The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police today vowed to police ‘without fear or favour’ amid a political row between Downing Street and local leaders
The Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police today vowed to police ‘without fear or favour’ amid a political row between Downing Street and local leaders over tougher coronavirus measures.
In an open letter, Chief Constable Ian Hopkins said that while he is ‘accountable’ to Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham, he is ‘operationally independent’.
It follows reports that the Government has not imposed Tier 3 measures on the region over fears police would not enforce them without the backing of Mr Burnham.
Political leaders in the region have so far refused to accept the highest level of restrictions without greater financial support for businesses and residents.
Mr Hopkins wrote: ‘All officers and staff in Greater Manchester Police are accountable to me as Chief Constable. We carry out operational policing without fear or favour and in line with the Police Services code of ethics alongside colleagues across the country.’
He added: ‘It is for local and national politicians to agree the necessary restrictions to keep us all safe.
‘As the Chief Constable I will then ensure my officers and staff enforce these in a proportionate manner alongside our local authority partners.’
Mr Hopkins said he has spoken to both the mayor and Home Secretary Priti Patel throughout the pandemic. ‘We are all agreed that there needs to be a proportionate level of enforcement to existing regulations,’ he said, adding he had ‘support’ from both in relation to the force’s approach.
The Prime Minister tried to increase pressure on Mr Burnham during a Downing Street press conference yesterday, threatening to impose the measures if local leaders did not accept them.
Both he and Labour have warned the situation in Greater Manchester is ‘grave’, while the region’s political leaders refuse to accept Tier 3 restrictions without greater financial support for businesses and residents.
But the Mayor and council leaders across Greater Manchester responded by insisting they have done ‘everything within our power to protect the health of our residents’. They said people and firms need greater financial support before they accept the tougher restrictions.
And official figures show that the infection rate is dropping in Greater Manchester and Newcastle despite anti-Covid measures, in a development that risks undermining the Government’s public health messaging.
Nearly 600 coronavirus cases were recorded in Manchester on September 30, which then fell to 377 recorded cases on October 9. On Thursday, there were just two cases in Manchester. In Newcastle, 277 cases were recorded on October 6, which similarly fell down to 170 infections on October 9 and just 10 cases on Thursday.
In other coronavirus developments:
- A senior Government adviser warned that only a national circuit-breaker lockdown would suppress virus;
- Sir John Bell was echoed by Jeremy Hunt, who also called for public war of words on local restrictions to end;
- Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson said his brother has died after being admitted to intensive care with Covid;
- Police fought to enforce coronavirus laws in London as they faced defiance from protesters and drinkers;
- Mr Johnson said the UK is developing the capacity to manufacture millions of fast turnaround tests for coronavirus which could deliver results in just 15 minutes;
- The National Education Union rowed in behind Sir Keir Starmer’s call for a national circuit-breaker;
- The Welsh Government will discuss a circuit-breaker lockdown and will announce decisions on Monday;
- Some 15,650 coronavirus cases were recorded in the UK on Friday, alongside 136 deaths;
- A senior scientist predicted Britain could be carrying out a million coronavirus tests a day by Christmas;
- The Prime Minister’s attention briefly switched from the pandemic to warn a No Deal Brexit was likely as both London and Brussels ramped up their tough talk.
Greater Manchester Police currently answers to the city’s Labour Mayor, Andy Burnham while police and crime commissioners – a role filled in Manchester by Mr Burnham – have the power to set strategic priorities for their local constabularies. This means that police enforcement of restrictions is contingent on the support of Mr Burnham, who is refusing to move the region into Tier Three as he accuses Boris Johnson of treating the North like a ‘sacrificial lamb’
Nearly 600 coronavirus cases were recorded in Manchester (left) on September 30, which then fell to 377 recorded cases on October 9. On Thursday, there were just two cases in Manchester. In Newcastle (right), 277 cases were recorded on October 6, which similarly fell down to 170 infections on October 9 and just 10 cases on Thursday
Boris Johnson has backed down from imposing Tier 3 Covid restrictions in Manchester amid fears police would not enforce them without Andy Burnham’s backing. Pictured: Revellers in Manchester on Friday
It comes after Mr Johnson hailed an agreement with Lancashire to move into the toughest lockdown level where it joins Liverpool as the only areas in the top bracket. Pictured: People leaving bars and clubs at 10pm in Lancashire after new lockdown restrictions imposed
Downing Street is being urged to restart talks with Greater Manchester’s political leaders over the highest levels of coronavirus restrictions after Mr Burnham accused Mr Johnson of treating the North like a ‘sacrificial lamb’ and a ‘canary in the coalmine’ with experimental restrictions.
Mr Burnham said no meetings had taken place since Thursday morning and there was confusion over whether talks would resume with No10 over the weekend.
Social distancing safety messages against Covid-19 now greets visitors in Blackpool, Lancashire
‘We can assure the Prime Minister that we are ready to meet at any time to try to agree a way forward,’ Mr Burnham and council leaders across the region said in a statement.
Downing Street indicated a discussion had been arranged for Sunday morning after a message was left with Mr Burnham on Saturday, but the Mayor’s camp flatly denied any call having been scheduled.
Mr Burnham said the ‘very least’ he would accept was a full reinstatement of the furlough scheme in the region paying 80 per cent of the wages of people unable to work, though this is being ruled out by the Treasury.
It comes after the Prime Minister hailed an agreement with Lancashire to move the region into the toughest lockdown level, where it joins Liverpool as one of only two areas in the top bracket.
Around 1.5 million more people woke up to Tier 3 restrictions when Lancashire joined the Liverpool region living under the severest controls, with pubs and bars closed unless they can serve meals and indoor mixing banned.
Jake Berry, the Conservative MP for Rossendale and Darwen, called for evidence to show the measures work, echoing concerns raised across Greater Manchester.
‘I think that spoonful of scepticism is because we’ve been in very similar measures since August and no one has really demonstrated to us the way out or how these measures are working,’ he told BBC Breakfast.
Meanwhile, shadow Education Secretary Kate Green called for an end to the ‘blame game’ and for discussions to resume to get the region an adequate support package.
Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson’s brother dies a day after going into intensive care while suffering from coronavirus – as Cambridge model predicts up to 690 COVID deaths a day in UK by November
Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson today announced his eldest brother Bill has sadly died a day after being admitted to intensive care with coronavirus.
He tweeted: ‘Despite the efforts of all the staff at Liverpool Hospital ICU my brother sadly died at 10.45 last night.
‘We want to thank the dedicated staff risking their lives for us. Thank you all for your messages of love and support. Let’s stick together and support each other and win this battle.’
Politicians, celebrities and members of the public rallied round the 62-year-old mayor, who only five weeks ago lost another brother, Henry, to cancer.
Liverpool has one of the most severe coronavirus rates in the country and is one of only two regions in the highest alert level under Boris Johnson’s targeted battle plan to suppress the virus.
More than 28 million people are now living under tighter measures across the county, with people in London among those plunged into the Tier 2 alert bracket last night which bans different households from meeting indoors.
The Labour MP for Stretford and Urmston told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘That has not been offered by the Government. There hasn’t even been discussions over the past 24 hours between the Government and Greater Manchester’s leaders.
‘We have to have our local leaders around the table with the Prime Minister or with his representatives to thrash out a deal today.’
Mr Johnson said: ‘This is about saving lives. This is about us joining together locally and nationally to get the R down, to make these regional restrictions, this tiering system, work and to save lives.
‘Everybody in Greater Manchester and all the areas that are still finding it difficult should think about it.’
He added: ‘I’d much rather not impose things, I’d much rather that we were able to work out something together with local authorities, with the mayor in Manchester.’
It comes as a senior Government adviser today warned that only a second national lockdown would achieve the suppression of coronavirus as he blasted other restrictions as ‘biting around the edges’.
Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, advocated a national circuit-breaker as he claimed the Government had lost control of an ‘eye-watering’ number of coronavirus cases.
He rubbished suggestions that testing would allow officials to keep the pandemic in check, and called the situation ‘grave’ as he appeared to blame a rise in cases on a national fatigue with the restrictions.
The top Government adviser then recommended a total shutdown of society and economy in an echo of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s unprecedented call for a national circuit-breaker on Tuesday.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sir John said: ‘Things look pretty grave at the moment, and the numbers are going up pretty rapidly. I think the other phenomenon you’re seeing is people are pretty unhappy, they’re tired, this has been going on too long, they can’t go about their business, they can’t do the normal things that they would expect to do, hospital staff are exhausted from the last go.
‘I think we’re actually in real trouble, because as that happens compliance and the willingness to help fix this problem starts to dissipate.
‘Having said that, I can see very little way of getting on top of this without some kind of a circuit-breaker because the numbers are actually pretty eye-watering in some bits of the country and I think it’s going to be very hard to get on top of this just biting around the edges.’
He added: ‘No one has ever turned back an epidemic or indeed a pandemic with testing. Testing alone has never solved the problem.
‘It’s one of many tools in the toolbox that you sort of need to get it to work, but in the places that have been successful, like South Korea and to some extent China, their ability to pursue the results of testing aggressively has been extremely important in terms of managing it.
The R rate remains stable for the UK as a whole but it has dropped for the second week in a row in England, falling from a possible range of 1.3 to 1.6 on October 2 to 1.2 to 1.4 today. But SAGE warned today it is ‘confident transmission is not slowing’ and that cases will continue to grow exponentially for as long as R remains above one
‘A majority of people who are infected are not even being identified.
‘So we do have to have a system whereby more ownership is taken by individuals and institutions to make sure that children in schools, students in universities, and people working in businesses stay away from those businesses if they test positive.’
Sir John’s plea for a national clampdown, which would see tougher enforcement of social distancing rules, was then echoed by Jeremy Hunt, who today suggested that he would support a circuit-breaker.
The former Health Secretary also called for an end to the public war of words over local restrictions, telling the Today programme: ‘I’ve always thought that it’s better to do things quickly and decisively than to wait until the virus has grown so I have a lot of sympathy with that.
‘But I think more important right now is we stop this public war of words between local leaders and national leaders because in a pandemic the most important thing is a consistent message because you really have to have compliance with the very, very important public health messages about social distancing.
‘And if local leaders and national leaders are saying different things, it’s incredibly damaging.
‘I really do urge Andy Burnham and other local leaders to have these arguments, and I’m sure they’re very fierce arguments and I’m sure there’s some justification for some of their concerns, but have those arguments in private not in public because that’s so damaging to the national fight against the virus.’
Test positivity data from Public Health England shows that the proportion of tests taken that have positive results has soared in September and early October, so that 7.1 per cent of all tests taken are now positive – one in every 14 swabs
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk
Youngsters throng onto the streets of Nottinghamshire on last night out before entering Tier 3
Students in Nottingham made the most of their final night of freedom by hitting the bars in fancy dress before Tier 3 restrictions came into force.
Revellers gathered in large groups and took to the streets on Thursday before the city moved into the ‘very high’ bracket at 12.01am on Friday.
New rules ban buying alcohol from shops after 9pm and the carefree students were eager to take advantage of the previously relaxed measures.
‘Say Covid!’ Students pose for a photo as they headed out in Nottingham in fancy dress on Thursday night to make the most of their final night of freedom before Tier 3 restrictions are enforced
A group of young men gathered to chant next to police cars, with officers watching on as the night of revelry unfolded before the new rules kick in
A police officer attempts to move on a crowd of maskless revellers who have gathered in the street, many in Halloween costumes
Many students and youngsters from the area headed out in unusual costumes, including one dressed in a pink bear onesie, and police officers with stockings
There were scenes of chaos outside the clubs and bars, with dozens gathering in close proximity to each other after 10pm, with few wearing masks
Fallen angel: An eagle-eyed shopper wearing a halo picked up a box of alcopops and was escorted home by her male friend before new restrictions are enforced in Nottingham
On patrol: A group of young women dressed up as police officers, complete with handcuffs, stockings and police caps, made the most of the night before Nottingham moves into Tier 3
In the market square in Nottingham city centre on Thursday evening, youngsters were seen posing for photographs dressed as minions from the film Despicable Me and chanting near police vehicles.
Nottinghamshire Police had issued a warning earlier on Thursday that they would have ‘no hesitation’ in fining people deliberately flouting the rules.
Assistant Chief Constable Kate Meynell said: ‘The aim of the measures is to save lives and lessen the burden on the NHS – which is becoming increasingly stretched as we approach the time of annual winter pressures in hospitals. Positive action now will save lives.
‘The people of Nottinghamshire have been incredibly supportive and patient with the national and local measures that have impacted on all our lives this year.
A group of students dressed up in Despicable Me minion outfits, while others headed out dressed in angel and devil costumes
A police officer with a dog attempts to control the wild scenes as hundreds of young revellers hit the town and gathered while they could
Nottinghamshire Police had issued a warning earlier on Thursday that they would have ‘no hesitation’ in fining people deliberately flouting the rules
New rules ban buying alcohol from shops after 9pm and the carefree students were eager to take advantage of the previously relaxed measures
Revellers gathered in large groups and took to the streets on Thursday before the city moved into the ‘very high’ bracket at 12.01am on Friday
‘Sadly there has been a minority of people who think the legislation doesn’t apply to them and we have been forced to take action, and in some cases hand out fines.’
‘In the last week we have given £10,000 fines to four people who organised parties with more than 30 people present as well as numerous £200 fines to people who wantonly broke the law.
‘The new Tier 3 restrictions will mean greater limits on socialising across Nottinghamshire but it is important people continue to follow the rules.
‘We will have no hesitation in fining people who flout the legislation with no regard for the impact their actions have on families and frontline key workers.’
Many were seen flouting the rule of six as they congregated in large groups in close proximity to each other, with police unable to control them
In the market square in Nottingham city centre on Thursday evening, youngsters were seen posing for photographs dressed as minions from the film Despicable Me
Spreading peace and love (and hopefully not Covid!): Many took the opportunity to celebrate Halloween while they were still able to head out with friends
It’s-a-Tier-3, Mario! The city looked far from a pandemic hotspot as many hugged each other on the streets and ignored social distancing
A pair of students tucked into McDonald’s after partying away their final night before harsh new measures are implemented to curb infection rates
Police watched the wild scenes unfolding but were unable to control the huge numbers gathering together on the city streets
Police had to disperse a large number of revellers as they danced and sung in the streets after the 10pm curfew
Devil-may-care attitude: Police have handed a number of £10,000 fines out in recent weeks at both the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University
Despite the warnings, many young people took to the streets on Thursday evening ahead of the Tier 3 restrictions, with some seemingly looking to celebrate Halloween two days early.
A few police vehicles were present in the city centre and an ambulance was also nearby.
At a media briefing on Thursday, Nottinghamshire County Council leader Kay Cutts told reporters the force had asked for the alcohol ban to be implemented to stop students partying.
Police have handed a number of £10,000 fines out in recent weeks, as both the University of Nottingham and Nottingham Trent University said a deliberate flouting of coronavirus restrictions could result in exclusion.
Commenting on the alcohol ban, ACC Meynell said: ‘This is a welcome move following a number of gatherings and parties that our officers have had to disperse in recent weeks, in some cases leading to £10,000 fines for the organisers.
Despite the warnings, many young people took to the streets on Thursday evening ahead of the Tier 3 restrictions, with some seemingly looking to celebrate Halloween two days early
At a media briefing on Thursday, Nottinghamshire County Council leader Kay Cutts told reporters the force had asked for the alcohol ban to be implemented to stop students partying
There were scenes of chaos and hedonism on the streets as dozens chanted together and embraced each other, despite social distancing guidelines
Thursday could be the last night that many students are able to see large groups of their friends together for some time
Power Danger: Many seemed unconcerned by the rising infection rates in Nottingham as the second wave continues to accelerate through Europe
From Friday people in Nottinghamshire are not permitted to mix indoors or outdoors with anyone outside their household or support bubble
At the media briefing, Councillor Cutts said ‘young people don’t think they are ever going to catch anything’ when asked why the alcohol ban had been put in place
‘It is completely unacceptable to have parties when there is a global pandemic that is costing lives.
‘The legislation is clear that from tomorrow people in Nottinghamshire are not permitted to mix indoors or outdoors with anyone outside their household or support bubble, except in certain places like parks and play areas. It is really important that people respect and abide by this, and we know from experience that most people will.’
At the media briefing, Councillor Cutts said ‘young people don’t think they are ever going to catch anything’ when asked why the alcohol ban had been put in place.
She told reporters: ‘What we feared might happen, and what the police feared might happen is people would go to the pub, they’d have a meal and they’d have some drinks and come out and go straight to the off-licence and buy a bottle and go and continue their partying elsewhere.
‘We’re trying to stop that. That’s something which has been blighting a bit of Nottinghamshire… younger people don’t ever think they are going to catch anything.
‘So that’s where that came from and we have supported them on that.’
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk
Kim Kardashian and her birthday crew hit rock bottom, says Jan Moir
For those lucky people cushioned by wealth, sequestered by acres, pampered by staff and soothed by circumstance, Covid-19 is merely a summer squall in their long winter of deep content.
The elites, the A-listers, the millionaires, the celebs?
They are never knowingly undersupplied with lockdown loo rolls and bags of flour, nor do they have to choose, in a Welsh supermarket, between new shoes for the kiddies or a litre of vodka.
For someone like Kim Kardashian West, who is all of the above plus a famous bottom to boot, the onset of the current plague is nothing. A blip!
JAN MOIR: For someone like Kim Kardashian West, who is all of the above plus a famous bottom to boot, the onset of the current plague is nothing. A blip!
Recent events suggest that Kimmy thinks a pandemic is something you take when you have a stress headache because Tiffany has run out of diamonds
Not even a dent in her bumper as she glides down the luxury highway from paradise to seven-star opulence and back again.
Girlfriend has got a beauty brand worth a billion dollars and an itch for glitz that simply must be scratched, no matter how many people are fighting for their lives on ventilators.
Does she even know what is going on out there in the real world? Recent events suggest not.
Recent events suggest that Kimmy thinks a pandemic is something you take when you have a stress headache because Tiffany has run out of diamonds.
Oblivious to the suffering and sacrifices being made around the globe, the reality star and businesswoman shared pictures online with her 190 million followers of her 40th birthday celebrations.
‘This is 40!’ she posted, under photographs of herself paddling along a beach in a terrified bikini.
Kim K spent nearly a million dollars on chartering an 88-seat Boeing 777 to fly her dearest friends and family — including sisters Kourtney, Khloe and Kendall, brother Rob, husband Kanye West and mother Kris Jenner — to The Brando, a luxurious private island resort on an atoll in French Polynesia.
Oblivious to the suffering and sacrifices being made around the globe, the reality star and businesswoman shared pictures online with her 190 million followers of her 40th birthday celebrations
There followed the usual dreary round of sushi dinners, spa sessions and parties — it’s the lack of imagination that gets me.
And all the poor masked staff, who had to look on while these Gatsby-esque grotesques partied like all was well with the world.
The birthday girl cavorted in vintage gold designer outfits worth thousands of pounds, while all the She- Kardashians wore the kind of make-up that runs about a fathom deep and could withstand a meteor shower.
Halloween might be on hold this year, but at least we still have the Kardashians to entertain us, the Munsters of the Insta-age.
‘After two weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time,’ Kim posted.
If she expected applause for such generosity and admiration for her extravagance, well, she was wrong
If she expected applause for such generosity and admiration for her extravagance, well, she was wrong.
You could hear the raspberries being blown from here to Hawaii, the revels regarded rather sourly by those whose biggest adventure since lockdown has been a weekly trawl around the exotic fruits section of Marks & Spencer and a new hot water bottle.
Many claimed Ms Kardashian had been tone-deaf and insensitive to the pandemic — but be fair, there is a 15 per cent discount on the resort at the moment. How could she resist?
The holiday was outrageous by any standards but theirs — but I wonder if somewhere in the velvet shallows of Kim Kardashian’s mind, a tiny spark of awareness flared into life following the negative reaction?
‘Feeling so humble and blessed,’ she posted, suggesting she realised something was wrong and that a little bit of belated Mother Teresa-style abnegation wouldn’t go amiss. #soholy #whoopsie #buymylipstick.
You could hear the raspberries being blown from here to Hawaii, the revels regarded rather sourly by those whose biggest adventure since lockdown has been a weekly trawl around the exotic fruits section of Marks & Spencer and a new hot water bottle
One person who saw Kim’s photos wrote: ‘Disgusting. Would have been a more meaningful 40 if you took that money and helped families ruined by COVID. Your families selfishness never ceases to amaze me’
Still, one hopes that this clumsy display of selfish nonsense might clear the rosy fog of awe from the gaze of their fans.
The Kardashians in general, and Kim in particular, have made millions marketing themselves to a young and impressionable audience who buy into their lifestyle and purchase their products.
Now we can see that beneath the glamour, decency and empathy towards their fellow human beings are in very short supply.
Ironically, Covid has a way of unmasking celebrities, revealing those who care and those who care only for themselves.
The crust breaks and you look down into depths of ignorance, selfishness and entitlement that are frankly breathtaking.
From princeling to professional victim
Prince Harry has made another broadcast from his sofa. ‘Ignorance is no longer an excuse,’ he began, though it has served him perfectly well until this point.
Earnestly assessing his own bias on issues of race and class for GQ magazine, Harry said it had taken him many years to recognise his own unconscious prejudices.
‘Having had the upbringing and the education I have, I had no idea what it was, I had no idea it existed.’
This piety is getting really tiresome.
Prince Harry has made another broadcast from his sofa. ‘Ignorance is no longer an excuse,’ he began, though it has served him perfectly well until this point
For one would have thought that wearing a Nazi uniform to a fancy dress party and calling a colleague ‘P*ki’ — as he famously did — would have given the boy-princeling a wee pointer towards the flaws in his character. But no.
He seems keen to be seen to lightly flagellate himself for past ‘unconscious’ sins, while slyly blaming the British Establishment rather than himself.
It seems to have escaped Harry that there are millions of young men, with or without the benefit of his privileged background, who would never dream of doing or saying such awful things.
But he is now a professional victim: a man-child who won’t take responsibility for his dubious choices and blames everyone else instead.
Tupperware is having a lockdown boom. Sales are rocketing as people cook from home and need something for the leftovers.
I think my mother has some original Tupperware boxes from the 1960s. We should call them the Anton Du Bekes — slightly greying, but indestructible.
What on earth did housewives use before Tupperware?
Apparently, many used shower caps popped over bowls to keep food fresh — ugh! Next you’ll be telling me they strained yoghurt and jam through their tights!
Tupperware is having a lockdown boom. Sales are rocketing as people cook from home and need something for the leftovers
Devastating news about Tracey Emin and her ‘bad cancer’.
In a newspaper interview, she makes brave jokes — but admits that at one point thought she wouldn’t make it till Christmas.
The devoted party girl’s remorse about her lifestyle is particularly sad.
‘There are things I regret in my life that I can’t turn back on, I can’t change. I just wish I hadn’t spent so much time drinking and smoking.
And partying — yeah, definitely. Really wish I could turn the clock back on that one,’ she said.
It makes some of her neon artworks even more haunting and piercing.
‘I whisper to my past, do I have another choice’ reads one she made in 2010. Another simply urges: Be Brave.
Devastating news about Tracey Emin and her ‘bad cancer’. In a newspaper interview, she makes brave jokes — but admits that at one point thought she wouldn’t make it till Christmas
I’m not falling for Lay Lady Babs
Excuse me. Where is the actual proof that Bob Dylan wrote Lay Lady Lay about Barbra Streisand? He admired her, yes.
He once sent her flowers, yes. There was even a note to her in his archives, but it hardly bristled with passion.
‘You are my favourite star,’ he wrote. ‘Your self-determination, wit, temperament and sense of justice have always appealed to me.’
Where is the actual proof that Bob Dylan wrote Lay Lady Lay about Barbra Streisand. Pictured: Streisand as Doris in The Owl and the Pussycat
Hmmm. Not exactly throbbing with loins aflame, is it? It sounds more like an homage to Officer Dibble on Top Cat than a declaration of sexual intent.
Nothing in the note comes close to echoing the desire that smokes through Lay Lady Lay’s lyrics: ‘I long to see you in the morning light, I long to reach for you in the night.’
I prefer to believe Dylan was writing about all women, not just Miss Streisand. Although it is all in the ear of the beholder.
My friend, Joyce, thought it was about a charlady folding sheets.
And for years I thought Neil Young’s The Needle And The Damage Done — about injecting heroin — was a lecture on taking care of your LPs. We were so innocent in Dundee!
Terrible modern conundrum for Bond star Naomie Harris, who was brought up by her single mother in a two-bedroom council flat in North London before securing a place at Cambridge.
Good for clever Naomie — who didn’t enjoy her time there — but where does that leave her in the snakes and ladders of contemporary wokeism?
Should she play down her humble roots and talk up her posh education?
Should she claim the usual victimhood of being female, while keeping the spotlight on her mixed Caribbean heritage? What is a girl to do? A mixture of it all, it seems.
Terrible modern conundrum for Bond star Naomie Harris, who was brought up by her single mother in a two-bedroom council flat in North London before securing a place at Cambridge
Be quiet, please. For audio books are not for me. There are too many voices in my head already to add an author crunching through the pages of their latest opus.
I prefer reading books at my own pace, lingering over some passages and speeding lickety-split over others when it gets a bit boring.
However, I’ll make an exception for actor Matthew McConaughey. He has written his autobiography, Green Lights, and an audio version is available.
Be still my beating eardrum. ‘It is about how to be a good man, how to be more me,’ he narrates; the sexy rumble of his Texan accent irresistible.
He has kept a diary for 35 of his 50 years and has ‘no interest in sentimentality or advice’. He just wants to share insights with y’all.
‘I’ve earned a few scars getting through this rodeo of humanity,’ he drawls.
Read on, Matthew. I’m all yours . . . sorry, I mean I’m all ears.
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk
Was agent Stakeknife a hero or a renegade? He was a spy for Britain at the very heart of the IRA
Late last month it was announced there would be no further prosecutions of British Army veterans in relation to Bloody Sunday.
The shooting dead of 13 civilians by members of the Parachute Regiment during a civil rights demonstration in 1972 was one of the most controversial episodes in Northern Ireland‘s ‘Troubles’.
But one criminal investigation into the military’s role in that brutal conflict is still ongoing.
For the past four years, Operation Kenova has been looking at the activities of the Army’s super-agent inside the IRA, codenamed ‘Stakeknife’.
He was a key figure in the ‘secret war’ waged against the paramilitaries. Yesterday, Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service announced its first decision based on the Kenova findings.
For the past four years, Operation Kenova has been looking at the activities of the Army’s super-agent inside the IRA, codenamed ‘Stakeknife’. That person — though he has always denied it — is widely believed to be Freddie Scappaticci. Pictured: Scappaticci walking behind Gerry Adams (right) at the 1988 funeral of IRA man Brendan Davidson
The man who is believed to be Stakeknife, and three others including two former MI5 officers and a senior prosecutor, will not be charged with perjury or misconduct in public office because of ‘insufficient evidence’.
Further files presented by the Kenova team are still being considered by the PPS.
As Kenova nears its conclusion, the Mail’s own investigation has spoken to a number of former soldiers who worked undercover in Northern Ireland, recruiting and handling IRA agents like Stakeknife.
Their testimony — never before told — throws new light on a disturbing chapter.
It is long after midnight on Carlingford Lough, through which runs the most easterly border between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland.
All is quiet save for the slapping of the waves. But there is a deadly intent abroad; both on land and water.
Aboard a darkened vessel lying at anchor half a mile offshore, a Special Forces sniper lies in wait. Beside him is an officer from a British Army intelligence unit.
His HQ has told him that a local IRA quartermaster is about to retrieve a Bushmaster hunting rifle from a hide in Rostrevor Wood, which fringes the lough on the County Down side.
So sensitive — and detailed — was the inside information that neither the sniper nor the intelligence officer were briefed on their mission until they stepped aboard the boat.
‘HQ knew exactly who the IRA man was, what kind of weapon he was fetching, where it was buried and what it was intended for,’ the intelligence officer recalls.
‘I was told that, once recovered, the rifle was going to be handed over to an [IRA] Active Service Unit, which would then use it for an imminent assassination attempt on a senior RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] officer in X [I have excised the location for reasons which will become apparent].
‘This was an opportunity for a pre-emptive shoot.’
The hunter had become the hunted.
All went as predicted. ‘[Using night vision equipment] we watched him digging up the weapon and then zeroing it [shooting to test accuracy] against trees in the wood.’
But they still had to get permission to shoot him.
The man who is believed to be Stakeknife, and three others including two former MI5 officers and a senior prosecutor, will not be charged with perjury or misconduct in public office because of ‘insufficient evidence’
‘The situation did not fall within the British Army’s rules of engagement in Northern Ireland,’ says the intelligence officer.
‘Was the IRA man threatening life at that moment? No. But this was not a standard operation.
‘This was being run under a different set of rules. ‘Big boys’ rules’, as they have been called.
‘We had to get the green light from a call sign at Force HQ in Lisburn. The request was then patched over to London.
‘In other words, to shoot this man was also a political decision.’
The tension mounted. The secure radio link faded in and out. The boat was shifting. They feared being spotted by local fishermen.
‘Then the word came through. ‘No shoot.’ I said to the sniper, ‘Off target’, we upped anchor and were gone.’
He pauses. He adds: ‘I do know that within 24 to 36 hours a senior RUC in X was shot by the IRA with a similar, if not the same, rifle.’
The incident took place almost 40 years ago but this story, like others we can reveal today, has not been told until now.
Of course, the obvious question, which has lingered down the years, is this: ‘Why was the sniper ordered to hold fire?’
A plausible answer is he was told not to shoot in order to protect the source of the tip-off that had led to the potential ambush; to protect the British Army’s informant inside the IRA.
To have shot the quartermaster in Rostrevor Wood that night might have blown his cover.
It is possible that all the relevant factors had been weighed in the balance and, at the last minute, senior figures had decided that to lose the agent was too high a price to pay in the long term.
Even at the potential cost of a policeman’s life.
Scappaticci was born 73 years ago in South Belfast
That sounds incredible. But it sometimes happened. Certainly it seems to have happened repeatedly in the case of the super-agent codenamed Stakeknife.
It might even have been Stakeknife himself who tipped off his handlers about the Bushmaster rifle plot.
Stakeknife sounds quite the hero.
In fact, multiple sources agree that he was one of the cruellest and most bloodstained figures in the history of the conflict in Ulster. And his legacy refuses to go away.
Save for a rump of dissidents, the Troubles ended with the IRA ceasefire in 1994, the peace being formalised by the Good Friday Agreement four years later.
But after more than 3,000 military, civilian and paramilitary deaths and disappearances, many of them unsolved, a line could not be drawn neatly under three decades of mayhem.
The families of victims whose killers had gone unpunished wanted justice. Or at least explanations.
Last month saw the announcement by prosecutors in Northern Ireland of their decision not to bring charges against any more than one former member of the Parachute Regiment in relation to the Bloody Sunday shootings in 1972.
But another criminal inquiry into the behaviour of the British Army in Northern Ireland remains ongoing.
Operation Kenova is ‘an investigation into the activities of the person known as Stakeknife’.
That person — though he has always denied it — is widely believed to be Freddie Scappaticci.
He has been living in necessarily discreet exile from his native Northern Ireland for almost two decades.
The indications are that Kenova, which began in 2016 and is led by the former Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher, is about to blow Stakeknife’s cover.
To quote Kenova’s own terms of reference: ‘The focus of this investigation is to ascertain whether there is evidence of the commission of criminal offences by the alleged agent including, but not limited to, murders, attempted murders or unlawful imprisonments attributed to the Provisional IRA.’
It will also look at whether there is evidence of criminal offences having been committed by members of the British Army, the security services or other government personnel.’
The potential for a sensational final reckoning that is deeply damaging to figures on all sides in the Troubles, is obvious.
Mr Boutcher said in December 2018 that the evidence he had gathered was of ‘prosecution standard’.
In our own investigation into this secret, if not ‘dirty’, war, we have spoken to a number of former soldiers who served in undercover intelligence units in Ulster, recruiting and running double agents like Stakeknife.
They have never spoken before. Their stories paint a compelling picture of extreme danger, ruthless and brutal decision-making, inter-unit rivalry and blurred moral boundaries.
Scappaticci was born 73 years ago in South Belfast, the son of Italian immigrants. ‘Scap’, as he is known in Republican circles, was said to have joined the IRA in 1969.
In the summer of 1971 he was one of hundreds of Republican activists and paramilitaries interned in Long Kesh (known as The Maze prison).
Many of these internees — such as Gerry Adams — would later rise to the top of the IRA and Sinn Fein.
By the time of his release in 1974, Scap’s credentials in the terrorist organisation were secured.
A violent-tempered individual, Scap was in time promoted to the IRA’s feared internal security unit.
Last month saw the announcement by prosecutors in Northern Ireland of their decision not to bring charges against any more than one former member of the Parachute Regiment in relation to the Bloody Sunday shootings in 1972
Its members were tasked with examining why operations had gone wrong and winkling out informers — or ‘touts’ — within the ranks.
This is why they were nicknamed the Nutting Squad.
Once a tout confessed to betraying secrets to the Brits, he or she would invariably get a bullet in the back of the head — the ‘nut’.
Using fists, hot plates, pokers and other implements of torture, the Nutting Squad was said to be excellent at securing confessions.
Scap eventually became the unit’s second in command.
The irony being that he was, it seems, the greatest tout of them all. How could the British Army have hoped to recruit a hardline Republican like Scap?
Such attempts presented grave risks. A former undercover soldier told me of one failure that ended in a bloodbath.
He was sent to rendezvous with a young man on the fringes of the IRA who had been judged a potential recruit.
‘I had never met the “asset” before,’ he recalls. ‘Someone in the RUC had made the initial contact.
‘Such [an operation] is so compartmentalised you only know the part you were supposed to play, because if you get [abducted by the Provos] that is all you can tell them.’
With any asset your job at first is to encourage a rapport and to gauge motive. I was the what we called ‘the icebreaker’. And if all went well I would become his handler.
‘Anyway, I walked into a trap. When I arrived in the pub, as arranged, he was clearly on edge.
‘But that is quite normal in these situations so I dismissed it. Your job is to make them feel comfortable.
‘We sat down together. Then I saw that he was really very sweaty, very nervous. It wasn’t right.
‘With hindsight, I should have got up and left right there. Then three known [IRA] players walked in and I knew for sure I was in the s***.’
As the soldier began to look for an escape route the ‘asset’ pulled a gun and shot him at point-blank range.
‘He was aiming for my head but because I was leaning back and turning he only got me in the neck.’
What did he do? His answer is matter-of-fact. ‘I drew my own gun and sent him to Milltown’ — that’s the Belfast cemetery where IRA volunteers are buried.
Bleeding profusely, the undercover soldier exchanged further shots with the other IRA men before escaping. It was his last undercover job in the province.
Scap’s alleged recruitment was down to the character of another undercover soldier who secured his cooperation.
It has been suggested that Scap had nursed a grievance after a beating at the hands of another IRA man.
But several sources support the story that an NCO from the Devon and Dorset Regiment who won the Queen’s Gallantry Medal and George Medal for his agent work in Ulster was the deciding factor.
The indications are that Kenova, which began in 2016 and is led by the former Bedfordshire Chief Constable Jon Boutcher (pictured), is about to blow Stakeknife’s cover
He simply had a gift for cultivating friendship and trust.
‘That was how it happened,’ a former colleague claims. ‘There were other factors too but it was essentially “pilotage”.
You are gently holding the tiller and steering them towards a desired course of action.’
Given the codename Stakeknife, Scap reportedly came to be controlled by a section of the Intelligence Corps called the Force Research Unit (FRU), based in a manor house in Kent.
Stakeknife was not simply their star.
Among competing intelligence agencies such as MI5, Special Branch and the 14 Intelligence Company (known as ‘the Det’), who did not always share the information or assets they had separately acquired, Stakeknife was the ‘jewel in the crown’ of British penetration of the IRA.
But this success presented a fundamental moral dilemma.
As former FRU handler Ian Hurst has pointed out in his book Stakeknife, which he wrote under a pseudonym, no one can be at the heart of a criminal organisation without committing offences.
‘Handlers of all services have recruited killers . . . throughout the Troubles,’ wrote the eventually disillusioned Hurst, some of whose claims have been questioned by former colleagues.
‘This practice . . . is truly appalling when members of the security services know their agents are killing people and they do nothing about it.’
Stakeknife’s inside information saved lives, it has been claimed. But that was only part of a bigger, grimmer picture. Because he and his unit were also taking lives.
Informers or not, many of his alleged victims were IRA men; members of an organisation committed to murder to further their cause.
If one of them ended up dead, trussed and naked with a bag over his head in a country lane, bearing the marks of torture, then few tears would be shed in the FRU or elsewhere.
But there were also civilians from the nationalist community who were providing information to the authorities until they were lifted by the Nutting Squad.
What is truly dizzying about the allegations made by Hurst and others is that a British agent — Stakeknife — was effectively being allowed to torture and kill other British informants in order to maintain his privileged position within the IRA.
A number of cases stand out as being remarkable. Frank Hegarty was the IRA Northern Command’s quartermaster and recruited by the FRU.
The scale of this coup was confirmed when Hegarty told his handlers about a shipment of arms from Libya, which arrived in the Republic in late 1985.
The British Army tipped off the Irish police. More than 100 assault rifles and thousands of rounds of ammunition were seized.
Thus compromised, Hegarty was whisked to a safe house in England.
But he grew homesick and, allegedly encouraged by soothing telephone conversations with IRA/Sinn Fein supremo Martin McGuinness, he returned to Derry.
There, he was abducted, ‘interrogated’ and killed by the Nutting Squad. Hurst claims that Stakeknife told his handler it was he who had ‘nutted’ the other FRU agent.
Last night, Hegarty’s son Ryan declined to comment.
Joseph Fenton was an estate agent who lent properties to the IRA and allowed the RUC Special Branch to bug them.
Under early suspicion of being a British informant, he allegedly implicated a married couple, Gerard and Catherine Mahon, who were also acting as RUC informers.
They were executed by the Nutting Squad.
Fenton was later rumbled and confessed before being murdered; again, allegedly, by Stakeknife, who had apparently warned his own handlers to no effect what was about to happen.
Tom Oliver was a farmer and father of seven from the Cooley Peninsula on the other side of Carlingford Lough from Rostrevor Wood.
A law-abiding man, he tipped off the Irish police about IRA activity in his area. An IRA-bugged pay-phone did for Farmer Oliver.
In 1991 he was horribly tortured and killed, allegedly by Stakeknife’s men. Another informant had died.
Would Stakeknife really have been allowed such freedom from prosecution? A former Army agent handler told me: ‘Back then you did sometimes wonder why a particular individual had not been lifted [arrested].
‘But if you have a strategic asset as important as Stakeknife, you must balance how important that asset is [in the long term] against how far you will have to go to protect him.
‘It would not be unthinkable for him to be completely protected. I know it was done for other people.’
Freddie Scappaticci was finally arrested in his provincial English safe house by Kenova detectives in 2018. There was an unexpected outcome from their search of his premises.
In December that year he appeared before Westminster magistrates and admitted two counts of possessing extreme pornography, some involving animals.
He received a three-month jail sentence, suspended for a year.
‘You have not been before the court for 50 years — and that’s good character in my book,’ the magistrate told him.
That got a laugh in the drinking dens of Belfast where this week the Mail spoke to those who knew something of Scap. They believe that Kenova will be allowed to wither and die.
One Republican who had once ‘run with Scap’ rubbished the idea of a high-profile trial because it would ‘expose all the touts who put Scap in place and who are still in place themselves.
The Brits aren’t going down that road. Plus it would mean if he was charged, his handlers would have to be charged, and then their bosses, so it’s going nowhere’.
He said Scap ‘did many, many stiffs himself’. But as an agent he had legal clearance.
A spokesman for Kenova repeated a statement first put out almost two years ago, saying: ‘[We have] now gathered more than 12,000 documents, secured 1,000 statements and conducted 129 interviews with witnesses, victims and families resulting in more than 6,000 investigative actions for the team.’
A former member of ‘the Det’ remarked: ‘Why rake over these coals? It’s over. Put it behind us and move on.’
Mr Boutcher and his Operation Kenova is determined those coals won’t grow cold yet.
This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk
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