The Telegraph 2024-05-15 16:00:43

Live Slovakia’s PM Robert Fico in life-threatening condition after assassination attempt – live updates

Robert Fico, Slovakia’s pro-Russian prime minister, is in a “life-threatening” condition after being shot in a suspected assassination attempt.

A message posted to Mr Fico’s Facebook account said the “next few hours” would decide his fate.

Mr Fico was speaking to supporters outside the House of Culture in the town of Handlova, 93 miles north-east of the capital Bratislava when four shots were fired, with one striking the prime minister, Slovakia’s state broadcaster reported.

Mr Fico was taken to the hospital by helicopter for surgery after sustaining bullet wounds to the hand and abdomen.

The suspected assassin was overpowered and detained by police, who cordoned off the area.

Follow the latest updates below

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Sycamore Gap suspects arrive at court in balaclavas

The two men accused of cutting down the Sycamore Gap tree arrived at court wearing balaclavas.

Daniel Graham, 38, denied cutting down the Sycamore Gap tree in Northumberland and Adam Carruthers, 31, entered no plea to the same charge as they were told the case against them was so serious it must be heard in crown court.

Graham wore a black balaclava, with large aviator sunglasses covering his eyes, while Carruthers sported a black hood that covered his entire face.

Both men wore black suits and red ties as they entered Newcastle magistrates’ court.

During a 15-minute hearing, the court was told the Sycamore Gap tree had been scientifically assigned a value of £622,191 using the capital asset value for amenity trees (Cavat) system.

The pair are further charged with causing criminal damage to Hadrian’s Wall, a Unesco World Heritage Site, to the value of £1,144, which occurred after the tree toppled on to it.

Mr Graham, of Grinsdale, near Carlisle, Cumbria, denied both offences, said to have occurred in the early hours of Sep 28 last year. Carruthers, of Wigton, Cumbria, answered “no plea” when the charges were put to him.

District Judge Zoe Passfield told the defendants: “This case is too serious to be heard in magistrates’ court, that is why I am sending this case to Newcastle Crown Court.

“The first hearing will be on June 12. I grant you both conditional bail.”

Rebecca Brown, prosecuting, told the court: “This is a case that will be instantly recognisable to you, indeed anyone hearing the charges read out.

“The prosecution say the tree was deliberately felled on September 28 last year and the resultant fall damaged Hadrian’s Wall, a Unesco World Heritage Site.

“The prosecution say these defendants are responsible as part of a joint enterprise.”

Sentencing guidelines say that if convicted, the men could face jail terms ranging from 18 months to four years.

Ms Brown continued: “This is a complex case with unusual features. There is a large amount of expert evidence, including botany, cell site analysis, ANPR and image enhancement.”

She said the Cavat method, used by local authorities to evaluate the value of trees as a public amenity, had been used to place a value on the Sycamore Gap tree.

Ms Brown said: “This looks at the physical attributes of the tree, the size, type and also looks at the community tree index based on the number of members of the public who have this tree accessible to them.

“It is a science that includes a number of different factors and it is a number that has been arrived at after careful consideration.”

She said the Crown Prosecution Service had also considered the “serious distress causing serious consequential economic or social impact of the offence in addition to the high value damage”.

Joanne Gatens, for Carruthers, and Andrew Gurney, for Graham, said they had no objections to the case being referred to the crown court.

After the short hearing, the defendants, both wearing masks again, were picked up and driven away in a white Range Rover.

The Sycamore Gap tree in Northumberland was one of the world’s most photographed trees and featured in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman.

It was voted English Tree of the Year in 2016 in the Woodland Trust’s awards.

The sycamore, which was more than 200 years old, was found chopped down on Sep 28 last year, with its upper section lying across the historic Roman wall, after being targeted in a “malicious act of vandalism”.

Detective Chief Inspector Rebecca Fenney, the senior investigating officer in the case, said: “There has been an ongoing investigation since the Sycamore Gap tree was cut down.

“As a result of those enquiries, two men have now been charged.

“We recognise the strength of feeling in the local community and further afield the felling has caused, however we would remind people to avoid speculation, including online, which could impact the ongoing case.”

The two men were originally arrested last October and have been on bail since.

Felled tree shows ‘signs of life’

Despite being felled, the tree lives on at a secret National Trust location in the form of blooming seedlings.

In December last year, staff at the National Trust revealed that material they collected from the felled tree was showing “signs of life”.

Experts used a range of techniques to cultivate life, including one known as “budding”.

It works by attaching a single bud from the original tree to a rootstock of the same species.

This process, if successful, would create genetically identical replicas of the original Sycamore Gap tree.

Several dozen seeds which were grown in specialist compost have also now sprouted.

Plans for the sprouts have not yet been decided, and saplings would not be ready to be planted for at least 12 months.

Andrew Jasper, director of gardens and parklands at the National Trust, said: “These techniques, delivered with a remarkable degree of care and precision by our conservationists, are providing a legacy for this much-loved tree.”

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