INDEPENDENT 2024-04-09 16:03:50


Brother-in-law of Scotland’s first minister charged with abduction

The brother-in-law of Scotland’s first minister has been charged with abduction and extortion in a case linked to a man who died falling from a window.

Police Scotland said the 36-year-old was seriously injured in the incident at a block of flats in Morgan Street, Dundee, on 10 January and he later died in hospital.

Ramsay El-Nakla, the brother of Humza Yousaf’s wife, Nadia El-Nakla, will be the fourth person to appear in court in connection with the case.

The 36-year-old has been arrested and charged with abduction and extortion.

Jennifer Souter, 38, appeared at Dundee Sheriff Court on Thursday charged with culpable homicide.

Souter, of Dundee, did not enter a plea and was remanded in custody.

Stephen Stewart, 50, and Victoria McGowan, 41, appeared at the same court on Thursday charged with abduction and extortion.

They both did not enter a plea and were both released on bail.

El-Nakla is expected to appear at the same court on Tuesday.

Police Scotland said in a statement: “A 36-year-old man has been arrested and charged with abduction and extortion following an incident where a man fell from a block of flats on Morgan Street, Dundee, on Wednesday 10 January. He died a week later in hospital.

“Three others were previously arrested and charged following the same incident.

“The 36-year-old man is due to appear in Dundee Sheriff Court today, Tuesday 9 April. A report will be submitted to the procurator fiscal.”

This is a breaking story, more follows.

Wrexham just three wins away from another Hollywood promotion finale

Not since the 2004-2005 season have Wrexham played in the third tier of English football but, powered by celebrity owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney and with the Welcome to Wrexham documentary cameras following their every step, north Wales’s biggest club may be about to end that drought.

They have four games remaining in the League Two season and know that three wins will be enough to guarantee League One football coming to the STōK Cae Ras next season. From there it’s ‘only’ two more promotions to the Premier League…

The investment of Reynolds and McElhenney, the management of Phil Parkinson and the goals of ‘Super’ Paul Mullin have fired Wrexham out of the doldrums and they’re now tantalisingly close to achieving another target, as well as providing the perfect ending to season three of Welcome to Wrexham.

While the National League – the division from which the Red Dragons spent the first two seasons of Welcome to Wrexham desperately fighting to get out of – has just two promotion spots, League Two offers three automatic promotion places before the clubs finishing from fourth to seventh compete for an additional slot via the play-offs.

Wrexham currently lie second in the table, having played 42 of their 46 games, and only need to secure a top-three finish to seal promotion.

As it stands, Stockport County are top of the table on 80 points, four clear of Wrexham and with a game in hand, making them overwhelming favourites to win the title. But it’s the teams in third and fourth that the Red Dragons will be more concerned with.

Wrexham are second on 76 points from 42 games, MK Dons are third with 74 points from 43 games and Mansfield Town lie fourth with 71 points from 41 games. That means MK Dons can end the campaign with a maximum tally of 83 points and Mansfield can reach 86 – if both were to win all their remaining matches – but because they play each other on Saturday 13 April, at least one will drop points.

If Dons were to beat Mansfield while both won every other match, they would both finish the campaign on 83 points, meaning 84 points is the magic number for Wrexham to guarantee finishing above at least one of them and sealing a top-three place.

That means Wrexham need eight points from their final four matches, so three wins (or two wins and two draws) will secure promotion for the Red Dragons and get them back into League One after two decades away.

The story of Wrexham’s climb back into the Football League following investment from Reynolds and McElhenney is well-documented across the first two series of Welcome to Wrexham. After a heartbreaking play-off defeat in the first campaign, they held off Notts County in a thrilling title race last year to win the National League and finally end a 15-year spell stuck in non-league.

Expectations were high heading into the 2023-24 season, with the prospect of back-to-back promotions on the cards. After an opening-day 5-3 defeat to MK Dons, Wrexham went on a brilliant run to surge to the top of the League Two table. They lost just two of their next 22 league games before finally slipping to a 3-1 defeat away to Walsall on 29 December.

Unfortunately, that ushered in a first sustained run of poor form of the season as they lost three games in a row as the calendar flipped to February – going down to Newport County, Salford City and Bradford City. However, Parkinson and co. have righted the ship to win five of their last eight games and leave promotion in their own hands heading into this final stretch.

Despite a punctured lung suffered during a pre-season match against Manchester United causing him to miss the first month of the season, Mullin has once again been Wrexham’s goalscoring star, bagging 19 in the league. Elliot Lee has also chipped in with 15 goals, while Arsenal loanee Arthur Okonkwo has been brilliant in goal, keeping 12 clean sheets.

Wrexham’s rise from National League obscurity to one of the most talked-about teams in English football owes so much to the investment of Reynolds and McElhenney – even if the thought of two Hollywood stars owning a fifth-tier football club from north Wales would have been preposterous just a few years ago.

The question that often gets asked is ‘why Wrexham’? It’s a long story – best told over the first two series of Welcome to Wrexham – but it starts with British comedy writer and actor Humphrey Ker watching football during his lunch breaks while working on McElhenney’s show Mythic Quest.

McElhenney became hooked on the sport, decided he wanted to invest in a football club and then set about deciding which club to target from a list of down-on-their-luck teams who had growth potential, drawn up by Ker. He settled on Wrexham because of its still-passionate fanbase and huge catchment area, given the lack of any other major club for miles around.

McElhenney needed a partner for the investment and got Reynolds on board with the idea as he required “movie money” rather than just the “TV money” he had made from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

In November 2020, RR McReynolds LLC bought Wrexham AFC for £2m, following a poll among the club’s 2,000 Supporters’ Trust members who voted overwhelmingly in favour of their new owners and from there, the duo set about rebuilding the club.

They invested in community schemes and hired voluntary staff like Wrexham’s disability liaison officer. They stayed in the town and drank in The Turf pub over the road. The Welcome to Wrexham documentary has charted their course and while perhaps it is just PR fluff rather than a truly hard-hitting sports doc, it has drawn eyeballs and further investment to the team, with the Hollywood pair utilising knowledge and contacts from their day jobs.

TikTok were brought on as the club’s leading sponsor, bringing a tenfold increase in revenue. Other major brands like Expedia came on board too as Reynolds and McElhenney cranked up the publicity, appearing to millions on The One Show in the UK and The Late Late Show in the US.

They hired the former English Football League chief executive Shaun Harvey to help run the club, alongside Ker, handling contract renewals and transfers, enabling them to sign players with pedigree in the leagues above with the lure of big wages and a long-term project.

Players such as Mullin, Lee, Ollie Palmer and many others have brought success and excitement on the pitch which, in turn, has led to regeneration of the local community and businesses, including The Turfpub featured in the documentary becoming a tourist hotspot.

Where the journey ends, who knows? But Reynolds and McElhenney may just be about to help Wrexham end a 20-year drought with promotion to League One and the sky appears to be the limit.

Revealed: The UK’s most delayed flight routes revealed

The UK’s most disrupted flight paths have been revealed, with passengers bound for Poland likely to touch down over 30 minutes behind schedule.

A Ryanair flight from Leeds Bradford to Lawica, Poland was found to be the most delayed route. Passengers frequently faced an average delay of 36 minutes, with an average scheduled arrival time of 11.51am and an average actual arrival time of 12.27pm.

Business communications provider Esendex announced the least punctual routes where air passengers are most likely to face a delay ahead of the summer holiday season of travel.

Those travelling from Birmingham to Dubai in the UAE could also expect a half-hour delay to their planned landing time followed by a Channel hop from East Midlands Airport to Paris’ Orly Airport, the UK’s third most delayed flight route, with an average delay of 28 minutes.

Esendex analysed over 250 flight routes based on upcoming scheduled flights at 20 UK Airports using FlightRadar24 to create the Delay to Departure report.

Domestic and international flights departing Bristol Airport appeared the most times in the top 10 most delayed flight routes with three short-haul journeys leaving the south west aviation hub behind schedule.

Over the past year, Esendex assessed every completed flight per flight code taking an average scheduled arrival time and an average actual arrival time to calculate if the flight route was delayed, early or on time.

Aviation expert Sean Moulton told The Independent: “Flight delays occur for a multitude of reasons. An airline may not want to leave connecting passengers behind, so holding a flight to meet that connection ensures a good service for as many people as possible.

“Additionally, airlines across Europe are struggling with pilot and crew recruitment. Between shifts, staff are mandated to take a certain number of hours break meaning, if an airline is short staffed or has a high absentee rate, it may lead to delays until crew return to their legally permitted hours.

“At airports which are highly slot constrained such as Heathrow and Manchester, airlines risk losing their slot if they are not on time. As such, routes to less constrained airports tend to suffer from aircraft being used on valuable routes to ensure these slots are maintained in future seasons. This is part of the reason why the list contains smaller airports such as Leeds and Belfast.”

As for early arrivals, London Heathrow to Delhi was hailed as the most ahead-of-schedule route. Passengers flying with Air India often landed on average 35 minutes early.

Chris Gorman, head of professional services at Esendex, said: “A delayed flight can cause a lot of anxiety, adding to an already stressful situation for many of us. Whether that’s impacting further travel plans once landed, or causing issues with accommodation, flight delays can cause havoc to travel itineraries.”

Squabble over plan to make Scrabble less of a struggle for the young

Controversial changes to make Scrabble easier for Gen Z have been light-heartedly compared to “potty training.”

The comment by broadcaster and ex MP Gyles Brandreth, President of the Association of British Scrabble Players, came after a new, simpler version of the game was announced.

The makers, Mattel, have produced Scrabble Together, which involves a second side of the board to make it “more accessible anyone who finds word games intimidating.”

Mr Brandreth said research by Mattel had shown “Gen Z people don’t quite like the competitive nature” of the traditional version which older people like him “thrive on.”

He was challenged by BBC Radio 4 Today host Nick Robinson who protested “losing is how you learn – I learned Scrabble when my mum constantly beat me.”

Mr Brandreth, 76, rejected the criticism and told a chuckling Mr Robinson: “You go to lavatory now but you were once successfully potty trained.”

Mr Brandreth continued: “The point is you have got to begin somewhere. The idea is to encourage people who feel Scrabble is a bit daunting.”

People from Gen Z – adults younger than 27– “want a game where you can simply enjoy words and language, being together, having fun and creating words,” said Mr Brandreth. Adding they were from a “more casual generation.”

According to Mattel, the new game is “designed with inclusivity and collaboration in mind” and is suitable for players aged eight and up.

It involves the use of simpler words to create a family-friendly game that’s less “intimidating” for people who don’t like the competitiveness of traditional word games.

The new incarnation sees players compete to be the first to finish a series of 20 challenges instead of relying on the points-based system from the original game that requires using high value letter tiles by creating increasing complex words.

Points in Scrabble Together are lost when a player fails to complete a “goal card” or if they use up all of their “helper cards” – which lend a helping hand if someone gets stuck.

Some of the goal cards in the new Scrabble involve challenges like “play[ing] a three-letter word” or “play[ing] a word that touches the edge of the board” – so players do have the option of increasing its complexity.

But as the original Scrabble relied on a complex vocabulary leading players to victory, many fans have been left with seriously ruffled feathers.

Some have slammed Scrabble Together for dumbing down word games in a world where people are reading less than ever before.

Others have gone as far as to dub it “Woke Scrabble”.

One X user wrote: “Scrabble dumbs down as people become less able to spell.”

A second added: “But… But… The whole point of Scrabble is to win – and win *big* by knowing lots of the really obscure words and completely crushing your opponent.”

A third, meanwhile, said there was no need to change the game in the first place.

They wrote: “Look, we have all been getting on fine with #scrabble thank you very much.”

News of the so-called “Woke Scrabble” comes after a 2023 survey from the National Literacy Trust found that less than half of those aged eight to 18 read for enjoyment in their spare time.

This marks a significant decrease from from 58 per cent back in just 2016.

Mattel vice president Ray Adler said of the 75-year-old game: “Scrabble has truly stood the test of time as one of the most popular board games in history, and we want to ensure the game continues to be inclusive for all players.”

Top UK museums admit hundreds of items lost, stolen or destroyed

Top UK museums have admitted that hundreds of important items have been lost, stolen or destroyed over the past five years.

The Imperial War Museum, the Natural History Museum and the National Museum of Scotland are among those who reported missing items in response to Freedom of Information requests by The Independent.

The revelations come as the British Museum has appointed a new director after the London-based institution was thrown into crisis over an alleged theft scandal.

National Portrait Gallery chief Nicholas Cullinan was hired to lead the British Museum last week as the 265-year-old institution grapples with the apparent theft of hundreds of artefacts and growing international scrutiny of its collection.

Previous director Hartwig Fischer resigned in August after the museum disclosed that more than 1,800 items were missing in an alleged case of insider theft, with many of the items offered for sale online. However, hundreds have subsequently been returned, including a first-century Roman profile bust of the goddess Minerva/Athena in black glass with a white band, and a glass cameo with a bust of the god Cupid/Eros in layers of brown, white and purple glass.

Now, it has been revealed that hundreds of items have gone missing from other key museums.

The Imperial War Museum recorded 539 items as lost between 2018 and 2023 and one item as stolen, while the Natural History Museum disclosed 13 items had gone missing over the last five years. During the same time period, the National Museum of Scotland reported six items were lost from its collections, one item was stolen and another destroyed in a fire.

Among items missing from the Natural History Museum are mammal teeth from the Mesozoic Era, which would be over 65 million years old, while a gastrolith was a specimen assumed to have been stolen from the Dinosaur Gallery. The National Museum of Scotland said a telephone handset belonging to the de Havilland Comet 4C, which was the world’s first commercial passenger jet aircraft, was the item that was stolen from its display in 2022.

Former officers at the Metropolitan Police’s Art and Antiques Unit told The Independent of the impact of budgetary and staff cuts over the years when it comes to investigating art crime in London, with the team even facing closure at times.

An example would be in 2017 when three of the four officers on the unit were moved across to deal with the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy, leaving just one officer on the team.

When it was put to the Mayor of London that the squad had in effect been temporarily closed, Sadiq Khan insisted at the time that “the work of the unit is very much operational”, although he “recognised that for the interim, matters will be managed in a different way”.

One source, who wished to remain anonymous, said: “The budgetary cuts did have a massive impact on investigatory powers. It was an incredibly small unit punching way above its weight with a worldwide reputation. When you start to strip the team from three or four people, it clearly will have an impact. It’s sad.”

The Science Museum Group reported four objects recorded as lost between 2018 and 2023, while the Museum Wales said a total of 16 items had gone missing since 2017, and 1,921 is the overall number of items that have been lost since the museum started caring for objects.

However, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Tate all reported no missing or stolen items over the same time period.

Meanwhile, it emerged last year that a famous sculpture by Auguste Rodin had been missing from the Glasgow Museums Collection for 75 years. Les Bourgeois de Calais was last seen when it was exhibited in 1949 in Kelvingrove Park, where it “suffered damage while on display”, according to Glasgow Life, which is the organisation in charge of many of the city’s cultural venues. Jérôme le Blay, the director of the Comité Rodin, which maintains a catalogue of the artist’s works, estimated the value of the 2-metre sculpture would be around £3m today.

The British Museum committed to immediately acting on all recommendations of an independent review of security that concluded at the end of last year after items from its collections were found to be missing, stolen or damaged.

The museum fired a longstanding curator, Paul Higgs, over the missing items, and is suing him at the High Court. Lawyers for the museum say Higgs “abused his position of trust” to steal ancient gems, gold jewellery and other pieces from storerooms over the course of a decade.

Higgs, who worked in the museum’s Greece and Rome department for more than two decades, denies the allegations and intends to dispute the museum’s legal claim. Police are also investigating, but no one has been charged.

A former member of staff at a top UK museum, who wished to remain anonymous, said he was not at all surprised upon hearing of the issues facing the British Museum, because he said the problems are sector-wide.

He blamed cataloguing failures caused by a drain of expert skills, which in turn has at least partly come about as a result of funding cuts amid an industry expansion. He said: “People having to learn on the job without expert knowledge are expected to catalogue stuff they’re not sure about.”

The Imperial War Museum said its figure only includes items that are still lost, with the museum “frequently” recovering other items that have gone missing. It added that the figure should be set within the context of the scale of the museum’s collections as a whole, which stood at 33,680,654 items in its last annual report.

Museum Wales said it currently has more than 5.3 million items, having cared for objects since the 1870s, with the majority of those lost being small, domestic or of low financial value. A spokesperson said: “While we have vigorous collection management and security procedures in place, due to the scale of the collection and with at least 1.3 million people visiting our seven museums per annum, some losses are unfortunately inevitable.”

A spokesperson for the Natural History Museum said: “We take the security of our collection very seriously, so over the last decade we’ve had just fourteen instances of lost or missing items from a collection of 80 million, limited to small things like teeth, fish and frozen animal tissue, and just one confirmed theft.”

A spokesperson for Glasgow Life said: “The process of recording, cataloguing and caring for the Glasgow Museums Collection has improved significantly since it was founded in the 1860s… Where historic thefts have been conclusively identified, we have robust processes in place including notifying the police and adding the items to the Art Loss register which makes it difficult to secure sales at legitimate auctions.”

Yep, you’ve got ‘spag bol’ all wrong – for this simple reason

If there’s one rule above all in cooking, it’s don’t offend the Italians.

No mean feat considering even they can’t decide on an “official” recipe for anything. Every family, region and nonna has their own version, which basically means that a good general rule of thumb is to assume that you’re getting it wrong.

And Northern Irish food writer James Pollock did get it wrong – publicly – when he shared his recipe for bolognese on X.

The NHS must be open to a course of tough love as prescribed by Labour

Labour’s perpetually combative shadow health secretary, Wes Streeting, has never shied away from unarmed political combat, but to launch himself into an attack on his own party’s core support is, even for him, veering into dangerous-dog territory.

In what the police would, in a different context, term an “unprovoked attack”, Mr Streeting gave little more warning than a cursory snarl about Labour’s investment in the NHS being “linked to reform” before sinking those sharp centrist fangs of his into the soft flesh of the Labour movement.

Pouring more money in without reform would be like pouring water into a leaky bucket. We will also use spare capacity in the private sector to cut the waiting lists. Middle-class lefties cry ‘betrayal’. The real betrayal is the two-tier system that sees people like them treated faster – while working ­families like mine are left waiting for longer.” Constituency Labour parties and Unison branches across the land were left needing stitches.

Do the allegations about Angela Rayner’s tax affairs have any merit?

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, has been accused, variously, of evading tax, avoiding tax, lying, and misleading the public as well as her party leader about her tax affairs. The allegations arise from a book by Michael Ashcroft, a former deputy chair of the Tory party and no stranger to tax-based controversies himself.

In Red Queen? The Unauthorised Biography of Angela Rayner, Ashcroft alleges that, long before she was an MP, she bought her former council house, in Vicarage Road in Stockport, with a 25 per cent “right to buy” discount. In due course, she got married and cohabited with Mark Rayner, and she sold the house in 2015 at a gross profit of £48,000.

Ashcroft used information from the electoral register, Rayner’s marriage certificate, and the address given on the birth certificates of her children in his research, but the evidence is inconclusive, and even if it were possible to establish where she and her husband/partner were living at various points, it may be irrelevant from a tax liability perspective. The great irony may be that both Rayner and Ashcroft are misunderstanding the regulations relating to capital gains tax (CGT), albeit in their own different ways.