INDEPENDENT 2024-04-24 10:04:10


Former army officer warns Kyiv has ‘six months left’

Western aid will not allow Ukraine to seize the initiative and go back onto the offensive against Russia, a former British army officer warned.

Richard Kemp, who served from 1977 to 2006, said US and UK munitions would let Kyiv stabilise the front line but would not allow them to take back land seized by Moscow.

He warned if Moscow was able to achieve “significant success” by summer, there would be no more appetite for Western spending on Ukraine by the winter.

“While the new aid packages might allow that to be blunted, they will not enable Ukraine to seize the initiative and go back onto the offensive,” Mr Kemp wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

On Wednesday, the US Senate approved a £76bn foreign aid package that included military support for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan.

It included £49bn in military aid for Ukraine, which the Pentagon says can start being delivered to the war-torn nation within days. President Joe Biden is expected to sign the legislation into law on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the UK also pledged £500m in new military supplies for Ukraine, including long-range missiles and four million rounds of ammunition.

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.

Zoe Ball announces mother’s death after cancer diagnosis

Zoe Ball has announced the death of her mother, Julia Peckham, a month after revealing her advanced pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

The BBC Radio 2 Breakfast presenter had previously been taking time away from her show to care for her mother, and shared that she had been moved into hospice care last week.

Early on Wednesday (24 April), Ball, 53, posted a message in tribute to Julia on social media, telling followers of her death.

“Sleep tight dear Mama,” she began her caption of a photo of Julia.

“Thank you for teaching us how to love unconditionally, to always show courage and empathy, and how, even in the darkest of days, laughter is the greatest of gifts.

“We are bereft without you but will hold so tight to each other.”

Stepping in for Ball on her breakfast show on Wednesday (24 April), Gaby Roslin also marked Ball’s mother’s death with an announcement to listeners.

“It’s no secret Zoe has been off for a little while looking after her mum, Julia,” Roslin said as she opened the show.

“Very sadly, Julia lost her fight yesterday and we’re all obviously sending so much love to Zoe and the whole family,” Roslin continued.

“It’s a horrible, awful time – and I know so many of you have been through this, loving a parent and a loved one, and I think the one thing I’d like to pass on is: grief has no rule. There are no rules about this at all.”

Roslin then relayed a message of support directly to Ball. “Zoe, you know I have got your back – I’ll always have your back. I love you dearly, you’re a very dear friend and all of us on the team love you and send you so much love.

“And to anybody else who is fighting the fight and being as brave as they can be, I am sending you lots of love as well.” Concluding her emotional opening, Roslin then played Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird”.

Ball’s mother, Julia, was married to TV presenter Johnny Ball. The couple divorced when Ball was two years old.

When she first announced that she was temporarily stepping away from the radio show, Ball told fans: “I’m trying to be at work on breakfast as often as I can but occasionally need to be home with my Mama. Thanks to Gaby for stepping in.”

While hosting the show on 17 April, Ball dedicated a song to the paramedics who had “gently” helped transition Julia to hospice care.

Kate given new honour in recognition of ‘more responsibilities’

Kate Middleton has been given a new title by King Charles in recognition of her “taking on more responsibilities.”

On Tuesday it was revealed that the Princess of Wales will also be known as The Royal Companion of The Order of the Companions of Honour.

This will no doubt be a welcome boost to the princess, who is also celebrating her youngest son’s birthday on Tuesday, with the palace releasing a new picture to celebrate Prince Louis turning six.

The King revealed that he gave the princess the honour to recognise the “esteem [in which] she is held”.

The princess is now one of a select group to hold the title, including JK Rowling and Sir Elton John.

She was given the honour as part of a St George’s Day tradition and was not the only royal to be given a new title.

Prince William was also honoured by being appointed the Great Master of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath.

Meanwhile, the Queen consort, Camilla, was made a Grand Master and First or Principal Dame Grand Cross of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

The royal family are currently going through a difficult time as the Princess of Wales and King Charles battle their respective cancer diagnoses.

In the princess’s case, this has seen her step away from public life completely as she undergoes “preventative” chemotherapy.

News of her ill health first broken in January when it was announced that she was having planned abdominal surgery and would be off duty until Easter.

However, following a period of intense speculation prompted by a manipulated photograph of the princess, she announced that she had been diagnosed with cancer.

The news came just months after King Charles’s cancer diagnosis, which came after he received treatment for an enlarged prostate in January.

The Zutons: ‘People texted me money emojis when Amy Winehouse died’

Dave McCabe of The Zutons remembers the details – just about – of his first encounter with the singer who would go on to provide an invaluable income stream for the band when they found themselves unavoidably detained by, well, a decades-spanning hiatus.

At a drunken house party in Camden, the singer and songwriter of the Liverpool indie outfit was being bothered by a hanger-on. When the scouser told him to hop it, another sozzled guest – a local – jumped in to defend the hanger-on. “No, you f*** off!” shouted Amy Winehouse. “And I went: ‘No, you f*** off!’” recalls McCabe, slapping his thighs at the memory.

In an alco-huff, he stormed out of the party, only to remember that he was in an unfamiliar part of north London, unable to get a taxi, “out my head, fuming… And then Amy comes out with her fella at the time – not Blake [Fielder-Civil], some other guy – he was quite normal compared to Blake…

“They run down the road after me and she goes: ‘Come back! I love that song “Valerie”! I didn’t realise it was you who wrote that!’ So then we go back upstairs and it’s all hunky dory. The next thing I hear, Amy’s covering our song.”

And the rest, as they say, is pan-cultural, pan-global, permanent rotation. Winehouse’s 2007 version of “Valerie” went viral before “viral” was a thing, the Mark Ronson production currently sitting pretty with 434 million Spotify streams. The Zutons’ 2006 original? “Only” 54 million. Before long, recalls saxophonist and singer Abi Harding, the band would constantly be asked: “How does Amy feel about you doing her song?” To which the band’s muttered response could be paraphrased as: “F***ing idiots, you haven’t done your research.” But then, “we’d just go along with it: ‘Oh yeah, she’s fine with it.’”

There’s gaps between albums, and there’s gaps between albums. Shania Twain, topping this year’s Glastonbury “Legend” slot, was studio-absent for almost 15 years before the release of 2017’s Now. Massive Attack, maestros of the elongated release schedule, are also festival headliners this summer, but they’re currently on the 14-year mark since the release of Heligoland.

And then there’s The Zutons. It’s 16 years since the band released an album. Where the hell have they been? True to his reputation as “a tough scouser” who “doesn’t bulls***”, as Ronson once described him to me, frontman McCabe gives a direct answer to a direct opening question.

“I was in a world of drug addiction, basically – for a f***ing long time! I had a lot of fun. But then, you know, it got the better of me. And it wasn’t fun any more. And I started to realise I couldn’t really function outside of that.”

How bad did things get for McCabe? Really bad.

“I was waking in the middle of the night, sweating, shaking, and creeping out of bed, going downstairs, creeping into the fridge, finding bottles of lager, downing them – violently – and taking whatever I could get my hands on, like Valium or whatever. Going back to bed, sitting there, going: ‘F***ing hell, I feel worse, this isn’t working…’

“Then I started drinking spirits in the middle of the night. Then it was obvious to everyone around me – when you get up in the real morning and you stink of booze… Anxiety got a proper grip on me. And in all honesty, if the alcohol was still working, I’d still be drinking. But it actually just stopped working. So it was time to stop. But it took me a long time.”

No kidding. Harding recalls the band’s don’t-call-it-a-comeback 2018 tour. “Oh my God!” she says with a shudder.

It was a low-lift UK jaunt celebrating 15 years since their Mercury Music Prize-nominated 2003 debut Who Killed…… The Zutons? (pipped at the post on the night, by all accounts, by Franz Ferdinand’s self-titled debut). “We got all sorts on the rider,” says Harding. “Two bottles of vodka, two bottles of Jack Daniels, two bottles of wine, loads of beer. Which was just ridiculous. But we’d drink it all… Yeah, it got messy.”

Inarguably, it had already been very messy for McCabe. In 2010 he was sentenced to 150 hours of community service after being convicted of assault for breaking a man’s nose outside a Liverpool pub. He admits to me that he’d been drinking all day – it was his mum’s 60th birthday and he’d also “been doing everything, you name it”.

“I was sticking up for my girlfriend,” the singer, now 43, adds. “But it got shown in court that I acted unlawfully. I accept that.”

Despite that, drummer Sean Payne insists, McCabe may have “inner angst [but] he’s not a trouble-causer at all. “But we weren’t really talking then,” acknowledges the 45-year-old who, before Covid, spent several years living in Los Angeles. “And Dave said: ‘None of yous turned up for my court date.’ I was like: ‘I didn’t even know you were going to court, mate.’ I just thought, yeah, that was bound to happen if you go into town all the time and you’re off your head.”

But all that – the misbehaviour, the addiction, the not talking – are firmly in their past. McCabe has been both sober and a dad since 2021. From wee-hours creeping into the fridge to “Creeping on the Dancefloor” – The Zutons’ excellent recent single; a reminder of their way with a brilliantly wonky pop song. It’s from their exceedingly long-awaited fourth album, co-produced by a dream team of Nile Rodgers and old band pal Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds. The Big Decider is a masterclass in old-school, radio-friendly, genre-agnostic indie.

McCabe remembers sending demos of five of their new songs to Rodgers during lockdown.

“And within 48 hours, he came back, and he was thumbs up, singing our songs to us. At that point you know, this is real now.”

I meet the three core members of The Zutons, separately, in Liverpool. McCabe is first up, chirpy, chatty and off the chips – he’s lost two and a half stone and is trying to lose more ahead of his wedding next month.

Then, Harding takes McCabe’s seat in the cafe and pours a herbal tea. Another part of the band’s healing was Harding and Payne getting back together as a couple. They’d broken up following the band’s drifting apart in 2009. Talking about The Zutons’ extensive run of low-key, club-sized shows earlier this year, the 42-year-old says: “It’s been boss. After you’ve been away so long, you don’t know if people will care, or remember you. But they’ve been amazing.”

Finally, a Guinness round the corner with Payne. More healing chat: recent years, he says, have “showed us all what we were to each other”.

The writers of “Why Won’t You Give Me Your Love?” and “Valerie”, Top 10 singles both in 2006, were a band out of time in an era that became retrospectively known as indie sleaze. As Payne reflects now: “We were definitely part of the ‘10 best new bands in the NME’ world… But we never felt cool or that we wore the right gear. We were all stoner musos. The image thing was never a thing to us.”

For a while, the only way was up. Receiving that Mercury nomination for their debut album was, for McCabe, validation. “For a long time we were basically The Coral’s undies,” he says of their Liverpool peers (he means understudies, not underpants). “Then all of a sudden, we weren’t. That thing in my head, that barrier, was broken that night.”

Then the “Valerie”-powered second album Tired of Hanging Around shot them round the world. “One year, I was in my flat, not far from here, about three days in total,” remembers Harding. “You were just going from one thing to the next. I wasn’t overwhelmed. But I would get nervous when someone would say [at a gig]: ‘Oh my God, there’s Leonardo DiCaprio.’ But people are just people, aren’t they?”

But the pace, and the partying, caught up with them. In early 2008 they spent three months recording their third album, You Can Do Anything, in Los Angeles with, at their record label’s urging, Black Crowes’ producer George Drakoulias. But The Zutons were being overwhelmed with dysfunctionality. In LA, they went through the motions – McCabe’s “motions” being to disappear from the studio and day drink in local bars. “We were just sick of each other,” he says. “And I can see why people were sick of me.”

Just before Christmas 2008, six months after the album’s release, The Zutons were dropped by Sony. They staggered on into the following summer, their final show being a headline appearance at Leicester’s Summer Sundae Weekender on 16 August 2009. As Payne recalls of some studio sessions shortly afterwards, he and McCabe “looked each other in the eye and knew [the songs] weren’t good enough”. With a shrug they “agreed to sack it for a bit”.

And then they were gone. Although, courtesy of “Valerie”, The Zutons were never fully gone.

Ronson later told the band how his blockbuster cover came about. He was making Version, his 2007 album of funk-flavoured indie-anthem covers (The Charlatans’ “The Only One I Know” by Robbie Williams, Kaiser Chiefs’ “Oh My God” by Lily Allen, etc), “and I was dying for Amy to [contribute]. And she was like: ‘I don’t like modern music, I just want to do Dinah Washington.’ I said: ‘Every day you’ve come into the studio singing that “Valerie” song. Why don’t we do that?’ ‘Oh, yeah, alright!’”

“The feeling I had when I first heard her singing was magical,” says McCabe. Then he received an email: Ronson wanted to release it as a single. “I was like: really? Because we’d just had a mad hit with it, on Radio 1 all the time.” But Ronson went ahead and, little over a year later, it was a mad hit – an even madder one – all over again. Now, almost 20 years later, McCabe characterises “Valerie” as “on that loop now – the Beyoncé loop – and I’m dead happy about it”.

When Winehouse died in 2011, the song was boosted further. “I remember loads of people texting me money emojis,” he says with a shake of the head. “Then my mum turned round to me: ‘Are you going to the funeral?’ No, I didn’t know her that well, Mum!”

It’s McCabe’s songwriting finesse – untapped and unrealised since Gordon Brown was prime minister – that makes the return of The Zutons welcome all round.

“It’s not like we’re doing this to make money, because we’re not making any money at the moment – we’re barely breaking even!” says McCabe, chirpily, of a band now releasing their music on their own label. “I’m just doing this for the love of the music. And because it’s therapy for me. It makes me feel like this is what I should be doing with my life.

“And hopefully this good feeling can carry on,” he concludes of a trio radiating, like their new tunes, nuclear-powered good vibes. “I think it will. I’m not planning on turning into a nightmare any time soon.”

The Big Decider (ICEPOP) is released on 26 April. The Zutons are touring this month

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.