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British businessman Colin Armstrong kidnapped from home in Ecuador | UK News

A British businessman has been kidnapped by around 15 men at his home in Ecuador, local media reports say.

Colin Armstrong, who is also the UK’s Honorary Consul in Guayaquil, was reportedly taken from a ranch he owns in the province of Los Rios, along with his partner, early Saturday morning.

Local media reports say criminals disguised as police officers forcibly entered the 78-year-old’s property and snatched him and his partner, who is a Colombian national.

The UK’s Foreign and Development Office has confirmed it is in contact with Ecuadorian authorities following the disappearance of a British man, but did not confirm his identity or the location of the potential crime.

Ecuadorian police forces have said in a statement that they are carrying out “operational and research tasks” after “the alleged criminal act against a businessman that occurred this morning,” but did not mention Mr Armstrong by name.

A woman has shared a video on social media claiming to show the aftermath of the kidnapping in Mr Armstrong’s home. The footage, which has been shared by Ecuadorian news outlets, shows a broken doorframe and dried blood on a bed in the property.

Mr Armstrong is the founder of Agripac, an agricultural products supply companies in Ecuador founded in 1972.

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He is also the owner of the 500-acre Tupgill Park Estate, which has over 50 people on its payroll to help maintain it for the approximately 150,000 visitors it gets each year.

The businessman was awarded an OBE and CMG by the Queen for services to the British Monarchy in 2011.

Kidnapping for ransom has become increasingly common in Ecuador amid rising crime, largely attributed to drug trafficking gangs.

British man accused of swindling nearly $100m in wine fraud case pleads not guilty | US News

A British man accused of allegedly defrauding investors of nearly $100m (£79m) through a Ponzi-like scheme involving non-existent luxury wines has pleaded not guilty in a US court.

Stephen Burton, 58, was extradited to New York from Morocco on Friday to face the charges after he was arrested in 2022 after entering that country using a fake Zimbabwean passport.

Federal prosecutors said Burton, along with a co-defendant, ran Bordeaux Cellars, a company they said brokered loans between investors and high-net-worth wine collectors.

Burton pleaded not guilty to the indictment which was filed in 2022 and is being held pending trial.

Burton and co-defendant James Wellesley allegedly solicited $99m from investors from June 2017 to February 2019, approaching them at places including conferences in the US and overseas.

The men told lenders that the loans would be backed by wine they stored for wealthy collectors and promised profits through interest payments.

However, these collectors “did not actually exist and Bordeaux Cellars did not maintain custody of the wine purportedly securing the loans,” the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York said in a statement.

Wellesley, also a British citizen, is currently awaiting extradition in the UK.

If convicted, the defendants could each face up to 20 years in prison for charges of wire fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and money laundering conspiracy.

Alex Batty: Missing British teenager ‘reunited with family member’ and returned to UK from France | UK News

A teenager found in France six years after he was reported missing has been reunited with his family and returned to the UK.

Alex Batty was 11 when he never returned from a holiday to Spain with his mother Melanie Batty, 38 – who does not have legal parental guardianship – and his grandfather David Batty, 59 in 2017.

Confirming his arrival, Assistant Chief Constable Matt Boyle of Greater Manchester Police said: “Earlier today Alex met with a family member alongside Greater Manchester Police officers at Toulouse airport, before heading back to the UK.

“This moment is undoubtedly huge for him and his loved ones and we are glad that they have been able to see each other again after all this time.”

His grandmother and legal guardian Susan Caruana previously said she “can’t wait” to see him when he returns.

The whereabouts of his mother are not known at this time.

ACC Boyle said that while the French authorities have “disclosed detailed information” about where Alex has been for the last six years, GMP has not yet spoken to the teen.

“We are yet to establish the full circumstances surrounding his disappearance, but no matter what, understand that this may be an overwhelming process,” he said.

“He may now be six years older than when he went missing, but he is still a young person.”

The force will speak with Alex “at a pace that feels comfortable to him” to determine whether a criminal investigation into his disappearance will ensue.

“Our continued focus is supporting Alex and his family in partnership with other local agencies to ensure they are safe, their wellbeing is looked after, and his reintegration with society is as easy as possible,” said ACC Boyle.

Alex found ‘walking alone’

Alex was found by chiropractic student Fabien Accidini while walking alone near Toulouse in the early hours of Wednesday.

Fabien Accidini - delivery driver who picked up missing briton Alex Batty
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Fabien Accidini, the delivery driver who picked up the missing Briton

Ms Caruana, from Oldham, Greater Manchester, said on Friday: “I cannot begin to express my relief and happiness that Alex has been found safe and well.

“I spoke with him last night and it was so good to hear his voice and see his face again. I can’t wait to see him when we’re reunited.

“The main thing is that he’s safe, after what would be an overwhelming experience for anyone, not least a child.”

Alex Batty's grandmother, Susan Caruana, pictured in 2017
Image:
Alex Batty’s grandmother, Susan Caruana, pictured in 2017

She asked for privacy as the family welcomed Alex back.

It is thought Alex had been living an “alternative” lifestyle with his mother and grandfather across Spain, Morocco and France while he was missing.

French officials said he decided to leave when his mother wanted to go to Finland.

Mr Accidini said the teenager told him he had been hiking in nearby mountains for more than four days in an attempt to return to England.

Read more:
What happened to Alex Batty?
‘The middle of nowhere road’ where Alex was found
Fabien says Alex ‘wants to live a normal life’

Views of the road in Toulouse where Alex Batty was found. (Screengrab from Alan Parsons package)
Image:
Views of the road in Toulouse where the teenager was found

On Friday, French prosecutors said the teenager’s mother, Melanie Batty, who is wanted in connection with his disappearance, may be in Finland, while his grandfather David Batty has died.

Prosecutor Antoine Leroy said Alex had said he knew his way of life with his mother “had to stop” after she announced an intention to move to Finland.

This led him to walk for “four days and four nights” across the Pyrenees, Mr Leroy said.

Alex was described as “tired” but “in good health” after being checked over by French officials and seemed “intelligent” even though he had not attended school for six years.

The prosecutor also said the boy did not appear to have been subjected to any physical violence.

Gwyneth Paltrow court case’s ‘ridiculousness made it captivating’, say creators of new play | Ents & Arts News

It lifted the lid on a world of celebrity and privilege – thrilling the internet.

Now the bizarre court case which saw Gwyneth Paltrow sued over a skiing accident has been turned into a new stage show after its writers recognised proceedings last March were “solid gold for theatre”.

Tasked with embodying Paltrow, Linus Karp – one half of the award-winning duo Awkward Productions – told Sky News the idea came about after he was “taken by the trial and the ridiculousness of it.”

Gwyneth Goes Skiiing. Pic: Jonny Ruff (via PR)
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Pic: Jonny Ruff

“An Oscar-winning actress, Goop’s founding queen, put in a courtroom in Utah having this man who is quite far from a Hollywood celebrity accusing her of these things… the silliness of it in a courtroom where everything is taken so seriously.

“The ridiculousness of it just made it so captivating.”

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Joseph Martin plays the retired eye doctor, Terry Sanderson, who failed in his attempt to sue the actress for $300,000, after claiming he was left with life-altering injuries when the pair collided on the slopes in 2016.

“It’s solid gold for theatre,” Martin adds.

“Regardless of what happened we are making fun of the media circus around it and the fun that came out of that.”

Packaging up popular culture moments – recognising there is a value when some something goes viral – has given rise to the phenomena that are quick turnaround theatre productions.

This was seen only recently in the stage version of the ‘Wagatha Christie’ court case.

Gwyneth Goes Skiing. Pic: Jonny Ruff (via PR)
Image:
Pic: Jonny Ruff

“In the world of 24-hour rolling news, social media and television cameras being in courtrooms like that, every moment is an instant meme,” Martin insists.

“It’s clicked instantly online, which gives you so much theatrical material to dive into.”

Gwyneth Goes Skiing runs at Pleasance London until February 2024.

How to avoid food poisoning this Christmas – and the dreaded freezer burn | UK News

Nothing spoils Christmas quite like food poisoning – although wasting all of your leftover Turkey comes in at a close second.

That’s why the Food Standards Agency (FSA) has shared some top tips to help keep your Christmas safe and minimise food waste over the festive period.

From safe Turkey storage to correct defrosting and cooking methods – plus a look at how to avoid the dreaded freezer burn – here’s everything you need to know.

Keep it on the low

You should ideally store raw meat and fish covered on the bottom shelf of your fridge to avoid cross-contamination or spillages affecting ready-to-eat food and vegetables, according to the FSA.

They recommend keeping Turkey and ready-to-eat food apart even while completing your initial Christmas shop, so make sure you bring enough bags.

Your fridge needs to be set at 5C or below to keep your Turkey top-notch, they add.

Leave plenty of defrosting time

No one wants to be tucking into their Christmas turkeys on Boxing Day.

So bear in mind that a whole turkey can take up to five days to fully defrost – and that you shouldn’t take shortcuts by thawing it out of the fridge.

Always check the packaging for instructions, as some turkeys that are bought frozen can also be cooked from frozen.

But as a general guide, the FSA says you should allow around 10-12 hours of defrosting time per kg.

A typical large turkey weighing 6-7kg could take as long as four days to fully defrost in the fridge, they add.

It’s absolutely vital that the turkey is thawed throughout, as it may cook unevenly if not, potentially leaving harmful bacteria in your meal.

Preparing and cooking your turkey

It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and soap whenever handling raw meat. Also, be sure to wash any utensils and surfaces it has come into contact with.

A common misconception is that your turkey isn’t clean until you’ve washed it. But the FSA says it should absolutely not be washed before cooking, as this spreads germs onto your hands, clothes, utensils, and worktops.

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You’ve heard of a partridge in a pear tree, but how about an owl in a Christmas tree?

If you’re cooking stuffing, be sure to do so in a separate roasting tin, rather than inside the turkey, as a stuffed turkey will take longer to cook and may not cook thoroughly.

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If there are no cooking instructions on the packaging, here’s what the FSA says you should do: In an oven preheated to 180ºC (350ºF or Gas Mark 4):

• Allow 45 minutes per kg plus 20 minutes for a turkey that weighs under 4.5kg

• 40 minutes per kg for a turkey that weighs between 4.5kg and 6.5kg

• 35 minutes per kg for a turkey that weighs over 6.5kg

How you’ll know if the turkey’s done

You need to check that it’s steaming hot and cooked all the way through.

If you do not have a meat thermometer or temperature probe, cut into the thickest part of the meat, check that none of the meat is pink and that any juices run clear.

Avoiding freezer burn

Whether you’re cooking for many people or few, you’d rather have too much food than too little.

It’s therefore incredibly common to end up with huge portions of leftover Christmas cooking.

Fear not: you can freeze almost anything, including your cooked turkey, potatoes, veg and more.

Be decisive if you want to get things frozen, as it should be done within one or two hours of the food reaching room temperature.

It will be safe in the freezer for a long time, but the FSA warns of freezer burn.

Freezer burn is when foods in the freezer are exposed to cold, dry air, which causes them to dehydrate and form ice crystals.

It’s not typically dangerous, but it does reduce the quality of the food once you’ve defrosted it.

You can avoid freezer burn by eating the meat within 2-3 months. You can leave baked goods, fruit and veg for between 3-4 months before the burn kicks in.

When you’re ready for a second Christmas lunch, be sure to defrost food slowly in the fridge or in a microwave on the defrost setting, rather than at room temperature.

Once it’s defrosted, the FSA says to eat it within 24 hours. Be sure to have it all, as you can’t freeze it again afterwards.

Louis Theroux contemplates cosmetic tattoo after shaving off ‘patchy eyebrows’ | Ents & Arts News

Louis Theroux has shaved off his eyebrows and is considering getting new ones tattooed on amid his battle with facial hair loss.

The documentary maker posted his update on Instagram with an image, insisting “no eyebrows is better than patchy eyebrows”.

He said he is considering microblading – a semi-permanent form of cosmetic tattooing – in a bid to create the illusion of full eyebrows after shaving his off.

Theroux asked his one million followers: “Can you tell what’s different?” with the hashtags alopecia, no brows, and no brows no problems.

“I’ve shaved off my eyebrows,” the 53-year-old said.

“I’m also thinking about getting micro blading soon.

“In the meanwhile I figure no eyebrows is better than patchy eyebrows. Do you agree?”

Since January, the broadcaster has documented the progress of his facial hair loss on Instagram, which started with gaps in his beard before it “migrated up to my eyebrow” in July.

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His last post in November showed a large portion of hair from his eyebrows had gone.

It said: “I’d like to know how I’m supposed to continue a career based largely on raising and lowering different eyebrows WITHOUT ANY EYEBROWS!!

“#alopecia I’m seriously thinking of getting them tattooed back on but it feels like a big step! Thoughts?”

Alopecia is the medical term for hair loss and can come in different forms, including “thinning” of the hair or total loss of hair, according to the NHS website.

Steve Coogan praises ‘brave’ Prince Harry for bringing phone hacking case | UK News

Steve Coogan has praised “brave” Prince Harry after a judge found that the royal’s phone was hacked by the Daily Mirror.

The actor, comedian and press campaigner hailed the Duke of Sussex for bringing the High Court case, saying he had shunned an alleged “Faustian pact” between the tabloid press and other members of the Royal Family.

It came after Judge Timothy Fancourt ruled on Friday that phone hacking was “widespread and habitual” at the Mirror from 1998 onwards.

He found that the Duke’s case was “proved in part”, with 15 of the 33 articles presented in court found to be the product of phone hacking or other unlawful information gathering.

In a statement, the royal described the findings as “vindicating and affirming”.

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What are the main findings of the case?

In an interview with Sky’s Friday Night with Niall Paterson, Coogan praised the ruling, which he said had been “a long time coming”.

He added: “I’m not a royalist but I have great admiration for Prince Harry for not entering into the Faustian pact that the Royal Family has entered into before with the tabloid press.

“He broke that. It was a very bold, brave thing to do and I think there will be repercussions.”

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What does the Prince Harry ruling mean?

The actor also called for reform in the media industry as he described self-regulation of newspapers by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO), which was founded in 2014 following the Leveson Inquiry, as a “sham” and “window dressing”.

“We want an accountable press,” he added.

Coogan’s comments came after Piers Morgan accused Prince Harry of hypocrisy with his attitude to privacy.

Harry had singled out Mr Morgan in his reaction to today’s ruling, as his mission to take on the tabloid press continues.

Ex-Tory MP Scott Benton to appeal proposed suspension over lobbying scandal | Politics News

Former Conservative MP Scott Benton has said he will appeal his recommended suspension from parliament and intends to make a formal complaint over it.

The Blackpool MP was suspended from the parliamentary Tory party in April after being caught in an undercover sting by The Times suggesting he would be willing to break lobbying rules for money.

Following an investigation into the matter, the Committee on Standards on Thursday recommended a 35-day suspension from the House of Commons, paving the way for a potential by-election.

The committee said Mr Benton committed an “extremely serious breach” of the rules by giving the message “he was corrupt and ‘for sale’ and that so were many other Members of the House”.

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Responding for the first time to the Standards report, Mr Benton said: “I will today be submitting a formal complaint to the House Authorities, as well as appealing the decision of the committee in due course.”

In his statement, Mr Benton claimed that the report’s findings had been leaked to journalists the night before it was due to be published.

He said while he was “sworn to secrecy” and told he could only read the judgement an hour before it would be made public on Thursday morning, the committee “did not adhere to its own standards and principles”.

He said: “The night before the report was published, people on the Committee on Standards leaked contents of the report to a journalist and I was contacted on the evening before publication repeatedly by members of the press. This was not the first such leak whilst the investigation was taking place.

“This process is designed to be open, fair, honest and transparent so the public and MPs can have trust in the process.

“This trust has been breached by Members of the Committee. I can’t have faith in a standards process that doesn’t adhere to its own ethics, standards and principles.”

He claimed that the report into his conduct “makes several pivotal statements that are completely factually inaccurate”.

“If those that judge MPs are not being open minded, fair and proportionate in the way that they are handling evidence or examining witnesses, our democracy is under threat,” he said.

Read more:
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Mr Benton will submit an appeal to the Independent Expert Panel (IEP), the body that sits above the Parliamentary Standards Committee.

It kicks the potential for a by-election into the long-grass, as the IEP will now review the standards committee’s findings before any action is taken.

A suspension of more than 10 days – if passed by a vote in the Commons – means that a recall petition is triggered, paving the way for a by-election if 10% of constituents sign it.

Mr Benton was elected as the Tory MP for Blackpool South in 2019, and has a majority of just 3,690. It had been a Labour seat since 1997 – but was Conservative before that

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have both overturned five-figure majorities in recent by-elections.

The committee highlighted aggravating factors in their decision about Mr Benton – including him providing an “incomplete and incorrect picture of what had transpired”.

They also noted that it was a “repeat offence, or indication that the offence was part of a pattern of behaviour”.

Mr Benton met undercover reporters from The Times who were posing as employees of a fake lobbying company.

The chair of the all-party parliamentary group for betting and gaming suggested he would be happy to be paid between £2,000 and £4,000 a month to help the fake company – complete with a logo, website and office addresses in London and Chennai in India.

There are strict rules that prevent MPs from carrying out paid lobbying or advising how to influence parliament.

Mr Benton ultimately did not accept any financial payment arising from the meeting.

Prince Harry privacy case: ‘Extensive’ phone hacking by Mirror Group newspapers was carried out | UK News

“Extensive” phone hacking by the Mirror Group newspapers was carried out from 2006 to 2011, a High Court judge has ruled after a privacy case brought by Prince Harry.

The judge said that “even to some extent”, the phone hacking continued during the Leveson Inquiry into media standards.

The Duke of Sussex’s case has been “proved in part”, with 15 of the 33 articles presented in court found to be the product of phone hacking or other unlawful information gathering, the judge ruled.

Follow live: Prince Harry hacking case

The judge went on to say the Duke’s phone was probably only hacked to a modest extent, but added there was a tendency by the Duke to assume everything was a result of hacking.

The judge has awarded Prince Harry a total sum of £140,600. The sum was aggregated as directors of the newspaper group knew and “turned a blind eye and positively concealed it”.

In a statement through his lawyer, Prince Harry said that since the claim was brought: “Defamatory stories and intimidating tactics have been deployed against me and at my family’s expense.”

The prince wrote he has learnt patience is a virtue “in the face of vendetta journalism”.

“I am happy to have won the case, especially as this trial only looked at a quarter of my entire claim,” he said.

Meanwhile, Coronation Street actor Michael Le Vell was awarded £31,650 in damages after the judge found four out of the 27 articles presented to court were the product of phone hacking or unlawful information gathering.

The judge found there was “some unlawful activity” at the newspaper group in 1995, and “widespread” unlawful information gathering from 1996.

Phone hacking was “widespread and habitual” from 1998 onwards, the judge said.

Two directors at Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) – Paul Vickers and Sly Bailey – knew about phone hacking but they did not inform the rest of the board, the judge found.

“It was concealed from the board, Parliament, the public, the Leveson Inquiry,” the judge said.

Prince Harry’s lawyer David Sherborne told reporters: “The court has ruled that unlawful and criminal activities were carried out at all three Mirror Group newspaper titles – The Mirror, The Sunday Mirror and The People – on a habitual and widespread basis for over more than a decade.

“This case is not just about hacking it is about a systemic practice of unlawful and appalling behaviour followed by cover-ups and destruction of evidence the shocking scale of which can only be revealed through these proceedings,” he said.

“The court has found the Mirror Group’s principle board directors, their legal department, senior executives and editors such as Piers Morgan clearly knew about or were involved in these illegal activities.

“Between them, they even went as far as lying under oath to Parliament during the Leveson Inquiry, to the stock exchange, and to us all ever since.”

A spokesperson for MGN said: “We welcome today’s judgment that gives the business the necessary clarity to move forward from events that took place many years ago.

“Where historical wrongdoing took place, we apologise unreservedly, have taken full responsibility and paid appropriate compensation.”

The Duke of Sussex sued Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) for damages, claiming journalists at its titles – which also include the Sunday Mirror and Sunday People – were linked to controversial methods including phone hacking, so-called “blagging” and the use of private investigators for unlawful activities.

The civil trial at the High Court ended in June after seven weeks and saw the duke appear in the witness box – the first time a senior royal has given evidence in a courtroom since the 19th Century.

His lawyer David Sherborne told the court unlawful information gathering against the duke began in January 1996 when he was 11 years old.

Mr Sherborne said the 33 articles which form Harry’s case are just a fraction of the 2,500 the royal identified as being published about him between 1996 and 2009.

MGN contested the claims and either denied or not admitted to each of them. The publisher also argued that some of the claimants have brought their legal action too late.

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‘I approached my own son for drugs’: Life at the centre of the benzo crisis | UK News

“It was an all consuming fear that I would just stop breathing in my sleep, but still, all I wanted was to take more.”

“I approached my own son in the street asking for drugs, that’s how low I was, benzos just destroyed my life.”

These are the stories of two separate people with the same catastrophic addiction to a prescription drug.

Thirty years apart in age and 200 miles apart in distance, their stories are scarily similar.

I meet Rory Maslen (they/them), 21, at their university flat in Leeds. As Rory sank into the sofa, they look at me with a timid smile.

They’re about to talk me through haunted years. The ones filled with an undying desperation to guzzle more of the drug that was killing them.

Benzo story - Rory Maslen
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Rory Maslen would ‘eat pills by the handful’

Inside the four walls of Rory’s university room once lived anxiety, depression and what they thought was the remedy – benzos.

“There were weeks at a time when the only reason I would leave my accommodation was to go and pick up a few boxes of pills.

“I was literally eating pills by the handful just to get through the day.”

Across the border in Edinburgh, William Anderson, 53, sits in his temporary accommodation generously recounting his painful tale, as I hang on his every word.

“After my daughter died when I was 19, I turned to benzos to cope with the grief.

“I got them prescribed by the doctor – seven pills a day – but when that wasn’t enough I started getting them on the street too.”

Benzo story - William Anderson
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William Anderson turned to benzos following the death of his daughter

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What are benzos?

Benzodiazepines are anti-anxiety prescription drugs that have flooded the illicit market.

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What are Benzos?

The drug is supposed to be prescribed, but thousands of vulnerable people across the UK are buying dangerous street benzos to self-medicate according to charities like Turning Point and UKAT.

And now testing services are raising the alarm after finding street benzos sold for as little as 10p are being cut with a synthetic opioid 10 times stronger than Fentanyl.

‘Stripped of any free will’

What began as self-medication for Rory turned into self destruction.

“Before I knew it, I was completely stripped of any free will, any major thought in my head all the time was focused on getting more benzos.”

Rory told me they were taking 30 benzo pills per day when they started experiencing life threatening seizures and side effects.

Benzo story - Rory Maslen
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Rory’s excessive drug consumption led to life threatening seizures and other side effects

“Your muscles hurt, your bones hurt, you have constant tremors and if you go outside in the sun it feels like your eyes are burning. You’re hot and cold, more so than I’ve ever felt ever before.”

‘Approached my own son for drugs’

For Will, a lifetime of trauma, grief and isolation drove him to dive head first into what he calls “benzo oblivion”.

Taking 100 pills a day and selling benzos to fuel his addiction, Will was on the edge of death.

After a 20 year battle with benzos, Will tells me he tried to take his own life. The amount of benzos he took knocked him out for four days, but still he continued using.

“The lowest moment of my life was approaching a group of guys in the street and asking for drugs.

“When I looked up I realised it was my own son – the only son that was still in contact with me.

“The look of shame he had was the worst feeling in the world.

“The next morning I woke up and screamed in the mirror, you either live or you die.”

Will has been sober ever since that day.

Benzo story - William Anderson
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William is now sober and created a support group to help others

He created his own support group called “Oor Willie”, which now has over 1,700 members, and he trained with the Scottish Drugs Forum qualifying as an addiction support worker in August.

It was Rory’s passion for music and their drive to get back to playing with their band Kiosk that gave them the courage to bear through and taper off the benzos with the support of their family.

When I asked Rory and Will what they would say to young people considering self-medicating with benzos now, their response was the same.

“Drugs aren’t the answer.”