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MI5 raises terror threat in Northern Ireland to ‘severe’ – meaning attack highly likely | UK News

The terror threat level in Northern Ireland has increased from “substantial” to “severe” meaning an attack is highly likely, the government has said.

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris told the House of Commons that the decision was made by MI5, independent of ministers.

In a written ministerial statement he said: “MI5 has increased the threat to Northern Ireland from Northern Ireland Related Terrorism from ‘SUBSTANTIAL’ (an attack is likely) to ‘SEVERE’ (an attack is highly likely).

“The public should remain vigilant, but not be alarmed, and continue to report any concerns they have to the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

“Over the last 25 years, Northern Ireland has transformed into a peaceful society. The Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement demonstrates how peaceful and democratic politics improve society. However, a small number of people remain determined to cause harm to our communities through acts of politically motivated violence.

“In recent months, we have seen an increase in levels of activity relating to Northern Ireland Related Terrorism, which has targeted police officers serving their communities and also put at risk the lives of children and other members of the public. These attacks have no support, as demonstrated by the reaction to the abhorrent attempted murder of DCI Caldwell.

“I pay tribute to the tremendous efforts of the Police Service of Northern Ireland and security partners, and the determination and resilience of the Northern Ireland people, who are making Northern Ireland a safer place to live and work. The political future of Northern Ireland rests with the democratic will of the people and not the violent actions of the few. Together we will ensure there is no return to the violence of the past.”

Warning of ‘existential threat’ to UK tech sector after failure of Silicon Valley Bank in the US | Business News

Dozens of early-stage tech companies in the UK have warned the chancellor of “an existential threat” to the sector following the failure of Silicon Valley Bank in the US.

The Bank of England has said it is seeking a court order to place SVB UK into an insolvency procedure, after US regulators took over its parent company on Friday.

The Treasury and the Bank of England are trying to minimise the disruption that could stem from a collapse of the UK arm of the bank.

But, in a letter addressed to Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, more than 250 tech firm chief executives have been quick to voice their concerns.

The letter, first reported by Sky News City editor Mark Kleinman, said: “The recent news about SVB going into insolvency represents an existential threat to the UK tech sector.

“This weekend the majority of us as tech founders are running numbers to see if we are potentially technically insolvent.”

The letter said that the “majority of the most exciting and dynamic tech businesses” bank with SVB and have “no or limited diversity in where their deposits are held”.

It added: “Most businesses are operating on very fine margins in the current economy and the contagion from the initial insolvencies will be vast and impact the economy far beyond the tech sector.”

‘Significant impact on the UK’s tech start-up ecosystem’

The feelings were echoed by the Coalition for a Digital Economy (Coadec), a non-profit campaigning for policies to support digital start-ups.

Coadec’s executive director, Dom Hallas, said: “It is clear this could have a significant impact on the UK’s tech start-up ecosystem.

“In light of the concern and panic, I wanted to share an update on what we know and where we are.

“We know that there are a large number of start-ups and investors in the ecosystem who have significant exposure to SVBUK and will be very concerned.

“We have been engaging with the UK government, including Treasury and No 10, about the potential impact and I know that work has been going on overnight on policy options.”

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Bank of London may bid for SVB

Treasury: UK’s banking system remains strong and resilient

The Treasury has insisted that Britain’s banking system remains strong and resilient, adding that issues affecting Silicon Valley Bank are specific to it and don’t have implications for other banks in the UK.

Mr Hallas said discussions with the Treasury will continue today, adding: “Of course, the ticking clock is a huge problem for companies.

“Right now, the key concerns remain immediate liquidity for companies and functional access to banking services on Monday.”

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Possible salvage bid?

Meanwhile the Bank Of London has declined to comment on a report that it was weighing bids to salvage the British arm of SVB.

Sky News reported that the clearing bank, launched just two years ago, was considering an offer, although it was unclear how credible this would be, given its own fledgling status.

The Bank of London recently raised funds at a valuation of over $1bn.

Convicted murderer told of ‘imminent’ plots to kill him – as police issue thousands of ‘threat to life’ warnings | UK News

A convicted murderer who has been warned by police of “imminent” plots to kill him says he refuses to take more precautions to protect himself.

It comes as new figures show hundreds of people, including children, received official warnings about threats against their lives last year.

Kevin Lane said he has been given multiple “threat to life” notices – also known as Osman warnings – since he was found guilty of shooting dead Robert Magill in Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire, in 1994.

Police issue the letters when they have intelligence of a real and immediate threat to someone’s life but not enough evidence to justify arresting the possible offender.

A Sky News investigation has found more than 2,900 threat-to-life warnings have been issued by police since 2018 – including at least 222 given to people under the age of 18.

The total number is likely to be much higher as most forces failed to provide details following freedom of information requests – including the Metropolitan Police, the Police Service of Northern Ireland and the West Midlands and Merseyside forces.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab has suggested scrapping threat-to-life notices, with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) telling Sky News they are disproportionately more likely to be given to criminals and are “using precious resources to protect murderous gangs from death threats against each other”.

Kevin Lane, who was convicted of murder, says he has received multiple 'threat to life' warnings
Lane says he has received multiple ‘threat to life’ warnings

Lane – who was released from his murder sentence in 2015 and continues to protest his innocence – said he received his latest Osman warning from police after returning from a trip in Turkey about four months ago, and was told: “There’s an imminent threat against your life.”

“I was fuming,” he told Sky News.

“I’d just had one a month before that. And some before that as well. I said ‘what are you doing?’

“You know where these are coming from… they have to have a source for them to receive the information.

“What are they doing about the source? Do they pull these culprits in to let them know they’re aware someone has mentioned them?”

Knife crime
Police issue threat-to-life warning notices when there is intelligence of a threat to someone’s life. File pic

‘An inevitable threat’

Lane said police did not divulge if they knew who was behind the threats, but he believes he knows who was responsible.

“I know who they’re coming from,” he said.

“These people are telling people they’re going to shoot me and have me killed. It’s common knowledge.

“It’s gone up to £200,000 now to weigh me in.

“It’s an inevitable threat I take seriously but I won’t change my lifestyle.”

Asked if he was worried about threats being made to kill him, he replied: “Look, I wish there weren’t.

“I’m not worried about it. I lived in prison for 20 years with people walking around wanting to kill me, slash me.”

An example of a 'threat to life' warning letter issued by police
An example of a ‘threat to life’ warning letter issued by police

What are threat-to-life warning notices?

  • Threat-to-life warning notices were started after businessman Ali Osman was shot dead in east London in 1988 by a teacher who had previously said he was thinking of committing a massacre.
  • Paul Paget-Lewis also shot and wounded Mr Osman’s son, Ahmet, after becoming obsessed with him while working at his school. He was later convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.
  • In 1998, the Osman family successfully argued in the European Court of Human Rights that the Met Police had breached Mr Osman’s right to life because it had all the information it needed to deal with the threat.
  • It was a significant ruling which led to the formal ‘Osman warning’ letters being introduced.
  • When issuing the warnings, officers will often visit the home of the threatened person and advise they change their schedule, be on the lookout for suspicious activity and potentially move home temporarily, according to the charity Pace (Parents Against Child Exploitation).

What does the data show?

A total of 2,941 threat-to-life warning notices were issued by police between 2018 and November 2022, according to data provided by 12 UK forces.

They included 765 warnings handed out in 2021, the figures showed.

Most forces failed to respond to Sky News’ freedom of information requests or refused to provide the information, saying it was not easily retrievable.

Among the forces to respond:

• Greater Manchester Police said 445 threat-to-life warnings were issued in 2021, up from 411 in 2020, 319 in 2019, and 251 in 2018. They included 193 warnings given to under-18s.

North Yorkshire Police said 55 threat-to-life warning notices were handed out in 2022 – a big rise on previous years when one was issued in 2021, six in 2020, two in 2019 and seven in 2018.

Police officers

Asked why there had been a marked increase in threat-to-life notices this year, a force spokeswoman said it was possibly due to “increasing levels of policing regarding county lines and drug trafficking”.

• Humberside Police said 144 threat-to-life warning notices were issued in 2021, up from 134 the previous year. A further 155 of the warnings were handed out in 2019 and 179 in 2018.

Police Scotland said 20 threat-to-life warnings were issued in 2021, up from 18 in 2020, 17 in 2019 and 13 in 2018.

South Wales Police said 70 threat-to-life notices were handed out in 2021, compared to 97 in 2020, 90 in 2019 and 78 in 2018. They included 15 notices given to under-18s.

At least 177 threat-to-life warning notices have been issued to women across the UK since 2018, although only seven forces broke down their data on the number given to men and women.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab arriving in Downing Street
Dominic Raab has voiced his opposition to threat-to-life notices

What has the government said?

Mr Raab has suggested scrapping threat-to-life notices required by the Osman ruling in his proposed Bill of Rights, although there are reports it could be shelved by the government.

The justice secretary has said the warnings have “added considerable complexity and expense to ongoing policing operations” and people involved in serious crime are disproportionately more likely to receive them.

One force reported that up to 75% of all threat-to-life notices may be issued to serious criminals or gangs, he added.

An MoJ spokesperson told Sky News: “The ‘Osman ruling’ has led to police using precious resources to protect murderous gangs from death threats against each other, at the expense of priorities like catching burglars and sending more rapists to prison.

“The Bill of Rights will give experienced police officers greater flexibility to allocate resources based on their professional judgement, rather than because of the threat of legal action.”

It is understood the MoJ has concerns that “threat to life” operations take up a substantial amount of police time and deprive forces of the ability to take their own decisions about where to allocate resources.

The National Police Chiefs’ Council did not respond when contacted by Sky News but has previously said threat-to-life warnings have proven “highly effective in the overwhelming majority of cases”.

UK weather: One person swept into river and hundreds of others face flooding threat as heavy rain batters Scotland | UK News

A woman has been reportedly swept into the River Don in Aberdeenshire, as heavy rain is set to bring more disruption to Scotland as well as the northeast of England today.

Police Scotland said the force was called to the river near to Monymusk in Aberdeenshire at around 3.05pm on Friday following reports of a person in the water.

While the search was stood down overnight, police inquiries are ongoing.

The person, who is believed to be a woman, may have been trying to rescue a dog, according to reports.

It comes as much of Scotland and northeast England have been battered by heavy rain in the past few days.

In the northeast of Scotland, the council has urged residents to protect their properties from flooding, with some areas including Stonehaven and Inverurie experiencing power cuts.

Rest centres have been opened in some parts of Aberdeenshire after flood warnings escalated to severe.

Significant increases in river levels across the east of Scotland due to persistent rain are expected to continue today.

‘A month’s worth of rain in some parts’

Vincent Fitzsimons, flood duty manager for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa), said: “We have seen almost a month’s worth of rain in some parts already this week and we are expecting around the same again over the course of Friday and Saturday in parts of northeast Scotland.”

He added that the worst impacts will occur between early Friday afternoon and early Saturday morning, with riverside communities in parts of Aberdeenshire and Angus facing the highest risks.

Sepa has issued seven severe flood warnings and 30 flood warnings in Scotland.

People living and working in the affected areas have been advised to plan and prepare only essential journeys.

Travel disruptions are expected on much of the rail network in Scotland and northeast England, due to flooding and power cuts.

Travel disruptions and advice:

  • National Rail says that speed restrictions will be in place on a number of routes in Scotland meaning trains may be cancelled, delayed, revised or suspended – causing disruption until at least lunchtime on Saturday
  • Major rail disruption is expected between Newcastle and Edinburgh until the end of Saturday because of flooding which had blocked the line on Friday
  • ScotRail has urged passengers to check journeys ahead of travel using their app or social media with some passengers being told not to travel
  • Police Scotland has warned drivers to plan ahead, be mindful of increased stopping distances and be prepared with warm clothing and sufficient fuel should they be delayed

There has also been localised flooding in some parts of Edinburgh, with pictures showing the Crewe Toll roundabout in the west of the city submerged under water.

On Friday, hundreds of people were left stranded at Newcastle Station due to the cancelled services north to Scotland, with huge queues for replacement buses and passengers told they might have to wait up to five hours to board.

Queues for the bus services stretched hundreds of metres down the street outside the city centre station and spiralled around the concourse inside.

Hundreds of rail passengers queue outside Newcastle train station for replacement buses after trains to Scotland were cancelled due to flooding
Hundreds of rail passengers queue outside Newcastle train station for replacement buses

One woman heading for Edinburgh said: “This just can’t be happening. I’ve got a health condition and I can’t wait outside like this.”

James Brownhill, from London, said: “It’s just chaos. But there’s nothing you can do. If it’s flooded, it’s flooded.

“I think I’m just going to have to stay in Newcastle tonight.”

Chinese embassy issues trade threat to UK over Manchester consulate beating | Politics News

The Chinese Embassy in London has warned protecting Hong Kong protesters will “bring disaster to Britain” after a man was beaten up inside China’s Manchester consulate.

In a video released by the embassy on Thursday, a spokesman made the most direct trade threat to the UK since footage showed Hong Kong protester Bob Chan being pulled inside the Manchester consulate grounds and beaten up by its staff on 16 October.

The consul-general was spotted pulling Mr Chan’s hair and told Sky News last week it was his “duty” as he said Mr Chan was “abusing my country, my leader”.

Thursday’s clip was entitled: “Online press conference on the violent harassment of the Chinese consulate general in Manchester.”

There was no media present and no questions were taken.

The video has been met with indignation by MPs and human rights campaigners in the UK.

In it, the spokesman warned: “Providing shelter to the Hong Kong independent elements will only, in the end, bring disaster to Britain.”

He said he wanted to “remind” people of the Aesop’s Fable about the farmer and the snake “where the farmer showed sympathy to the snake but finally got bitten by the snake”.

He spoke at length about how much the UK relies on China as its third-largest trading partner and “number one source of imports”.

“British exports to China also increased sharply so we see this relationship to be win-win and mutually beneficial,” he said.

“China attaches great importance to the relationship with the UK and we are willing to develop further co-operation with the UK on the basis of mutual respect, equality and mutual benefit.

“This is good for both sides and good for the world.”

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Chinese consulate: What happened?

He added that a “few” people with “selfish motivations” are trying to provoke confrontation between China and the UK which “is dangerous and bad for both sides”, he said.

Alicia Kearns, the new chair of the foreign affairs committee, said the threats were sadly to be expected from China.

“The lack of contrition from CCP (the Chinese Communist Party) over what was a shocking assault is concerning, if not wholly surprising,” she said.

“It is, sadly, consistent with Beijing’s aggressive foreign policy under Xi and why we have seen diplomatic relations with China become increasingly strained across the world.”

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Protester on ‘assault’ at China consulate in Manchester

Human rights campaigner Luke de Pulford, executive director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, said the UK government needs to stamp down on China’s trade threats and human rights abuses.

He told Sky News: “What looks more like a snake?

“Hong Kongers who have been forced out of their homes for standing up for democracy, or the Chinese Communist Party which metes out genocide, tears up treaties, whose diplomats beat up protesters, and which operates illegal police stations to persecute dissidents?

“I know which I’d prefer, and the government needs to make plain their displeasure at China’s brazen hubris now.”

The government, under Liz Truss, has said it will wait until a police investigation into the Manchester consulate incident concludes before deciding what to do with those staff involved.

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‘My duty’ to pull protester’s hair

Rishi Sunak, who took over as PM on Tuesday, has not yet made a comment about the incident.

It is understood that the government are awaiting details of the police investigation but that the ambassador has delivered a clear message to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing about the depth of ministers’ concern.

Other MPs, both Tory and Labour, have called for the consul general involved in the attack to be sent straight back to China.

Conservative MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith, who is sanctioned by China, said any Chinese consulate staff involved in the attack should be expelled, made to apologise and made persona non grata.

He said it should be a political decision and the government should not wait for the police investigation to finish as there is video evidence, some which was put out by the Chinese embassy.

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
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.” 

Threat of Go-Ahead bus disruption as company manages ‘cyber security incident’ | Business News

There is the threat of disruption to rush hour bus services on London’s biggest operator after Go-Ahead was hit by a “cyber security incident”.

It is understood that bus and driver rosters were among areas targeted by the apparent hackers on Monday.

Any delays to services would be posted on the relevant Twitter account, a spokesman confirmed to Sky News.

Go-Ahead, which is also a major in Brighton and Newcastle, said the incident was ongoing.

Its statement said: “Go-Ahead announces that it is currently managing a cyber security incident after detecting unauthorised activity on its network on Monday 5 September 2022.

“Upon becoming aware of the incident, Go-Ahead immediately engaged external forensic specialists and has taken precautionary measures with its IT infrastructure whilst it continues to investigate the nature and extent of the incident and implement its incident response plans.

“Go-Ahead will continue to assess the potential impact of the incident but confirms that there is no impact on UK or International rail services which are operating normally.

“As a precaution, Go-Ahead has notified relevant regulators, including the Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK.”

Go-Ahead London is the capital’s biggest bus operator, operating over 2,400 buses.