there’s no answers from the Labour Party really on healthcare.”

Labour has received criticism from both sides of the political spectrum as left-wing campaign group Momentum called Mr Streeting’s statement “a slap in the face to hundreds of thousands of nurses, doctors and other NHS staff in desperate need of a pay rise, and a recipe for a continued recruitment and retention crisis”.

Momentum co-chair Hilary Schan added: “It’s time Labour’s Leadership rediscovered the values which led to our party founding the NHS – and commit to end privatisation and give our NHS the money it needs.”

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has firmly backed his health secretary’s reform over spend approach, tellingGB News that if his party is elected into government “we would have to pick the NHS up and put it on its feet, but we also need to make it fit for the future and that’s where the reform comes in.”

‘Fun and mischievous’ boy, 15, dies after stabbing at shopping centre

The heartbroken family of a 15-year-old stabbed to death by a shopping centre in West Bromwich have paid tribute to their “fun and mischievous” boy.

Isaac Brown was attacked by the New Square shopping centre in the town centre just after 9.15pm on Sunday.

He was pronounced dead by paramedics shortly after they were called to the scene, which remains cordoned off for forensic searches.

In a tribute, the victim’s family said he was a “wonderful, loving, kind, happy son, brother, grandson, nephew and cousin”.

They said he was “fun and mischievous, always smiling and always there to help”.

“We are unable to understand what has happened,” the family said in a statement issued through West Midlands Police.

“We just want him back and this not to have happened.”

The teenager arrested on Monday remains in custody for questioning, West Midlands Police said.

Detective Inspector Ade George, from the force’s homicide unit, said: “Our thoughts remain with the friends and family of Isaac and we have specially trained officers in place to support them.

“We hope the arrest provides some reassurance to the community as we understand the concern the tragic incident has caused to those living, working and visiting the town centre.”

He added: “We are still keen to speak to anyone who was in the area last night around the time of the incident and urge anyone with information to get in touch.”

Anyone with information can contact police via Live Chat on the force website or by calling 101 quoting 3772 of April 7.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police on 101, quoting log 3772 of 7 April, or to contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111

Savvy spending guide: 5 ways to shop more mindfully and save money

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.

Whether you’re trying to be more sustainable, save money or a bit of both, there’s no doubt that adopting a more mindful approach to shopping has real benefits for us and the planet we live in. So, whether you’re splashing out on a new wardrobe item or the latest piece of tech, how can you ensure you shop savvily, and don’t end up disappointed or having to throw good money after bad?

According to finance coach Ellie-Austin Williams, the founder of financial wellbeing community ‘This Girl Talks Money’ and author of Money Talks: A Lifestyle Guide for Financial Wellbeing, it’s all about having a strategy when it comes to spending.

“A lot of it is just about taking your time to make the decision and being confident that you have explored all the options,” she explains. “Work out what you actually need or want as well as why, do your research, and then buy smartly.” Here Ellie shares her advice for savvy spending, so you’ll never regret a splurge again…

Whether it’s a new tech item for work or one of your hobbies, a vital piece of homeware or a new pair of shoes – investment buying is about adopting a more thoughtful, mindful approach to spending, which will pay off in the long run.

“For me, investment purchases are where you have to spend a little bit more money up front but in the long term, you’ll save money because you’re buying something that will stand the test of time, that’s going to be better quality and is going to meet your needs for a longer period,” says Ellie.

When it comes to things that you use or wear everyday – whether a pair of noise-cancelling headphones or a new sofa – it’s worth making sure you’re buying something that will last. “Sometimes paying a bit more for higher quality materials will mean that something lasts several times longer as something that’s half the price so overall you end up spending less,” says Ellie.

It’s not about spending more money for the sake of it – the best buy won’t always be the priciest one. But when you are looking to drop some cash on something more significant than your small, everyday purchases, it can pay off to spend more upfront.

There’s nothing better than the feeling of buying the right thing, at the right time, for the right price. But too often we can end up feeling like we’ve made a mistake with our purchases. So how should you approach an investment buy?

“I think the key question to ask yourself is, why am I buying this?” says Ellie. “Is this something that I need or want? If it’s something that you want, that’s fine, but know why you want it. Is it something that actually is going to elevate or enhance your life in a valuable way or is it just part of a trend or fad?”

Be realistic with what you can afford, too. When it comes to any non-essential buys, Ellie always recommends prioritising essentials and long-term finances first. “So, figure out how much you want to put into your savings and then look at what’s leftover as disposable income.”

Work out your budget before you start browsing. “There will nearly always be higher end options, as well as cheaper ones, but be focused in your research and look for the best option within that budget,” says Ellie. “If you’re buying a washing machine and your budget is £600, don’t spend time looking at the £1000 machines that have great reviews but you can’t afford.”

Don’t rush it, either. One good strategy for buying bigger or more expensive items is to go home and think about it, or put it in your virtual basket and leave it there for a few days. “It’s good to sit on investment purchases for a little bit,” says Ellie. “A day or two – maybe longer if it’s a bigger purchase. Just to see if you feel the same about it once the initial buzz of the idea has worn off.”

An easy mistake to make with investment buying is assuming you should always go for the more expensive item where possible. The latest phone release might be getting all the headlines – but do you really need everything it offers, or would a lower range or slightly older model suit you just as well?

It’s all about working out what product best suits your needs, says Ellie. “For example, I don’t do a lot of heavy video editing or gaming so I don’t need a super high processing speed laptop and have saved money on that,” she says. “But I do a lot of filming on my phone for my social channels and the lowest level model doesn’t have the best quality camera. So it’s all going to be individual to your specific needs and usage.”

Especially when you’re buying out of your comfort zone, speaking to an online sales advisor or – even better – going into a store can be helpful in pinning down which specific product is going to be right for you. “If you’ve got the time to actually talk to someone with some expertise, that can be really helpful in finding an item that really suits your needs rather than just buying something that’s new and shiny and might require spending more money than you need to. You’ll get the chance to try it out, talk through the product and functions, and look at alternatives.”

Even if you intend to buy online eventually – if you have a specific online or app deal or discount code for example – it’s worth looking at things in person first.

While getting the advice of salespeople is useful, do your own research, too. When it’s a big purchase, make sure you look at independent consumer review websites like Which?, even if you have to pay a small fee to access them.

“Sometimes paying for a subscription to a site like this is worth it if you’re going to spend a lot of money on an item, to get a well-rounded assessment, see the pros and cons in one place and to see it compared to similar products,” says Ellie.

Search online for write-ups in national news titles or specialist magazines, and check out customer reviews on the big retailers’ sites. “I look at the negative reviews just to see if there are any specific complaints that consistently pop up,” says Ellie.

Seek advice closer to home, too. “Getting recommendations from friends and family is a great way to cut through the noise and overwhelm.” Social media can be a great place to ask for opinions and recommendations, including in any relevant social media groups you’re a member of, such as on Facebook or Reddit.

Once you’ve figured out what it is that you need (or want!), make sure that you’re shopping around and buying in the most cost-effective way.

“Google Shopping is a good starting point to compare prices, as it searches a wide range of retailers, including Amazon, Currys, John Lewis and Tesco, as well as less traditional sites such as eBay, Etsy and daily deals site Groupon,” says Ellie. “But use the filters to select retailers that you know and trust. If a price looks too good to be true, it probably is.”

Look into price-tracking sites – these have browser extensions that scour the internet for coupons and promo deals and automatically apply them at online checkouts. There are also specific sites that track Amazon prices and show the pricing history so you can see if you’re buying at a good time.

Money Saving Expert have created a special tool to help you find bargain buys in Amazon Warehouse (where you can buy customer returned or slightly damaged products for low prices). Also explore fashion and sale aggregate sites – many of these have discount alert functions, allow you to create watchlists of items from different online retailers, and set target sales prices, so you can maximise your discounts.

“A lot of retailers offer discounts of 10 per cent on your first purchase if you sign up to mailing lists, so that can be worth doing, and you can always unsubscribe later,” says Ellie. If you’re already signed up with a retailer, it’s worth leaving something in your online basket without buying it – sometimes they’ll email you with an offer to tempt you to complete the purchase.

Be clever about when you buy, and hold out for seasonal discounts. “If you don’t need something urgently then it can be worth waiting for one of those calendar moments to see if you can get a discount. The obvious ones are Black Friday and after Christmas, but there can be deals throughout the year.”

And don’t rule out buying pre-loved options via sites like eBay and Facebook Marketplace. “It’s a great way to get things that are high quality but that are usually out of your price range,” says Ellie, “and many items are sold unworn with tags.”

By making purchases on your credit card, you can take advantage of cashback offers and exclusive retail discounts, making your buy even savvier. “Also make sure that you’re checking the big cashback websites like TopCashback and Quidco before you make any purchases,” says Ellie. “Some retailers are on certain sites but not others so check them all. These are all little things that you can do to help you to save a bit extra.”

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If ever there was a time for America to use its might, it is now

Stop it – stop it now.” It is not just Jill Biden who is begging her husband to act decisively to end the war in Gaza. The deaths of the seven heroic international aid workers have triggered a global howl of humanitarian anguish.

In all likelihood, Joe Biden, a compassionate and emotional man, doesn’t need Flotus to tell him what needs to be done. He has struggled with the painful dilemmas the present crisis has created for many months. He was as shocked as anyone at the atrocities committed by Hamas on 7 October.

Instinctively, the president stood by Israel. So did the world. But the president has also clearly been increasingly troubled by the conduct of the war. He has grown more outspoken about the casualties and breaches of international law. He has lifted the US veto at the UN and called for a ceasefire.

Could Britain really leave the European Convention on Human Rights?

In a subtle but arguably significant change in policy, Rishi Sunak has hinted that he would, if need be, lead the UK out of the 1951 European Convention on Human Rights if that’s what it takes to stop the small boats. He said: “I do believe that border security and making sure that we can control illegal migration is more important than membership of a foreign court because it’s fundamental to our sovereignty as a country.”

His announcement was made on The Sun’s Never Mind the Ballots podcast and has attracted some praise from Conservative MPs, but there may be less to the statement than meets the eye…