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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.

 

 

Theresa May's threats against human rights law is a 'gift for dictators', says UN chief

Theresa May has given a “gift to despots” by claiming that human rights laws should not stand in the way of the fight against terrorism, a top UN chief said.

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, blasted the Prime Minister’s “highly regrettable” remarks that human rights laws should be overturned if they were “to get in the way” of stopping extremists.

“Whatever the intention behind her remarks, they were highly regrettable, a gift from a major western leader to every authoritarian figure around the world who shamelessly violates human rights under the pretext of fighting terrorism,” he said.

During the annual Grotius lecture for the British Institute of International and Comparative Law, the Prince blamed the current climate in the UK, whipped up by tabloid newspapers and fear-mongering and which put at risk laws which were enshrined after the two world wars.

“Human rights law has long been ridiculed by an influential tabloid press here in the UK, feeding with relish on what it paints as the absurd findings of the European court of human rights in Strasbourg,” he said, as reported by The Guardian.

“This viewpoint has some resonance with a slice of the public unaware of the importance of international human rights law – often seen by far too many people as too removed from everyday life, very continental, too lawyerly, too activist, ultimately too weird.”

He spoke against Ms May’s warning that she would restrict the freedom and movement of terrorist suspects if they were judged to be a threat, even if there was “not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court”.

After recent terrorist attacks in the UK, including a bomb which killed 22 people in Manchester and the death of eight people at London Bridge, Ms May promised sweeping reforms to internet regulations in order to stamp down on extremism online.

Ms May, the former Home Secretary, has repeatedly called for the UK to leave the European court of human rights, yet the high commissioner said that “British ink, reflecting an enormously rich legal tradition, is found throughout the European convention on human rights.”

The high commissioner previously attacked Donald Trump for whipping up fears of immigrants. 

He also blamed the Sun newspaper for publishing an article by columnist Katie Hopkins, in which she used the word “cockroaches” to describe migrants. He said that word was used by Naxis and despots in Rwanda and urged the UK to respect laws that curb incitement to hatred.

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Cost of flights for Prince Charles's tour of Europe top £150,000

A ministerial jet converted from an RAF plane to help save money on official trips may have cost more than £150,000 to fly the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall on their European tour.

Under David Cameron, an RAF A330 Voyager refuelling aircraft was refitted at a cost of £10 million for its new role.

It is designed to provide transport for ministers and members of the Royal Family but can still be used carry out its primary air-to-air refuelling role when not being used for VIP travel.

It is understood the Queen takes precedence in the use of the plane followed by Charles, the Prime Minister and then Government ministers.

Charles and Camilla flew in the plane for the first time during their tour in March and April, where the prince travelled solo to Romania, then was joined by his wife in Italy and Austria.

The cost of the trip – £154,000 – was revealed in Buckingham Palace accounts with a royal source stressing the figure was the highest of a number of estimates they had for the price of using the plane – but they believed the cost would come down.

The estimated figure was more than double the price of running a charter plane for the royal couple’s seven-day long haul trip to Oman, UAE and Bahrain last year, which cost £72,756.

A Clarence House spokesman said: “We’re all looking at the Voyager as hopefully a cost effective way to undertake official visits overseas.

“We’re all looking very closely at the costs of it and how it is charged because the amount of money has to work.

“But it is on the face of it a very efficient way for the United Kingdom, for the first time I think ever, to have a national VIP aircraft.

“We were up until now I think the only G20 country not to have one, so it’s very hopeful that it’s there to be called on when it’s needed.”

Voyager features business class seats at the front of the plane and economy at the back which are sometimes used by travelling media – although it does not have televisions or in-flight entertainment.

During Charles and Camilla’s trip their entourage travelled with them including the prince’s personal doctor, an artist to capture scenic vistas, and a hairdresser for the Duchess.

The royal couple were also joined on the RAF jet by senior members of their household, embassy officials from the countries visited, Government ministers, British press and RAF ground crew.

At the time it was claimed Theresa May was forced to take a costly charter flight on a Middle East tour as the prince was using the official Government plane.

But speaking during the trip a Clarence House spokesman stressed the nine-day official visit had been booked in advance of Ms May’s trip.

Press Association

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Grenfell fire: 75 tower blocks fail safety tests as number continues to rise

A total of 75 high rise buildings in England have failed fire safety tests so far following the Grenfell Tower blaze, according to the Government.

Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, announced the new number, which has been revised upwards from 60, in Parliament.

He also said he had asked all councils and housing authorities in England to inspect tall, residential buildings which potentially have similar cladding to that of Grenfell Tower. 

He said there were around 600 such buildings in the country.

“I know the entire country is anxious to hear what we are doing to reassure residents about fire safety in similar blocks around the country,” he said.

The programme to test the cladding, a composite of aluminium and which was thought to have helped the Grenfell Tower fire spread quickly, started on 21 June.

The 75 affected buildings are spread across 26 local authority areas.

“I know members [of Parliament] will rightly want to know if their residents are affected, and my department will publish regular updates on gov.uk.”

The combustibility test has three categories and if the building lands in category two or three, it means the cladding does not have limited combustibility. 

On Friday evening, around 4,000 people were evacuated from high rise buildings in Camden with similar cladding.

The blaze at Grenfell Tower spread within half an hour and killed at least 79 people, and Mr Javid said the death toll was expected to increase.

The cladding and insulation material failed fire safety tests after the disaster.

Mr Javid said he was “concerned at the speed” of which landlords were submitting samples of their cladding to be tested, and asked them to do so immediately.

“I’m determined that residents have as much peace of mind as possible in these worrying times,” he said. “Landlords must keep residential buildings safe for their tenants.”

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Buckingham Palace welcomes first female Captain of the Queen's Guard

A Canadian soldier has spoken of her pride at becoming the first female officer to command troops guarding the Queen at Buckingham Palace.

Captain Megan Couto, 24, has been given the prestigious role of Captain of the Queen’s Guard and said modestly she would just focus on doing her job to the best of her ability.

Her Canadian unit The Second Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (2PPCLI) – known as The Patricia’s – has been invited to the UK to mark the 150th anniversary of Canada, which is celebrated this year.

Captain Couto said: “I’m just focusing on doing my job as best I can and staying humble. Any of my peers would be absolutely delighted to be Captain of the Queen’s Guard and I’m equally honoured.”

Before marching with her troops from Wellington Barracks to nearby Buckingham Palace, the officer said: “I’m not feeling too nervous. We’ve practised enough and all the guys have been through their paces – I’ve just to focus on saying the right commands.”

The role of Mounting the Queen’s Guard usually falls to the British Army’s Household Division, which is largely made up of male troops.

While women in the British Army have served on frontline duties in a variety of roles, until July last year they were banned from ground close combat roles, so no female officer has served as Captain of the Queen’s Guard.

The Government is opening up combat roles to women over a phased three-year term.

From November last year, some units of the Royal Armoured Corps have been open to women. This change will apply to roles in the infantry of which the Queen’s Foot Guards are part, which will be open to women by the end of next year.

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said “I have always wanted roles in our armed forces to be determined by ability, not gender.

“Women have already given exemplary service in recent conflicts, working in a variety of highly specialised and vital roles. By opening all combat roles to women, we will continue to build on these successes and improve the operational capability of our military”.

Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, based in Shilo, Manitoba, Canada, was named after Princess Patricia of Connaught, daughter of the then-Governor General of Canada.

Princess Patricia had special links with Buckingham Palace, the place of her birth on March 17 1886. Her father was Prince Arthur, the third son of Queen Victoria.

Press Association

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Edir Frederico Da Costa protest: Riot police called in as demonstrators set fires and throw bricks in Stratford

Protesters have set fires and clashed with riot police in north-east London in demonstrations following the death of Edir Frederico Da Costa.

Bricks were torn from walls and thrown at police and firefighters were called to put out flames in a bin near McDonald’s in Romford Road, Stratford, on Sunday night.

Mr Da Costa died on 21 June, six days after he was stopped in a car by Metropolitan Police officers in Newham, east London. Campaigners alleged the 25-year-old’s neck was broken and that he suffered other injuries in the stop.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission has launched an investigation and said a preliminary post-mortem, carried out on Thursday, indicated there were no spinal injuries caused by police.

A crowd arrived at Forest Gate police station at about 8.15pm.

At least a dozen officers wearing helmets stood shoulder-to-shoulder and two-person deep at the station entrance as tempers flared, with swearing and chanting from the campaigners.

They held a calm minute’s silence at 8.40pm with each person holding a clenched fist in the air. It was broken with applause, revving of motorbikes and then booming music.

Dozens of police wearing helmets and carrying shields pressed forward in a line from the police station at around 9.35pm. Members of the crowd had been screaming “no justice, no peace, no racist police”.

Some protesters carried “Black Lives Matter” signs.

Police were still at the scene outside the station in large numbers after dark when firefighters hosed out a fire which had been set in a bin near a McDonald’s in Richmond Road.

Family campaigners were insisting that the violence was not coming from them and it had been set up as a peaceful march.

Buses through Stratford station were disrupted.

After its investigation was launched, a spokesman for the IPCC said: “Mr Da Costa was detained by police officers. During this interaction it is believed police officers used force and deployed CS spray.

“Mr Da Costa became unwell, first aid was administered, an ambulance was called and he was taken to hospital. Tragically on Wednesday, 21 June, Mr Da Costa died.”

Additional reporting by agencies

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Chalcots Estate evacuation: Camden residents face third night in leisure centre amid Grenfell cladding aftermath

Angry residents of the evacuated Chalcots Estate in Camden are facing the prospect of a third night sleeping on air beds at a local leisure centre as the council insisted they cannot return home. 

Camden Council announced the immediate evacuation of four tower blocks in the north London estate after fire safety checks revealed they had cladding similar to that thought to have played a role in the Grenfell Tower disaster.

At least 79 people are missing, presumed dead, following the fire at the tower in north Kensington on 14 June which is believed to have been started by a faulty fridge on the fourth floor before spreading quickly up the outside of the building. 

Fire safety checks have been carried out by local authorities around the country and 60 blocks in 25 council areas have so far failed.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said that every tower block which has been tested so far has failed. 

Former London Mayoral candidate and local Green party councillor Sian Berry told The Independent the number of people staying in the leisure centre may even go up as more people were coming forward for help with a place to stay.

Around 200 residents from 120 households refused to leave their homes in the towers on Saturday night as many said they did not want to sleep on airbeds just a few hundred feet from their own homes while 60 others slept in the centre and others stayed with family or friends. 

Ms Berry said: “I was here yesterday and I spoke to people who had been waiting all day, they were elderly or had large families and they just didn’t want to stay in the sports hall.

“A lot people who did sleep in their flats last night are now coming to the back of the queue to get reallocated housing tonight.”

She said council staff were still “frantically” trying to arrange hotel rooms for people on Sunday afternoon.

People were seen bringing food to the centre while some residents were heard saying the situation was “madness” and describing the scene as “absolute chaos”.

Chalcots Estate resident confronts Camden Council leader Georgia Gould over evacuation

One mother, Fadumo Salah, said she had not been able to sleep in days because her and her family had been staying in the leisure centre since Friday.

She told The Independent she had been given a new number on Sunday morning and had been told to wait in a queue.

“We are in a queue and they keep saying ‘Go back, go back we’ll call you’ and they never call you”.

Another mother who was placed in a bed and breakfast said she cannot stay there as she has no way to feed her four children.

Farah Ikran said she was staying in a room with no fridge or cooker and could not feed her one-year-old daughter with takeaways. 

“They are doing nothing. They are saying you get £100 but we don’t need money. We need a place for our kids”, she told The Independent. “Money is nothing to us, even if she gives us £10,000, it is nothing.”

She said she was originally told she would be staying there for just one night but has now been told she may have to stay for two weeks. 

Woman engages passionately with Camden Council leader Georgia Gould

She said: “I am not going to stay for 14 nights. I have a child, one-year-old, she is not eating takeaway. Why are they kicking us out of our houses? Why are they kicking out kids?

“They are the ones who created this problem. They need to solve it, they need to open up their houses. They have houses. They have a hundred empty properties they are getting ready now and they are not doing anything.”

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Police officers outside Dorney Tower, part of the Chalcots Estate in Camden where residents have been forced to evacuate (AP)

Camden Council made the decision to evacuate after it found that in addition to the cladding, there were numerous fire risks inside the towers such as inadequate fire doors, gas pipes and insulation.

But Ms Berry, who is also a London Assembly Member, said the London Fire Brigade would have forced the council to act if they did not do so voluntarily. 

She said: “It was not a voluntary decision.

“I’m fed up of listening to radio debates about whether this is necessary. It is necessary because they said so. 

“They are the experts. And they would have issued a legal notice if Camden weren’t doing this voluntarily.”

She said the council should have evacuated on Thursday morning when they first began testing as the cladding as they should have known about the internal fire safety issues in the tower. 

Camden Council leader Georgia Gould said she would be personally knocking on doors to try to persuade people to leave. 

She told BBC News some residents have issues, including agoraphobia, and want to be sure they have got suitable accommodation before moving out of their flats.

“I’m going myself back to the blocks to knock on doors and have those conversations,” she told BBC News.

She added: “The last thing I want to do is force people out of their homes, and the conversations I have been having with residents in these buildings is that they are happy to work with us.”

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The four of the towers on the estate have been evacuated (AP)

The council said it could take two to four weeks for the four blocks to be made safe. It said it would cover the cost of hotel rooms up to £200 a night.

Ms Gould said in a statement on Sunday evening: “Our focus is on making residents as comfortable as possible, and we’re working as fast as we can to move residents through the rest centre and into hotels and other suitable accommodation.

“Where residents would like to book their own hotel rooms, we’ll cover the cost of up to £200 per room per night, we just need residents to give us a receipt. We’ll also be making brand new flats we’ve built at Maiden Lane available for evacuated families for a temporary period.

“Evacuated residents have been so patient this weekend in difficult circumstances and our focus is on ensuring everyone has a proper bed as soon as we can.”

DCLG had said many more samples from tower blocks around the country still need to be tested. 

A spokesman told The Independent local authorities were not planning to evacuate any other buildings for the time being as the other towers did not have the same internal fire safety problems like Chalcots Estate. 

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Grenfell response: Number of tower blocks failing fire tests rises to 60

The number of tower blocks which have failed emergency fire tests has nearly doubled to 60 in 25 different council areas. 

Councils across the country have launched emergency reviews of their towers following the fire at Grenfell Tower in London which is believed to have killed at least 79 people.

The fire is believed to have spread due to flammable cladding on the outside of the building which was designed to provide insulation and improve the look of the 24 storey tower. 

The Department for Communities and Local Government said every tower tested so far has failed the fire safety check. 

Councils have been told to prioritise checking the towers they are most concerned over.

Camden Council in North London announced it would immediately evacuate four blocks in Chalcot Estate in Swiss Cottage on Friday night after tests showed it had the same cladding as well as a series of fire safety breaches inside. 

Two days later families are still sleeping in a local leisure centre while they wait to be given temporary accommodation in local hotels and other council properties.

More follows…

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London Eye and Waterloo Pier evacuated after authorities find World War-era bomb

London Eye and Waterloo Pier have been evacuated following the discovery of a World War-era bomb.

A spokesman for Scotland Yard has reportedly confirmed authorites have found a bomb from World War I or II in the Thames near the tourist hotspot.

People on the London Eye were told to evacuate immediately.

Police have cordoned off the area.

A Metropolitan Police spokesman told Metro, “Police were called at 10:30hrs on Sunday, 25 June, by a member of the public reporting suspected WW1 or WW2 ordnance in the foreshore on the River Thames near to the London Eye.”

More to follow…

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Brexit: Losing care staff from EU could force disabled people from their homes, report warns

People with disabilities in the UK could “slide back” into nursing homes if Brexit restricts the numbers of care staff coming from the EU, according to a new report seen exclusively by The Independent.

They face losing crucial rights and protections following Brexit and could be forced to move out of their homes, the study, published by charity Disability Rights UK (DRUK), claims.

Britain’s departure from the EU could damage disabled people’s quality of life of people due to  a loss of funding for support services and a potential scaling back of disability rights that sit within EU law, it warns.

DRUK said the impact of Brexit on disability rights has “barely been mentioned” in policy debates, despite disabled people making up one in five of the British population.

Among the most pressing concerns, the report warns that changes to immigration laws are likely to impact personal assistance, warning that the loss of carers from EU countries could see disabled people “slide back” into depending on institutions and unable to live at home.

It states that while the discussion on immigration has so far picked up on highly skilled people and around farm work, there has been little on the people who keep services running like the health and social care services.

The number of non-British EU nationals working in the UK’s crisis-stricken social care system has shot up by more than 40 per cent in three years, according to official figures – prompting fears that Brexit will lead to a catastrophic staffing crisis across the sector.

Anna Lawson, co-author of the report who is a professor of law and director of Centre of Disability, told The Independent: “The discussion on immigration has so far picked up on highly skilled people and around farm work. But there’s been very little on the people who keep services running like the health and social care services.

“This all links to the right to independent living. If you can’t get access to support and services then people slide back into institutions rather than living at home, or living at home without adequate support.” 

Researchers also warned that millions of pounds of EU funding currently provided to charities and organisations running support and schemes for disabled people are at risk, and urges that making replacing any lost funding must be a “high priority” so opportunities aren’t “bricked up”.

UK charities benefit from an estimated £300 million a year, the report states. Funding for people with disabilities includes that from the European Social Fund, which helps disabled people with work experience, wage subsidies and support for the self-employed, and the European Regional Development Funds, which offers funding for projects that enhance disability equality and inclusion.

Philip Connolly, policy and development manager at DRUK, told The Independent: “European social fund provides training and employment support to tens of thousands of disabled people.

“The Government has said it will match funds up to 2020, but that’s only three years away. What’s going to happen after that? A significant move for disabled people into work might be walled up the access route. It will brick up their opportunities.”

Based on the assumption that the UK will not be seeking membership of the European Economic Area or single market, the findings also warn that unless urgent action is taken to implement new disability laws in the UK, disabled people will lose important measures that currently fall under EU law.

While some disability-related rights in EU law are already embedded in domestic UK legislation, there are many disability-related rights, such as access to air travel, low flow buses and accessible websites, that are “directly applicable” in the UK but only apply through our membership of the EU laws. 

Ms Lawson warned that on leaving the EU it was crucial for the UK to “keep up” with developments in EU law regarding protection for disabled people, warning that if action isn’t taken to do so the UK could see a regression in rights for disabled people.

“Currently, travel on board a plane or ship disabled people are protected from discrimination and have a right to assistance only in EU law. There’s nothing specifically in UK law,” Ms Lawson told The Independent.

“Unless action is taken to ensure these laws are transferred onto the UK statute book, this could see a return to a time where, for example, you could be assisted up to the boarding gate, but not have help getting onto the plane.

“If we don’t keep up with the ongoing and fast-moving developments in EU law, we could end up having much lower requirements. It’s a complex issue on which our laws are very entangled with EU laws. If we’re going to disentangle them, there’s a risk things will fall out in that process.”

The report concludes that “explicit attention” should be given to this issue in the negotiations to ensure that disabled passengers continue to be able to travel safely and on an equal basis with others.

It also warns that a loss of reciprocal agreements with the EU would have “massive implications” for disabled people travelling in Europe, and could see some people living in Europe forced to return to the UK for medical care.

Ms Lawson said the loss of such agreements would affect a large number of people, but because disabled people have a heightened need to access healthcare they will be particularly “hit hard”.

“The loss of reciprocal agreements will affect everybody, but because disabled people disproportionately need access to healthcare, they will be hit hard. The cost of getting healthcare insurance if you go on holiday, for instance, is going to be very expensive without those agreements, particularly for disabled people or those with health problems,” she said.

“Also for people who live or work in other EU countries at the moment who are disabled. There are a lot of older people who are likely to be disabled or have ongoing health conditions, and there are likely to be massive implications for them without the reciprocal health agreements that we currently have.

“They might have to come back to the UK for healthcare. That needs to be on the negotiating table, otherwise we won’t have reciprocal agreements on that.”

Concluding the report’s findings, Mr Connolly said: “The implications of Brexit for disabled people are both myriad and huge. Disabled people might struggle to get the support they need to live independently, or get access to transport, and we could see a dilution of disabled people’s rights generally.

“It’s vital that the government starts talking to disabled people and demonstrating its commitment to their needs and concerns.”

Responding to the warnings in the report, a Government spokesperson said: “This Government made a clear commitment that all protections in equality legislation will continue to apply once the UK has left the EU.

“There will be no going backwards on this issue. We are carefully considering how best to convert EU law through the Great Repeal Bill. The UK has some of the strongest equality legislation in the world and will continue to address discrimination in all its forms.”

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Women's march: Activists protest against Conservative deal with DUP

Hundreds of women marched to Downing Street to protest Theresa May’s planned alliance with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

Protesters, including a number of men, descended on Whitehall on Saturday to campaign against a Tory deal with the DUP, which has drawn criticism for its right-wing stance on gay rights and abortion.

They chanted: “Racist, sexist, anti-gay, no DUP, no way” as they marched through the streets of London, carrying placards reading anti-DUP messages suggesting that such an alliance would put the rights of women in jeopardy.

One woman carried a sign that read: “My body, my choice”. Another had a placard featuring a character from the Handmaid’s Tale TV series.

Ms May is currently seeking a “confidence and supply” arrangement with the DUP after her loss of seats in the general election left the Conservatives needing the support of the Northern Irish party’s 10 MPs in order to pass legislation.

A statement on the Facebook event page for the march said it was taking place “in support of the right to access abortion in Northern Ireland” and “against a Tory working agreement […] with a political group known to promote policy which restricts the rights of women and LGBT people.”

It added that the Conservative Party had “no democratic mandate” to form an alliance with a party that is “known for links to far right politics,” and encouraged protesters to wear red in protest at “all the blood which has been shed under austerity”.

A previous demo was held in Whitehall to protest against Mrs May’s alliance with the DUP the weekend after the election.

The DUP has made it clear it will only cut a deal if it delivers tangible benefits for Northern Ireland in terms of jobs and investment in health and education.

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Parliament hit by cyber attack as hackers attempt to access MPs' email accounts

Hackers have targeted Parliament’s email system in an attempt to access the accounts of hundreds of MPs, Lords, aides and staff.

Security services to shut down access for anyone not in Westminster as part of efforts to secure the network.

“The Houses of Parliament have discovered unauthorised attempts to access parliamentary user accounts,” a parliamentary spokesperson told The Independent.

“We are continuing to investigate this incident and take further measures to secure the computer network, liaising with the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC). 

“We have systems in place to protect member and staff accounts and are taking the necessary steps to protect our systems.”

MPs were told of the cyber attack on Friday night and said they were unable to access their emails the following morning.

An email sent to everyone using a parliamentary address said “unusual activity and evidence of an attempted cyber attack” had been discovered.

“Closer investigation by our team confirmed that hackers were carrying out a sustained and determined attack on all parliamentary user accounts in attempt to identify weak passwords,” said a message seen by the Huffington Post.

“These attempts specifically were trying to gain access to users’ emails.”

It said changes had been made to the system to prevent the attackers gaining access, shutting down remove access to emails and unspecified services via mobile one, but access to systems on the Westminster state itself was unaffected. 

Oz Alashe, a former special forces Lieutenant Colonel and CEO of cyber security platform CybSafe, said compromising email accounts can merely be the “first step” in a wider attack.

“Email accounts represent a rich source of information for hackers so compromising these accounts would often be the first step in a sophisticated cyber attack,” he added. 

“With the disarray caused by the recent elections, and the resultant changes in parliamentary staff, it would be a prime time to use social engineering to obtain email passwords.

“Fortunately, it appears this attack has been detected early and locked down, let’s hope no sensitive information has been lost to hackers.”

Mr Alashe told The Independent that the most common method for this type of attack was “brute force”, where considerable processing power is directed to running through as many possible combinations of passwords as possible in a short space of time.

“If it’s simply an attempt to hit a parliamentary domain and gain passwords it could be an individual, but equally it could be a state – it’s too early to tell,” he added.

The attempt came days after reports that Russian hackers had put passwords belonging to senior ministers, ambassadors and senior police officers up for sale online.

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Details stolen in a hack of LinkedIn in 2012 have been sold on by criminal groups (Enis Aksoy/iStock)

Two lists of stolen data included the log-in details of 1,000 British MPs and parliamentary staff, 7,000 police employees and more than 1,000 Foreign Office officials, The Times reported.

The information was believed to have been stolen from LinkedIn, MySpace and other smaller sites, with many passwords “easy to guess” incorporating memorable numbers and relatives’ names.

Mr Alashe said it was too early to say whether the two incidents were directly connected but that they were part of the same issue.

He said criminal hackers “harvest information” including passwords, addresses and credit card numbers before selling them online, where they can be picked up and used by other actors including foreign states.

“Many people use the same passwords for different accounts – it’s not unusual,” he added.

“That’s why so many attackers are after these things – once they compromise one account they can sell the password to be used to access others.”

Official guidance from the NCSC states that hackers use software that automatically predicts minor variations to passwords including the substitution of letters for numbers, warning not worsen vulnerability by using the same password for accounts at work and home.

The use of longer passwords including a mix of letters, symbols and numbers helps guard against brute force attacks.

Mr Alashe said 75 per cent known breaches take place “because of people rather than technology”, warning: “It doesn’t really matter how good systems are if we as people are making it easy for hackers. 

Theresa May: We do need to have international regulations in cyber space to stop terrorism

“One of the most important things is for organisations to educate people on how they can be safe online.

“I don’t think the threat is getting worse but attacks are happening more frequently. 

“But that’s partly because so many people are much more connected digitally – there are so many more opportunities for people to be hacked.”

Members of the Commons and Lords were giving out alternative contact details on Saturday as work continued to secure parliamentary systems.

Henry Smith, the Conservative MP for Crawley, tweeted: “Sorry no parliamentary email access today – we’re under cyber attack from Kim Jong Un, Putin or a kid in his mom’s basement or something.”

Vladimir Putin has persistently denied allegations of state-sponsored Russian hacking and interference in foreign elections.

Donald Trump has refuted findings by US intelligence agencies that the Kremlin helped his election campaign with attacks on Ms Clinton, claiming the Democratic National Campaign hack could have been carried out by Russia, China or “somebody sitting on their bed who weighs 400 pounds“.

Fears of a cyber attack on Parliament increased following the successful hacks targeting emails related to Hillary Clinton and Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaigns.

The UK was also rocked by the WannaCry ransomware attack that hit computers running outdated versions of Microsoft Windows around the world last month.

Infecting more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries, it had a devastating effect on the NHS as computers were left displaying only a page demanding bitcoin payments to de-crypt files. 

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Grenfell Tower: Dozens of angry residents refuse to leave Camden estate evacuated over fire fears

A total of 83 households refused to leave their homes after Camden residents were evacuated amid safety fears.

Approximately 4,000 people have been displaced after 650 households were told to leave the Chalcots estate after firefighters said they “could not guarantee our residents’ safety”, Council leader Georgia Gould said.

The council said it was booking hotels for residents but around 100 people had to spend the night on air beds in a leisure centre.

Lauren Mitchell, a resident, said people were told if they chose not to leave their homes the police would be informed. 

“We asked the council, ‘what if we don’t leave?’  And they said we will have the police round to ‘forcibly remove you from your flat within an hour’,” Ms Mitchell told the BBC

Ms Gould, the council leader, visited the Swiss Cottage rest centre, where many residents spent the night, to listen to any concerns people had. 

In the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster she said “urgent fire safety work” would now take place on the five high-rise buildings but residents have raised concerns about the handling of the situation. 

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Inflatable mattresses set up at a leisure centre and library complex in Swiss Cottage (PA)

Chalcots resident Shirley Philips who raised her concerns to Ms Gould said she was given no notice before being told she must leave her home.

“I think it’s absolutely disgusting. We’ve had the fire brigade all day, Camden Council, police. I had a fire safety check done today,” she told Sky News. 

“Why have they left it till half past eight on Friday night to start getting residents out? Where do they think we’re all going?”

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Residents evacuate Chalcots Estate tower blocks in Camden (EPA)

Teacher Kim Price, who lives in one of the towers with her 14-year-old son, said as late as 4pm residents were told it was safe for them to stay in their homes. 

“I really don’t know what to do, I’m so scared right now. The news has said ‘get out now’ but the authorities have said ‘stay put’,” Ms Price said. 

“But why now? At 4pm today they said it would be okay and that all the checks were fine. And now all of a sudden the news is saying we should get out.”

Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said he was in contact with the council and the emergency services about the situation. 

“There is a particular set of circumstances on this estate that make this necessary, which has been identified following good work between Camden Council and the London Fire Brigade,” Mr Khan said. 

“Fire safety checks are ongoing at other estates across the UK.”

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Hundreds of English rivers drained below sustainable levels despite looming drought crisis

Nearly a quarter of all the rivers in England are at risk because of the vast amounts of water being removed for use by farms, businesses and people homes, according to a new report.

Environment Agency figures obtained under freedom of information law by conservation charity WWF showed that 14 per cent of rivers were classed as over-abstracted – “meaning water removed is causing river to drop below levels required to sustain wildlife”.

And a further nine per cent were described as “over-licensed”, meaning the river would fall to a similar low if permits to take water were utilised fully.

A number of rivers, including the River Chess in Hertfordshire and the River Colne in London, have already “dried up in some places with potentially devastating efforts on wildlife”, WWF said.

The group warned Britain had experienced its driest winter and early spring in 20 years and was now in a “particularly perilous” situation with the prospect of further dry weather during the summer.

Tanya Steele, chief executive of WWF, said: “The south-east of England received less rainfall over the winter than Menorca. 

“If we have a dry summer, our green and pleasant land could become as parched as some of the Mediterranean. 

“This may sound attractive for sun seekers, but in fact it would be disastrous for wildlife. It would mean hundreds of millions of pounds of damage, tens of thousands of fish dying, and serious declines of some of our most loved wetland species.”

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The River Chess in Hertfordshire looks more like a path (Charles Rangeley)

She said this fate could be avoided if the way the country’s “limited water supplies” were managed.

“We have already seen the impacts of a drought in some place with rivers drying up or running low,” Ms Steele said.

“As we witness the effects of climate change on our weather, temporary actions simply won’t do.

“The UK Government must urgently set out an ambitious long-term plan for the environment, including new policies to manage our water resources, a plan to meet our climate change targets and proposals to tackle the illegal wildlife trade and protect our seas.”

In a report called Water for Wildlife: Tackling Drought and Unsustainable Abstraction, WWF pointed out that freshwater species had declined globally by 81 per cent since 1970 – “faster than in any other species group”.

“Nature and wildlife are losing out in the rush to exploit the planet’s water resources. In England and Wales, fewer than one in five rivers are classed as in good ecological health,” the report said.

“Nearly a quarter of rivers in England are at risk from unsustainable water abstraction, with water taken for use in homes, businesses and farms without enough left in rivers for wildlife to thrive. With the pressures of climate change and population growth, action is urgently needed.”

It urged the Government to bring forward a promised Water Bill for England and Wales and take “urgent action in the 555 river water bodies where the environmental regulators indicate that abstraction is already damaging habitats and wildlife”.

Abstraction licences should also ensure there was “sufficient water for wildlife in every river” and a national strategy to reduce water waste should be introduced, the report added.

Peter King, a project officer from the Adur Rivers Trust, said that 20 years ago it was possible to swim in the Bevern stream.

“Now you can literally walk across it all year round, as the water levels of the River Ouse have really gone down a lot,” he said.

“The problem is that the rivers have been so badly damaged over the past 50 years that they’re now knackered and we are noticing dramatic changes in water levels, which is therefore having a massive impact on the surrounding communities, including local businesses. 

“This has had a disastrous effect on the recreation sector, as people are just not interested in the area anymore. As the water levels become less, the tourism becomes less, which is a real problem. Those who visit for canoeing, wildlife and fishing are not visiting anymore.”

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in a statement that it recognised “the need to improve water management”.

“That is why we are committed to reforming abstraction licensing into a simplified, modern system that is fairer and more resilient,” it said.

“We are examining a range of ways to further protect the environment, including legislative or regulatory changes.”

An Environment Agency spokesperson said: “We are in a prolonged period of dry weather which began in the autumn last year and despite rain in May some rivers, groundwaters and reservoirs are still lower than normal for the time of year. 

“The Environment Agency is working actively with water companies, businesses and farmers to balance the needs of water users and minimise any potential impacts to people, the environment and wildlife.

“Since 2008 we have made changes to over 250 abstraction licences to prevent over 27 billion litres of water per year being removed from the environment.

“Our latest assessment (2016) shows that 81 per cent of rivers, lakes and estuaries have water flows that support the ecology well.”

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Grenfell fire: Theresa May attacked by fire safety expert for not treating disaster as national emergency

A fire safety expert has criticised Theresa May for not convening a Cobra meeting to support local authorities in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire.

Stephen MacKenzie said he thought Camden council “had done the sensible thing” by evacuating hundreds of people from five tower blocks.

But he told Sky News he was “at a loss as to why Theresa May has not convened Cobra over this to actually get emergency arrangements, led by central government, to support the local authorities and to give the residents the necessity reassurance and address this issue.

“This is turning into a PR disaster for the local authorities,” he said, adding that a group of fire experts should be convened “urgently” over the weekend together with private and social housing to find solutions to the issue.

This needed to be done “before we start doing emergency actions and stressing occupants when there may or may not be a need.”

Camden council said they had decided to evacuate people after a joint inspection by the London Fire Brigade and its own expert.

It’s leader Georgia Gould said the block would be “temporarily decanted while we undertake urgent fire safety works so that residents can be fully assured of their safety. This means that we need to move residents from their homes and into temporary accommodation.”

The council was seeking temporary accommodation in hotels, while others were being put up in a nearby sports centre.  

“We will make sure that everyone on those blocks has somewhere to stay,” Ms Gould said.

Fire crews were on hand help residents, but many expressed frustration with the situation.Alice Clochet, who lives on the sixth floor of the Taplow block, told ITV News she was “outraged” after returning home to be informed of the mass evacuation.

She added that she felt most for young families, asking: “Where are they going to go?”

Fellow resident Mohammed Sharif, added: “It’s going to be a nightmare to leave.”

He said he wanted to stay “another night or two” so his young family could move out in an “organised way”, adding: “I don’t want to go too far as my kids go to school here.”

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Combustible cladding found on 14 towers putting thousands at risk after Grenfell fire

At least 14 council-owned high rises are fitted with similar combustible cladding to that used on Grenfell Tower, it has emerged. 

Tests revealed blocks in nine local authority areas across the UK were fitted with flammable panels after a “small number” of samples were analysed, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) said.

A total of 600 council blocks have been fitted with cladding that needs to undergo testing to determine if it is safe, the Government confirmed yesterday, with residents being forced to wait to find out if their homes are safe. 

Cladding will also be removed from nine blocks in Salford, that were recently refurbished, after it emerged they have similar cladding. A city council spokesperson said the panels have yet to be tested by DCLG and therefore are not included in the official figures but that they would be removed as a precaution regardless of the result. 

Cladding was already being removed from blocks in Camden and Portsmouth after tests yesterday found a number of high rises in both local authority areas to be a fire risk. 

Theresa May announced a programme of nationwide testing to see how many buildings were covered in an Aluminium Composite Material (ACM) following the devastating blaze in north Kensington that killed at least 79 people. 

It was unclear whether the same rigorous testing would also apply to other high-rise buildings outside of the housing sector. The Independent contacted the Cabinet office to ask whether hospitals, schools and other publicly-owned high-rise buildings would also be tested but did not receive a response. 

The Government has also encouraged private landlords to send in samples for testing but they are under no obligation to do so, raising concerns for those renting in the private sector. 

Premier Inn said it was “concerned” about material used on three of its properties – in Maidenhead, Brentford and Tottenham. The buildings were investigated during a “detailed assessment” of its estate, the hotel chain said. 

Questions continue to be raised over the role of flammable panelling in last week’s fire at Grenfell Tower. 

Combustible cladding is suspected to have aided the rapid and “unprecedented” spread of the blaze, trapping dozens of residents inside.

Sam Webb, an architect who investigated 2009’s deadly Lakanal House fire, said similar aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding was found to be “flammable” elsewhere, being linked to fires in Australia, Russia and the United Arab Emirates.

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Grenfell Tower fire was started by Hotpoint fridge-freezer and spread to 'combustible' cladding

The Grenfell Tower fire was started by a Hotpoint fridge-freezer before spreading to the building’s “combustible” cladding, investigators have said.

Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormackm from the Metropolitan Police, said the Hotpoint FF175BP model had not been subject to any product recall.

Witnesses at the scene of the 24-storey fire on 14 June said a resident told neighbours his fridge had “exploded” while alerting them to the initial blaze.

Ms McCormack said tests had been carried out on cladding installed on the outside of Grenfell Tower last year to improve insulation and the building’s appearance.

She said the tests carried out as part of the investigation so far were “small scale”, but added: “All I can say at the moment is they (tiles and insulation) don’t pass any safety tests.

“What we are being told at the moment by the Building Research Establishment is that the cladding and insulation failed all safety tests.”

She added: “Our investigation is to establish how the fire started.”

More follows…

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Hundreds of thousands of Virgin Media customers advised over hacking risk

Virgin Media is advising more than 800,000 customers with a specific router to change their password immediately after an investigation found hackers could gain access to it.

The company said the risk to customers with a Super Hub 2 router was “small” but advised them to change both their network and router passwords if they were still set as the default shown on the attached sticker.

The advice followed a Which? snapshot investigation which found that hackers could access home networks and connected appliances in as little as four days.

Ethical security researchers SureCloud gained access to the Super Hub 2, although Virgin Media said the issue existed with other routers of the same age, not just their model.

A Virgin Media spokesman said: “The security of our network and of our customers is of paramount importance to us.

“We continually upgrade our systems and equipment to ensure that we meet all current industry standards.

“To the extent that technology allows this to be done, we regularly support our customers through advice and updates and offer them the chance to upgrade to a Hub 3.0 which contains additional security provisions.”

The Which? study tested whether popular smart gadgets and appliances, including wireless cameras, a smart padlock and a children’s Bluetooth toy, could stand up to a possible hack.

Some of the devices proved harder than others to infiltrate, such as the Amazon Echo, but eight out of 15 appliances were found to have at least one security flaw.

The test found that the Fredi Megapix home CCTV camera system operated over the internet using a default administrator account without a password, and Which? found thousands of similar cameras available for anyone to watch the live feed over the internet.

The watchdog said that “worse still” a hacker could even pan and tilt the cameras to monitor activity in the house.

SureCloud hacked the CloudPets stuffed toy, which allows family and friends to send messages to a child via Bluetooth and made it play its own voice messages.

Which? said it contacted the manufacturers of eight affected products to alert them to flaws as part of the investigation, with the majority updating their software and security.

It did not receive a response from the manufacturers of either Fredi Megapix or CloudPets.

The consumer group said the industry needed to take the security of internet-enabled and smart products seriously by addressing the basics such as ensuring devices required a unique password before use, using two-factor authentication, and issuing regular security updates for software.

Alex Neill, Which? managing director of home products and services, said: “There is no denying the huge benefits that smart-home gadgets and devices bring to our daily lives.

“However, as our investigation clearly shows, consumers should be aware that some of these appliances are vulnerable and offer little or no security.

“There are a number of steps people can take to better protect their home, but hackers are growing increasingly more sophisticated.

“Manufacturers need to ensure that any smart product sold is secure by design.”

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Brexit: Britain's stance unclear after general election, says EU parliament president

Britain’s Brexit negotiating position is unclear after a general election which dealt a heavy blow to Theresa May‘s authority and in which the Tories lost their parliamentary majority, the president of the European Parliament said.

Antonio Tajani suggested the result had empowered supporters of a “softer” Brexit in the Government, such as Chancellor Philip Hammond, and has left the UK with a more “flexible” approach to its divorce with the European Union.

He raised the possibility of Britain staying in the European single market after the two-year Article 50 exit talks, which will end on March 29 2019 or before.

Mr Tajani said an agreement similar to those enjoyed by Switzerland or Norway was “possible to do”, adding: “It’s possible to decide on this after a negotiation.”

Switzerland and Norway are not in the EU but both participate in the single market having signed up to the “four freedoms” required, including the free movement of citizens.

Such a deal could see a key plank of the Prime Minister’s strategy – to leave the single market to gain control over immigration – torpedoed.

Mr Hammond remains committed to leaving the single market, despite his calls for a Brexit deal which puts “jobs first”.

But Mr Tajani told BBC Newsnight: “The problem is what Mrs May and what the UK Government want to do – (do) they want to leave Europe and nothing more, or (do) they want to have closer cooperation … the example is the cooperation between Europe and Norway.

“But nobody knows.

He added: “Before the election the May position was very strong. Now I think in the UK the situation, the opinion is more flexible, (that’s) my point of view. During the negotiation it’s possible to combine, to decide. “I think we don’t have a final position (from) the UK.

“If the UK want to achieve another agreement it’s possible to do it but we need to ask the European Union.”

Mr Tajani added: “For this I think it’s important to know the real position of the UK.”

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National Audit Office slams Government's 'high cost and risky deal' for Hinkley Point nuclear power station

The Government’s decision to commission a new nuclear power station at Hinkley Point – which will receive an estimated subsidy of £30bn – has been condemned as a “high cost and risky deal” by the head of the National Audit Office (NAO).

In a scathing report, the NAO said ministers had failed to look at alternative ways of funding the power station to get the best deal possible, saying officials expect it will add up to £15 to annual electricity bills up to 2030.

The renewable energy industry accused the Government of “ignoring the most cost-effective forms of electricity generation” – onshore wind and solar.

Greenpeace pointed out that this year’s school leavers would “still be paying for Hinkley when they approach their pension age, so it is concerning that the National Audit Office is suggesting it may not be worth their money”.

Construction of Hinkley Point C, which is being built in Somerset by French power firm EDF and the China General Nuclear Power Group, has just begun amid concerns about whether the type of reactor to be installed will actually work.

Similar projects in France, Finland and China have been “best by delays and cost overruns”, the report said, and there are “no examples of [the] reactor technology working anywhere in the world”.

But, assuming such problems can be overcome and the two new reactors start generating, the NAO questioned whether it would prove to be a wise decision.

Amyas Morse, head of the NAO, said: “The Department [for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy] has committed electricity consumers and taxpayers to a high cost and risky deal in a changing energy marketplace. 

“Time will tell whether the deal represents value for money, but we cannot say the department has maximised the chances that it will be.”

Under the deal, ministers agreed the plant would get a guaranteed price of £92.50 per megawatt-hour of electricity for 35 years. This means that if the market price falls below this level, energy-bill payers will be forced to make up the difference.

The price of renewables, particularly solar and onshore wind, has fallen dramatically in recent years, and, at times, has turned energy prices negative. 

In 2015, after an auction for the lowest guaranteed price, a solar power plant came in at £79.23 per megawatt-hour; onshore windfarms have achieved similar rates.

Further reductions are expected; tycoon Sir Richard Branson has even predicted there will be “almost … no energy costs at all” within a few decades.

The rapidly decreasing price of renewables, coupled with the guaranteed price over such a long period, threatens to make the Hinkley deal even more expensive than the estimated subsidy of £30bn.

Hinkley Point C: The numbers behind the new nuclear power station

The NAO report criticised the chosen method of subsidising the £18bn plant, which could not have been built without some kind of support because of high upfront costs.

“The department’s deal for Hinkley Point C has locked consumers into a risky and expensive project with uncertain strategic and economic benefits,” it said.

“While committing the developer to bearing the construction risks means taxpayers and consumers are protected from costs over-running, consumers could end up paying more for Hinkley’s electricity than if the Government had shared these risks.”

And the NAO warned that the taxpayer or energy consumer might end up footing the bill anyway if Hinkley hits major problems.

“Past experience shows that ultimately these risks could shift back to taxpayers or consumers,” the report said.

“If the project runs into trouble, the Government may need to fund alternatives to ensure secure supply, or come under pressure to renegotiate its deal. The department did not sufficiently appraise alternative ways to structure the deal.”

Richard Black, director of the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, praised the NAO for highlighting “a number of factors that potentially made Hinkley Point C more expensive than it needed to be”.

“The costs of renewables and smart power technology are changing much faster than the Government predicted, and what might have looked good value 10 years ago looks much less so now,” he said.

“Arguably new nuclear build isn’t compatible with the Government’s smart grid ambitions, and the NAO is surely right to recommend reviewing the case for nuclear power once in every parliament.”

Boris calls Hinkley ‘a disgrace’

And Nina Schrank, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said the report was “a damning indictment” of the Government’s decision to go ahead with the deal.

“It reveals that by the time the Government had signed off the deal, it was already a busted flush,” she said.

“This year’s school leavers will still be paying for Hinkley when they approach their pension age, so it is concerning that the National Audit Office is suggesting it may not be worth their money. 

“The Government didn’t even consider the impacts on bills beyond 2030. Their assumptions about the cost of renewables, especially offshore wind, were wildly inaccurate. 

“Long before Hinkley is even finished, offshore wind will be producing far cheaper and safer power. The nuclear new-build programme should be halted for better alternatives that will meet our energy needs and provide jobs in the regions.”

James Court, head of policy at the Renewable Energy Association, said the Government had spent 10 years pushing for Hinkley Point C to be built, stressing its “value for money”.

But he said: “The Government has recently been ignoring the most cost-effective of all forms of electricity generation available right now – renewables. 

“Solar and onshore wind are now cheaper than new gas and can be built quickly. New energy storage and flexibility technologies are rapidly developing and can be relied on to manage variability. 

“Renewable energy and clean tech costs are rapidly falling. Renewables are now providing around a quarter of the UK’s power and have composed the overwhelming majority of new generation capacity installed in the past five years.”

EDF insisted the NAO report showed the power station “remains good value for consumers compared with alternative choices”.  

“Consumers won’t pay a penny until the power station is operating and it is EDF Energy and CGN who will take the risk and responsibility of delivering it,” it said.

“The project is having a major impact on the UK’s industrial capacity, jobs and skills. Relaunching the UK nuclear new build industry at Hinkley Point C will enable costs for future projects, in particular Sizewell C, to be lower.“

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said in a statement: “Hinkley Point C will be the first new nuclear plant in a generation. This was an important strategic decision to ensure that nuclear is part of a diverse energy mix.

“Consumers won’t pay a penny until Hinkley is built; it will provide clean, reliable electricity powering six million homes and creating more than 26,000 jobs and apprenticeships in the process.”

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Homelessness surges 34% under Tory Government, with 100,000 more families losing their home compared with 2010

The number of families being declared homeless has rocketed by more a third since the Conservatives took power in 2010, analysis of new official statistics by The Independent has revealed. 

Between April 2016 and March 2017, 59,100 families were declared homeless by local authorities in England – a rise of 34 per cent on the same period in 2010-11.

The statistics paint a bleak picture of the UK housing crisis and the impact a lack of decent, affordable homes is having on thousands of families.

There has been a 60 per cent increase in the number of families being housed in insecure temporary accommodation. In particular, bed and breakfast-type hotels are increasingly being used to house families for long periods of time as local councils struggle to find them proper homes to live in.

There are now 77,240 families in England currently living in temporary accommodation – up from 48,240 just six years ago. Of these, almost fourth-fifths (78 per cent) are families with children, meaning there are currently 120,500 children living in insecure, temporary homes. 

Of those being housed temporarily, 6,590 households are living in B&Bs, including 3,010 families with children. Almost half have been living in this type of accommodation, which often sees families crammed into one room and forced to share limited bathroom and cooking facilities with strangers, for more than six weeks. 

This is illegal under the Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) Order 2003, which banned local authorities from housing families with children in B&Bs for more than a six-week period. 

The stark new statistics are likely to pile more pressure on government ministers after the Grenfell Tower disaster prompted widespread criticism of the Conservatives’ approach to affordable housing.

Critics have accused the Government and Tory councils of causing a huge loss of genuinely affordable homes and deprioritising those living in social housing, while four former housing ministers are said to have failed to act on a report raising concerns about the safety of tower blocks.

Conservative housing policy since 2010 has prioritised the privatisation of social housing, both by extending the Right to Buy scheme and by forcing councils to sell off their most valuable council homes to private individuals and companies. 

At the same time, ministers have mandated that social homes available at heavily discounted rents should be replaced by a new type of affordable housing that has more expensive rents much closer to market rates.

The newly released data shows a huge rise in the number of people being made homeless as a result of losing their social home. In the past 12 months, 4,010 families were declared homeless after losing a home rented in the social sector – a 56 per cent increase in six years. 

The number of council homes in the UK has fallen by 165,000 since 2010 alone, with almost a third having been sold to private owners under the Right to Buy scheme.

As The Independent has previously revealed, ethnic minorities in England have borne the brunt of the country’s housing crisis and spiralling homelessness. 

The number of BAME families being accepted as homeless has increased by 58 per cent in six years, while for households categorised as “White” the figure is much lower, at 34 per cent.

High Court rules proposed benefit cap as unlawful and illegal

Commenting on the findings, Anne Baxendale, director of communications, policy and campaigns at housing charity Shelter, said: “The Grenfell Tower tragedy has left people without a home and living in a dire situation, it has also thrust the issue of homelessness into the spotlight. 

“While Shelter is calling for those affected to be placed in good quality temporary accommodation nearby, and hope officials make good on their promise to do so, we know many local authorities simply don’t have enough affordable accommodation for those on low incomes. 

“It’s a similar story across all London boroughs and the country more widely, so it’s no surprise that today’s homelessness stats reveal the problem is getting worse nationally, with more households becoming homeless every year.”

The statistics revealing soaring homelessness were released on the day the High Court ruled that the Conservatives’ flagship benefit cap policy is unlawful because it discriminates against single parents with young children. The same court has previously ruled that the policy also illegally discriminates against disabled people and their carers.  

Homelessness charities report that the cap, together with other Tory welfare reforms, is a major cause of families losing their homes.

“Many of the families that come to Shelter for advice say the benefit cap is pushing them into homelessness,” said Ms Baxendale. “Many desperately want to work but can’t make up the required hours of work a week due to childcare issues or insecure work like zero-hours contracts. 

“That’s why we’re pleased today’s High Court judgment, which Shelter provided evidence for, has found that the cap discriminates against lone parents with children under two. In the words of the judge, ‘real misery is being caused to no good purpose’. We are calling on the Government to scrap the cap immediately, before it pushes even more people into homelessness.”

Labour said the latest figures should make government ministers “hang their heads in shame”.

John Healey, the shadow housing minister, said: “These shocking figures are a direct result of decisions made by Conservative ministers: a steep drop in investment for affordable homes, crude cuts to housing benefit, reduced funding for homelessness services, and a refusal to help private renters.

“It is simply unacceptable that in a well-off country like ours families do not have a safe, stable and secure place to live.  

“The unprecedented fall in homelessness under Labour shows that government can make a positive difference to the scandal of rising homelessness. Conservative ministers should hang their heads in shame.”

A Department for Communities and Local Government spokesperson said: “This Government is determined to help the most vulnerable in society, and is committed to ensuring people always have a roof over their heads. 

“Statutory homelessness acceptances are less than half the 2003 peak. However, the Government is committed to do more to prevent more people becoming homeless in the first place. 

“The Government is investing £550m to 2020 to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping. This includes £20m for Homelessness Prevention Trailblazer areas to trial new initiatives to prevent homelessness.  

“In addition, the Government backed and is now implementing the Homelessness Reduction Act, which requires councils to provide support to people earlier.”

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