INDEPENDENT 2024-04-24 01:04:23


UN ‘horror’ at mass grave at hospitals in Gaza

The United Nations has expressed horror over reports of mass graves being discovered outside two Palestinian hospitals.

The organisation said it was corroborating Gazan officials’ reports that 283 bodies were found at Nasser hospital and 30 at Al Shifa.

“We feel the need to raise the alarm because clearly there have been multiple bodies discovered,” said Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“Some of them had their hands tied, which of course indicates serious violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, and these need to be subjected to further investigations.”

It comes as the US warned Hamas had “moved the goalpost” and changed its demands in the hostage negotiations with Israel mediated by Egypt and Qatar.

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said the United States will continue to push for an agreement that will see hostages taken on October 7 released and a pause in fighting in Gaza.

Meanwhile, satellite photos suggest an apparent Israeli retaliatory strike targeting Iran’s central city of Isfahan hit a radar system for a Russian-made air defence battery, contradicting repeated denials by officials in Tehran of any damage in the assault.

Stroke patients wait more than a day for ambulances

Patients needing urgent treatment for life-threatening illness such as strokes or heart attacks waited more than 24 hours for an ambulance response, new figures show.

New data shows the crisis facing NHS ambulance services resulted in every region missing vital NHS targets to respond to some of the most critically unwell patients last year.

Despite improvements compared to 2022, figures obtained by the Liberal Democrat party show ambulance services continued to struggle with response times to category two patients, which may include those who have suffered a stroke or heart attack and should receive a response within 18 minutes.

In two cases patients needing this level of response, in Warrington and Staffordshire, waited more than 25 hours for an ambulance.

Sir Julian Hartley, chief executive at NHS Providers, which represents all NHS trusts, called for “urgent” investment and warned that “rising demand, limited resources and vast staff shortages are piling pressure on an already-stretched service, further driving up ambulance waiting times.”

He said NHS hospital and ambulance leaders are working to reduce delays and responses at a time “when demand has never been higher.”

According to the data, obtained under the freedom of information act, Cornwall had the worst average response times last year with Category 2 patients waiting an average of one hour and nine minutes for an ambulance to arrive. This was followed by West Devon, and South Hams with waits of 59 minutes.

Response times to Category 2 calls have deteriorated since 2019, reaching record highs in 2022.

NHS England has since set ambulance services a target this year of having patients seen within 30 minutes rather 18 minutes.

For Category 1 patients, who should received a response within seven minutes, ambulances in 173 out of 194 local authority areas missed the target. In one case a patient waited 11 hours and 44 minutes for a Category 1 response.

Last month The Independent revealed a new private ambulance service has been launched in the East of England charging patients a £99 fee for a response.

The most recent estimates from the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives showed 34,000 people may have been harmed due to ambulances being delayed outside of hospital. These levels reached record highs during winter 2022.

Daisy Cooper MP, health and social care spokesperson for the LibDems said: “Calling an ambulance when you or a loved one is in a serious emergency is one of the most distressing moments of someone’s life. The least people deserve is to know that an ambulance will be able to reach them in time. Sadly, too often that is not happening as these devastating figures show.

“This Conservative government has overseen the complete decimation of local NHS services. Under the Conservative Party the health service has faced unforgivable neglect and it is patients who are bearing the brunt.

“We urgently need investment in our ambulance services. For too long staff have not been given the resources they need and patients have been left to suffer unnecessarily. Conservative MPs should hang their heads in shame.”

The Department for Health and Social Care was approached for comment.

Public schoolboy accused of attempted murder was ‘sleepwalking’

A public schoolboy who bludgeoned two sleeping students and a teacher with hammers at a boarding school was sleepwalking at the time, a court has heard.

The 16-year-old was wearing just his boxer shorts when he attacked the two boys and the housemaster at Blundell’s School in Tiverton, Devon.

Exeter Crown Court heard that the teenager, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, had armed himself with three claw hammers.

The jury has previously heard that the two boys were asleep in cabin-style beds in one of the school’s boarding houses when the defendant climbed up and attacked them shortly before 1am on 9 June last year.

Housemaster Henry Roffe-Silvester, who was asleep in his own quarters, was awoken by noises coming from the boarding house and went to investigate.

When he entered the bedroom where the attack had happened, he saw a silhouetted figure standing in the room who turned towards him and repeatedly struck him over the head with a hammer.

Setting out the defendant’s case, Kerim Fuad KC told the jury the teenager accepted carrying out the attacks but was not guilty of attempted murder because he was sleepwalking.

The barrister said the two boys were the defendant’s “friends and dormmates”.

“He had no reason nor intention to kill them,” Mr Fuad said.

“He had no reason, no intention to kill his housemaster, Mr Roffe-Silvester.

“The defence case is that the defendant can only have been consumed in an episode of sleepwalking to have committed these extraordinary acts, so was not conscious and awake.”

Mr Fuad said it was “not in issue” that the defendant had taken a “hammer or hammers” to the two boys and Mr Roffe-Silvester.

“It is not in issue that he caused these awful, awful injuries,” he said. “Nothing can diminish, nor do we at any stage seek to lessen, the horror of the incident or what these boys went through. What is in issue is what caused a 16-year-old boy to strike the heads of his two dorm-mates in such a horror-film way, to then only strike out at his housemaster?

“Was he awake and he intended to kill each one of them, or maybe he had been sleepwalking and therefore was not conscious? In fact, he can never have hoped to get away with it. So why? And the answer to that lies at the very heart of the issues.

“No one can be guilty of committing such an offence whilst asleep – you have to be fully conscious. You have to be fully conscious and in control of your actions to be criminally liable for them.”

Mr Fuad told jurors that at the time of the attack, the defendant was being blackmailed over the internet by someone who was demanding £400.

“You will hear the defendant was being blackmailed at the time by a fraudster on the internet to whom he was having to pay sums of money just before this incident,” he said. “You will hear more detail of the subject matters that he was researching on the internet on his iPad.

“You will hear of the state which the defendant was in from several eyewitnesses.”

James Dawes KC, prosecuting, had previously told the jury that an examination of the defendant’s iPad revealed he had been listening to music on Spotify moments before launching the assaults.

Concluding the opening of the crown’s case, Mr Dawes said the police had attempted to establish a motive for the attacks.

“The investigation has uncovered an obsession that the defendant had with one of the boys,” he said. “An obsession with hammers as weapons, and an obsession with killing and killers and the killing of children.

“It may not be palatable, and it may not be particularly logical, but it appears to be an obsession which he carried out. These are deliberate actions, and he rained blows down on their unprotected sleeping heads with heavy hammers. He used both sides of the hammer, including the sharp claw.

“Those hammers he had purchased in advance – again, a choice he made months in advance of this attack. These violent actions were repeated again and again.

“We say that the evidence, when you look at it in the round, is consistent with him acting deliberately, and really that there was no other explanation for his actions other than his intention to kill them.”

The defendant, now aged 17, denies three charges of attempted murder.

The trial was adjourned until Wednesday.

Why mortgage rates are surging again

Barely a day after the Building Societies Association (BSA) warned that becoming a first-time buyer was “possibly the most expensive it has been over the last 70 years”, a string of major lenders made it even pricier.

Barclays raised rates across a range of mortgage products by 0.1 per cent, the second increase in a week. NatWest said it would hike some of its two and five-year “switcher” deals for existing customers by the same amount. Certain two, three and five-year fixed rates will be increased by up to 0.41 per cent at the Co-op Bank. HSBC also joined the grim parade.

This has become part of a trend. James Hyde, spokesperson at Moneyfactscompare.co.uk, told me that the average two-year fixed mortgage rate currently sits at 5.83 per cent, which is the highest it has been since early January, when there were signs that borrowing rates were coming down.

Lee Anderson mocked for mistake in bizarre St George’s Day post

Reform MP Lee Anderson has raised eyebrows with a new video about St George’s Day, which he posted on social media with a bizarre warning to fans of “advacado” and supporters of the Palestinian cause.

The MP for Ashfield, who recently joined Reform UK after being suspended from the Tory party over racist remarks about London mayor Sadiq Khan, marked the annual feast day with a post showing off a pair of cufflinks bearing the St George’s Cross.

“Look at these here, the flag of St George,” Rishi Sunak’s former Tory deputy chair told viewers, pointing to his cufflinks.

“It’s St George’s Day today and this country of ours has been a gift to the world. Look at the industrial revolution, culture, arts, music, sport – everywhere you look on this planet, you see some of that. Oh, by the way, happy birthday William Shakespeare.”

In a caption for the post, he wrote: “Trigger Warning. If you are a Guardian reading, advacado eating, Palestinian flag waving, Eddie Izzard supporting Vegan then this clip is probably not for your consumption.”

His remarks drew amusement from on X/Twitter, where critics picked up on his misspelling of the word “avocado”, and noted the connection between Palestine and St George, who is celebrated not just in England, but in parts of Africa, the Middle East, Caucuses and South America.

Comedian Shaparak Khorsandi wrote: “Who is going to tell him about St George’s connection to Palestine? (His mother was Palestinian, they too have a St George’s day/feast. Though, to be fair, it is not known if he was related to Eddie Izzard).”

While Mr Anderson’s reference to Izzard is unclear, Mr Anderson has previously been criticised for “vile” remarks about the transgender actor and Labour candidate.

In a reference to Mr Anderson’s past claims about food banks, which have earned him the nickname “30p Lee” in some quarters, podcaster Marina Purkiss joked: “What is an advacado and can I buy one for 30p?”

And author Nick Tyrone wrote: “The greatest thing about Lee Anderson is the way in which he is a perfect parody of himself. There is no way any comedian could come close to replicating his work here.”

Mr Anderson featured in a separate clip posted by Reform UK against the backdrop of a large England flag, in which he said: “Hello everyone, happy St George’s Day. Look at this behind me – I’m a proud Englishman, I’m proud to be British as well.

“But are you fed up with people dissing our history, our heritage, our culture? I am. Love the flag, please share it.”

The party’s leader Richard Tice also posted a clip from London’s Regent Street claiming the “political elite” are “ashamed of our flag”, vowing that “Reform UK would ensure every city in the country is encouraged to fly our great flag on St. George’s Day”.

Prior to becoming deputy chair of the Conservatives, Mr Anderson had suggested the Tory party would have to fight the next election on “culture war” issues – as it could no longer rely on Brexit or Jeremy Corbyn as vote-winners.

“The big thing in terms of 2019, there were three things that won us the election,” the former Labour councillor told the conservative New Culture Forum last year.

“It was nothing to do with me, it was Brexit, it was Boris, it was Corbyn and it was as simple as that. Those three things together were a great campaign – great ingredients,” he said, adding: “At the next election we haven’t got those three things so we’ll have to think of something else.

“It’ll probably be a mix of culture wars and trans debate.”

Polling by Ipsos and King’s College London suggested in November that the majority of British voters felt politicians were using culture wars to distract from other “important” issues.

Nearly two thirds of the 3,716 people polled said politicians “invent or exaggerate” culture wars as a political tactic – but just one in 10 felt politicians who talked about divisions over cultural issues genuinely believe it is an important topic.

From reefs to rainforests: A nature-lover’s guide to Queensland

From the oldest tropical rainforest on the planet to iridescent everglades, striking marine life and dramatic mountain peaks, Queensland is a paradise for anyone into nature and wildlife. We’ve put together a guide to the best natural spots to visit in each region, with help from the experts at Travelbag, who are on hand to make your dream holiday happen.

Queensland’s vibrant capital, Brisbane offers plenty to lure urbanites with its galleries, museums and restaurants, and it doesn’t fall short on the nature front either.

For an especially tranquil spot, head to the city’s Botanic Gardens, set just outside the centre and home to the biggest collection of Australian native rainforest trees in the world (entry is free). If you fancy getting up close and personal with the local wildlife, swing by the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary – home to a koala research centre alongside various experiences, from wildlife encounters to a Nocturnal Twilight Tour.

Beyond the city itself, you’ll find plenty more to explore; for one of the most jaw-dropping spots, head to the Scenic Rim, a dramatic caldera landscape scattered with soaring peaks, lush valleys and scenic bushwalking trails.

The Gold Coast might be best-known for its beaches, nightlife and family-friendly fun, but as the gateway to several national parks, it’s also a dream for nature-lovers. It’s here you’ll find Lamington National Park and Springbrook National Park – both part of the Unesco-listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia World Heritage Area, the biggest subtropical rainforest on the planet. Hiking trails lace these tree-carpeted landscapes, with waterfalls, mountains and lush flora for scenery.

Elsewhere, venture to Burleigh Heads National Park to amble between scenic coastline and emerald rainforest, and come between July and October to spot migrating whales as they pass the famous ‘Humpback Highway’.

Just north of Brisbane sits the Sunshine Coast – an idyllic stretch lined with sugary beaches and cerulean sea, and the home of laid-back surf town Noosa.

Among the myriad natural charms here you’ll find the Noosa Everglades – one of only two everglades systems in the world, tucked within a sprawling UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Nicknamed the ‘river of mirrors’, this network of waterways, tea tree forests and wetlands is home to 40% of Australia’s bird species, with canoe and kayak tours available if you want to see its wildlife from the water.

It’s not just the everglades worth a visit here, though. In the wider Great Sandy National Park, you’ll find hidden-away beaches, tumbling sand dunes and sprawling rainforests – best explored by 4×4 – while elsewhere in the hinterlands lie the Glass House Mountains, a cluster of volcanic, craggy peaks offering excellent hiking and exceptional views.

Much of Queensland’s charm lies beneath the surface, of course, and if you’re looking to explore the region’s colourful marine life, the Whitsunday Islands should be high on your list.

There are plenty of options for sailing trips here, with key spots including the talcum-sand Whitehaven Beach and paradise-worthy Hamilton Island. Book a Whitehaven Camira Sailing Adventure to explore the first, or if you fancy getting properly back to nature, opt for the two-day Reeflseep, which combines snorkelling and optional diving with dinner and a night sleeping under the stars.

There’s more in the way of world-class snorkelling and diving in Cairns – the gateway to the Great Barrier Reef, where dwarf minke whales, manta rays, turtles and groupers inhabit the surrounding waters.

But it’s not only about the marine life here – two hours away sits the Daintree Rainforest; the oldest tropical rainforest in the world, believed to date back around 180 million years. Saltwater crocodiles, kaleidoscopic butterflies and an array of tropical birds inhabit this ancient landscape, with waterfalls, creeks and swimming holes hidden among the trees.

Head out on a riverboat cruise to take it all in, or book an indigenous-led tour to learn more about the Daintree’s Aboriginal people; this vast, heritage-filled wilderness is Australia at its most quintessential, and a perfect symbol of Queensland’s striking diversity.

Book it: Combine Queensland’s natural highlights on Travelbag’s Queensland Ocean & Rainforest Experience, or get in touch with Travelbag’s experts for a private, tailor-made trip to suit.

How will new voting rules affect the local elections?

The Elections Act 2022 made two important changes to voting in Great Britain. These came into effect last year, but there will be millions of voters who will come across the new rules for the first time in the local elections next week.

The first change is the requirement to show an approved form of photo identification at the polling station. This has long been required in Northern Ireland, but is now the law in the rest of the UK, and will be a requirement at the coming general election, which must be held by January next year.

The other change is the end of the supplementary vote system in mayoral and police and crime commissioner elections. People used to have two votes in these elections, a first preference and a second preference. Now we have a single vote, as in parliamentary and local council elections, and the candidate with the most votes wins – there are no second preferences for eliminated candidates to count, even if the winner secures fewer than 50 per cent of the votes.

Let this tragedy in the Channel be the death knell of the Rwanda bill

We should start by seeing the latest tragedy in the Channel through the eyes of the victims, in order to understand what drives people to take such risks on unseaworthy dinghies. It should be obvious that such people are not going to be deterred by the remote prospect of being removed to Rwanda.

So when the prime minister talks about “compassion”, we can accept that his policy would be compassionate if it worked. But it is not going to work. Indeed, it is unlikely even to be given the chance, because the Labour Party has promised to stop the flights, even if they have started by the time it forms the next government. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, confirmed on Tuesday that the removals will cease immediately if Labour is elected.

We suspect that Rishi Sunak knows the Rwanda policy will not work, but wants the flights to take off before the election to give him a dividing line.