The UK’s former ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman, who was jailed for allegedly breaching immigration laws, has reportedly been released.
Myanmar state TV said Ms Bowman and her husband, Burmese artist Htein Lin, were among a number of prisoners released “under amnesty”.
In September, the pair were sentenced to a year in prison for “failing to register as living at a different address” – a violation of the country’s Immigration Act.
Ms Bowman was the British ambassador to Myanmar between 2002 and 2006 and has more than three decades’ experience in the country.
At the time of their detention, she was running an organisation that promotes ethical business practices in Myanmar.
Government spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun told the Voice of Myanmar and Yangon Media Group that Japanese filmmaker Toru Kubota and Australian economist Sean Turnell, as well as an unidentified American, have also been released and deported.
Mr Turnell, 58, an associate professor in economics at Sydney’s Macquarie University, was arrested by security forces at a hotel in Yangon.
He was sentenced in September to three years in prison for violating the country’s official secrets law and immigration law.
Mr Kubota, a 26-year-old Tokyo-based documentary filmmaker, was arrested in July by plain clothes police in Yangon after taking images and videos of a small flash protest against the military takeover last year.
He was convicted last month of incitement for participating in the protest and other charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
The reported release of the trio is said to have come as part of a prisoner amnesty to mark the country’s National Victory Day.
Myanmar’s ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi is still in jail in the country after being sentenced the same day as Ms Bowman to three more years in prison – adding to the 17 years she is already serving for a number of offences, including alleged election fraud.
Ms Suu Kyi’s party won the country’s 2020 general election in a landslide victory, but the military seized power from the elected government on 1 February 2021, saying it acted because of alleged widespread voter fraud.
Sky News has contacted the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office for comment.
The UK is facing “atrocious” weather conditions with three yellow rain warnings issued for large parts of the nation from today through to Friday.
Heavy downpours in Cornwall and Devon on Wednesday afternoon are expected to travel northeastwards across England and Wales, before reaching Scotland’s east coast by Friday.
Up to 40mm of rain could fall in the South East on Wednesday, with the first yellow warning, in place from 5pm until 6am on Thursday, stretching east across the coastline from Southampton and the Isle of Wight in Hampshire to Kent.
Click here to check the weather forecast in your area
A second yellow warning has been issued for 24 hours from midnight on Thursday from Birmingham, Lincoln and Hull to north Wales, Liverpool and Manchester and northwards to the Scottish border.
The third warning is in place ahead of a two-day spell of “persistent” rainfall expected in the east coast of Scotland, from the English border to beyond Aberdeen, from 3pm on Thursday until 6pm on Friday.
Up to 70mm of rain could fall over high ground with up to 100mm possible across the hills of Angus and Aberdeenshire, the Met Office said.
Strong gusts of wind are set to batter coastlines while deluges bring an increased risk of flooding.
And the “miserable” conditions could be exacerbated by temperatures returning to their average for November, making frost more likely.
Western Britain is likely to bear the brunt of the icy weather, but sub-zero temperatures forecast for Friday night mean frost is expected to be more widespread.
Met Office spokesperson Craig Snell said: “The warning areas are where we are most concerned about the risk of flooding – but it doesn’t mean that the areas outside them are not going to see some pretty atrocious conditions.”
People living in the south face a “miserable evening” on Wednesday, with Londoners set to have an “unpleasant commute home”.
The Midlands and north of England will battle “pretty miserable” conditions on Thursday after the rain sweeps in overnight, Mr Snell added.
“The rain will be accompanied by a brisk wind so it’s not going to feel good.”
Snow is also forecast in the Highlands, although this is not unusual for November, Mr Snell said, adding: “If you want to take a walk in the hills in Scotland tomorrow you may come across snow, but for the lower levels it is just going to be rain.”
Increased flood risk
Meanwhile, the Environment Agency (EA) has issued 14 flood warnings in England as of Wednesday night – urging people water levels are rising quickly and to “act now”.
More than half a month’s rain, 47mm, has been recorded in the past 36 hours in the village of Iping near Chichester, West Sussex, where up to a further 30mm of rain is expected between Wednesday afternoon and the early hours of Thursday.
A further 95 flood alerts have been issued across the country, across the south coast and in central and northern regions.
The EA said local flooding is “probable” from rivers and surface water in southeast England on Wednesday and into Thursday and “possible” across London and the South East.
There are three flood warnings and eight alerts in Scotland.
Motorists urged to ‘exercise great care’
Motorists will face challenging road conditions meaning it is “vital” to slow down and take extra care, said RAC breakdown spokesman, Rod Dennis.
“The chances of being involved in a collision rise dramatically in wet weather, and even more so if there’s snow, so it’s vital drivers slow down, leave plenty of space behind the vehicle in front and use their lights to make sure they’re easily seen by other road users,” he said.
“The risk of aquaplaning, where a vehicle’s wheels lose contact with the road as they skim across standing water, will be high – particularly for those who don’t slow down to appropriate speeds for the conditions,” Mr Dennis warned.
The A27 near Worthing, West Sussex, was closed westbound following a large flood and a crash on Wednesday.
Motorists were also warned of heavy delays around the dual carriageway and A3M near Havant, Hampshire, due to flooding.
A large tree has fallen and is blocking a road in the village of Swanmore near Winchester, police said.
The 10 most-bashed railway bridges in Britain have been revealed.
Network Rail said the bridges were hit by road vehicles at least 10 times in the year to the end of March.
Stonea Road bridge near Manea, Cambridgeshire, took first place, having been hit 33 times in 12 months.
It was followed by Lower Down’s Road bridge in Wimbledon, southwest London, with 18 strikes, and Harlaxton Road bridge in Grantham, Lincolnshire, with 17 strikes.
Bridges across Britain’s rail network were struck 1,833 times in 2021/22, according to Network Rail.
They cost the government-owned company nearly £12m in compensation payouts for delays.
The number of strikes rose 13% compared with the previous year, coinciding with an increase in traffic.
Network Rail is relaunching its “Wise Up, Size Up” campaign urging lorry drivers to check the height of their vehicles ahead of Black Friday and Christmas when parcel deliveries soar.
‘Serious safety issues’
The company’s chairman Sir Peter Hendy said: “Bridge bashers cause serious safety issues on the transport network for both road and rail users.
“Every incident can delay tens of thousands of passengers while we inspect the bridge and repair any damage – creating a huge cost from public funds.
“During this very busy time of year for deliveries, we urge operators and drivers to properly plan their routes, know the height of their vehicles and be vigilant for road signs showing the height of bridges.
“We will report those who don’t to the traffic commissioners, and they risk losing their licences and livelihoods.
“Network Rail always looks to recover the entire repair and delay costs from the driver and the operator.”
Top 10 most-bashed bridges
The railway bridges struck the most in 2021/22 were:
1. Stonea Road, near Manea, Cambridgeshire – 33 strikes
2. Lower Down’s Road in Wimbledon, southwest London – 18 strikes
3. Harlaxton Road in Grantham, Lincolnshire – 17 strikes
4. Abbey Farm in Thetford, Norfolk – 15 strikes
5. Stuntney Road in Ely, Cambridgeshire – 12 strikes
6. Harefield Road bridge in West Ruislip, northwest London – 12 strikes
7. Station Road in Berkswell, West Midlands – 12 strikes
8. Station Road in Langley, Berkshire – 12 strikes
9. St John’s Street in Lichfield, Staffordshire – 11 strikes
10. Coddenham Road in Needham Market, Suffolk – 10 strikes
Virgin Atlantic suspended a policy allowing its crew to choose gender-neutral uniforms on its flight taking England’s World Cup football squad to Qatar.
The airline said the decision followed a “risk assessment… considering laws and attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community and expressions of identity”.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar under Islamic Sharia law, and there have been concerns about the conservative country’s treatment of LGBTQ+ tourists attending the tournament.
England’s World Cup squad left their St George’s Park HQ to set off for Qatar on Tuesday.
Their flight from Birmingham was believed to be on an Airbus A350 plane called “Rain Bow” – a symbol of LGBT+ pride.
In a statement, Virgin Atlantic said “We’re proud our leading Gender Identity Policy allows our people to express themselves through uniform choice.
“Following a risk assessment, it was recommended the policy was not applied on today’s charter flight to ensure the safety of our people.”
Virgin Atlantic introduced a “fluid” approach in September, allowing staff the option of wearing its red or burgundy uniforms based on “how they identify or present themselves”.
An ambassador for the World Cup in Qatar recently described homosexuality as “damage in the mind”. Khalid Salman told a German public broadcaster that being gay was “haram”, which means forbidden in Arabic.
England skipper Harry Kane is one of several national captains who plan to participate in the “OneLove” campaign during the tournament. Players will wear a rainbow-coloured armband to campaign against discrimination.
Related stories: Being gay is ‘damage in the mind’, Qatar World Cup ambassador says Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to attend World Cup – and says gay fans should not protest in Qatar Joe Lycett gives Beckham an ultimatum over controversial World Cup deal
Wales were also making the trip to Qatar on Tuesday for the country’s first appearance at the tournament in 64 years.
Jets of water were squirted over the Wales team’s plane as it departed from Cardiff Airport.
Wales and England are in the same group for the tournament, and will face each other in two weeks.
Two years on from Awaab Ishak’s tragic death, the housing estate where he was exposed to severe mould and damp hasn’t changed.
It remains a major problem – inside flats we visited living conditions are incredibly poor.
Nasif has lived in a ground floor flat for 16 years here, but the last eight he says have been “horrible”. His bathroom is engulfed in mould and damp, the fan barely works and he now has two inhalers to help with his asthma.
“It’s really terrible to live here. How on earth can a normal person live in a flat like this? It’s really difficult” he told us.
He said how he was shocked to hear about the death of Awaab, but believes in another five or 10 years, if he’s still living there – he’ll be dead too.
“I’m using the medication the doctors have prescribed me, but I know it’s not enough. They’re not doing anything to get rid of this mess – living here scares me every day.”
Nasif said he’s complained several times to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing (RBH), but they haven’t been to fix the issue.
RBH told Sky News in a statement: “This is a live disrepair claim, we are trying to gain access to carry out mould treatment works but the tenant is not replying to contact made by us via our contractor to carry out the works.
“We will reach out to make contact urgently with this tenant again as a result of your inquiry.”
Sky News went inside other homes on the estate where severe cases of mould and damp were evident. In some flats, occupiers told us the housing association had been to paint over the mould just “a few weeks ago”, but they were still scared following the coroner’s conclusion into the death of Awaab Ishak.
Read more: Family of Awaab Ishak say racism played part in his death
Uwezo lives with his sister and mum just below where Awaab was exposed to the horrific conditions.
He showed us his bathroom, also rife with black fungus on the walls and ceilings – which he says has impacted his mother’s health.
“It’s not safe here, the ventilator is too old and needs to be changed.”
“We are breathing it in, and my mother now doesn’t have the best health. She’s breathing all this bad stuff and there are problems with her lungs.”
Uwezo is urging the housing association and other authorities to move him to safer, more suitable accommodation.
Responding to this case, RBH said: “We completed works in January this year following a legal disrepair claim.
“There have been no reports to us since of any problems and the tenant has refused to give us access to carry out a further survey. We will reach out to make contact urgently with this tenant again.”
Senior Coroner for Greater Manchester North Joanne Kearsley said, “this issue is simply not a Rochdale problem” and Awaab’s death “should be a defining moment for the housing sector”, but it’s clear many issues still remain on the very doorstep of where Awaab’s life was cut short.
What started as a few football bets left one man a million pounds in the red, facing jail time and contemplating taking his own life.
And he is not the only one.
With the World Cup kicking off in just five days’ time, more than a quarter of football fans say they feel anxious about how much they might lose while betting during the tournament, a new survey has found.
Financial pressures and the rising cost of living may also drive some to gamble more than they intend.
Meanwhile, six in 10 said they agreed there are too many gambling adverts during international tournaments, the research for charity GambleAware said.
Chris (not his real name) began gambling aged 16 – below the legal age – and for the next two decades focussed almost entirely on football betting.
After a few years, the habit became “more progressive and more destructive”.
He progressed to a career where he earned more money – with “access to wealthy people” – and it reached the point where he couldn’t watch a football game without place a bet of between £500 and £1,000.
At one point, he said he “owed just over a million pounds to gambling”.
“I had this relationship with football where I felt I knew about football,” he told Sky News.
“But as the gambling progressed, understanding goes out the window and gambling is erratic and it doesn’t become about the knowledge anymore.”
Gambling ‘as much money as I could get hold of’
While Chris was visiting betting shops up to three times a day, smartphone apps now mean people can gamble from the comfort of their own homes – and with that ease can come devastating losses.
GambleAware said 43% of football fans plan to bet during this year’s World Cup and among those, 39% admitted that financial pressures might drive them to gamble more than intended.
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“My bets would become very heavy around the World Cup and the Euros,” Chris said, adding that the tournament would “consume” him.
“My traditional bets for a normal Saturday would be around a £500 treble, and in the World Cup it would go into the thousands.”
He would place bets with as “much money as I could get hold of”.
When he couldn’t afford to place any more bets, he started stealing from his employer – and was eventually convicted of fraud and handed a 24-month suspended sentence.
The shame and the guilt around gambling led Chris to try to take his own life, and he was placed in psychiatric care.
Attending Gamblers Anonymous meetings led him to work as a peer supporter for Betknowmore UK’s Peer Aid program, and he now works with others facing addiction.
Read more: Footballers and celebs to be banned from gambling adverts
Campaign backed by ex-players
GambleAware has launched a new campaign to help fans who gamble to avoid what they called “Bet Regret” in the coming weeks as betting promotions on social media and TV ramp up.
The campaign, backed by the Football Supporters Association (FSA) and former players including Peter Shilton, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Lee Hendrie, encourages people who bet to manage their behaviour by deleting apps and setting a spending limit.
Ex-England goalkeeper Shilton struggled with gambling addiction for 45 years.
He said it took a “massive toll” financially and on his mental health, and credited his wife for her support throughout the ordeal.
Urging others to ask for help if they need it, he said: “I’ve seen first-hand how easy it can be to get carried away and place an impulsive bet, especially when betting promotions are all around you.
“I’d urge everyone to stop and think, is my gambling out of control? If so, reach out for support.”
Universal ‘sinking feeling’
More than half of people (56%) said it is easy to lose more money than expected, the survey of 2,000 fans by Opinium showed.
The results suggested that 28% of supporters said they felt anxious about how much they might lose in bets during the tournament, which begins in Qatar on Sunday.
GambleAware defined “Bet Regret” as the universal “sinking feeling” that people can experience after making an impulsive bet, often when drunk, bored or chasing losses.
Zoe Osmond, the charity’s chief executive, warned that cost of living pressures as Christmas approaches could lead to the “perfect storm” as people are tempted to gamble more.
Read more: Beckham’s ultimatum over World Cup deal World Cup Squad revealed Away from the glitz, a family grieves
She said: “This should be an enjoyable time for all football fans, but with the sheer volume of football and the amount of betting ads, it can be easy to get carried away with betting – and we can see that many fans are already feeling anxious about this.
“As the cost of living crisis bites and people feel the pinch in the run-up to Christmas, this could create a perfect storm where fans resort to gambling as a way to cope.
“This can have the opposite effect, both financially and in terms of mental health.”
Gambling minister Paul Scully welcomed the campaign “to help raise awareness of practical actions people can take to avoid gambling-related harms”.
He said the government is undertaking a “comprehensive review” of current gambling laws “to ensure they are fit for the digital age, including considering the evidence on gambling advertising and marketing”.
Anyone concerned about their gambling, or that of a loved one, can visit BeGambleAware.org for free, confidential advice and support, or The National Gambling Helpline is available on 0808 8020 133 and operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Several government ministers have “bullied staff”, the head of the civil servants union has told Sky News.
Dave Penman, chair of the FDA union, said concerns have been raised about the conduct of other ministers as Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, faces allegations of bullying by staff.
He said civil servants do not raise official complaints because they do not feel they will be taken seriously because of the way the complaints system works.
Asked by Sky News’ Kay Burley to confirm if civil servants have told the union that several ministers in Rishi Sunak’s government have behaved inappropriately towards them, Mr Penman said: “Yes.”
And asked if that behaviour was bullying, he said it was.
He added that it is a continual issue over successive governments, with civil servants quitting over ministers’ behaviour as they feel they cannot do anything about it.
Mr Penman used the example of the investigation into Priti Patel, the former home secretary.
She was found to have bullied staff but Boris Johnson, the prime minister at the time, did not respond for six months and then dismissed the findings.
“There are concerns raised about a number of ministers, that is essentially a constant in government,” Mr Penman added.
“It’s not just about this government. It’s every government. You know, there are dozens of ministers and stressful situations.
“And so at any point in time, you’re inevitably going to have a situation where there are concerns raised about the conduct of ministers. That’s why what you’re seeing isn’t just about Dominic Raab.”
Read more: Officials held meetings with civil servants to raise concerns before Raab’s reappointment
Over the past week, Mr Raab has faced allegations of bullying civil servants, including losing his temper and throwing food around his department.
On Monday, Mr Sunak said he does not “recognise that characterisation” of Mr Raab and said there have been no formal complaints made against his deputy.
A spokesman for Mr Raab earlier said: “Dominic has high standards, works hard, and expects a lot from his team as well as himself.
“He has worked well with officials to drive the government’s agenda across Whitehall in multiple government departments and always acts with the utmost professionalism.”
Labour’s Lisa Nandy told Sky News that when she was shadow foreign secretary, while Mr Raab was foreign secretary, she heard “a number of rumours this was a pattern of behaviour”, and also while he was justice secretary under Mr Johnson.
“It’s been something of an open secret in Westminster for the last few years there is a problem in the justice department, there was a problem in the Foreign Office – it was apparently particularly directed towards women,” she said.
“This is something that we hear coming out over and over again with this government, that there are accusations of bullying from the civil service.
“Lots of people who are not in positions of power, who feel that they can’t speak openly because of the huge repercussions and these rumours that swirl around Westminster.
“I think it’s really damning that Rishi Sunak has appointed Dominic Raab to this post knowing that this is potentially an issue.”
A spokesman for Mr Raab said they “categorically deny” Ms Nandy’s allegation, while his team said his office has generally been female-dominated and suggestions he has a woman problem is “nonsense”.
A source close to Mr Raab said: “This is baseless mudslinging with no grounding in reality, and undermines serious cases of bullying and inappropriate behaviour.”
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Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will announce a rise in the national living wage this week, Sky News understands.
Mr Hunt and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will accept an official recommendation to increase the living wage from £9.50 an hour to about £10.40 an hour, according to news first reported in The Times.
The rise of nearly 10% would benefit around 2.5 million people, the newspaper said.
Among the other measures reportedly being considered are:
• Cost of living payments for eight million households worth up to £1,100 • Payments of £650 for those on means-tested benefits such as universal credit, £150 for disability benefit recipients, and £300 for pensioner households • Freezing of thresholds for income tax, national insurance, VAT, inheritance tax and pensions savings • Removing the requirement for local authorities to hold a referendum before increasing council tax by more than 2.99%, allowing them to raise significantly more money. The new threshold could be 5%, The Daily Telegraph reported
The moves are part of plans to cut spending by £33bn and raise taxes by £22bn to plug a black hole in the country’s finances.
The government has already said that the poorest households will be prioritised, leaving wealthy and middle-income households to bear the greatest burden from tax rises.
One of the main focuses will be energy costs, with changes to be made to the price guarantee announced in September by Mr Sunak’s predecessor, Liz Truss.
Read more: Rishi Sunak ducks 3% defence spending commitment – but points to ‘track record’ on investment G20 is Rishi Sunak’s first big moment on the world state – but this isn’t his real test
The price guarantee meant that a typical household would face energy bills of no more than £2,500 a year, but this could rise to as much as £3,100 from April – and even this would still leave taxpayers with a large bill.
There have also been hints that the autumn statement on Thursday could include benefits and pensions being increased in line with inflation – a move that will cost around £11bn.
The triple lock on state pensions – which guarantees an increase in line with average earnings, inflation, or 2.5%, whichever is higher – was part of the Conservatives’ manifesto in 2019.
But, as inflation soars past 10%, it has become increasingly expensive.
Read more: Ed Conway: The UK has one foot in a recession but it’s worth being wary of forecasts during uncertain times Jeremy Hunt says everyone will have to pay higher taxes – but richest will make larger sacrifices
Speaking to reporters accompanying him on his trip to the G20 summit in Bali, Mr Sunak said: “My track record as chancellor shows I care very much about those pensioners, particularly when it comes to things like energy and heating because they are especially vulnerable to cold weather.
“That’s why when I announced support earlier this year as chancellor we made extra provision for pensioners to receive up to £300 alongside their winter fuel payments to help them cope with energy bills over the winter.
“So I am someone who understands the particular challenge of pensioners.
“They will always be at the forefront of my mind.”
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly has said he will travel to Qatar to attend the World Cup amid controversies over human rights and the treatment of LGBT+ people in the host nation.
Homosexuality is illegal in the Middle Eastern country and anyone found participating in same-sex sexual activity can be punished by up to seven years in prison.
There are also concerns about thousands of migrant workers having died there since it won the rights to host the tournament.
Many campaigners have called for a boycott of the World Cup this year, with comedian Joe Lycett saying he will burn £10,000 of his own money if David Beckham doesn’t pull out as an ambassador to the event.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and his front bench say they will not attend the tournament – which begins on Sunday – over concerns for LGBTQ rights, the rights of women and for the workers who have lost their lives.
But Mr Cleverly told the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee: “I will be going.”
He said he would be attending “for a number of reasons”, adding: “Because I’m a foreign secretary and it is my job to ensure British visitors stay safe.”
He added: “I’ve visited Qatar in the lead-up to the World Cup and when I go to the World Cup I will be speaking to the security authorities to ensure that English and Welsh and whatever other British fans who are going to the World Cup remain safe.”
Labour MP Chris Bryant accused him of handing gay fans travelling to Qatar a “slap in the face” by telling them to comply with the local laws.
Pressed on whether he would advise gay fans to demonstrate while in Qatar during a heated exchange, Mr Cleverly said: “No I wouldn’t.”
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Qatar official slams homosexuality
He added: “When British nationals travel overseas they should respect the laws of their host country.”
It is not the first time he has made such a remark.
Last month the cabinet minister was branded “tone deaf” for telling LGBT football fans to be respectful if they plan on visiting Qatar for the World Cup.
Mr Bryant was adamant that no fans should be travelling to the tournament.
“I don’t think the World Cup should even have been given to Qatar because workers have been killed in building the buildings, migrants have been treated appallingly and gay men are regularly entrapped by police officers and then sent to prison – particularly if you’re a Muslim in Qatar you can face the death penalty,” he said.
“So I don’t think any of it should be happening but then you come out and say gay people should respect Qatar – it does feel a bit of a slap in the face.”
Mr Cleverly responded: “There will be LGBTQ+ football fans going to Qatar, I want them to be safe. Genuinely my question is, for those gay fans who want to go watch the football, what advice realistically should I give other than the advice I believe will keep them safe.”
He said he has told the Qatari authorities about “how important we feel that they should respect gay fans” and insisted “we’re very proud that we champion gay rights around the world”.
The World Cup kicks off on Sunday. England play Iran on Monday, then later that day Wales face the US.
Read More: Being gay is ‘damage in the mind’, Qatar World Cup ambassador says
Foreign Office advice notes that in Qatar “any intimacy between persons in public can be considered offensive, regardless of gender, sexual orientation or intent”.
On Monday, Sir Keir told broadcasters: “My position on Qatar is very clear, I’m not going to go and none of my front bench will go.
“And that’s because of the record in relation to the workers that have lost their lives, in the construction of some of the facilities, with no trade unions there to represent them, the LGBT issues that arise and the oppression of women.”
But he said Welsh Labour leader Mark Drakeford is in a “different position”, as he attends as Wales’s first minister.