Nearly 2,000 offenders have been made to wear tags that detect if they have drunk alcohol this Christmas.
New statistics have revealed about 1,800 offenders have been made to wear sobriety tags over the Christmas and New Year period to tackle alcohol-related crime.
The tags, introduced in 2020, monitor the alcohol content in an individual’s sweat and can indicate whether offenders banned from alcohol are breaching their no-alcohol orders, which could mean returning to court for further punishment, including prison.
They are accurate enough to distinguish between foods that contain low levels of alcohol, such as brandy butter and Christmas pudding, and alcoholic drinks.
This Christmas there have been more than double the number of offenders wearing the alcohol tags than last year, when about 800 had them.
The Ministry of Justice said those banned from drinking alcohol by the courts have managed to stay sober on 97% of the days they were tagged.
But the festive period is particularly important as 39% of all violent crimes in the UK involve alcohol, including domestic abuse, which can rise over Christmas and New Year.
Read more: Sobriety tags launched for offenders committing alcohol-related crimes
About 20% of those supervised by probation are classed as having an alcohol problem, with drink-fuelled crime estimated to cost the UK £21bn a year.
The tags monitor offenders on community sentences who are banned from drinking and can also be used as a licence condition for those leaving prison.
Prisons and Probation Minister Damian Hinds said: “Alcohol-fuelled crime such as domestic abuse is known to spike over the festive period, but our new alcohol tags can help stop that – protecting victims and tackling the causes of offending.
“We’re investing £183 million in electronic monitoring and the increased use of sobriety tags is already helping to keep our communities safer.”
The government has said it is investing £183m over the next three years into tagging technology to tackle crime.
Tony Blair wanted Vladimir Putin to have a seat at the international “top table” during his time as prime minister, according to newly released official files.
The Labour PM from 1997 to 2007 believed the Russian president was at heart a “Russian patriot” and it was important to encourage him to adopt Western values, the papers released to the National Archives show.
However, officials voiced their fears he represented a return to Cold War attitudes and questioned whether he could be trusted.
In 2001, about a year after KGB lieutenant officer Mr Putin became president, an internal No 10 briefing note entitled “Putin’s progress” raised the concerns, including a resurgence in Russian espionage activities.
“Despite the warmth of Putin’s rhetoric about the close links between Russia and the UK, the Russian intelligence effort against British targets remains at a high level,” it said.
“The Russian intelligence presence in the UK is at Cold War levels, and they continue to try to post active and hostile officers to work against British interests worldwide.”
The document gives a list of assurances from Mr Putin to Mr Blair during their meetings at international summits, which turned out to be false.
They included backing for the West’s tough line on dealing with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and pledges that Moscow would stop supplying Iran’s nuclear programme.
The papers said Mr Putin had thanked Mr Blair for offering assistance after the sinking of the Russian submarine Kursk, with all 118 crew lost, but said Russian officials obstructed the offer while spreading false rumours it sunk due to colliding with a British submarine.
In a memorandum that is very relevant now, given Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Mr Putin also told Mr Blair he did not want to be considered to be “anti-NATO” but his defence minister then warned NATO any further enlargement would be “a major political error” requiring Moscow to take “appropriate steps”.
The note is part of a series of briefing notes for Mr Blair’s foreign policy adviser John Sawers ahead of meeting senior officials in the new George Bush administration before the prime minister’s first meeting with the new US president.
Mr Blair compared Mr Putin to French wartime president Charles de Gaulle during talks with then-vice-president Dick Cheney at Camp David.
“The prime minister described him as a Russian patriot, acutely aware that Russia had lost its respect in the world. To describe him as a Russian de Gaulle would be misleading, but he had a similar mindset,” the note of the meeting said.
“He (Mr Blair) understood that Putin had a low approval rating in the US. But he thought it was better to allow Putin a position on the top table and encourage Putin to reach for Western attitudes as well as the Western economic model.”
And despite tensions with the Russian president, the files show how diplomacy ruled, with a No 10 official informing Mr Blair on his trip to Moscow in 2001 that he had to give the president a set of newly released silver No 10 cufflinks for his birthday.
Mandela intervention ‘not helpful’
The files also reveal tensions between Mr Blair and Nelson Mandela, as well as with his cabinet, notably his chancellor Gordon Brown.
Files showed officials in No 10 feared former South African president Mr Mandela’s efforts to act as an intermediary between the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi over the Lockerbie bombing were “unlikely to be helpful”.
Mr Mandela, as president, helped broker the agreement that eventually led to two Libyan intelligence agents standing trial before a Scottish court for the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the Scottish village of Lockerbie, killing 270.
But after his presidency ended and one of the accused was found guilty in 2001, Mr Mandela tried to intercede as Gaddafi pushed for international sanctions on Libya to be lifted.
Anna Wechsberg in the No 10 private office noted: “Mandela evidently sees himself acting as mediator between the prime minister and Gaddafi. This is unlikely to be helpful.”
Away days ‘pretty ghastly’
On friction with Mr Blair’s cabinet, notes reveal not one senior minister enjoyed the annual “away days” held at the PM’s country home of Chequers.
David Milliband, then a No 10 special adviser, complained that no company would run them in such a haphazard fashion.
“The tradition of a TB/GB (Tony Blair/Gordon Brown) introduction and then one disjointed comment from each cabinet member is pretty ghastly – and not very useful,” he said in a memo.
The files show Mr Blair’s chief of staff suggested Mr Brown led the 1998 gathering on the economy, writing: “You said you did not like this, but I don’t see how you can avoid it.”
Mr Blair replied: “No, we should start with a general political discussion which I should lead, then in (the) afternoon economy.”
People heading to Cornwall to celebrate New Year have been urged to pack their own first aid supplies as health services struggle under “extreme pressure”.
Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, which has urged people to only call 999 or visit A&E for life-threatening illnesses and injuries, advised people to pack pain relief, flu and cold remedy and rehydration powders, as well as any prescription medicines.
The trust tweeted the advice: “Heading to #Cornwall this #NewYear? Just in case, be wise and bring these three self-care kings! Pain relief, flu and cold remedy and rehydration powders. And don’t forget to pack any prescription medicines, too. #HelpUsHelpYou.”
The trust attached an image detailing what people should have in a first aid kit, including bandages, dressings, tweezers, scissors, antiseptic and medical tape.
South Western Ambulance Service, which covers the region, has declared a critical incident due to being under “extreme pressure”.
On Wednesday morning, it said there were 482 patients waiting for ambulances, with 106 patients awaiting handover at hospitals across the region.
Adrian Harris, chief medical officer of Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, described how emergency departments were under “incredible pressure”.
“I’m asking all of the public to think very carefully before attending, to think about using 111 either online or on a telephone, to think about going to their pharmacy, and when necessary contacting their general practitioner,” he said.
“We are very, very busy so please don’t attend unless absolutely necessary. If you’re in doubt and you think you need help, please come and see us. We’re open but we are very, very busy.”
Other trusts to declare a critical incident include Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which said there was “significant ongoing pressure on local NHS services”.
The trust has seen “record numbers” of people attending accident and emergency departments, calling 111, accessing GP services and calling 999, it said.
There are also “ongoing challenges in discharging patients who are well enough to leave hospital”, as well as an increase in staff sickness.
North East Ambulance Service declared a critical incident on 27 December, describing “unprecedented pressure across the health system”.
It said there were “significant delays” for more than 100 patients waiting for an ambulance, together with a reduction in ambulance crew availability to respond due to delays handing over patients at hospitals.
The highest-paid fire service bosses earn more than six times a regular firefighter’s salary, according to a union.
The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) said Freedom of Information requests reveal “stark inequalities” in pay, at a time when many firefighters are facing “in-work poverty”.
Chief fire officers get an average of £148,000, the union said.
The highest-paid earns £206,000 – more than six times what an ordinary firefighter is paid, they added.
The union published the figures as firefighters continue to vote on whether to strike over pay after rejecting an offer of 5%.
FBU general secretary Matt Wrack said: “Firefighters and control staff are facing yet another real terms pay cut while fire chiefs rake in huge salaries.
“FBU members are increasingly facing real ‘in work’ poverty, with firefighters having to rely on foodbanks and take on additional jobs to afford the basics.
“At the same time, some fire chiefs are also trying to persuade firefighters and control staff to step back from industrial action, to simply shut up about salaries that are several times smaller than their bosses.
Read more: Firefighters to vote on strike action after rejecting 5% pay offer Warning of more chaos on rail network into new year due to latest strikes
“It’s insulting and stinks of hypocrisy of some chief officers who refuse to make the case for better pay for their workers.
“Chief fire officers are not worth six times more than firefighters, it was the latter who were called key workers during the pandemic delivering vital services including moving the bodies of the deceased.
“Firefighters and control staff are being left with no other choice but to take action.”
The ballot result is due at the end of January.
Pay negotiations are with representatives from employers – typically local authorities – but the FBU insists “a big factor in all of this is central funding”.
If they went ahead with strike action, firefighters would be the latest in a long line of workers to have taken industrial action in recent months.
Nurses, rail workers, civil servants and postal workers are among the tens of thousands of people to have already walked off the job in their fight for better pay.
Ministers have insisted they cannot afford to give striking workers inflation-busting pay rises.
But Labour has criticised the government for refusing to negotiate with unions.
South Western Ambulance Service has declared a critical incident due to “extreme pressures” affecting its ability to respond to patients following the Christmas break.
As of 11.30am on Wednesday, 482 patients were waiting for ambulances across the South West, with 106 patients awaiting handover at hospitals.
Declaring a critical incident allows trusts to prioritise the patients most in need and to instigate additional measures to protect patient safety.
Yesterday, North East Ambulance Service also declared a critical incident for the second time in just over a week due to “unprecedented” pressure following the Christmas break.
The majority of ambulance services in England declared critical incidents on 20 December ahead of strikes over the Christmas period.
South Western Ambulance Service covers 10,000 square miles, including Bristol and counties such as Devon, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Cornwall and Somerset.
People have been urged to only call 999 if someone’s life is in danger and in other cases call 111 or their GP.
“If the condition of a patient is not life-threatening we may direct them to an alternative service. So please help us by accessing the right service for the care you need,” said deputy director of operations Wayne Darch.
“Please do not call back simply to ask for an estimated time of arrival of an ambulance. We cannot provide one, and it blocks our lines for other callers,” he added.
About 25,000 ambulance workers went on strike on 21 December and two further strike days have been announced for England in January amid a dispute over pay and staffing.
Two hospital trusts also declared critical incidents on Wednesday.
Sandwell and West Birmingham NHS Trust said there was “immense pressure” and “exceptionally high numbers” of people waiting for treatment in A&E departments.
Surrey and Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust took the same action due to “record numbers” at A&E, calling 999 and 111 and accessing GP services.