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Met Police chief wants law change to tackle extremism in light of ‘jihad’ protest chants – but No 10 has ‘no plans’ | Politics News

The commissioner of the Metropolitan Police says laws for tackling extremism may need to be redrawn in light of pro-Palestinian protests around the Israel-Hamas war.

Sir Mark Rowley said it was for politicians to decide on “the line of the law” and for the police to enforce it.

However, he said recent events were “illustrating that maybe some of the lines aren’t quite in the right place”.

Politics live: Sunak to make Middle East statement in Commons

The commissioner’s remarks came just an hour after Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s spokesman said there were no plans to make any legislative changes after the protests in recent weeks.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman met with Sir Mark earlier on Monday to challenge him over the decision not to arrest protestors chanting “jihad” in a video of a Hizb ut-Tahrir protest which surfaced over the weekend.

The force posted on social media that specialist counterterrorism officers had not identified any offences arising from the clip.

Speaking ahead of the meeting, a source close to Ms Braverman said “there can be no place for incitement to hatred or violence” on UK streets and police should “crackdown on anyone breaking the law”.

But despite criticism from her and other ministers about the lack of arrest, a Downing Street spokesman said he was “unaware” of any plans to toughen up legislation to aid the police in acting.

Speaking after his meeting with the home secretary, Sir Mark defended officers’ actions, saying the force was “absolutely ruthless in tackling anybody who puts their foot over the legal line”.

But he said the police were “accountable for the law – we can’t enforce taste or decency but we can enforce the law”.

The commissioner said the conversation with Ms Braverman had been “really constructive”, but finished around “the line of the law”.

He added: “It is our job to enforce to that line, it is parliament’s job to draw that line, and… maybe events of the moment are illustrating that maybe some of the lines aren’t quite in the right place”.

Sir Mark pointed to recent reports from the Counter Extremism Commission and the Law Commission “talking about how the law needs to change to be stronger in dealing with extremism”, adding: “I know the home secretary and her colleagues are really charged by that and thinking hard about that.”

But pushed further on what changes he wanted to see, the commissioner said: “The law that we have designed around hate crime and terrorism around recent decades hasn’t taken full account of the ability of extremist groups to steer round those laws and propagate some pretty toxic messages through social media, and those lines probably need redrawing.”

He also said there were “lessons to be learnt” from other forces who had “more assertive” frameworks, but he concluded: “That is for politicians and parliament to draw the line. I am focused on… enforcing the letter of the law.”

Met Police roll out facial recognition technology to tackle London’s worst shoplifters | UK News

Britain’s biggest police force is using facial recognition technology to tackle London’s worst shoplifters by matching CCTV stills to mugshots.

The Metropolitan Police said 149 suspects were identified within days after asking the capital’s 12 leading retailers last month for images of their 30 most prolific unidentified offenders.

Some of the suspects have links to serious crime, while all of them have previously been arrested for crimes including drug dealing, sexual offences, burglary, violence and possession of firearms.

Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley called the results “game-changing” as his force tries to crack down on shoplifting, with its rise blamed on the cost of living crisis and organised crime.

The government has come under increasing pressure from retailers to get a grip on the retail crime responsible for the loss of an estimated £1.9bn in revenue in the UK each year.

Earlier this month, policing minister Chris Philp suggested passport photos could be integrated into the police database to find a CCTV match.

Met Police Commissioner Mark Rowley
Met Police Commissioner Mark Rowley. File pic

The Met said its facial recognition technology can match features against police mugshots in about a minute – and officers will now work with stores to build a case against the suspects identified from 302 CCTV stills and track them down.

Sir Mark said: “We’re working with shops across the capital to target and track down criminals in a way we never have before.

“We’re pushing the boundaries and using innovation and technology to rapidly identify criminals.

“The results we’ve seen so far are game-changing. The use of facial recognition in this way could revolutionise how we investigate and solve crime.”

The Met said one in 10 Londoners works in retail with more than 1,000 cases of abuse and violence reported against staff every year.

Sir Mark said the use of facial recognition technology has shown most of the suspects are career criminals involved in serious crime.

“Through this tactic we’re not only improving how we protect shops and support the business community, we’re stepping further forward in identifying and tracking down serious criminals and protecting all of London’s communities,” he said.

“The scale of business crime in London is huge. To be successful we have to be precise in our approach and this is a really promising step forward.”

Read more: Home Office eyeing expansion of ‘Orwellian’ facial recognition

The Met started using the software in August and began the retail pilot in late September.

The force says the facial recognition algorithm has been independently tested through the National Physical Laboratory with an assurance it’s 100% accurate when used retrospectively.

A threat to privacy

But Emmanuelle Andrews, from human rights charity Liberty, said facial recognition technology “has no place on our streets, in our shops – or in any other areas of our lives”.

She added: “This technology threatens our privacy and stifles free speech – and we should all be worried about moves to expand its reach.

“We’re also concerned about the creep of facial recognition technology into other areas of policing.

“Let’s be clear: we cannot rely on tech to solve deep societal problems, this is an unjustified expansion of state surveillance and there are numerous alternatives.”

Around 50,000 shoplifting incidents were reported to the Met last year, estimated to be between 5% and 10% of the offences that are actually committed.

Rugby tackle height to be lowered as concerns over concussions and head injuries grow | UK News

From next season, the legal tackle height in community rugby will be lowered from below the shoulders to the base of the sternum in a move to address concerns over injuries and concussion in the sport.

The change will apply across the community game and will be implemented in clubs, schools and universities – at both age-grade and adult levels.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) says the change has been informed by data and is designed to improve player safety by reducing head impact exposure and concussion risk.

“A lot of injuries have occurred, head injuries have occurred, because of the high tackles,” says David Fraser, training workforce manager at the RFU.

“By reducing the tackle height we anticipate seeing a huge reduction in head injury, or possibly up to 4,000 fewer head injuries a year, which will make the game safer,” he said.

RFU Training Workforce Manager, David Fraser believes the rule change could result in a huge reduction in head injuries
RFU training workforce manager David Fraser believes the rule change could result in a huge reduction in head injuries

But former Wales international Lenny Woodward isn’t convinced.

In 2021, at the age of just 45 years old, he was diagnosed with early onset dementia which he says is caused by concussions sustained by numerous knocks to the head during his career.

“It’s good that they have recognised there needs to be some sort of change,” he said.

However, he is concerned it is being aimed at the wrong players, and questions whether professional participants should trial the new laws before the community levels.

Former Wales international Lenny Woodward (centre) who was diagnosed with early onset dementia, says the rule change should be tested by top-flight players first
Former Wales international Lenny Woodward (centre) who was diagnosed with early onset dementia, says the rule change should be tested by top-flight players first

“Personally, I would have liked to see that change being made at the top level so people can see how it could be implemented with players who are training hours and hours a day to get it right – rather than at the lower levels where I am worried we are at risk of losing players to the game.”

Lenny says he would like to see a reduction of tackle training in the sport, as hours can be spent at training trying to perfect a tackle, as well as “better tackle techniques” being taught at early stages of training.

But crucially, he says, anyone suspected of concussion should be removed and automatically be out of the game for at least three weeks.

However, coaches receiving training on the new laws at Battersea Ironsides sport club in southwest London think the step is a move in the right direction.

Read more:
Guidance on heading introduced
New concussion guidelines for athletes

Coach Kate Digby believes the change is a "step in the right direction"
Coach Kate Digby believes the change is a ‘step in the right direction’

Kate Digby coaches the under nines who are currently playing tag rugby, but will be learning the contact sport in the new season.

“Hopefully as they are starting young we don’t have to change any bad habits and it will become second nature to them,” she told Sky News.

Angus Phillipson, who coaches children from under fives and up to under 11s, thinks the new laws will help improve inclusivity.

“[What] it will bring about is probably an increase in participation, more diversity in the game,” he says.

Coach Angus Phillipson believes the rule change will improve diversity in the game
Coach Angus Phillipson believes the rule change will improve diversity in the game

“It’s a game that’s maybe became a bit too focused on the hits and physicality,” he added.

“Lowering the tackle height and encouraging people to pass ball and a little more will encourage more people to play the game.”

Government food tsar quits blaming ‘insane’ inaction to tackle obesity | Politics News

The government’s food tsar has quit in order to freely criticise the Tories’ “insane” inaction against obesity.

Henry Dimbleby, the co-founder of the food chain Leon, said ministers were refusing to impose restrictions on the junk food industry due to an obsession with “ultra-free-market ideology”.

He said this was partly to blame for the fact that two-thirds of adults in England were either overweight or obese.

“There is a concern that dealing with these issues could be seen to be ‘nanny state’ and plays badly in the ‘red wall’ constituencies,” he told The Sunday Times.

“That isn’t the case, actually, but there is concern that we need to be celebrating the great British diets of fish and chips and curry and beer and that junk food is somehow patriotic.”

Mr Dimbleby, 53, resigned at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) last week after five years in post.

During his time at the top he was commissioned to conduct an independent review of the food system, which resulted in recommendations to expand free school meals, impose a long-campaigned for salt and sugar tax, and introduce GP prescriptions for fruit and veg.

Many of the proposals were not followed, while plans to ban promoting buy-one-get-one-free deals have been delayed until October due to the cost-of-living crisis.

A ban on pre-9pm junk food adverts was also due to come into force this year but this has been kicked down the road as well.

Mr Dimbleby said he feels he can speak openly about his frustrations now he is no longer working for DEFRA.

“This government is going backwards,” he said.

“After Boris Johnson’s hospitalisation [with Covid-19 in 2020], they were going to restrict advertising of junk food to children. They’re not going to do that. They’re just not tackling it.”

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‘Bogof’ ban overturned by govt

He warned that not addressing the issue would store up “huge problems” for the NHS, adding: “DEFRA will say, ‘Oh, we can’t do this because it’ll hurt the food businesses’. Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care will be left to clear up the mess that’s caused by this.”

Obesity costs the NHS £6bn a year and this is set to rise to over £9.7bn each year by 2050, according to the government’s own estimates.

Evidence has also shown that the NHS spends around £10bn a year on diabetes – around 10% of its entire budget.

Read more:
Wegovy: Weight loss injection used by celebrities to be made available on NHS
More than half of the world’s population will be overweight by 2035, obesity federation warns

Mr Dimbleby said the Tories would be wise to follow Winston Churchill’s mantra that a country’s greatest asset is its healthy citizens.

He pointed to comments made by Andy Haldane, the former chief executive of the Bank of England, who said in November that the worsening health of the British people is holding back economic growth for the first time since the Industrial Revolution.

“Yet, somehow, this new version of the Tory party thinks that those aren’t things it should be getting involved in, and it’s just insane. It doesn’t make any sense,” Mr Dimbleby said.

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Social Care said: “We take tackling obesity seriously and we will continue to work closely with industry to make it easier for people to make healthier choices.”

MPs and staff call for parliamentary authorities to urgently tackle abuse in Westminster | Politics News

​​​​​​​MPs and staff have called on parliamentary authorities to urgently tackle harassment and abuse in Westminster.

In the wake of a long-running Sky News investigation into bullying and sexual misconduct, pressure is mounting for an overhaul of employment practices.

Speaking in the third episode of The Open Secret Podcast, Jenny Symmons, who represents House of Commons staff for the GMB union and works for a Labour MP, said: “A solution to many of the problems that MP’s staff face in Parliament is to give us an independent overall employer and have our own independent HR service.”

Click to subscribe to The Open Secret wherever you get your podcasts

Calling on the House of Commons Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, to make sweeping reforms that would modernise parliament’s workplace, she added: “I think it’s absolutely crucial for parliament’s reputation.

“I think that trust in politicians has really degraded for various reasons over the past 10 or 20 years.

“So we need to show that parliament is following best practice as a workplace. It needs to be the most positive example to other employers around the country of how a workplace should run.”

More on Westminster Harassment

Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, who has previously spoken to Sky News about her own experience of being subject to inappropriate behaviour, agreed that urgent change is needed.

She said: “I have a platform and a voice that I can use and I’m determined to use to give other people confidence to speak out.

“It takes a bit of bravery, but actually you know in your heart of hearts it’s the right thing to do to find that confidence, to call out things that you know shouldn’t be happening instead of shrugging it off or laughing it off.”

Commenting on the current systems that are in place to protect staff, she added: “It’s kind of a bygone era, isn’t it? And I think it would be much better if there was a far more transparent HR function.”

caroline nokes
Conservative MP Caroline Nokes

This comes following a Sky News investigation that found evidence of sexual abuse by senior political figures and widespread bullying of staff.

Speaking anonymously, one former Conservative staff member described being sexually assaulted by an established political figure in the party, whilst a former Labour employee recounted how she had been forced to “scrub stains from the carpet” by a female MP.

Many others described being exploited and said their mental health had suffered, with all suggesting that the systems in place to protect them could be improved.

A parliamentary spokesperson said: “Bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct have absolutely no place in the House of Commons and we acknowledge that there is still work to be done to ensure that everyone is treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.”

They added: “Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme was set up to enable anybody in the parliamentary community to report bullying, harassment, and sexual misconduct in confidence.”

Conservative MP Andrea Leadsom, who was the driving force behind setting up the ICGS when she was the leader of the Commons, urged anyone being subjected to exploitation at work to use the scheme, but she conceded that the process often takes too long.

She said: “It’s taking far, far too long for people to get justice. And that is justice delayed, is justice denied, particularly if you’ve been sexually assaulted or if someone’s been seriously bullying you and it’s really affected your mental health.”

Others who spoke to Sky News for the investigation suggested that poor leadership had been to blame in recent years for scandals concerning MPs’ behaviour.

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Alleged Westminster assault victim speaks out

Former Conservative MP Margot James, who had senior roles under David Cameron and Theresa May, said: “It definitely got worse under Boris Johnson, without doubt, because people take their cue from the leader.

“And Boris Johnson had a record of the way he treated, treated and dealt with women, which is in the public domain, you don’t need me to comment on it, but I think it spilled over into taking the matter less seriously.”

Ms James had the whip removed over her opposition to a no deal Brexit.

Asked about the scandal surrounding Tory MP Chris Pincher, which eventually ended Mr Johnson’s premiership, former chief whip Lord Young told Sky News, he should never have been promoted by the prime minister in the first place.

“If I was chief whip, he wouldn’t have had a job in government,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Conservative Party said: “We have an established code of conduct and complaints procedure where people can report complaints in confidence. We take any complaint seriously.

“If an allegation of criminal wrongdoing is raised, we would always advise the individual to contact the police.”

Sky News asked Mr Johnson for comment but he did not respond.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “We take accounts of bullying and harassment in the workplace like these very seriously and encourage anyone affected by such behaviour to report it.”

Dover: UK-French taskforce set up to tackle travel chaos after huge queues build up at port | Politics News

A UK-French taskforce has been set up to tackle travel chaos in Kent after holidaymakers spent hours in gridlocked traffic trying to cross the Channel last weekend.

The Passenger Working Group has been established to minimise queue times and avoid further disruption for people travelling to either side of the border.

The group will meet weekly throughout the summer to avoid a repeat of scenes last Saturday, when families reported being stuck at the Port of Dover for up to 11 hours due to heavy congestion.

It follows a row over who is to blame for the huge tailbacks building up at both Dover and the Eurotunnel entrance at Folkestone, which has been dubbed the “hotspot of holiday hell”.

The UK has said there are not enough French border officers on duty to process British travellers, while the French say Brexit means passport checks take longer.

Authorities from both countries met this week to discuss the preparations being put in place to ease further disruption, which includes extra traffic enforcement to keep roads passable around Dover and Folkestone.

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Traffic leading to Port of Dover

The taskforce is part of a package of measures to ease travel disruption after the start of the summer holidays was marred by rail strikes, flight cancellations and border delays.

The AA has issued an “amber” traffic warning for this weekend – the first time it has issued the alert ahead of time.

Roads are expected to be “extremely busy” across Britain due to a combination of factors including train strikes, the start of the English Football League season, the Commonwealth Games and summer holiday getaways.

To ensure people can still easily get to the Commonwealth Games, the government said contingency measures have been put in place, including extra capacity on rail lines that are running and laying on coaches for spectators.

Ministers said flight cancellations have also recently fallen back to their 2019 levels after slot rules were relaxed to help airlines make sensible decisions about their schedule.

Read More:
People should go on holiday to Portugal to avoid queues at Dover, says minister
Liz Truss blames France for “appalling” queues

The government has faced criticism for not doing enough to get a grip on the chaos, with authorities in Kent calling for more money to handle the disruption.

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and lead minister for resilience Kit Malthouse said: “I am working with ministers and officials right across government, as well as our partners and industry, to assess and mitigate any disruption, including any knock on effects from the rail strikes.

“We have already taken action, and continue to work with the Port of Dover, Eurotunnel, and the French government, National Highways, local police and the Kent Resilience Forum on minimising traffic disruption, and also with our airport operators to avoid last minute cancellations, and we will continue to take all the necessary steps to help people travel easily.”