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Shock fall in retail sales at COVID lockdown levels in key shopping month | Business News

There has been a shock fall in retail sales in the key December shopping period, sharpening the decline seen in recent months, official figures show.

Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said sales fell an unexpected 3.2%, despite Christmas and reported discounts offered by major chains and some positive reports by major high street outfits.

Not since the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown, in January 2021, had retail sales fallen at such a level.

It has been a far worse performance than the 0.5% drop expected by economists and a reversal of the 1.3% growth seen in November when discounts got people spending.

Retail sales figures are important as household consumption is the largest expenditure across the UK economy.

The data can be indicative of overall economic growth.

The UK already had a quarter of economic contraction from July to September last year.

A second three-month period of economic decline would mean the UK is technically in recession.

A country is technically in recession after two-quarters of negative growth.

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M53 school bus crash: Survivor describes ‘shock’ and flashbacks after death of student Jessica Baker and driver Stephen Shrimpton | UK News

A teenager who was on the coach which overturned in a fatal crash on the M53 in Cheshire says he is “happy to be alive”.

Speaking to Sky News anonymously, he recalled how what started as a normal school day on Friday turned into a tragedy.

“We were all just chatting on our phones,” he said. “Then all of sudden, nothing seemed real. I stood up because I felt something really weird, then all of sudden getting thrown to the side. The bus had tipped.”

Jessica Baker, a 15-year-old pupil at West Kirby Grammar School and bus driver, Stephen Shrimpton, died after the vehicle overturned on the motorway on Friday morning.

Mr Shrimpton, 40, was “suffering medical issues” while at the wheel, his sister-in-law Emily wrote on a crowdfunding page.

Jessica Baker and Stephen Shrimpton
Jessica Baker and Stephen Shrimpton died in the crash

Police said 58 people were involved in the crash. Four children were taken to hospital, one of whom, a 14-year-old boy, is said to have sustained life-changing injuries.

Pupils from West Kirby Grammar School and Calday Grange Grammar School were onboard.

‘People lying down everywhere’

After the bus hit a central reservation, the teenager told Sky News he eventually managed to climb through the smashed front window, but says what he saw was distressing.

“I looked around and there’s just people lying down everywhere. Bags are everywhere,” the pupil said.

West Kirby all-girls grammar school.
Flowers left at West Kirby all-girls grammar school.

“There’s glass everywhere. And it’s just like blood everywhere. I’ve seen both my mates on the floor, but I thought they were dead.

“I looked around again and saw a girl stood next to me. I was in shock, I put my hand on my face. I looked back at my hand and it was covered in blood, I remember saying, this can’t be my blood.”

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Some of the students were eventually taken to nearby hospitals, while others were taken to an emergency services training centre in Wallasey, with 13 treated for minor injuries.

The pupil Sky News spoke to says he was certain no other students had died, so it came as a shock when he heard that Jessica had lost her life.

‘Just a horrible thing to think about’

The pair knew each other, and he described her as friendly.

“Obviously it could have been me in that position” he said. “She’s basically my age really, it’s just a horrible thing to think about.”

Emergency services at the scene of a coach crash on the M53 motorway, between junction 5 at Ellesmere Port and junction 4 at Bebbington. The coach was carrying schoolchildren to Calday Grange Grammar School and West Kirby Grammar School for Girls. Picture date: Friday September 29, 2023.

The teenager has been to A&E for his physical injuries but says the mental impact of what happened is causing flashbacks, including when in the car, and when there are sudden noises.

His overall feeling though, is that he is incredibly lucky.

“A couple of hours after it had happened, when I was sat upstairs. I’d realised it was crazy, I still don’t know how, like, I got up so quick and things like that and I don’t know how I wasn’t screaming, crying,” he added.

“I think I was subconsciously happy to be alive. Happy to be where I am now.”

Nicola Sturgeon calls arrest a ‘shock and deeply distressing’ after release without charge | Politics News

Nicola Sturgeon has been released without charge after she was arrested earlier today in connection with an investigation into SNP finances.

Scotland’s former first minister was taken into custody and questioned as a suspect.

After she was released Ms Sturgeon said in a statement: “To find myself in the situation I did today when I am certain I have committed no offence is both a shock and deeply distressing.

“I know that this ongoing investigation is difficult for people, and I am grateful that so many continue to show faith in me and appreciate that I would never do anything to harm either the SNP or the country.

“Obviously, given the nature of this process, I cannot go into detail. However, I do wish to say this, and to do so in the strongest possible terms.

“Innocence is not just a presumption I am entitled to in law. I know beyond doubt that I am in fact innocent of any wrongdoing.

“To the many people who have sent messages of support over these past difficult weeks – including since today’s news broke – thank you for your kindness.

“Thank you also to my close circle of family and friends who are giving me much-needed strength at this time.

“Finally, while I will take a day or two to process this latest development, I intend to be back in Parliament soon where I will continue to represent my Glasgow Southside constituents to the very best of my ability.”

Politics latest: Former first minister questioned

Upon her release, a Police Scotland statement said: “A 52-year-old woman who was arrested earlier today, Sunday 11 June, 2023, as a suspect in connection with the ongoing investigation into the funding and finances of the Scottish National Party, has been released without charge pending further investigation.

“The woman was questioned by Police Scotland detectives after she was arrested at 10.09am. She was released from custody at 5.24pm.

“A report will be sent to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.”

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Nicola Sturgeon is in custody

Scotland’s former first minister was the latest high-profile figure in the party to be detained as part of Police Scotland’s Operation Branchform into the whereabouts of £600,000 of funding that had been earmarked for a second independence vote.

It is understood there have been complaints the ringfenced cash may have been used improperly by being spent elsewhere.

Her arrest came on the back of the detentions of party treasurer Colin Beattie and former party chief executive Peter Murrell – also Ms Sturgeon’s husband – who were both subsequently released without charge.

Police previously searched the SNP headquarters and Ms Sturgeon and Mr Murrell’s home as part of the investigation.

At the time of her arrest, a spokesperson for Ms Sturgeon said: “Nicola Sturgeon has today, Sunday 11 June, by arrangement with Police Scotland, attended an interview where she was to be arrested and questioned in relation to Operation Branchform.

“Nicola has consistently said she would co-operate with the investigation if asked and continues to do so.”

Politically this is a hammer blow for the SNP

This is the bombshell that senior SNP figures feared but knew was probably coming

Nicola Sturgeon’s arrest is seismic. It was unthinkable a few short months ago.

The party she once led was a political powerhouse run on a system of discipline.

But since her shock resignation earlier this year, there have been some nationalist figures emerging to suggest the SNP under Ms Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell was secretive.

Leaked videos from around the time the police probe began showed Ms Sturgeon rubbishing suggestions all was not well with the SNP’s finances. The former first minister is now facing those very questions in a police interview suite under caution as a suspect.

Detectives will have been careful given the huge sensitivities in this case.

It has been suggested Ms Sturgeon’s detention was inevitable given the other two names on the latest SNP financial accounts were previously arrested.

But it still is incredible to see the reality play out in front of our eyes.

A luxury £100,000 motorhome was also seized from outside the home of Mr Murrell’s mother in Dunfermline, Fife.

An SNP spokesperson said: “These issues are subject to a live police investigation.

“The SNP have been cooperating fully with this investigation and will continue to do so however it is not appropriate to publicly address any issues while that investigation is ongoing.”

Ms Sturgeon’s arrest will intensify the scandal that has engulfed Scotland’s largest political party just months after she stood down as party leader and first minister in February.

At the time, Ms Sturgeon said she was quitting because the job “takes its toll on you and all around you”.

She said she believed part of “serving well would be to know almost instinctively when the time is right” to step down, adding: “In my head and in my heart I know that time is now, that it is right for me and my party and for the country.”

But months later, Mr Murrell was arrested – creating a sense of turmoil that has overshadowed the new leadership of Humza Yousaf, who was elected to replace Ms Sturgeon in a bitter and divisive leadership race in March.

Mr Yousaf previously said he was unaware the SNP owned a £100,000 motorhome until he became party leader.

He also admitted that he was unaware that the SNP’s longstanding auditors, Johnston Carmichael, had quit in September 2022 following a review of their client portfolio until he became party leader.

The party had been under pressure to find new auditors in order to file its accounts with the Electoral Commission by 7 July or risk being fined.

Last month Mr Yousaf confirmed the SNP had signed a contract with a new auditor more than half a year after the previous firm quit.

Read more:
Arrests, a luxury motorhome and a power couple’s fall: The inside story of SNP police probe
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross criticises SNP ‘secrecy, spin and cover-ups’

SNP MP Joanna Cherry said it was a “sad and difficult day for Scotland and for my party”.

“As I have said before I believe passionately in due process, respecting the integrity of an ongoing investigation and the principle of innocent until proven guilty and I shall not be commenting further,” she tweeted.

Labour’s Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray said the arrest was a “deeply concerning development”.

“The Police Scotland investigation must be allowed to proceed without interference.

“For too long, a culture of secrecy and cover-up has been allowed to fester at the heart of the SNP.

“The same culture that leads to police tents in front gardens created the deeply dysfunctional government that is currently failing Scots.

“Humza Yousaf must urgently come clean on what he knows – the people of Scotland deserve answers.”