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2022 Commonwealth Games: What legacy is in store for Birmingham after hosting the games? | UK News

After years of planning there are now just days to go until the Commonwealth Games begin in Birmingham.

With a billion people expected to tune in to watch the opening ceremony on Thursday, Britain’s second city will be in the spotlight.

But among people who live in Birmingham there are those who doubt whether they will benefit from the millions of pounds of public money that have been spent on the games.

Work to build a world class aquatic centre in Sandwell and carry out a multi-million pound transformation of Birmingham’s Alexander stadium has been set against a backdrop of a cost of living crisis, in a city that his home to some of the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

Read more: Esports to be involved as a pilot event at the 2022 Commonwealth Games

Sandwell Aquatics Centre. Pic: Birmingham 2022
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The Sandwell Aquatics Centre was built brand-new venue for the Commonwealth Games. Pic: Birmingham 2022

On an industrial estate in the shadow of spaghetti junction, Nechells Green Amateur Boxing Club holds classes for children of all ages.

In recent months some parents have said they can no longer afford the £2 lesson fee.

Mark Holt, the head coach, has taken a decision to allow those children in for free.

“If we weren’t here I think half of the kids would be out on the streets, round the chip shops, hanging around with their mates, up to no good,” he said.

“At least I know if they’re here they’re being looked after.”

The club lost its previous venue when the council sold off a community centre in Nechells three years ago.

As a grassroots club, it had hoped to benefit from the Commonwealth Games being held in the city, but Mark said they’ve received “nothing at all”.

Nechells Green Amateur Boxing Club
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Nechells Green Amateur Boxing Club has received ‘nothing at all’ from the games

“The amount of money the council is spending on, to me, things that they don’t need to do, I think it needs to go on the younger kids, trying to keep kids off the street more than anything else,” he said.

“I run a boxing club so I’d like to see boxing clubs get it but you know there’s football teams out there that are struggling, swimming clubs, things like that so the money needs to be put to the younger kids.”

Birmingham was awarded the games in 2017 after the Commonwealth Games Federation stripped Durban of the right to host the event for failing to meet promises made in its bid.

The total cost of the event is expected to be around £778m, with the city council and local partners contributing around £184m.

A legacy plan drawn up by organisers promises that the games will bring people together and improve health and well-being.

Recently retired triple jumper Nathan Douglas competed in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi, Glasgow and on the Gold Coast.

He spent much of his career based in Birmingham and is convinced the games will bring benefits to people right across the city by encouraging participation in sport.

Nathan Douglas
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Nathan Douglas, recently retired triple-jumper, was based in Birmingham

“It’s a very diverse and multi-cultural city, probably up there as the most so in the country,” said Mr Douglas.

“What I hope is it’s going to inspire local people to move, you know to help them with their health and wellbeing physically, mentally and so for me that’s what I look at hopefully as the legacy of the games.”

Training has been taking place in schools, with young people making up some of the 14,000 volunteers who will help deliver the games.

Sharoana Handley, 14, a pupil a Bristnall Hall Academy in Oldbury is going to be a kit bearer for the swimmers.

She sees it as “a once in a lifetime opportunity” to see world class athletes up close.

“It’s a great opportunity for younger people in Birmingham to see and aspire to be just like them,” she told Sky News.

Sharoana Handley
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Sharoana Handley, 14, will be a kit bearer for the swimmers

Ian Reid, the chief executive of Birmingham 2022, said “bringing a spotlight to the city and the region is really important for Birmingham”.

She added: “We’ve seen the impact of, for example, the Commonwealth Games in Manchester and the Olympics in London so I think the perception of the city, putting it on the international stage, giving it wall to wall exposure, I think will be hugely beneficial.”

But you don’t have to look far from the athletics stadium to see evidence of major projects that won’t be ready in time for the games.

Building of an athletes village in Perry Barr was delayed due to the pandemic. Instead athletes will be housed in three “campus” villages at the University of Birmingham, the University of Warwick, and the NEC Hotel Campus.

But organisers say the regeneration of the Perry Barr area will be a key physical legacy of the games and work will continue on the site to deliver more than 5,000 new homes over the next 20 years.

The Alexander Athletics Stadium is seen in front of the city after the announcement that Birmingham will host the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, Britain December 21, 2017. REUTERS/Darren Staples
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The Alexander Athletics Stadium is located in Perry Bar in Birmingham. Pic: Reuters

Councillor Ian Ward, leader of Birmingham City Council, told Sky News the city “will see well in excess of a billion pounds invested into Birmingham as a result of hosting the games”.

He said: “For every £1 the council is investing the government is investing £3 and I can’t think of any other deal that we could have done with the government that would have brought that level of investment into the city.

“I absolutely believe that the people of Birmingham will look back on the Commonwealth Games and say that was the moment this city changed for the better.”

Saidul Haque Saeed, from community organisation Citizens UK Birmingham, hosted an event where families from across the city called on games bosses to “commit to a legacy which improves the life chances of the poorest children”.

“Birmingham is the ‘Commonwealth city’ as our diversity makes it the place where you’re likely to meet other Brummies from every Commonwealth heritage,” he said.

“So, we welcome the power of sport to bring people together from different communities: visitors and residents alike.”

But he said families want to see a legacy that includes every child in the poorest areas being able to try out a new organised sport for free.

“We have hope but not 100% confidence the legacy of the £750 million spent on the Games will improve the lives of our city’s poorest families,” he said.

The next rail strike: What you need to know as industrial action continues | UK News

More than 40,000 rail workers will strike next week after talks failed to resolve a dispute over pay, jobs, and conditions.

Members of two unions will walk out on Wednesday, 27 July, affecting rail services across the country – the latest industrial action adding to the country’s transport woes.

Who is going on strike?

Members of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) at Network Rail, Chiltern Railways, CrossCountry Trains, Greater Anglia, LNER, East Midlands Railway, c2c, Great Western Railway, Northern Trains, South Eastern, South Western Railway, TransPennine Express, Avanti West Coast, West Midlands Trains and GTR (including Gatwick Express).

Members of the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) at Avanti West Coast.

The train operator I use is not on the list, so my travel won’t be affected, right?

Not necessarily.

Network Rail said all train operators may be affected, whether they are part of the dispute or not.

Signallers, for example, control train movements across the whole country.

Will the London Underground be affected?

The industrial action doesn’t involve workers at Transport for London, but there could be disruption on the lines that share track with Network Rail.

These are the District, Bakerloo, and Elizabeth lines, as well as the London Overground.

There could also be disruption the morning after the strike – 28 July – as things return to normal.

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What if I do have to use the trains?

Passengers have been told to expect disruption and only travel if necessary.

But if you really are determined or desperate, be aware that trains will start later and finish much earlier than usual.

The timetable will be published later today (Saturday 23 July) but Network Rail said it will be “very limited” – around 20% of services will run.

Some parts of the country will have no service at all.

What events could be affected by the rail strike?

The women’s Euro 2022 semi-final is in Milton Keynes on the day of the strike.

The opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games is in Birmingham the next day.

I’ll just drive or fly

That’s not going to be much fun either.

Roads are busy with summer holiday traffic – the Port Of Dover had queues of up to six hours on Friday, while the usual culprits such as parts of the M25 and M5 are still best avoided during busy times.

As for flights, staff shortages at airports and airlines have resulted in thousands of flights being cancelled and delayed – with no end in sight.

What are the strikes about?

Network Rail’s lead negotiator Tim Shoveller said the company had offered workers a two-year 8% pay deal with a guarantee of no compulsory redundancies, and other benefits.

He said the RMT had “walked away without giving their members a voice or a choice”.

“Our door remains open to try and avert this pointless action that will cost strikers dear.

“We will now consider how we will move forward with our reform plans despite the RMT obstinacy.”

The RMT said there has been no change or improvement in the pay offers it has received.

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said Network Rail had “upped the ante, threatening to impose compulsory redundancies and unsafe 50% cuts to maintenance work if we did not withdraw our planned strike action”.

“The train operating companies have put driver-only operations on the table along with ransacking our members’ terms and conditions.

“RMT will continue to negotiate in good faith but we will not be bullied or cajoled by anyone.”

Read more:
RMT’s Mick Lynch criticises ‘politicians’ prattle’ over rail workers’ pay

Nine tips to reduce how much fuel you use
London Southend Airport offers to host flights being cancelled by bigger, struggling airports

What do the train operators say?

A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group, which represents the operators, said: “Sadly, these RMT strikes will upset passengers’ summer plans, undermine businesses and upend the industry’s recovery, making it more difficult to fund a settlement.

“We want to give our people an increase in pay, but we have a responsibility to do that by making reasonable changes to long outdated working practices – already successfully introduced in some parts of the network – which will improve punctuality, reliability and passenger experience.

“The alternative is to ask passengers to pay more when they too are feeling the squeeze, or asking the taxpayer to contribute even more towards the running of the railway on top of the record amounts spent keeping trains running during the pandemic and with revenue still 20% down on pre-COVID levels. Neither of those options is fair.

“Rather than going ahead with these counterproductive strikes, we ask the RMT’s leadership to continue talking so we can come to a deal that works for our people, our passengers and for taxpayers.”

And the government?

A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “The rail industry has to modernise and be brought into the 21st century for the benefit of passengers and staff.

“We’re extremely disappointed to see that instead of staying at the table, RMT executives have chosen to walk away once more.

“We continue to encourage RMT to do the right thing by their members and passengers alike and call off the strikes.”

If there is no breakthrough, what happens next?

More strikes.

Members of drivers’ union Aslef at eight train operators will go on strike on 30 July. This will affect Chiltern, LNER, Northern, TransPennine Express, Arriva Rail London, Great Western, Southeastern and West Midlands Trains. Earlier this month, Aslef members at ScotRail voted to accept an improved pay offer from their bosses.

There are more RMT strikes planned for 18 and 20 August.

‘We hope they will soon find loving homes’: Giant rabbits rescued by RSPCA | UK News

A group of giant rabbits is recovering well after being rescued by the RSPCA.

The Flemish giant rabbits were found in small hutches on an allotment in Ashington, Northumberland, earlier this month.

They were in cramped and dirty conditions and had been left to breed with each other.

The largest rabbit weighed more than 8kg – the same as a medium-sized dog such as a Jack Russell or King Charles spaniel.

Its ears were 7in (almost 18cm) long.

Flemish giant rabbits are popular pets but they are also still bred for their fur and their meat.

The RSPCA said it is believed these rabbits were being bred to be eaten.

Around half of them were adults and half were babies – two of the adults were of average size but their litters were crossed with the giant rabbits, so the babies (or kits) are likely to grow into large rabbits.

‘We hope they will soon find loving homes’

Inspector Trevor Walker, who helped to rescue the rabbits, said: “These poor rabbits were living in cramped and dirty conditions which would have been very unpleasant for them especially in the heat.

“Luckily a vet found they are all in good condition, although one is on medication for weepy eyes and a wound on the back of his neck, but we hope they will soon find loving homes.”

Anyone interested in adopting the rabbits can look on the RSPCA’s website for the Find A Pet section.

Mr Walker said: “They will make good companion animals, as they have nice temperaments.”

Pet owners struggling with cost-of-living crisis

The RSPCA is seeing an increase in rabbits needing rescue and adoption, with some pet owners unable to care for them due to the increasing demands of the cost-of-living crisis.

Mr Walker said: “We would really urge people to do their research before taking on a pet, and also to make sure you get your pet neutered at an early opportunity to prevent unwanted litters of animals.

“All of these rabbits will be neutered, micro-chipped and vaccinated before finding new homes.”

Last surviving Battle of Britain pilot, 103, reunited with WWII fighter plane | World News

The last known surviving Battle of Britain fighter pilot has been reunited with a Hurricane aircraft, the type he flew during the war.

Group Captain (retired) John ‘Paddy’ Hemmingway, who turned 103 this week, was the guest of honour at the Irish Air Corps’ centenary year Veterans Day at Casement Aerodrome in Co Dublin on Friday.

As part of the ceremony, the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight, comprising an Avro Lancaster bomber and a Hawker Hurricane, flew in formation over Dublin before landing at the aerodrome.

Group Captain Hemmingway was brought to the vintage fighter in a wheelchair, and its engines were powered up, so he could once again experience the sight and sound of his WWII “office”.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight being escorted over by the 'The Silver Swallows'
Battle of Britain Memorial Flight being escorted over Dublin by the 'The Silver Swallows'.
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Battle of Britain Memorial Flight being escorted over Dublin by the ‘The Silver Swallows’.

The RAF’s Air Marshal Sir Rich Knighton said: “Group Captain Paddy Hemingway, the last of The Few, is a true inspiration and his accomplishments are as relevant today as they were more than 80 years ago.

“As a fighter pilot during the Battle of Britain, he defended the skies over the UK daily, much as our Typhoon pilots do today. He fought bravely to uphold our values and way of life in the face of tyranny, laying the foundation for the way we deliver collective Air Defence through NATO to deter those who would do us harm.

“Paddy deserves our deep gratitude for all he did to preserve the freedoms we now enjoy.”

Born in Dublin in 1919, John Hemmingway joined the RAF in 1938 and, following the outbreak of the Second World War, was assigned to 85 Squadron in France.

He was credited with destroying a Heinkel He 111 bomber and a Dornier Do 17.

During the Battle of Dunkirk, he flew supporting missions over the Channel, before flying Hurricanes in daily sorties during the Battle of Britain throughout the summer of 1940.

In August 1940, he was forced to bail out over the Thames Estuary when his plane was damaged. He was shot down again over Eastchurch in Kent just a week later.

Squadron Leader Mark Sugden (Hurricane Pilot) speaking with Group Captain John 'Paddy' Hemingway shortly after landing
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Squadron Leader Mark Sugden speaks with Group Captain Hemingway after landing

‘Today we are both proud Irishmen’

On 1 July 1941 Hemmingway was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC).

He went on to be part of the planning for D-Day before flying Spitfires in Italy.

The veteran airman celebrated his 103rd birthday last Sunday, and lives in a Dublin nursing home.

“Today we are both proud Irishmen”, said General Officer Commanding of the Irish Air Corps Brigadier General Rory O’Connor.

“Seeing the iconic and historic Lancaster and Hurricane flying in Irish skies was very special.

“The arrival of the aircraft serves as a reminder that the Irish Air Corps flew Hurricanes during the Emergency [as WWII was officially known in Ireland].

“I was honoured to host Group Captain Hemingway and be there when he was reunited with his World War II aircraft type.”

(L-R) Air Marshal Sean Reynolds,  Group Captain John 'Paddy' Hemingway, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, Brigadier General Rory O'Connor, Air Marshal Sir Rich Knighton
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(L-R) Air Marshal Sean Reynolds, Group Captain John ‘Paddy’ Hemingway, Lieutenant General Seán Clancy, Brigadier General Rory O’Connor, Air Marshal Sir Rich Knighton

It was the first visit to Ireland by the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.

The aircraft will take part in the Bray Air Display in Co Wicklow over the weekend.

A-level and GCSE results could be impacted as 72-hour exam board staff strike announced | UK News

The delivery of thousands of GCSE and A-level results could be impacted as workers at exam board AQA prepare for a 72-hour strike.

The walkout was announced by Unison over pay.

Members will walk out for three days from Friday 29 July to Sunday 31 July – with warnings that industrial action could escalate unless talks are reopened.

This year, GCSE students will get their results on Thursday 25 August, while A-Level results will be released on Thursday 18 August.

While results can be mailed to students or available on email, most students collect their results in person.

Many of the staff involved in the strike say they are struggling to make ends meet following successive below-inflation pay awards, Unison said.

Staff were given an increase of 0.6% last year, with 3% offered this year, which Unison said is a real-terms pay cut.

Unison official Lizanne Devonport said the workers have been left with “no other option” but to strike.

GCSE and A-level examiners have been asked to be more generous this year, with advanced information released to help students with assessments.

The decision to publish details of topics that appeared was taken to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on education.

Holidaymakers stuck in long queues as Port of Dover ‘critical incident’ declared | UK News

Holidaymakers are stuck in long queues heading into the Port of Dover – with French immigration being blamed for causing a “critical incident”.

The delays are “in excess of four hours”, P&O Ferries said, adding: “Please arrive prepared for a prolonged wait. Carry snacks and additional water with you.”

One traveller said they were moving “50 metres per hour”, tweeting: “At this rate it’ll be 34 hours before I get to the port!”

Another said: “Sat in lanes waiting to get to border control. Zero movement.”

The port said “woefully inadequate” French staffing was to blame for “major disruption” and a “critical incident” had been declared.

Its chief executive, Doug Bannister, told Sky News: “The cause of it is French immigration controls.

“We’ve been let down this morning despite the planning of the last several months to get ready for this day.”

The port said it had shared predicted traffic volumes with the French authorities “in granular detail” as it prepared for the summer holiday season.

Mr Bannister added: “This is causing major disruption. French border controls are not properly staffed.”

Foreign Office minister Graham Stuart agreed with the port’s assessment, telling Sky News the “French authorities” were to blame and it was not a “Border Force problem”.

The French have added “three additional booths”, he said, and “by yesterday morning, they had two of the three up and running”.

The transport secretary and French ambassador have both been involved, Mr Stuart said.

Car queue at the check-in at Dover Port in Kent as many families embark on getaways at the start of summer holidays for many schools in England and Wales. Staffing at French border control at the Port of Dover is "woefully inadequate" causing holidaymakers to be stuck in long queues, the Kent port said. Picture date: Friday July 22, 2022.
Image:
People are queuing for several hours

In a long statement, the port said it had “worked so hard in good faith” with local and government partners over the course of several months as it prepared for the “busy summer”.

It added: “We are deeply frustrated that the resource at the French border overnight and early this morning has been woefully inadequate to meet our predicted demand.”

Dover said it had “trained a new team of passenger champions to be on hand and assist customers at the port”.

It went on: “We know that resource is finite, but the popularity of Dover is not a surprise.

“Regrettably, the Police Aux Frontieres (PAF) resource has been insufficient and has fallen far short of what is required to ensure a smooth first weekend of the peak summer getaway period.”

The port said it was stressing the “importance of adequate French border resource for the coming days and weeks on which we had previously been assured”.

It concluded: “We have to work as a team.”

Roads to watch for delays over the weekend

  • M25 anticlockwise Junction 4 Bromley to Dartford
  • M4 eastbound Junction 30 Cardiff East to Junction 24 for the A449 Monmouth
  • M25 anticlockwise Junction 17 Maple Cross to Junction 12 for the M3
  • A303 westbound past Stonehenge
  • M25 clockwise Junction 7 M23 to Junction 16 for the M40
  • M5 southbound Junction 15 Almondsbury Interchange to Junction 23 for the A38 Bridgwater
  • M25 anticlockwise Junction 17 Maple Cross to Junction 12 for the M3
  • Source: RAC

Elsewhere, a “slow-moving convoy” has joined the M5 in a protest against high fuel prices, police have said.

The Avon and Somerset force said a “protest convoy of about 10 vehicles” had entered the motorway northbound at J24 for Bridgwater.

Police warned previously that the M4 and M32 could also be affected.

Fuel Price Stand Against Tax, a Facebook group with 53,000 members, shared a post suggesting activists will assemble “nationwide” to make their voices heard.

Protests are planned in Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

Jade Goody’s son Bobby Brazier ‘really excited’ to land role in EastEnders | Ents & Arts News

Bobby Brazier – the son of late Big Brother star Jade Goody – is set to make his acting debut in EastEnders.

The 19-year-old will take on the role of Freddie Slater, 18, the son of Maureen “Little Mo” Slater, and is currently filming scenes scheduled to air this summer.

Freddie was last seen in Walford in 2006 when he and his mother left to start a new life.

He is now returning to Albert Square and although he has “a heart of gold” he can’t help getting himself into “mischief”, show bosses say.

Goody, who died in 2009 aged 27 after being diagnosed with cervical cancer, had Bobby and his brother Freddy, now 17, with fellow reality TV star Jeff Brazier.

She was an EastEnders fan and in 2006 reportedly petitioned two of its stars to talk to their bosses about getting her a part in the soap during a chance meeting at V Festival.

Brazier said: “I’m really excited to be joining the cast of EastEnders – so far it’s been perfect. Everybody has been so beautiful to me and made settling in easier than I could’ve hoped.

“Stepping into the acting world has always been a vision of mine and doing that with EastEnders as a Slater is a blessing, I’m very grateful.

“Loving every minute of Freddie so far and can’t wait to see what’s in store for him in Walford.”

EastEnders’ executive producer Chris Clenshaw said: “Freddie Slater is a chaotic 18-year-old with a sensitive soul.

“A modern-day lad who’s in touch with his spiritual side. He’s philosophical, accepting, but full of mischief and makes mistakes.

“Bobby is an amazing young addition to the EastEnders cast who brings heart and humility to the role of Freddie Slater and I can’t wait for audiences to get to know him.”

Fuel protests to bring roads to standstill as millions go on holiday on Friday | UK News

Fuel price protests planned for Friday are set to unleash chaos on major roads as millions of families head off on their summer holidays.

Protesters plan to cause delays with “slow-moving roadblocks” – when motorists drive really slowly – on parts of the M4, M5, M32 and A38, police warned.

Fuel Price Stand Against Tax, a Facebook group with 53,000 members, shared a post suggesting activists will assemble “nationwide” to make their voices heard.

Protests are planned in Birmingham, Cardiff, Liverpool, London and Manchester.

An estimated 18.8 million leisure trips are planned in the UK between Friday and Monday, the RAC said, as schools across England and Wales break up for summer.

The M25 is feared to be worst-affected by traffic jams, in particular stretches between Bromley and the Dartford Crossing; Maple Cross and the M3; and the M23 to the M40.

Queues are also likely to develop on the A303 near Stonehenge, Wiltshire; the M4 between Cardiff and Newport, south Wales, and the M5 south of Bristol, according to transport analytics company, Inrix.

It is the latest in a series of protests amid mounting anger over the fuel crisis – as record prices see people across the nation battle to financially stay afloat.

Avon and Somerset Police said its protest liaison team had engaged with the protest organisers in a bid to help minimise disruption.

But superintendent Tony Blatchford warned journey times are likely to be longer than normal, in particular on motorways which are already busy at this time of year.

“We advise motorists to consider any alternative travel plans available and ensure they are suitably prepared in case they are delayed,” he said.

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A protester earlier in July had a colourful message for those he sees as benefiting from high fuel prices

On Friday a convoy of vehicles will travel north on the M5 between Bridgwater and the Almondsbury Interchange from about 8.45am, then east along the M4 and to Junction 1 of the M32.

It is expected to leave the motorway and stop “for a period of time” before completing the same route in reverse.

They are due to return to Bridgwater in the early afternoon, police said.

A second group is planning to block a Shell petrol station in Bristol Road, Bridgwater, on Friday morning.

Earlier this week protesters caused major disruption by climbing on to signs above the M25.

Motorists are also braced for long delays at the Port of Dover after three-hour waits to complete border control and admin on Thursday.

A port spokesman said: “As a result of high demand and earlier capacity issues at the border, the port system is working hard to catch up and get everyone through as quickly as possible.”

Twelve people were arrested after the same slowing-down tactics brought parts of the M4 to a standstill on 4 July.

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‘Anaphylactic shock’ driver stuck in fuel protests

Falling prices not passed on to drivers

New analysis by the RAC found just 4% of forecourts are charging below 180p a litre for petrol.

Four out of five of those sites are independent – with the rest owned by supermarkets or oil companies.

Traditionally, supermarkets have been the first to introduce discounts.

Read more:
Nine tips to reduce how much fuel you use
What happens if I can’t afford to drive to work?

The average price at which retailers buy petrol has fallen by 17p a litre since the start of June.

But prices at the pump have dropped by a “paltry 4p”, the data showed.

RAC believes motorists should pay 174p a litre of petrol and 189p for diesel.

But the average price of a litre of petrol on Wednesday was 187.5p, while diesel cost 196.1p, according to data company Experian.

Our grief must be at ‘heart of COVID inquiry’, families of victims say | UK News

Families of COVID-19 victims have welcomed the recognition of their “devastating” bereavement at the opening of the coronavirus inquiry, but called for this to be reflected in the process.

As the inquiry began, its chair pledged to work “as speedily as possible” to make sure lessons can be learned before another pandemic emerges.

Baroness Heather Hallett warned the inquiry “will take time and have a significant cost”.

The probe was formally launched at the end of June, just days after bereaved families threatened to take legal action over delays.

Boris Johnson, the prime minister, had said the inquiry would start this spring.

Lady Hallett said all witnesses and those with evidence will be treated fairly but she “will not hesitate” to speak out about any key witnesses or organisation “who stands in the way” of the inquiry’s aim, which is to examine the response to the pandemic and its impact in all four nations of the UK.

She said she was struck by the “devastating nature” of people’s loss, and plans to conduct the inquiry in a way that “acknowledges this suffering and seeks to reduce the scope for others to suffer in the same way in the future”.

Elkan Abrahamson, head of major inquests and inquiries at Broudie Jackson Canter, who legally represents the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, said it is of “fundamental importance” that the government fully discloses all relevant documents to the inquiry.

“The bereaved would regard anything less than full disclosure as a cover up,” he added.

Preliminary hearings will start as soon as September this year, followed by substantive public hearings from late spring next year, she said.

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Autumn COVID booster for over 50s

Lady Hallett said a “listening exercise” will begin later this year, allowing members of the public to share their story without formally giving evidence or going to a hearing.

She said aspects of the pandemic will be grouped into modules, with the first looking at whether the risk of a pandemic was properly identified and planned for.

Those who want to take part have to apply to become a core participant by 16 August, with the first preliminary hearing set for 20 September.

Bereaved families ‘need to be at the heart of the process’

Jo Goodman, co-founder of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign said it was “an emotional day”.

“It meant a lot to hear Baroness Hallet recognise the ‘devastating nature of bereavement’ and the pain we’ve been through,” she said.

“Hopefully this will be reflected by not making bereaved families go through the stressful and draining process of applying to be core participants in every single module.

“Ultimately, all bereaved families want the same thing, which is to make sure that lessons are learnt from our devastating losses to protect others in the future.

“For the inquiry to be successful our experiences need to be at the heart of the entire process, be that the research they’re commissioning, the evidence being gathered or the hearings themselves.”

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Vaccinations expanded as COVID surges

The second module of the inquiry will look at decisions made by politicians and officials, covering issues like lockdowns, public health messaging, as well as the use of scientific expertise, modelling and data.

Additional hearings will take place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

A third module will look at the impact of the virus and the governmental and societal response to it, focusing on patients, hospitals, health care staff, NHS backlogs, vaccination and long COVID.

Lady Hallett said “this will not be completed as quickly as some might like”, adding: “I make no apology for that.”

She said she needed time to make sure the inquiry has access to the evidence it needs and time to analyse it.

Commission launched to honour COVID victims

On the first day of the probe, the government also launched a new commission to determine how the UK will commemorate the victims and heroes of the pandemic.

Set to report back by March next year, the UK Commission on COVID Commemoration is expected to hear submissions from campaign groups and individuals on how the country should remember those who died of the virus, as well as those at the frontline fighting it.

More than 200,000 people have died with COVID in the UK.

Mr Johnson had previously announced plans to create the commission, which will be led by former culture secretary Baroness Nicky Morgan.

Gene therapy cuts risk of bleeding in haemophilia B patients, study finds | UK News

A new gene therapy can substantially cut the risk of bleeding in people with the rare condition haemophilia B, according to a new study.

Researchers found people who received a single injection of the gene therapy, called FLT180a, did not need to inject themselves every week with clotting factors – proteins that help control bleeding.

Haemophilia is a rare condition that impacts the blood’s ability to clot.

It is typically inherited and mainly affects men.

People with the condition lack clotting factors, which mix with blood cells called platelets to stop bleeding after cuts and injuries.

They can still suffer debilitating joint damage – a consequence of the condition – even with the weekly injections currently available.

Haemophilia A is caused by a lack of factor VIII and is more common, while haemophilia B is caused by a deficiency of factor IX.

In a new 26-week trial led by the Royal Free Hospital, University College London and biotechnology company Freeline Therapeutics, experts found that a single treatment with FLT180a led to sustained production of the protein from the liver in nine out of 10 patients with severe or moderately severe haemophilia.

Lead author Professor Pratima Chowdary, from UCL, said: “Removing the need for haemophilia patients to regularly inject themselves with the missing protein is an important step in improving their quality of life.

“The long-term follow-up study will monitor the patients for durability of expression and surveillance for late effects.”

Patients on the trial had to take immune suppressing drugs over several weeks to several months to keep their immune systems from rejecting the treatment.

While the therapy was generally well received, all patients experienced side effects.

One who received the highest FLT180a dose developed an abnormal blood clot.

Professor Amit Nathwani, who co-founded Freeline, a company focused on liver-directed gene therapies, said: “Gene therapy is still a young field that pushes the boundaries of science for people with severe genetic diseases.”

He said the trial, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, adds to “the growing body of evidence that gene therapy has the potential to free patients from the challenges of having to adhere to lifelong therapy or could provide treatment where none exists today”.