INDEPENDENT 2024-04-28 10:04:45

Putin’s forces target hotel ‘housing English-speaking mercenaries’

Putin’s forces have targeted a hotel housing “English-speaking mercenaries” fighting in Ukraine, Russian state media claimed.

Russian troops used an Iranian-made Shahed drone to attack the hotel in Mykolaiv, Ukraine, which was left heavily damaged and set ablaze.

The region’s governor Vitaly Kim said: “The enemy attacked the city with an unmanned aerial vehicle of the ‘Shahed-131/136’ type.

“As a result, a hotel building was heavily damaged, a fire broke out, which was quickly extinguished. There are no casualties.”

It comes as Volodymyr Zelensky said a separate Russian attack on Ukraine’s energy sector targeted gas facilities important for supply to the European Union.

Russian forces fired long-range missiles – including cruise missiles – from its strategic bombers based in the Arctic Circle, to target the facilities, officials said. Kyiv said its air defences brought down 21 of the 34 incoming missiles.

“The main target was the energy sector, various facilities in the industry, both electricity and gas transit facilities,” Zelensky said. “In particular, those gas facilities that are crucial to ensuring safe delivery to the European Union.”

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.

Cornwall tourism chief warns holidaymakers could be taxed

The Cornwall tourism chief has warned holidaymakers that he could “certainly envision” a tax on tourists being rolled out in the near future.

More than four million people visit Cornwall for a holiday every year, while an extra 12 million make day visits, according to a local committee report.

Malcolm Bell, the chief executive of Visit Cornwall, has now voiced his support for a “Cornish tax” to profit from these visits.

“It is a time to have the debate, not rush into action, engage with people and look at the art of the possible,” he told local outlet Cornwall Live.

It comes after Venice, in Italy, became the world’s first city to introduce a levy for tourists in an effort to thin the crowds that throng its canals.

Simone Venturini, the city councillor responsible for tourism and social cohesion, said the scheme would help Venice find “a new balance”. But the five euro charge caused hundreds to protest against what they viewed as a move turning Venice into a “theme park”.

Mr Bell says a Cornwall tax should be applied in tandem with neighbouring Devon to avoid forcing tourists away from Cornwall. “There is no point in Devon not having one and us having one,” he said.

But the tax must be used to directly fund local business, he said, instead of going back to the treasury as per normal taxes. He noted how the UK is already one of the highest-taxed visitor economies in Europe, second only to France, but that this money does not go back into the local economy.

“The normal argument would be we need some distribution of the money that already goes to the majesty’s treasury to instead go back into local levels,” he said.

He believes that tourists would be happy to pay the tax if they knew that the money was going back into the local economy.

“We have 85 per cent repeat business in Cornwall – holidaymakers who regularly return would want the levy to help Cornwall and its residents,” he said. “If holidaymakers want to contribute, if they think it’s going to the right cause, I wouldn’t mind.”

That Cornwall is such a popular destination also suggests a desire for well-maintained local environments, he suggested, which is a further argument for a tax that helps protect the region’s natural beauty and wildlife.

“People are cynical and want reassurance that their extra payment is going towards something that is appropriate,” he said. “But if it is just another levy added onto VAT and taxes? That is probably not what people want to see.”

It comes as Cornwall Council has launched a councillor-led inquiry aimed at improving the year-round benefits of tourism while supporting locals with well-paid employment and community services.

Some of the ideas put forward at a council meeting in January included urging the government to stagger school holidays and bringing in a registration scheme for short-term Airbnb-style holiday lets.

Another was a tourist tax, with councillor Mike Thomas, a former school teacher, calling for the option to be taken more seriously.

Legal migration to the UK the ‘bigger scandal’, says Robert Jenrick

Former immigration minister Robert Jenrick has called for a cap on net immigration, claiming a “far more restrictive system” is needed.

Mr Jenrick says the Government’s recently-passed Rwanda Bill will soon “join the graveyard of policies” that failed to tackle illegal migration with refugees telling The Independent that it would not deter them from crossing the England Channel in small boats.

But he went on and called legal migration “a bigger scandal”, urging colleagues to introduce a cap to “tens of thousands”.

Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, Mr Jenrick said: “As offensive and dangerous as illegal migration is, the bigger scandal is the story of legal migration because the numbers involved are so much greater.

“Last year, there were about 30,000 illegal small boat arrivals, but this was dwarfed by the 1.2 million people who arrived here perfectly legally.”

According to Mr Jenrick, net migration needs to be wound back to “the tens of thousands”.

“We need to create a far more restrictive system that establishes the UK as the grammar school of the Western world, focusing on attracting the high skill, high wage migrants who will be net contributors to the economy,” he said.

“The only way politicians can look voters in the eye and guarantee they can meet their promises to reduce net migration is to introduce a cap which would serve as a democratic lock on numbers.”

He added the cap “should be voted on by all MPs in Parliament in a Migration Budget Debate, alongside forecasted impacts of immigration on housing, infrastructure and public services”.

Mr Jenrick resigned as immigration minister in December in protest at Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation plan, arguing it would not act as a strong enough deterrent to stop asylum seekers arriving via small boats.

Home Office minister Chris Philp declined to set a limit on net immigration when asked for his response to Mr Jenrick’s demand.

Mr Philp told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme: “I’m not in a position to sit here and advocate for a hard cap today. But what I can say is that we’re taking measures that have been enacted and are now being implemented to reduce legal migration by about 300,000 a year. That’s by significantly increasing salary thresholds. It’s by reducing the numbers of dependents who can come in with migrants.

“I think the British public do want us to control, to significantly reduce migration, both legal migration as well as stop illegal migration.”

Mr Philp also said the Government is “committed to substantially reducing legal migration”.

He added: “We don’t think it’s right to have large-scale, low-skilled migration. We want a much smaller number of high-skilled migrants.”

Londoners ask ‘Susan who?’ just a week away from Mayoral election

Londoners are going to the polls next week to decide if Sadiq Khan wins an unprecedented third term or if one of his 12 rivals will be given a chance to run the capital for the next four years.

A week ahead of the vote on Thursday 2 May, a new poll showed Mr Khan is decidedly ahead albeit with the narrowest lead in the race so far.

The Savanta survey for the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London put the Labour mayor on 46 per cent, with his Tory challenger Susan Hall on 33 per cent. But Mr Khan’s lead has nearly halved since campaigning began months ago, with home secretary James Cleverly this week accusing him of being “asleep at the wheel” when it comes to crime in the city.

With polling day fast approaching, The Independent went to speak to Londoners on the issues that affect them and what they thought of the candidates.

Across the capital we found a voting public dissatisfied with the mayor on a range of issues, from the housing crisis that Mr Khan promised to fix when he was first elected eight years ago to an epidemic of knife crime, Ulez expansion and regular transport strikes.

Despite the frustration though, many struggled to consider – or even name – the alternatives.

Tevfik Ulusoy, 42, from Lewisham, is a watercolour dealer at Convent Garden’s historic Apple Market, and took Mr Khan to task on transport issues.

“The strikes are killing us small businesses,” he said. “Everybody is struggling – train, tube strikes. The buses don’t help as they go slowly too in support and reduce services. The strikes have to stop. It seems like every month. Come on a Monday and you can see nobody is around. It is empty.

“Sadiq needs to help find an agreement and stop them for good. I’m Turkish and me and my partner I always voted Labour but in the last two years they f***ed it up.

“I’m thinking of voting for the Conservatives for the first time, I’m angry.”

Asked if he knew what Susan Hall stood for he replied: “No, I don’t know who she is but something needs to change. To be honest [the Conservatives] would do better.”

Leslie White was visiting the West End with her friend Sue Hannon from close to the Surrey border to see Mouse Trap for their joint 70th birthday present.

“Sadiq is a power-hungry, land grabber who wants to expand London,” Ms White said, bluntly. “He really wants to expand ULEZ even though he said he doesn’t. London is becoming its own country in a way and everyone else will be left behind.

“I don’t know who I would vote for, I would go in close my eyes and write an X randomly. I can’t see an alternative to Sadiq.”

Her friend Ms Hannon said she feared her small towns on the capital’s outskirts would lose their individuality if the bulging metropolis were to swallow them whole.

She said: “I understand wanting clean air but my thing is instead of charging drivers to go through there should be more park and ride. So you bus everyone in for cheap.

“I think all politicians are corrupt so I will probably go for Greens.”

We spoke to taxi driver Sam Jewell, 57, as he was idling outside the Ritz hotel in Mayfair waiting for a punter.

“I’ve lived here my whole life but the city has gone to pot ever since Sadiq got in,” he said. “Every time someone gets stabbed or shot he puts his face on the news to say it’s terrible but nothing ever changes.

“He forgets he only has two jobs as mayor – to be in charge of Transport For London and the Metropolitan Police. He appoints the Commissioner so if anything is wrong with the police – it’s on his watch. He’s always passing the buck, he’s useless. But I guarantee he will get in again.

Asked what the alternative was, he failed to recall Ms Hall’s name but was full of praise for her predecessor Shaun Bailey.

When reminded of who she was, he said: “Good luck to her. But the opposition isn’t making enough noise. Shaun Bailey was very good he put forward a lot of arguments but couldn’t win under that system.”

“Sadiq’s only achievement is ULEZ which he nicked off the Congestion charge and expanded it. Now the traffic is annoying.

“I’ve never had anyone in the cab say anything good about Sadiq or say they will vote for him but yet he’s still there. How does that work?”

“Boris was great and achieved five of his six promises.”

Housing costs in the notoriously expensive city are the main concern for many Londoners, owners and renters alike.

In Clapham Common, 24 year-old architect Alicia Lartey said: “Affordable housing is the most important thing especially because wages aren’t improving.

“He [Khan] hasn’t done a good job for renters my friends are all really struggling. It’s so hard to get on the property ladder.

“I work in property inventory and most places in Chelsea and Knightsbridge have been bought by foreign buyers but remain completely unoccupied.

“It’s a real scandal, especially with so much homelessness on the streets. You have all these empty buildings being left run down, not maintained. They just want them for a portfolio. No-one is allowed in because they are owned and they just sit there while everyone else struggles.

“New build homes only meet the minimum design requirements and use the cheapest materials. You have an excellent area but the flats are tiny with low ceilings so they can pack more in. They look nice but the quality is absolutely c***.”

On Mr Khan, she added: “I haven’t decided who to vote for. I don’t think there is any alternative to him but I don’t know of anyone else – I guess I will have to do the research. I think it would be refreshing to see a younger person be mayor, someone who has struggled to get on the property ladder.”

In Clapham, school councillor Nathan Collins, 37, was more positive about Mr Khan’s free school meals initiative.

He said: “Lambeth as a borough has a huge mix between private and state schools. Maybe a change of government will see a flood more money come into our local schools. A lot of them are closing around here.

“For me it will probably be Labour I don’t think they have done a bad job around here.

“Susan Hall is running on crime but I don’t think it is dangerous. There are challenges with low-level street crime but nothing that is too major in my opinion.

“This is a huge city, and I think the press overblow it and makes it seem like it is really dangerous around here.

“Sadiq’s free school meals have totally changed how people interact with education. They have made such a big difference to the area and our demographic.

“You start to see kids mix together on Clapham Common basketball courts and that’s what London is all about.”

His partner added: “I think Sadiq has done a good job. I wouldn’t say there was anyone else to vote for.”

But for others, soaring crime statistics tell a different picture. Figures released by the Office for National Statistics on Thursday showed knife and gun crime in the capital both increased by 20 per cent last year.

Knife crime campaigner Faron Paul, 38, who collects lethal weapons from young kids and hands them over to authorities through his FazAmensty charity, said the first duty of the mayor was to keep Londoners safe.

On the same day as a woman was knifed in broad daylight in Kilburn High Street, he said: “Almost every area of policy that city hall governs is currently being neglected.

“Our Metropolitan Police Force is broken, there’s a massive ever-widening gap between community and police, knife crime is at epidemic levels yet it is completely ignored. Our children are dying every other day in our streets.

“If Sadiq put as much focus and support of knife crime as he does the TFL and ULEZ, then we would be able to address this epidemic more effectively.

“He’s had eightyears to address this situation that has been brought to his door over and over again, but still hasn’t come forward with any type of realistic plans to combat knife crime.

“Unless Susan Hall is willing to make real changes and create meaningful policy, then no, it won’t be safer with Susan.”

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

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.

Indefinite prison sentences are still a stain on our justice system

Two years ago, MPs warned the government that a “unique injustice” in our criminal justice system – people trapped in jail for years after receiving indeterminate sentences – was causing higher levels of self-harm and suicide than among other prisoners.

Regrettably, ministers rejected the justice select committee’s central proposal to review all the cases of prisoners serving Imprisonment for Public Protection (IPP) sentences with a minimum but no maximum term.

IPP sentences, created in 2003, were abolished in 2012 on human rights grounds but not for those already serving them. This has left 2,796 prisoners still in limbo today, serving longer sentences than they were originally given. Some 1,179 of them have never been released, 705 of whom are more than 10 years beyond their original sentence. The MPs rightly described this system as “irredeemably flawed”.