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Dozens of firefighters attend west London blaze | UK News

Around 100 firefighters and 15 fire engines were called to a blaze at a terraced house in Kensington, west London on Friday morning.

Five people were rescued from flats on the first, second and fourth floors of the building, with 11 people treated by paramedics at the scene and taken to London hospitals and trauma centres.

Half of the ground floor of the five-storey building, which has been converted into flats, was alight at around 2.20am on Friday morning – almost two hours after fire brigades were called.

The scene of the fire in south Kensington overnight Pic: Susi Petherick
Image:
Pic: Susi Petherick

Around 15 people escaped from the house on Emperor’s Gate in south Kensington before fire brigades arrived.

Fire crews from Kensington, Fulham, Battersea, Hammersmith and Chelsea also fought the blaze.

The cause of the fire is not known at this stage.

London Fire Brigade’s Steve Collins said at the scene: “The fire has spread from the ground floor to the top floor and roof of the property. Crews are working extremely hard to contain [it] further to stop it spreading to adjacent building.”

A London Ambulance Service spokesperson said: “We sent a number of resources to the scene including ambulance crews, paramedics in response cars, advanced paramedics, operational managers and members of our Hazardous Area Response Team (HART). We also dispatched London’s air ambulance.

“We have treated eight patients and taken them to London hospitals and major trauma centres. We remain on scene with emergency services colleagues.”

Death linked to E.coli outbreak – with dozens of cases reported | UK News

One person has died following a UK outbreak of E.coli, health officials have said.

Since July, 30 cases of Shiga toxin-producing E.coli (Stec) have been confirmed across England and Scotland, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said.

People aged seven to 81 have been infected, and one person from Scotland has now died following infection, the agency added.

The Food Standards Agency (FSA) announced on Christmas Eve a precautionary recall of four products from cheesemaker Mrs Kirkham’s Lancashire Cheese because of possible E. coli contamination.

It added a fifth product on 27 December.

The UKHSA said investigations were continuing into any common links between cases, including links to the recalled cheeses.

It said: “One death has been associated with this outbreak.

“Epidemiological and food chain investigations have identified links between some of the identified cases and a number of unpasteurised cheeses produced by a business in England.”

China’s armed forces recruiting dozens of British ex military pilots in ‘threat to UK interests’ | UK News

China has recruited dozens of former British military pilots to teach the Chinese armed forces how to defeat western warplanes and helicopters in a “threat to UK interests”, officials have revealed.

One official said some 30 mainly ex-fast jet but also some helicopter pilots – lured by annual salaries of around £240,000 – are currently in China training pilots for the People’s Liberation Army, in what a defence analyst described as a stunning breach of security.

A retired senior Royal Air Force officer said: “Wow… that is appalling. What were they thinking?”

Beijing is actively trying to hire many more serving and former military pilots and other specialists from across the RAF, the Royal Navy and the British Army as well as personnel from other western nations, the western official said.

The situation is so grave, the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Intelligence service on Tuesday issued a “threat alert” to warn serving and former military personnel against such approaches.

China is using third-party head-hunters, including a company based in South Africa, to target personnel, the western official said.

The official named the company as the Test Flying Academy of South Africa, though stressed it had no connection with the South African government.

Sky News has contacted the firm to request a response to the allegation.

UK appears powerless to stop recruitment schemes

The western official said the recruitment schemes posed “a threat to UK and western interests” and were viewed with “concern and disapproval” by the government.

All British former service personnel, who have accepted jobs to train Chinese military pilots, “are almost certainly enhancing China’s military knowledge and capability,” the official said.

Despite the potential for harm to national security, the UK appears to have been powerless to stop the recruitment schemes or to force the former service personnel, who have accepted jobs in China, to return home – beyond appealing to them.

The official said it was not thought that anyone had breached the Official Secrets Act – which would be a criminal offence.

The Ministry of Defence said it was working to make it much harder for China to poach British military talent.

“We are taking measures to dissuade current and former pilots from being recruited, and we want to avoid any perception by China that our previous silence on this matter is misinterpreted as our acceptance or approval of this activity,” the western official said.

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China faces a ‘steep learning curve’ when it comes to possible military combat says the former director of operations at the Ministry of Defence.

‘It is certainly more than a trickle’

The spike in recruitment has been identified since around the end of 2019 at the start of the COVID lockdown.

Officials were unable to immediately say the total number of former British military personnel who had ever been hired to work for the Chinese.

They were also unable to give a figure for how many current and former personnel are actively being targeted right now, but said: “It is certainly more than just a trickle.”

No identities were given of the former British military pilots who are already working in China, but officials said a number of them were in their late 50s and had left the military a number of years ago.

“Without us taking action, this activity would almost certainly cause harm to the UK and our allies’ defence advantage,” the western official said.

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One expert says a US-China war is a risk that should be taken very seriously

What is China trying to achieve?

China is seeking pilots with long-experience of flying British and other NATO warplanes, including the Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets and the Harrier jump jet – which used to operate off British aircraft carriers, to teach its pilots how best to counter their capabilities, the western official said.

“It’s not training Chinese pilots on Western jets. It’s taking Western pilots of great experience to help develop Chinese military air force tactics and capabilities,” the official said.

“It’s really the Chinese having an understanding of what the latest generation of tactics and approaches and capabilities would be, were the Chinese military to get into situations coming up against those types of assets.”

This also included British military helicopters such as Wildcat and Merlin.

It is understood that China has attempted to recruit former pilots who have trained on the top secret, US-led fifth generation, F35 fast jet.

The official said it is thought such efforts had so far been unsuccessful. These aircraft – each one worth more than £100 million – use highly sensitive stealth technology developed jointly with the United States and are a prime espionage target.

A U.S.Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter jet
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A U.S.Marine Corps F-35B joint strike fighter jet

What is the UK doing to stop former pilots being recruited?

In a bid to make it harder for China to lure more pilots, the Ministry of Defence said efforts are underway to tighten security legislation and employment contracts.

“We are taking decisive steps to stop Chinese recruitment schemes attempting to headhunt serving and former UK Armed Forces pilots to train People’s Liberation Army personnel in the People’s Republic of China,” a spokesperson said.

“All serving and former personnel are already subject to the Official Secrets Act, and we are reviewing the use of confidentiality contracts and non-disclosure agreements across Defence, while the new National Security Bill will create additional tools to tackle contemporary security challenges – including this one.”

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‘A rehearsal for war’

Francis Tusa, the defence analyst, called the revelations “gobsmacking”.

“Let’s be honest, China is an enemy,” Mr Tusa told Sky News.

“As such, we have got British subjects who have decided that their interests are best served by teaching our enemy how to defeat us. This is incredibly frightening.”

The revelations emerged as new legislation is being introduced to parliament on Tuesday to toughen the UK’s oversight of individuals and companies that work for hostile states or foreign entities and try to influence domestic politics.

As an amendment to the National Security Bill, the Foreign Influence Registration Scheme will require anyone who is hired by a foreign government to declare their activity or risk prosecution as part of efforts to clamp down on espionage and malign influence operations.

The head of MI5 said: “The UK is in strategic contest with states that seek to undermine our national security, democratic institutions and commercial advantage at an unprecedented scale. We need new, modern tools and powers to defend ourselves, proportionately but firmly.”