INDEPENDENT 2024-04-27 16:04:53


Indefinite sentences ‘blot on our legal system’, says new chief of prisons’ union

The new chief of the prison governors’ union has questioned whether politicians have the “courage” to free prisoners still trapped behind bars on abolished indefinite sentences – as he warned of the need for a fundamental rethink of how Britain punishes criminals.

In his first newspaper interview in the role, Tom Wheatley told The Independent many cash-strapped governors face an “impossible” task of keeping crumbling, overcrowded and increasingly violent prisons running in a way that keeps the public safe.

Arguing that ever-longer sentences will keep placing unsustainable strain on the prison system unless it is properly funded, making it harder to rehabilitate dangerous offenders, Mr Wheatley warned that politicians must be brave enough to consider making “fundamental changes to the way we use prisons”.

With the size of Britain’s growing inmate population “moving more towards the US” than comparable European nations, he said the UK must decide whether it wants either to properly invest in jails – or else to send fewer people to prison, and spend that money on schools, hospitals and social care instead.

Likening the current situation to using surgery as “the first response” for any patient who visits a GP, Mr Wheatley said: “There are a lot of things we could do before we get to the stage where we’re going to take the most expensive and highest-risk option.

“We could take a different view on how we use punishment, and what things prison is suitable for.”

Giving one such example, he pointed to “the blot on our legal system” of “imprisonment for public protection” (IPP) sentences, which saw people handed minimum jail terms but no maximum.

Despite the policy being axed over a decade ago, disowned by its Blair-era architect and criticised by the UN torture tsar, thousands of people remain trapped in prison years beyond their original terms, often for minor crimes, with among the highest suicide and self-harm rates of all inmates.

In a stark warning to the government this week following the death of Scott Rider, who took his own life after serving 17 years for a 23-month tariff, senior coroner Tom Osborne has now called for an urgent review of the cases of all prisoners serving IPP sentences.

Backing this call, the new Prison Governors Association chief – who has himself governed six different jails – said: “There’s a deal of political courage needed to do that.

“Because if just one were to reoffend and that reoffending was to be serious, and someone was to get hurt or lose their life even – I don’t think there’s the political courage about to make those kind of judgements.”

A lack of willingness among politicians to make unpopular arguments about the reality and cost of long-term imprisonment is an issue that Mr Wheatley is far from alone in suspecting is linked to the currently dire state of British prisons in general.

Mr Wheatley has worked in prisons for three decades, over which period the inmate population has almost doubled to around 88,000 prisoners in an estate built to house around 79,000 people, parts of which date back to the Napoleonic era.

That increase – projected to hit as high as 106,000 by 2027 – is mostly a result of tougher sentences, with average tariff lengths having grown by half in the decade to 2021. Despite this, research suggests more voters believe sentences have become shorter rather than longer over that period.

“It’s very, very difficult when somebody has committed an awful crime, an atrocity of some description, to argue that sending that person to prison forever isn’t the best way to protect the public,” said Mr Wheatley.

“If you look back at where the prison population started to increase significantly, the [1993] killing of James Bulger sort of sits at the beginning of that period of time. That was a horrific offence and shocked people. I can remember people almost incredulous that they lived in a country where that could happen.

“But I think the response of politicians to that has had long-term consequences for prison population,” said Mr Wheatley.

“What I would want from politicians is political leadership that both addresses the issue and the feelings of the public and actually says … ‘does this awful event mean we need to change the law?’ Because I think those two things have become so closely linked,” he said.

Despite new plans to rapidly create more prison places, capacity is now failing to keep up – to the extent that ministers have now been forced to free inmates at overcrowded jails up to 60 days early and plan to introduce a presumption against jailing people for sentences shorter than a year.

Meanwhile, years of overcrowding and underfunding has hampered maintenance of the increasingly dilapidated prison estate, making jails at the sharp end of this – some of which Mr Wheatley believes should be decommissioned – both more difficult to run and intolerable to inhabit.

“In a world of limited resources”, he argued, “we are going to have to think differently about what we do, and use prison as our ultimate sanction in criminal justice in a way that best serves the public. That might mean that some people spend less time in prison, it might mean that some spend more.

“But it means we have to be really clear about what the purpose of prison is and how we are paying for it … You can’t have an ever-increasing prison population and continue to fund it as if you haven’t.”

As things stand, governors “are not able to give the public an effective prison service”, warned Mr Wheatley, adding: “There will no doubt be effects of that – there will be people who commit serious further offences when they get out.”

“If we’re not providing rehabilitation – if we’re keeping prisoners locked in their cells for 22 or 23 hours a day – we’re not having a positive affect on them. We might be having a really detrimental effect on them, making them more risky rather than less risky – that will play out in the future,” he warned.

Beachcomber finds ‘holy grail’ Lego octopus washed ashore from 1997

A boy who has collected almost 800 pieces of Lego that spilled into the sea from a shipping container in the 1990s has finally found a “holy grail” plastic octopus after two years of searching.

Liutauras Cemolonskas said he was happy to have found the rare octopus, which was one of nearly five million pieces of Lego that fell into the sea in 1997 when a cargo ship encountered a storm.

Among the Lego pieces that fell into the sea were 352,000 pairs of flippers, 97,500 scuba tanks, and 92,400 swords – but octopuses are the most prized objects as only 4,200 were onboard.

Liutauras, based in Cornwall, explained that he regularly goes down to the local beaches with his parents and has amassed 789 Lego pieces over the course of two years, as well as numerous fossils.

Father Vytautas Cemolonskas, 36, said: “We’ve been looking for that octopus for two years, it’s not easy to find.

“We were not expecting to find it at all because it’s very rare.”

His son found the octopus on a beach in Marazion, Cornwall.

He explained: “I was interested in archaeology when I was a kid and later Liutauras started doing (beachcombing) too, so we were always just doing it together as a family.”

Liutauras’s next goal is to find one of the 33,941 dragons that fell into the sea after the accident, in which 62 cargo shipping containers toppled into the water during a storm 20 miles off Land’s End, Cornwall.

Beachcomber Tracey Williams is behind the Lego Lost At Sea project which has spent years finding the plastic pieces since they spilled into the ocean.

She told PA it was “quite exciting” that a second Lego octopus was found two days after Liutauras’s discovery, this time in Porthleven.

“I think that’s because we had a very high spring tide coupled with strong onshore winds and when the two collide, the waves eat into the dunes that then release a lot of the plastic that has washed up,” she explained.

“I think there’s something quite magical about the octopuses.

“They’re often seen as the holy grail of finds from that shipping container.”

Ms Williams collected the Lego pieces near her parents’ home shortly after the accident and “forgot about the story” until she moved to Cornwall in 2010 and began finding them again.

“I found one octopus back in 1997 and I didn’t find another for 18 years,” she said.

“I think people do love to find a bit of Lego when they’re doing a beach clean and many see it as as a reward for all the work they’ve put into cleaning the beaches.”

Ms Williams has been working on research related to the cargo spill and wrote a book, called Adrift: The Curious Tale Of The Lego Lost At Sea, about the accident.

She also runs popular social media accounts dedicated to highlighting the toy scavengers’ finds.

“I’m recording where it all washes up so we’re working on a map that will form part of a scientific paper to show how far plastic from a cargo spill drifts and what happens to it over time,” she said.

“What we’d like to find out is whether those containers still exist or whether they’ve long since rusted away.

“I mean, it’s intriguing to know what’s happened to all the rest of the Lego that we’ve never seen.

“There are so many cargoes spilled every year, but you very rarely hear what happens to the goods inside and what we know from the Lego story is that 27-year-old plastic that was inside that shipping container is still being found.”

She said the cargo spill is “part whimsical, part doom-laden”.

Collecting the Legos “started as a bit of fun and it gradually opened my eyes to how much plastic was in the ocean”, she said.

ITV’s Rageh Omaar breaks silence after falling ill live on TV

ITV News presenter Rageh Omaar has spoken out for the first time after falling ill during the Friday night broadcast of News at Ten.

Omaar, 56, was presenting the ITV1 news programme on Friday (26 April) when he appeared to have difficulty reading the autocue.

Following the broadcast, ITV confirmed that the newscaster was receiving medical care.

On Saturday afternoon (27 April), a spokesperson for the network shared an update expressing that Omaar is now recovering at home following hospital treatment.

“We appreciate viewers of last night’s News At Ten were concerned about Rageh Omaar’s wellbeing,” the statement begins.

“Following medical treatment at hospital, he is now recovering at home with his family.

“We are wishing Rageh a speedy recovery and look forward to him being back on screen when he feels ready.”

In a statement also shared by ITV News, Omaar thanked all who supported him during the difficult ordeal.

“I would like to thank everyone for their kindness and good wishes, especially all the medical staff, all my wonderful colleagues at ITV News, and our viewers who expressed concern,” the newscaster said.

“At the time, I was determined to finish presenting the programme. I am grateful for all the support I’ve been given.”

The nature of Omaar’s illness during the broadcast remains unknown.

ITV pulled the show from its scheduled re-runs on ITV+1, with a message instead telling viewers that ITV was “temporarily unable to bring you our +1 service”.

“We will resume shortly,” it read.

Soon after the broadcast, ITV News acknowledged viewers’ worries with a statement.

“We are aware that viewers are concerned about Rageh Omaar’s wellbeing,” a spokesperson said.

“Rageh became unwell while presenting News at Ten on Friday and is now receiving medical care. He thanks everyone for their well wishes.”

Many social media users have shared their support for Omaar, with several admonishing others for resharing footage of the live broadcast.

“People need to stop sharing the videos of Rageh Omaar and learn some basic decency and respect,” reads one comment on X/Twitter.

Omaar has worked on ITV News since 2013, beginning his tenure as a special correspondent and presenter. He has also served as deputy newscaster of News at Ten since 2015.

Prior to his roles at ITV, the Somali-born newsreader was a world affairs correspondent at the BBC, and a news presenter at Al Jazeera.

Waitrose advert fenced off by overzealous council over ‘public safety’

A deliberately wonky Waitrose advertising billboard has been fenced off by council staff concerned for public safety.

In a stunt intended as a nod to the supermarket’s prices, the billboard on the side of a home next to a busy road in London’s Clapham area was placed deliberately askew.

But with the advert’s only major features being a caption reading “well this is good, new lower prices on hundreds of your favourites”, some pictures of food items, and an arrow pointing to the advert’s wonky bottom corner, the point of the stunt was lost on at least one confused member of the public.

They appear to have alerted the council after becoming concerned that the billboard was at risk of falling down, prompting council staff to briefly fence off the street below it while they checked that the advert was indeed intended to be wonky for a reason.

Seizing on the misunderstanding, Waitrose posted a photo of the billboard and safety barriers on X, formerly Twitter, writing: “Hi [Wandsworth Borough Council] – thanks for the swift action but while our prices are falling rapidly, our billboard certainly isn’t! #noneedforbollards”.

In a statement, the council said: “We were alerted to this unusual advert by a concerned member of the public and while we could see it might be deliberately set up to look that way, we thought better not take any chances with public safety so put up some barriers to be on the safe side.

“Once we’d spoken to Waitrose and established it was designed to look this way we removed the barriers straight away.”

Waitrose, which is owned by the John Lewis Partnership, recently announced its fifth round of price cuts on certain items since early 2023, helping it to reduce the previously soaring rate of food price rises generally at its stores.

It has reportedly invested a total of £130m to do so over that period, as it seeks to fight fierce competition from M&S, which has enjoyed boosted grocery sales and claims to be gaining shoppers from all rivals, including Waitrose.

Prices at all supermarkets have soared in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with inflation at Waitrose reaching as high as 14.6 per cent in early 2023, then above Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Ocado, according to consumer outlet Which?.

However, according to an inflation tracker created by Which?, Waitrose had the lowest rate of inflation of any supermarket on the list, with its 3.5 per cent of price rises more than a percentage point lower than its nearest competitor Ocado.

Salah and Klopp in heated exchange as Liverpool drop out of title race

Mohamed Salah had a heated exchange with Jurgen Klopp as he prepared to come onto the field during Liverpool’s 2-2 draw against West Ham at the London Stadium.

The Egyptian forward was dropped to the bench having not performed at his usual high standards for Liverpool since his injury, and in the aftermath of the club’s defeat in the Merseyside derby on Wednesday night.

Salah was preparing to come on before West Ham’s equaliser, but after Michail Antonio’s header Klopp went over to speak to the forward – who raised his arms and appeared to argue back to his manager.

Salah was then told to calm down by Darwin Nunez, who pulled him away from continuing the exchange.

The draw has seen Liverpool’s chances of winning another title in Klopp’s farewell season disappear. They have dropped points to Arsenal and Manchester City, and despite an improved second-half performance, it was not enough for victory.

Jarrod Bowen put the hosts ahead just before the half time break before Andy Roberston equalised, and the Reds then went ahead after a fortuitous pinball that resulted in an Alphonse Areola own goal.

But Antonio made Liverpool pay for their missed chances, which included hitting the woodwork twice, as he struck a 77th-minute equaliser.

When asked by TNT Sports after the game if he could say what was said in the exchange, Klopp said: “No.

“But we spoke already in the dressing room, and for me, that’s done.”

Former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher said about the incident on X, formerly known as Twitter: “The only reason a manager would be unhappy in this situation, is the player took too long to be ready to come on.”

Peter Crouch was a pundit on TNT Sports, and he said: “It didn’t look good, I don’t think it looks good for the club.

“Mo Salah is a player who has started the majority of games for Liverpool and he will be fuming to be on the bench.

“But no-one likes to see this between a manager and a key player.”

Liverpool have not performed at their usual high standards in recent weeks. Since a 2-2 draw against Manchester United on April 7, the club have won just one Premier League match, at Fulham and have lost to Crystal Palace and Everton.

Salah has not scored in the League since the trip to Old Trafford, although he did score a penalty against Atalanta in the Europa League, as the Reds crashed out of that competition following a 3-0 home defeat in the first leg.

Liverpool’s form towards the end of the season appears to have slightly dropped off a cliff, even Klopp was forced to admit after the Everton game: “We were not even close to what we want to be.”

He added: “It wasn’t the first [below par] one but it was the worst one. Crystal Palace wasn’t even close [to being as bad].”

E2E Female 100 List for 2024 Revealed

For more information and to see the full E2E Female 100 2024 list click here.

E2E, in association with The Independent, proudly unveils the E2E Female 100 list, a definitive index recognising the exceptional achievements of the 100 fastest-growing female-led or founded businesses in the United Kingdom, based on their remarkable growth rates over the past three years.

The data underpinning this prestigious recognition is gathered by Experian and Go Live Data, ensuring a meticulous selection process that acknowledges businesses solely for their tangible contributions to the commercial landscape.

Spanning a myriad of sectors, these league tables serve as a testament to the remarkable endeavours spearheaded by women across the UK.

A celebratory gala dinner is scheduled for the autumn of 2024, hosted by Shalini Khemka CBE.

Featured in the list and demonstrating extraordinary growth are Darina Garland, co-founder and co-CEO at Ooni, who has seen an 88% increase, Alison Doherty, CEO at Sarah Raven’s Kitchen & Garden Limited who has seen an 83% increase and Fateha Begum, co-founder and executive director at Dare International Ltd who has seen an 81% increase in growth.

The E2E Female 100 constitutes a pivotal component of The E2E 100, a visionary initiative encompassing six league tables, complemented by expansive receptions and a plethora of associated content.

This initiative stands as a resounding testament to the exceptional calibre of UK enterprises, showcasing their unwavering commitment to excellence, consistent growth, and groundbreaking business strategies that reverberate not only within their respective sectors but resonate nationwide, and in some instances, globally.

Highlighting talent from every corner of the UK, this list underscores the rich diversity of businesses founded by women and the monumental successes they have achieved despite navigating through the challenges of an uncertain economic landscape.

Speaking about the list, Shalini Khemka CBE, founder of E2E says: “The E2E Female 100 list is a testament to the remarkable achievements of women in business. It showcases their talent, dedication, and resilience in navigating the business world. We’re still in a period of transition where women have to be recognised as much as possible to create parity in our economy, both in terms of general recognition, pay recognition, and equal opportunities, and I believe this list serves as a pivotal step towards achieving that goal. By shining a spotlight on the outstanding contributions of women entrepreneurs, the E2E Female 100 list not only celebrates successes, but also advocates for the recognition and equal treatment of women in business.”

Andy Morley, Chief Revenue Officer from The Independent, said: “It brings us great pleasure to highlight this extraordinary assembly of women, each having demonstrated remarkable strides over the past three years in their respective fields. The collaboration between E2E and The Independent for the E2E Female 100 provides a platform to spotlight the exceptional female talent across the UK whilst inspiring future generations of female entrepreneurs, and shows E2E’s commitment to championing female leadership in business.

Lord Bilimoria CBE, DL said: “As a founding Board Member of E2E, I’ve witnessed its transformation under the stewardship of Shalini Khemka CBE, evolving into a pivotal ecosystem supporting founders, business leaders, and investors. The Female 100 is a testament to E2E’s commitment to spotlighting the fastest growing female-led enterprises across the UK— a remarkable initiative that not only celebrates the achievements of these dynamic women but also serves as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs. E2E’s dedication to fostering diversity and empowering female leaders underscores its invaluable contribution to the entrepreneurial landscape, shaping a future where opportunity knows no bounds.”

The tracks are independently compiled by Go Live Data and Experian according to specific criteria and official data. Each track is supported by our partners Champions (UK) plc, Go Live Data, Virtuoso Legal and Experian.

To find out more about E2E, visit https://www.e2exchange.com

Could the Columbia Campus wars now tear British universities apart?

It was just a few days after 7 October when Romilly Blitz experienced her first antisemitic incident on campus. “Brainwashed Zionist genocide supporter,” whispered one of her classmates after a lecture. Other students giggled. Romilly, who like most British Jews has family in Israel, and had friends at the Nova Festival where hundreds of partygoers were murdered, wasn’t to know that was just the start.

In the past six months, she has had people shouting “psychopathic” and “genocidal” as she’s walked across campus. People point and tell each other, “That’s her, that’s the Zionist”. Her photo has been taken and circulated among pro-Palestine WhatsApp groups who were concerned that she would try to infiltrate them.

She’s been made not to feel welcome in certain buildings as she was told by pro-Palestinian protesters they have become “apartheid-free zones”. Once, on a bus on the way home from a nightclub, talk turned to the war and a crowd aggressively started shouting at her, “We are anti-genocidal”. She has been told that people who compared Israel’s stance on gay rights to other countries in the Middle East were guilty of Islamophobia.

We deserve an NHS in which staff and patients are safe from harm

The NHS is an institution of which Britain ought to be proud. But The Independent’s catalogue of exposés about sexual assault and harassment within the health service makes for grim reading.

From the shocking number of sexual assaults on patients and staff within NHS-run mental health services to the complaints of alleged sexual violence in psychiatric hospitals, only a small proportion of which have led to charges, and the sexual harassment of trainee paramedics, it is clear that things cannot continue as they are.

Now, the senior official overseeing the NHS workforce has added her voice to the chorus of calls for change that has arisen in the wake of our reporting.