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UK news headlines brought to you by The Independent. Leave your comments on stories here, or go to the AWOL Forum to discuss the issues there.

 

 

Alleged victim of Rolf Harris 'yelled pervert at him through TV screen'

The husband of one of Rolf Harris’ alleged victims has told jurors he first learned of his wife’s allegations when she began yelling at the television as the entertainer appeared on screen, branding him a “pervert”.

Convicted child molester Harris, 87, is accused of touching the then-13-year-old schoolgirl after he appeared on the BBC’s Saturday Superstore programme in 1983.

The complainant’s partner said he was “shocked” when his wife told him of the incident around 17 years later when he heard her shouting at the Australian artist and entertainer when he was on TV.

The man denied the pair had “cooked up” the story between them to try and gain compensation.

Prosecutor Jonathan Rees asked the man whether he and his wife “saw an opportunity, saw pound signs in your eyes” before making the allegation.

The witness replied: “No, she said from the start she did not want compensation.”

The court heard the woman, now in her 40s, had come forward to make her complaint on the same day a newspaper report in the Daily Star said that Harris’ victims were to receive “£200,000 in compensation”.

The alleged victim said she did not recall the headline referred to as she was “not really a Daily Star reader” and that although she was aware of people claiming compensation, she was not familiar with the sums involved.

The woman, who gave evidence via video link at the trial at Southward Crown Court, said coming forward had been “the hardest thing I have ever had to do”.

Asked whether she had made a claim for compensation, she replied: “No, I have not and I don’t intend to. It’s not about that. It’s about vindication and justice.”

Asked why she had taken so many years to come forward, she replied: “Because it is quite a decision to make, to come forward when you haven’t been believed by members of your own family and others … it takes a while to make a decision to come forward and talk to police.”

Mr Harris’ defence lawyer, Stephen Vullo QC, told the court the entertainer was joking when he allegedly asked the girl if she “often got molested on a Saturday morning”, or words to that effect.

The woman replied: “I fail to see, whether it is said to a group or a single child, how that can be misconstrued as a joke in any way.”

The entertainer was jailed on twelve counts of indecent assault that took place between 1968 and 1986 on four female victims who ranged in age from eight to nineteen. He has been serving a sentence of five years and nine months.

Harris was released from HMP Stafford on Friday to attend the latest court proceedings. He is charged with four offences against three women between 1971 and 1983.

He arrived at court for the opening day of the trial accompanied by his niece Jenny Harris, and wore a hearing loop throughout the proceedings.

Harris denies all charges against him and the trial continues.

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Manchester 'explosions': Loud bangs heard at Ariana Grande concert

Greater Manchester Police have warned people to stay away from Manchester Arena as officers respond to an “incident”, amid reports on social media of explosions.

More follows…

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'Dementia tax': What is the Conservative policy and why is it so controversial?

Theresa May has been forced to backtrack on planned social care reforms, and the Conservatives have bought expensive Google ad space to counter critical press coverage. But what is the “dementia tax”?

Under the current system, older people who have assets worth more than £23,250, including the value of their property, must part-fund the cost of the care they receive.

However, if the pensioner requires only care at home, rather than in a residential setting, they will not be forced to sell their property, as “domiciliary” care is much cheaper.

The Conservative manifesto pledged to raise the means-tested floor at which older people will start paying for their care to £100,000 – but, crucially, under their proposal, people would be forced to sell their homes to pay for domiciliary as well as residential care.

Speaking in Wales on Monday, Theresa May was forced to partially row back on the policy, announcing a cap on the number of people would be forced to pay for their care. However, she declined to specify the amount at which the limit would be set.

The Prime Minister said: “We will come forward with a government green paper. And that consultation will include an absolute limit on the amount people have to pay for their care costs.”

Theresa May waters down ‘dementia tax’

A £72,000 cap on care costs was due to come into effect in 2016 – but due to a funding crisis, the government delayed the policy until 2020.

Research conducted for the Liberal Democrats found that, overall, 90% of homes in England would be liable to be sold under the original proposal.

The average UK house is worth £215,847 – so while the Conservative care package is actually a better deal for poorer pensioners, the vast majority of homeowners who require care are going to be worse off.

It is possible to defer the sale of a house until after its owner’s death, in which case the payment is deducted from a pensioner’s estate.

The policy has proved hugely controversial because the Conservatives are historically more popular than Labour among older voters. A YouGov survey from April found the Tories were ahead by 49% among over-65s.

Researchers also found that for every 10 years older a voter is, the likelihood they will vote Tory increases by around eight per cent.

A Survation survey, conducted entirely after Thursday’s Tory manifesto launch, found 28 per cent of voters said they were less likely to vote Conservative because of the social care package.

Theresa May faced a backlash from her own party after it emerged that senior Conservative figures were kept in the dark about the planned reforms.

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Student films her own attempted rape to help police catch attacker

A student who suffered an attempted rape helped police catch her attacker by filming the assault on her mobile phone. 

Lillian Constantine, 18, waived her right to anonymity to share her experience at the hands of Ashraf Miah, who tried to rape her when she walked home one night.

Miah, 34, was able to hide because streets lights had been turned off by the council as part of cost saving measures. 

Moment man runs from police after attempted rape

He spotted Miss Constantine in the Enoteca bar in Ramsgate, Kent, where she was filming for her media studies coursework. She had one glass of wine and left at around 2am to walk home.

“Out of the corner of my eye, I saw someone,” Miss Constantine said, the Mail Online reported. 

“As soon as he touched me on the shoulder, that’s when I started to record. Usually when I walk home I text people. It’s also a source of light.”

Miah asked Miss Constantine where she was going and then tried to tackle her to the floor.

She continued: “I had no idea why at first. The first thing that came into my head was he was going to mug me. I was screaming the whole time, ‘I’m filming you, I’m filming you. I’m going to call the f***ing police, I’m filming you right now. You are not going to get away with this’.”

The struggle woke up people in nearby houses, which scared Miah off. Miss Constantine managed to make it the short distance home. 

Police were able to use a frame of the footage to identify Miah – an illegal immigrant who works at a restaurant   and track him down to an address in London. 

While sentencing Miah at Canterbury Crown Court, Judge James O’Mahony said he was shocked by the footage Miss Constantine recorded.  

“In 13 years on the bench, I have seldom heard a more harrowing incident of the brave victim screaming in terror and pleading for it to stop and the awful suffering she endured,” he said.

Miah was jailed for 13 and a half years. 

Miss Constantine’s family are now calling for women’s services funding to be protected and for female police officers to respond to rape calls. They also said other measures, including more sexual assault centres and a system for logging rape allegations anonymously, should be introduced. 

Kent Council said there had been no overall increase in crime since the street lights were partially switched off between midnight and 5.30am.

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Theresa May to warn Brexit will have 'dire consequences' for ordinary people if UK doesn't get right deal

Theresa May is to warn that the consequences of failing to get the right Brexit deal will be “dire” for ordinary working people.

In a speech in Wales, the Prime Minister will seek to persuade voters that she should lead the negotiations with the European Union, rather than Jeremy Corbyn.

According to an advance copy of her remarks, she will make clear how quickly the process will start to move after the election on 8 June.

“There are just 17 days to go until this crucial General Election. Just 11 days after that, the European Union wants the Brexit negotiations to begin,” she says.

“The UK’s seat at the negotiating table will be filled by me or Jeremy Corbyn. The deal we seek will be negotiated by me or Jeremy Corbyn.

“There will be no time to waste and no time for a new Government to find its way. So the stakes in this election are high… We need someone representing Britain who is 100 per cent committed to the cause, not someone who is uncertain or unsure, but someone utterly determined to deliver the democratic will of the British people.

“Because if we don’t get this right, the consequences for the United Kingdom and for the economic security of ordinary working people will be dire. If we do, the opportunities ahead are great.”

Mr Corbyn, meanwhile, has issued a last-ditch appeal to students who have not registered to vote to do so before Monday’s 11.59pm deadline so that they can support Labour’s plans to scrap university tuition fees in the election.

“Students will benefit from having more money in their pockets, and we will all benefit from the engineers, doctors, teachers and scientists that our universities produce,” he said.

Polls have showed a narrowing of the Conservatives’ once seemingly unassailable lead over Labour.

The latest put the gap between the two parties to nine percentage points. The Survation survey for ITV’s Good Morning Britain showed the Conservatives on 43 per cent, down five points on the previous week, and Labour up five on 34 per cent.

Ms May is under pressure over her party’s plan to overhaul the funding of social care, which would mean elderly people would have to pay for care in their own home if they have total assets of £100,000 or more.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson refused to be drawn over the weekend on suggestions that the Cabinet was not consulted about the plan.

Ministers were adamant there would be no going back on the plan, although they said there would be a green paper on health and social care released over the summer if the Tories were returned to power on 8 June.

However Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron vowed to mobilise a national campaign against what he called the “dementia tax” because of the potential impact on sufferers of the debilitating condition.

He said he would be seeking the support of medical organisations and charities including former prime minister David Cameron who is now president of Alzheimer’s Research UK.

“Caring for our elderly must be above party politics and that is why I want to urge anyone who opposes the Conservatives’ plans to come together to stop it,” he said.

The Press Association contributed to this report

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Brexit: Lost access to single market in services could cost UK economy up to £36bn, new report concludes

Losing access to the single market in services after Brexit could cost the British economy up to £36bn a year and have a particularly negative impact on financial services, telecoms and transport, a new report concludes.

The analysis, conducted by the Centre of Economic Business Research (CEBR) for the Open Britain organisation, which campaigns against a hard Brexit, outlines the potential impact of securing a trade deal with the bloc that covers goods but not services.

It claims that leaving the single market in services as Britain quits the European Union could lead to a loss of between 1.4 and 2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) – or £25bn to £36bn a year.

The CEBR report adds that the service sector where the single market has the biggest impact in absolute terms is financial services. “About a third of the losses from single market withdrawal result from lost businesses in financial services,” it adds.

The report also elaborates on how restriction in the movement of labour – another of the EU’s “four freedoms” – could result in restrictions to access to the single market in services.

It continues: “The free movement of services can also be seen to directly touch on immigration if people are coming to the UK to offer their services as self-employed individuals or if firms exercise their mobility rights while wanting to carry their workforce over. A regime that practically tries to draw a distinction between labour and services is likely to encounter difficulties in sometimes distinguishing between a service provider and an employee.”

Responding to the report, the former deputy Prime Minister and Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, said it exposed the risk if Ms May fails to deliver on a pledge made by her Brexit Secretary “to deliver a trade deal with the exact same benefits as membership of the single market”.

Mr Clegg continued: “Lost access to the single market could cost the UK economy between £25 and £36bn a year. Truly free trade is not just tariff-free; it reduces rules and red tape, something that is particularly important for services, which make up 80 per cent of our economy.

“Only being within the single market and customs union gives Britain full, unfettered trade access to all sectors in our biggest export market.

“Instead of pretending that we can have all the same benefits outside of the single market as in it, ministers must start dealing in reality rather than rhetoric.

“They could start by answering three basic questions. Do they accept that free trade means more than just abolishing tariffs? Will they admit that they cannot have frictionless access to the Single Market in services without abiding directly or indirectly to ECJ rulings?

“And, if it becomes apparent that there will be substantial damage to the economy from the restrictions on services trade, will they at least explore an alternative relationship, such as an EFTA-style one, with the EU?”

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Boris Johnson falsely claims £350m for NHS after Brexit pledge is in the Conservative manifesto

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has falsely claimed the pre-referendum pledge to inject the NHS with £350m a week after Brexit is in the Conservative manifesto.

Asked on ITV’s Peston on Sunday why the party made no reference to the pledge in the manifesto released earlier this week, Mr Johnson replied: “It is actually. It is. Theresa May, she said at the launch of our manifesto.”

But the Prime Minister made no reference of the referendum promise in her speech and no mention of the extra £350m can be found in the party’s manifesto for the general election.

During the EU referendum Mr Johnson toured the country on a battle bus promising voters a £350m-a-week spending bonanza for the health service alongside other leading politicians in the campaign that persuaded British people to vote Leave.

But the figure has been widely disputed – the UK Statistic Authority described it as “potentially misleading” during the campaign as it failed to take into account the rebate from the EU to the UK public sector.

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrats’ health spokesperson, said Mr Johnson had “misled the public once” and he “must not be allowed to get away with it again”.

He added: “The NHS is in crisis, but the Conservatives are peddling blatant untruths instead of providing the urgent investment our health service needs. It shows they are taking voters in this election for granted.”

Last month the Foreign Secretary stood by the pledge, however, when asked by ITV’s Good Morning Britain. On the programme Mr Johnson was also presented with a photograph of him with the slogan: “Let’s give our NHS the £350m the EU takes every week.”

Chuka Umunna, a leading supporter of the Open Britain campaign and senior Labour politician, said: “Contrary to what Boris wants us to think, the Prime Minister has not let him off the hook and pledged to spend the extra £350m a week on the NHS that Vote Leave promised.

“Instead, our NHS faces the prospect of more cuts, less funding and poorer services under this Government’s actual plans.

“They have had the chance to do the decent thing, keep their promise, and give our NHS the support it needs. But they have failed to do so, and now it is the NHS that will suffer as a result of Boris Johnson’s cynicism and impossible promises.”

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Labour cuts gap with Conservatives to single figures for the first time in mainstream poll

Labour have continued to cut the Tories’ lead in the polls after the publication of the party manifestos, as party leader Jeremy Corbyn claimed his message was “getting through” to voters.

Four polls new published in the Sunday papers put Labour between 35 per cent and 33 per cent, up from 26 points the party was showing at the start of the campaign.  

The YouGov poll for the Sunday Times put Labour on 35 per cent, with the Conservatives nine points ahead on 44 per cent.

Significantly, this is the first time it has been in single figures in a mainstream poll since Theresa May called the snap election on April 18.

The 35 per cent figure is also the highest showing for Labour in the polls since the Brexit vote last year.

It appears Theresa May’s policies on social care and pensions have damaged her party’s approval rating among older voters. 

A separate Survation survey, conducted entirely after Thursday’s Tory manifesto launch, found 28 per cent of voters said they were less likely to vote Conservative because of the social care package, branded a “dementia tax” by opponents.

The Conservatives said this week elderly people receiving social care would have to fund the entire cost, until they reached their last £100,000 of assets.

Ken Loach makes film about Jeremy Corbyn for the general election

The average UK house price stands at £215,847, so the “dementia tax” would affect many middle-class voters.

Meanwhile, Labour have attempted to woo pensioners with a series of measures including protecting the winter fuel allowance and the triple-lock protection of the state pension.

Mary Creagh, who is defending Wakefield for Labour, said on Twitter: “Lots of Tory voters switching to Labour in Wakefield today because of arrogant, complacent Tory attack on pensioners.”

One Labour insider characterised the mood in the Corbyn camp as “extremely positive”, after the Labour leader attracted a crowd of thousands to a rally in super-marginal Wirral West and appeared on stage with The Libertines at a music festival.

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Eddie Izzard declares ambition to become Labour Party politician after supporting Jeremy Corbyn

Eddie Izzard has again declared his intention to become a Labour politician after speaking out in support of Jeremy Corbyn.

The 55-year-old comedian voiced his vision of politics that would “get the whole world of seven billion people all having a fair chance”.

Izzard, who is releasing a new memoir, Believe Me: A Memoir Of Love, Death And Jazz Chickens, told The Times Magazine: “I don’t really want to do the politics, but I think I have certain attributes.

“You have to be able to distil what are the essences of things that are going on, to see a positive vision forward.

“A lot of people with decent values will not go into politics because they feel they are going to get pummelled. I am proud of my country, but I want to reach out to other countries.”

He added: “I like Jeremy Corbyn. He believes in what he says.

“I would much rather have a Labour Party government than a Conservative one led by Theresa May.”

Izzard, who identifies as transgender, stated that he would be campaigning for Labour in “boy and girl mode”.

Speaking on the change of political understanding of transgender issues, he said: “I do feel we have crossed into a place of more political acceptance.

“It’s allowed now. I have boy genetics and girl genetics.

“That’s what I’m pushing for. I think I’ve got through the net now.”

Izzard, who campaigned for Remain in the EU referendum, has donated thousands of pounds to the Labour Party and has floated the idea of running as London mayor.

He has previously announced his intention to enter politics but failed to be elected to Labour’s National Executive Committee last year.

Press Association

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Conservatives' rebrand as 'party of the workers' failing as they struggle to shake off 'nasty' tag, poll shows

Theresa May has failed to convince the public that the Conservatives are “the party of the workers”, according to an exclusive poll for The Independent by ORB.

Despite the Prime Minister’s election pitch to “ordinary working class people”, the public believes by a margin of 2-1 that Labour would do the best job of representing the working class.

Only 19 per cent of the bottom DE social group and 23 per cent of C2 skilled manual workers believe the Tories would best represent the working class, while 46 per cent and 43 per cent name Labour respectively.

A majority of people in the North West, North East, Yorkshire and Humberside and Wales, all being targeted by Ms May, think Labour would be the best party for the working class. Even 26 per cent of people who voted Tory at the 2015 election say Labour would do the best job, while half of them (52 per cent) choose the Tories.

Overall, 47 per cent of the public think Labour would best represent the working class, while 23 per cent opt for the Tories and 4 per cent the Liberal Democrats.

Tory strategists insist the Prime Minister is broadening the party’s appeal. She has campaigned in several traditional Labour areas and launched the Tory manifesto in Halifax on Thursday. She has promised “the greatest extension of rights and protections for employees by any Conservative government in history”.

Theresa May launches the Conservative manifesto

Ms May, who admitted in 2002 that the Tories were seen as “the nasty party”, has not yet convinced voters that the label no longer applies.

According to ORB, only one in three people (35 per cent) agree that the Conservatives can no longer be called “the nasty party”, while the same proportion disagree and 30 per cent neither agree nor disagree. Only 12 per cent strongly agree with this statement but 21 per cent strongly disagree.

One in 10 people who voted Tory at the last election believe the “nasty” tag still applies, while another 20 per cent are not sure and 70 per cent say the party can no longer be called “nasty”. 

Labour and the Lib Dems claimed this week that the Tories are still “the nasty party”.  Their supporters appear to agree. Only 13 per cent of Labour and 23 per cent of Lib Dem voters in 2015 believe the label no longer accurately describes the Tories.

According to ORB, only one in three people (34 per cent) agree that a Conservative landslide next month would be good for the country, while 39 per cent disagree and 27 per cent neither agree nor disagree.

While two in three people who voted Tory two years ago think a landslide would be good for the country, the same proportion of Labour voters and 60 per cent of Lib Dem voters in 2015 disagree.

ORB’s findings suggest that the warnings by rival parties and their individual candidates that Ms May is on course for a landslide could potentially reduce her majority. Three in 10 people (28 per cent) say the prospect of a Conservative landslide means they would consider voting for another party, including 15 per cent of 2015 Tory voters, 45 per cent of Lib Dem and 41 per cent of Labour supporters. But 42 per cent of people, including 70 per cent of Tory voters last time, would not consider backing another party.

Ms May seems to have persuaded the public that winning a big majority next month would strengthen her hand in the Brexit negotiations. By a margin of 2-1, they agree that she is likely to get a better deal for the UK if she enjoys a big majority (48 per cent to 25 per cent). One in four 2015 Labour voters (27 per cent) agree with this proposition.

Some 49 per cent of people believe the Tories would do the best job in getting a good Brexit deal, including one in four 2015 Labour voters. One in five people (19 per cent) say Labour would get the best deal, while 6 per cent say the Lib Dems would.

The Tories are well ahead on the economy. Some 47 per cent say they would do the best job, including 17 per cent of 2015 Labour voters and 34 per cent of Lib Dem supporters. Only one in four people (26 per cent) name Labour. 

However, many people appear to doubt the Tories’ credentials on health. Some 29 per cent think the party would do the best job on the NHS while 43 per cent believe Labour would, including one in five people who voted Tory two years ago.

ORB interviewed 2,095 adults across the UK on Wednesday and Thursday

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Conservative councillor slams Theresa May's 'dementia tax' care plan

A Conservative council leader has lashed out against Theresa May’s “dementia tax” care plan and warned that her pledge to means test the winter fuel allowance could see pensioners “die quicker”. 

John Lamb claimed his party’s planned social care overhaul will hit hard-working families and could lead to people’s homes being taken from them after they die.

The Southend Council Leader was reacting to the Prime Minister’s plan for tens of thousands more people to pay for care costs from their estates – a move Labour has dubbed the “dementia tax”. 

The Conservatives say taxpayers’ last £100,000 will be protected – up from the current level of £23,250 – and insist that nobody will be forced to sell their home to fund care costs while they are alive. 

But the value of people’s homes will be counted when determining how much they should pay for care at home, which has triggered anger some Tory candidates. 

Mr Lamb told the Southend Standard: “These people have worked all their lives to build up their assets. They are now saying ‘we won’t take your home while you’re alive but we’ll take it from you when you are dead’.”

He added: “Adult social care is going to be a big burden and we need more money but not by hitting pensioners’ families, especially when we are sending aid to other countries to help fund their space and arms programmes.”

cllrjohnlamb.jpg
Cllr John Lamb (Southend West Conservatives)

The council leader also weighed in on Ms May’s pledge to means test the winter fuel allowance, an annual payment of up to £300 for more than 12 million pensioners. 

The Conservatives have said their proposed means test would be related to income, but have not indicated who would qualify or what the treshold would be.

Mr Lamb said: “They are saying ‘turn your heating off and you’ll die quicker then we can take your home. It’s totally wrong and I will be making very strong representations to my own group and lobbying MPs. I am against any reduction in the winter fuel allowance unless someone is earning more than £80,000 to £90,000 gross a year.

“Pensioners have no control over fuel and energy prices. They still have a lot to pay out. I think pensioners will just switch off the heating. It’s something pensioners shouldn’t have to be worrying about. As you get older you feel the cold more.”

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MI5 'kept file on Jeremy Corbyn over his IRA sympathies'

MI5 reportedly opened a file on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn amid concerns over his willingness to enter into dialogue with members of the IRA.

The security agency is believed to routinely keep files on people of interest, including political activists and campaigners. Archived documents have revealed Mr Corbyn attended several events supporting the militant Republicans during the 1980s and 1990s.

An unnamed source reportedly told The Telegraph: “If there was a file on someone, it meant they had come to notice. We opened a temporary file and did a preliminary investigation. It was then decided whether we should open a permanent file on them.”

A spokesman for the Home Office said they could neither confirm nor deny who M15 kept files on in the interests of national security.

The Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch reportedly monitored Mr Corbyn at around the same time because of his involvement with anti-racist groups, but it is unclear whether intelligence was shared between the organisations. The MI5 file is reported to have been opened “by the early 1990s”.

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “M15 kept files on many peace and Labour movement campaigners at the time, including anti-Apartheid activists and trade unionists.”

M15 has previously come under fire from privacy organisations for keeping files on leading left-wing historians and academics, including Eric Hobsbawm and Christopher Hill, who were both once members of the Communist Party.

Nobel prize-winning author Doris Lessing was also spied on by the security service for 20 years – long after she had abandoned her youthful interest in communism.

At the height of the troubles, Mr Corbyn was a backbench MP for Islington North and appeared at a number of Republican protest events, along with his long-time friend, the now Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell.

Mr Corbyn was arrested in 1986 for joining a protest outside the Old Bailey intended to show solidarity with members of the IRA including Patrick Magee, who was later convicted of the Brighton bombing.

The Labour leader was criticised by families of IRA last year after he failed to explicitly condemn the group during a telephone interview with BBC Radio Ulster.

When asked if he condemned the IRA, he replied: “I condemn all bombing, it is not a good idea, and it is terrible what happened.”

But supporters of the veteran left-winger have said his relationship with Republicans should be viewed in the context of the successful peace talks which followed.

He consistently called for a peace process while maintaining his support for a united Ireland throughout his backbench career. Shortly after he entered Parliament in 1983, he said the large Irish population in his constituency had voted for him to be their MP “with a clear ‘Troops Out’ ticket”.

Former Home Office minister Chris Mullin has described Mr Corbyn as being “ahead of his time” because of his willingness to hold dialogue with Republicans when few other politicians would dare to do so for fear of upsetting popular opinion on the UK mainland.

A spokesman for Mr Corbyn told The Telegraph: “Jeremy campaigned for peace in Northern Ireland. To do so, he campaigned for the rights of all to be respected and spoke to people on all sides of the conflict.

”Jeremy campaigned for fair trials and against miscarriages of justice, after a series of well publicised cases, such as the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six.“

Prime ministers including Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Edward Heath held secret talks with the organisation during their premierships, according to files released by the National Archives of contemporaneous newspaper reports.

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Cash-strapped councils breaking the law on air pollution, documents reveal

It has been described as a “public health emergency” responsible for tens of thousands of deaths every year, but dozens of local councils have been failing to report on air pollution as required by law for years.

The revelation, based on documents obtained under Freedom of Information rules, casts doubt on local authorities’ ability to play their part in the Government’s new draft Air Quality Plan – its third attempt to meet minimum safety standards after repeatedly being taken to court by campaigners.

Ministers had sought to delay publication of the plan until after the general election, with a Government lawyer arguing it would drop a “controversial bomb” on the campaign.

But a judge ordered ministers to comply with a court-ordered deadline and the resultant plan was duly derided as “feeble” and “much weaker” than expected.

Public concern about air pollution has been growing. A new survey for The Independent found the majority of the public is now in favour of banning the most-polluting vehicles from city centres.

Some 51 per cent of respondents agreed with this suggestion, with only 15 per cent against and the remainder not expressing a view, pollsters ORB said.

A majority of Conservative voters (53 per cent) were in favour, suggesting Theresa May could be vulnerable to criticism about air quality. Support was highest among Liberal Democrats (64 per cent) with 54 per cent of Labour supporters also backing the idea.

It comes amid warnings from the World Health Organisation, MPs and doctors’ groups that it is causing an estimated 40,000 premature deaths in the UK and millions worldwide, and is exacerbating a host of conditions including heart disease, asthma and possibly even dementia.

The Government’s latest Air Quality Plan sought to pass the buck to a large degree to councils, saying they were “best placed to take the lead”.

However, the council documents, obtained by the DeSmog UK environmental news website, show that local authorities have already been failing to carry out the current requirements, suggesting they would struggle to cope with further responsibilities without extra funding.

Of the 77 councils contacted, 59 had not made air pollution reports, which must be produced under the 1995 Environment Act, available to the public.

After the website got in touch with the councils, 34 authorities were found to have gaps in their reporting between 2011 and 2016, although some said they were still in the process of producing reports covering last year. If this is a representative sample, it would mean 44 per cent of councils in the country are failing to properly monitor and assess the extent of air pollution.

Mat Hope, deputy editor of DeSmog UK, said: “I think it shows local councils need resources to be able to deal with this problem properly.

“I think the councils themselves are doing what they can, but with the current budget constraints it’s clear they are likely to struggle with the extra obligations under the new Air Quality Plan.

“The Government needs to think very hard about the resources they are putting behind this.”

The draft plan proposes creating 27 clean air zones in places with the highest levels of pollution with Birmingham expected to have one of the largest.

However, the city’s council did not produce an air quality report in 2013, 2014 or 2015.

A spokesperson for Birmingham City Council said an annual status report had been published in 2016, covering the previous year, but “we didn’t send any for the previous three years and this was due to resources”. The relevant staffing levels fell from 3.1 full-time equivalent posts in 2011 to just 1.6 in 2016.

The spokesperson added: “We are currently working on a feasibility study to determine the size and scope of this clean air zone with a view to consulting on our proposals in the autumn, subject to any further announcements from the Government.”

The ORB poll found support for a ban on the most-polluting vehicles was highest in the West Midlands (60 per cent), followed by London (58) and the South-east (55).

Kettering Borough Council did not produce reports in 2011, 2012 and 2015. It told DeSmog UK that this was due to “a lack of specialist staff both internally and also in the wider recruitment field”.

“To counter this, we are now in the process of ‘growing our own’ specialist capacity in house,” the council added.  

High Peak, which covers the west side of the Peak District national park, failed to produce reports in 2015 and 2016 due to “resourcing issues”, the documents obtained under freedom of information law showed.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs referred a request for comment to its online guidance about annual status reports on air quality, which says “every local authority shall review the air quality within its area”.

The draft Air Quality Plan says: “Road transport is still by far the largest contributor to NO2 (nitrogen dioxide) pollution in the local areas where the UK is exceeding limit values.

“Addressing road transport emissions therefore presents the most significant opportunity to tackle this specific exceedance problem.

“However, road transport is a key part of almost everything that we do as individuals or businesses with social and economic impacts which are much wider than air quality.

“This means setting new policies and incentives to promote new technology and innovation, speeding up the move to cleaner vehicles and supporting the industrial strategy to deliver cleaner air for UK towns and cities.”

And it adds: “Local authorities know their areas best and are best placed to take the lead in rectifying the problem.”

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Julian Assange timeline: from first Swedish allegations to five years inside the Ecuadorian embassy

An investigation into a sex allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been dropped by Sweden’s director of public prosecution.

The development is the latest in a long-standing saga involving Mr Assange, who has been living inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London for almost five years.

Here are the key dates in the case:

2010

August

An arrest warrant is issued for Mr Assange for two separate allegations – one of rape and one of molestation – after he visits Sweden. He is questioned by police in Stockholm and denies the allegations.

November

Stockholm District Court approves a request to detain the WikiLeaks founder for questioning on suspicion of rape, sexual molestation and unlawful coercion. An international arrest warrant is issued by Swedish police through Interpol.

December

Mr Assange presents himself to London police and appears at an extradition hearing where he is remanded in custody. At a later hearing he is granted conditional bail but is kept behind bars after Swedish authorities challenge the decision.

He is later granted conditional bail at the High Court in London after his supporters pay £240,000 in cash and sureties.

2011

February

District Judge Howard Riddle rules Mr Assange should be extradited to Sweden and denies this would breach his human rights. Mr Assange vows to fight the decision.

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Scotland Yard spent millions keeping watch outside the Ecuadorian embassy in London between 2012 and 2015 (Reuters)

November

Mr Assange loses a High Court appeal against the decision to extradite him.

2012

May

The UK Supreme Court upholds the High Court decision in the case, ruling that extradition is lawful and can go ahead. The Supreme Court later rejects a move by Mr Assange to reopen his appeal against his extradition, saying it is “without merit”.

19 June

Mr Assange enters the Ecuadorian embassy in London, requesting political asylum. A day later, Scotland Yard confirms he will be subject to arrest for breaching his bail conditions.

16 August

Mr Assange is granted political asylum by Ecuador.

19 August

Mr Assange makes his first public appearance in two months on a balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy and calls for the US government to “renounce its witch hunt” against WikiLeaks.

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Assange using a balcony of Ecuador’s London embassy in 2012 to berate the US for threatening freedom of expression (Reuters)

November

Ecuador’s ambassador to the UK, Ana Alban, says Mr Assange is suffering a chronic lung condition after spending months inside a one-room office at the embassy. The Ecuadorian government later plays down the health fears and says Mr Assange “does not have an urgent medical condition”.

December

Mr Assange marks the six-month anniversary inside the embassy by making another appearance on the balcony to say the “door is open” for talks to break the deadlock over his campaign to avoid extradition to Sweden.

2013

June

Mr Assange tells a group of journalists he will not leave the embassy even if sex allegations against him are dropped, because he fears moves are already under way to extradite him to the United States.

2014

July

Mr Assange loses a legal bid to have an arrest warrant issued in Sweden against him cancelled. A judge in Stockholm decided to uphold the warrant against him for alleged sexual offences against two women.

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The WikiLeaks founder holds a press conference inside the embassy in 2014 (Reuters)

August

Mr Assange tells a press conference he will be leaving the embassy soon following speculation that he is seeking hospital treatment for heart and lung problems. He later brushes off reports that he is about to give up his fight against extradition to Sweden.

September

On behalf of Mr Assange, his legal team submitted a complaint against Sweden and the United Kingdom to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, claiming his confinement in the embassy amounts to illegal detention.

November

Mr Assange loses a legal move in a Swedish appeal court aimed at revoking his arrest warrant.

December

Mr Assange appears on one of the embassy’s balconies to greet Noam Chomsky, the US philosopher and activist. Hollywood actor John Cusack also visits the WikiLeaks founder later in the month.

assange-embassy-3.jpg
Assange and Chomsky on a balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy (AP)

2015

March

Swedish prosecutors ask to question Mr Assange at the Ecuadorian embassy.

June

Mr Assange claims the Swedish prosecutor has cancelled an appointment to interview him at the embassy.

13 August

Swedish prosecutors drop investigations into some of the sex allegations against Mr Assange due to time restrictions. The investigation into suspected rape remains active.

16 August

Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire says Ecuador’s decision to harbour Mr Assange in its embassy has prevented the proper course of justice. He says the UK continues to have a legal obligation to extradite him to Sweden, where he remains suspected of a sexual offence.

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The WikiLeaks founder is visited by Jesse Jackson in 2015 (PA)

21 August

Civil rights campaigner Jesse Jackson visits Mr Assange inside the embassy. Afterwards, he says: “800 years after the Magna Carta, freedom of the press is right and detention without charges is wrong.”

12 October

Metropolitan Police end their 24-hour guard outside the Ecuadorian Embassy. It breaks a three-year police operation which is estimated to have cost more than £12m.

2016

5 February

The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention says Mr Assange is being “arbitrarily detained” in the Ecuadorian embassy and calls on authorities to end his “deprivation of liberty”.

The report is branded “frankly ridiculous” by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond – a response which Mr Assange described as “insulting”.

9 February

Swedish prosecutors say they are working on a renewed request to interview Mr Assange at the embassy.

assange-embassy-5.jpg
Prosecutor Ingrid Isgren from Sweden arrives at the embassy to interview Assange last year (Reuters)

22 February

Lawyers for Mr Assange submit papers to a Swedish court, asking for his arrest warrant to be overturned.

24 March

The Government formally asks the UN to review its finding that Mr Assange was subject to arbitrary detention, saying the opinion was “deeply flawed”.

25 March

A Swedish court refuses to drop an arrest warrant against Mr Assange.

20 June

Ecuador reveals it has received a formal request from the Swedish authorities to interview Mr Assange.

9 August

Mr Assange files an appeal at Sweden’s Svea Court of Appeal, arguing the country must comply with the UN working group’s findings that his deprivation of liberty was unlawful.

11 August

Ecuador announces that Mr Assange will be questioned by Swedish prosecutors in the embassy in London.

16 September

Sweden’s Svea Court of Appeal rejects a bid by Mr Assange to have his sex assault warrant dropped, saying no new information has emerged.

14 November

Mr Assange is questioned over the sex allegation at the Ecuadorian embassy in the presence of Sweden’s assistant prosecutor Ingrid Isgren and police inspector Cecilia Redell. The interview spans two days.

30 November

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention rejects a request by the UK Government to review the case of Mr Assange.

2017

17 January

Barack Obama’s decision to free whistleblower Chelsea Manning prompts speculation that Mr Assange will end his self-imposed exile.

WikiLeaks tweeted prior to the decision: “If Obama grants Manning clemency Assange will agree to US extradition despite clear unconstitutionality of DoJ [Department of Justice] case.”

19 January

Mr Assange tells a press conference that he stands by his offer to go to the US, provided his rights are respected.

9 March

Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage is spotted leaving the embassy where Mr Assange is being held.

21 April

America’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions says Mr Assange’s arrest is a “priority” for the United States.

PA

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Theresa May's immigration pledge could have 'catastrophic consequences' for the UK economy

Reducing immigration to the tens of thousands could have “catastrophic consequences” for the British economy, according to a new report that derides Theresa May’s policy as “backward looking”.

It comes after the Prime Minister retained the pledge to reduce immigration to the “tens of thousands” – a policy which has never been met since being introduced by her predecessor David Cameron in 2009 – as she published the party’s manifesto for the general election on Thursday.

The report by the new think-tank, Global Future, adds that a net migration figure in excess of 200,000 – double the Government’s target – is required to “avoid collapse of whole sectors” and alleviate pressures on the NHS and social care.

It adds: “Our analysis shows that the previous and current Government’s target of cutting net migration to the tens of thousands immediately or in the long-term is based on an outdate and backward looking view of policy in this area. It shows that making substantial cuts in immigration to these levels is not only very difficult but also overwhelming undesirable.

“The UK is close to full employment, has an ageing population and low productivity growth. These factors make immigration an essential ingredient of a successful economy looking ahead.

“Global Future’s top-down economic view is that a net migration figure well in excess of 200,000 will be needed long into the future to avoid catastrophic consequences for the economy.”

Gurnek Bains, the think-tank’s founder, said during the election campaign, so far, political leader have “failed to challenge the assumption that less immigration would be good for Britain”.

His report warns that the net number of workers coming from overseas will have to reach an absolute minimum of 200,000 a year in order to sustain economic growth and prevent staff shortages in the NHS.

Mr Bains continued: “It might help particular politicians win elections but voters and our national interests will be the losers.

“Fewer immigrations will bad for Britain’s economy, businesses, finances and public services. There are now political leaders from across the spectrum who either pretend lower immigration will solve every problem or connive in this deceit. These politicians are not only selling voters short – they are selling our country short too.”

But it emerged on Thursday that no timetable has been set to achieve the “tens of thousands” pledge and rather it was an “ambition” to bring the number of migrants down. Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, told BBC Two’s Newnight that the economic cost of the policy had not been calculated because there was no fixed deadline.

If you agree, please sign our petition to call on the Government to Drop The Target: 

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Labour will be handed victory by pensioners abandoned by Theresa May, predicts John McDonnell

A revolt by angry pensioners abandoned by Theresa May will hand Labour a shock election victory, John McDonnell has predicted.

The Shadow Chancellor condemned Conservative plans to swipe winter fuel payments from most older people – and charge many more for their care – as “sick and sneaky”.

The changes would condemn more pensioners to fuel poverty and even death from the winter cold, triggering a backlash at the ballot box from a group that normally favours the Tories.

“Ten million pensioners are waking up this morning to the fact they could lose their winter fuel allowance,” Mr McDonnell said.

 “We are going to win, we are rising in the polls,” Mr McDonnell told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, “now that people have seen this Tory manifesto.”

“I tell you, 10m pensioners out there will be very angry. Large numbers of young people will be angry because there is no future for them in this manifesto.

“I think we are going to win – we are going to win on the basis of the positive hope we are giving people.”

The Conservatives have refused to say how many pensioners will lose the annual payments of up to £300, to help with winter fuel bills, when they are means-tested.

But it is expected that only the very poorest, those claiming pension credit, will still receive them – which would mean 10m pensioners losing out.

One third of those eligible to claim pension credit did not so, because it involved filling in a form – which proved the weakness of means testing, Mr McDonnell said.

“It’s about universalism, that phrase that we are will in this together. That’s the basis upon which we’ve created our welfare state,” he added.

Meanwhile, thousands of pensioners who own their properties will have to pay for care they receive in their own homes, the Prime Minister announced.

She was hitting older voters with a “triple whammy”, when a proposal to scrap the ‘triple lock’ guarantee of rising pension payments was added to the mix, Mr McDonnell claimed.

Pensions will only rise by the higher of earnings or inflation, after 2020, instead of by at least 2.5 per cent, as under the triple lock supported by Labour.

Nevertheless, despite Mr McDonnell’s bullish prediction – and one poll putting Labour on 34 per cent – the Conservatives retain a double-digit lead.

The Shadow Chancellor also attacked the Conservative manifesto for making no fewer than 60 spending commitments, while saying how only one would be paid for.

It provided a stark contrast with Labour’s prospectus for government which had “identified funding covering all spending commitments”.

“They have published an 84-page blank cheque that provides a tax giveaway guarantee for big business, while offering a roll of the dice for working families with no commitments to rule out rises in income tax and National Insurance, Mr McDonnell said.

“Now we can see why Theresa May is running scared of debating Jeremy Corbyn, when she publishes a document like this that contains more questions than answers.

“This is the equivalent of the Prime Minister going to the shops with the nation’s cheque book and not checking the price of the goods as she puts them in the trolley.”

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Son tries to sue 'ungenerous' £101m EuroMillions winner father because he only gave him £1.6m

A former sailor who tried to sue his “ungenerous” lottery-winning father for not giving him money has had his case thrown out.

Michael Dawes, 32, was given £1.6m by his father, David Dawes, over several years after he won £101m in the Euromillions in 2011

But after Mr Dawes’ lavish spending caused the funds to run out, his father refused to give him any more, despite allegedly promising he would be taken care of.

Three lottery winners celebrate multimillion-pound jackpots

Mr Dawes, a Royal Navy veteran, said his father and his wife Angela showed “arrogance and ungenerosity of spirit,” the Mail Online reported. He tried to use the courts to get more money from his father. 

Mr Dawes added: “I saw how over time their attitude changed from being relatively humble to being rather grand. They expected the people around them to treat them differently because of their money.”

With the money his father had given him, Mr Dawes had bought a £550,000 house and made a series of life decisions, including quitting jobs, with his partner James Beedle.

Mr Dawes claimed his father repeatedly told him he would “always be looked after”. 

But after Mr Dawes burned through the money by 2013 and his mother-in-law told him to “stop going to the Ritz for lunch and go to McDonalds instead,” the newspaper reported.

Mr Dawes and Mr Beedle reportedly spent £20,000 to £30,000 a week and up to £1,000 on weekly grocery shopping. 

Ms Dawes said she never thought the windfall given to her step-son “would be gone a couple of years down the road”.

“We thought that £1m would more than cover them for life,” she said.

Judge Nigel Gerald said the idea that Mr Dawes’ father would “cough up” whenever he was asked was a “strange conclusion”.

He added: “Michael was provided with the funds to have a comfortable life, but for his own reasons he chose not to take that opportunity. I therefore dismiss the claim.”

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Theresa May accused of being 'too scared' to defend her record after election debate no-show

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn have been criticised for ducking a primetime election leaders’ debate and not being able to defend their policies live on television.

The Prime Minister was accused of being “too scared” to defend her record by Leanne Wood, the leader of Plaid Cymru, one of the five opposition leaders taking part in the ITV clash.

Ms Wood was joined by Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats, Caroline Lucas of the Green Party, Nicola Sturgeon of the SNP and Paul Nuttall of the Ukip.

The politicians debated subjects ranging from Brexit to social care, the economy, education and the environment in the two-hour back-and-forth.

Mr Nuttall accused Ms May and Mr Corbyn of having not “bothered to turn up” while Ms Lucas said she felt “let down” by the leaders for the no-show.

In her absence, Ms May was accused of taking the electorate “for granted” by assuming she would win the election without debating the issues on television.

Ahead of the debate ITV’s political editor Robert Peston described the no-show by the two leaders as “pathetic”.

The Prime Minister in particular has taken criticism since calling an election for running a highly stage managed campaign with limited access to the public.

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The leaders debated for two hours (ITV)

The long and thorough exploration of the smaller parties’ policies was punctuated by a lighthearted moments when the Ukip leader appeared to forget the name of Ms Wood. He twice called her “Natalie”.

The June 8 election is increasingly turning into a two-horse race the polls are to be believed – with Labour and the Tories squeezing the smaller parties’ vote shares in a manner not seen in decades.

When asked why Mr Corbyn did not attend, Labour said British voters had a “right” to see a head-to-head debate between him and Theresa May.

“Jeremy will not take part in an opposition leaders debate. The British people have the right see a head-to-head debate between the only two people who could form the next government – and the Prime Minister’s refusal is a sign of weakness, not of strength,” a spokesperson told The Independent.

The Conservatives did not respond to a request for an explanation on why the Prime Minister was not taking part. 

Both Labour and the Tories’ press office social media accounts however sniped at those debating from the safety of their respective headquarters.

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TV producer found guilty of trying to hire hitman to kill his wealthy partner

A retired producer of TV drama The Bill has been convicted of trying to hire three men to kill his partner of 27 years after becoming besotted with a woman 40 years his junior.

David Harris offered £200,000 to murder Hazel Allinson so he could inherit her fortune, sell her £800,000 home and live out his days with Lithuanian Ugne Cekaviciute, who he met in a brothel.

The 68-year-old admitted he got into a tangle of elaborate lies and mounting debt as he lavished expensive gifts on the 28-year-old former professional basketball player during their five-year affair.

He denied wanting retired scriptwriter Ms Allinson dead and claimed he only wanted to talk to hitmen as research for a murder mystery novel before he was snared in an undercover sting.

But prosecutor William Boyce QC said Harris his story was “absurd” and told him: “You were utterly sinister, utterly convincing and utterly intent on the death of Hazel.”

An Old Bailey jury rejected Harris’s explanation and convicted him of soliciting murder.

Ms Allinson, who was present as details of her partner’s betrayal were aired in court, refused to co-operate with the prosecution.

And it can now be reported that while Harris was in the witness box, she offered to give evidence to back up part of his defence.

Harris sat in silent prayer as he was found guilty after the jury deliberated for five hours.

The court was told there was no prospect of Ms Allinson attending court for the verdict.

Harris blew £50,000 of Ms Allinson’s retirement savings and used her reputation as a parish councillor and church chorister to borrow thousands of pounds from neighbours in the upmarket West Sussex village of Amberley.

The grey-haired pensioner pawned a gold wrist watch and diamond ring and made up increasingly elaborate lies to keep breast cancer survivor Ms Allinson in the dark as he travelled to London for trysts with 6ft 1in tall Ms Cekaviciute.

Harris pretended to umpire matches for Arundel Castle Cricket Club to play away with his young lover and also told Ms Allinson he was tending to his sick brother in a mental hospital.

In a show of “complete contempt”, Harris sneaked Ms Cekaviciute into her home and photographed her posing naked on a bed with Ms Allinson’s three spaniels, jurors heard.

On one occasion, Ms Allinson was accidentally sent a receipt for a handmade cashmere Hermes sweater that Ms Cekaviciute had bought on her credit card.

Harris spun a tale that she was the girlfriend of his nephew who was out of contact after having a terrible car accident in Serbia.

Mr Boyce told jurors that Harris decided the only way out of his predicament was to pay a hitman to kill Ms Allinson in a staged mugging or car-jacking.

In February last year, Harris approached mechanic Chris May for debt collection before offering him a deal for the hit on his partner.

When Mr May failed to oblige, Harris sent him a sinister text saying: “She’s back. What the f*** happened? She’s dog walking this afternoon. Where are you?”

Mr May repeatedly tried to warn Ms Allinson of the danger by approaching her as she left the gym at Goodwood health club and by email.

Harris was then put in contact with 6ft 3in “man mountain” Zed – real name Duke Dean – through a friend at Nooks cafe in Stratford, east London, near to where Ms Cekaviciute had enrolled in college.

He gave Zed a photograph and details of his partner’s diary and took him on a tour of places she planned to go, including the church in Arundel.

Recovering alcoholic Harris promised him £200,000 for the job but in November last year Zed reported him to City of London Police instead.

Zed introduced Harris to another prospective hitman, undercover officer “Chris”, who secretly videoed the meeting in Sainsbury’s car park in Balham, south London.

As they discussed the murder, Harris said: “I will be suitably distressed because I will be distressed there’s no doubt about it. I know what I’m asking. I know there’s no way back but likewise there’s no way out for me. That’s the bottom line.”

Asked if he was sure about it, he said: “I’ve never been more deadly serious about anything.”

The next day, police went to arrest Harris and burst into a room at the Balham Lodge Hotel to find him lying naked in bed with Ms Cekaviciute.

Giving evidence, Harris claimed he was researching a book, based on his alter ego Tom Noble, a wife called Holly – named after one of the family dogs – and a sporty young woman who worked in a brothel or cafe.

He said: “I thought what was happening to me at that time, at that particular juncture, might form the basis of a good thriller.

“It was based on a guy based on me, my sort of age, meets a young girl, falls in love, becomes besotted and over development decides he wants to be with her and decides what he has to do about his wife Holly.”

He admitted giving Mr May and Zed all the information they needed to track down and kill Ms Allinson but insisted he was always in “control”.

He also told jurors that he had spoken to three more potential hitmen – Mr Bethnal Green, Mr Hackney and Dwayne the soldier – but they had walked away.

Mr Boyce asked: “How could you possibly take that risk with the woman you say is your soulmate? You were recruiting these people because you were at your wits’ end and could see no way out.”

Harris accepted he had deceived and lied to Ms Allinson for his own selfish ends but denied he would ever consider murdering her.

He told jurors the book, which he had yet to write but hoped would be made into a Hollywood blockbuster, was to be called Too Close to Kill.

But Mr Boyce suggested a better title, given his “wicked” treatment of the “angelic” Ms Allinson, was The Good, the Bad and the Ugne.

PA

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Nick Clegg warns huge numbers of children in poverty will lose free school lunches under Tory plans

Huge numbers of children in poverty will lose their free hot lunches under Conservative plans to ease school funding cuts, Nick Clegg has warned.

Theresa May was branded “the lunch snatcher” after unveiling plans to replace universal lunchtime meals for infants with free breakfasts for every pupil up to the age of 11.

The Tories said children from poorer families would continue to get free hot lunches – as well as free breakfasts – throughout their education.

And they argued that evidence showed breakfast is as effective at helping children learn at school as a hot lunch, while being delivered at a tenth of the cost at around £60m a year.

The switch would provide the bulk of a £1bn cash injection for education, at a time when schools are facing huge cuts and laying off teachers.

But Mr Clegg, the architect of the free lunches policy as deputy prime minister in the Coalition, attacked the move as “cynical”.

The former Liberal Democrat leader pointed out that, when means-tested, free lunches failed to reach all pupils living below the breadline.

“Free infant lunches policy was saving millions of struggling families over £450. Breakfasts covers fewer children. Cheaper for govt. Cynical,” Mr Clegg tweeted.

“4 in 10 kids who DIDN’T receive free lunches prior to infant provision were officially in poverty. So much for compassionate Conservatives.”

Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem education spokeswoman, said: “Margaret Thatcher was know as the ‘milk snatcher’. Theresa May will go down as the lunch snatcher.”

The Conservatives can point to research suggesting Year 2 children in schools with breakfast clubs progress by around an extra two months, compared to those in schools without.

The Magic Breakfast project, which carried out the research: “These positive results would be unlikely to occur by chance.

“The findings suggest that it is not just eating breakfast that delivers improvements, but attending a breakfast club.”

However, the policy may cause problems for schools, struggling with staffing reductions, which will be expected to provide canteen staff to prepare food and teachers to supervise.

Furthermore, the Conservatives were only able to say that the £1bn-a-year extra funding would prevent any school losing out  “in cash terms” from a controversial new national funding formula.

That means some could still be worse off after inflation and it is unclear how much of the current funding cuts might now be avoided.

A Conservative spokesman said: “This extra money means no child will lose out.”

Both Labour and the Lib Dems have pledged to extend free school meals to all primary school children, marking out a sharp divide with the Tories on the policy.

The universal free meals were introduced the first three years at primary school in 2014, at a cost of £1.2bn – more than expected, because of the need to upgrade kitchen and dining facilities.

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