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Resigning MP Chris Skidmore ‘wrong’ on North Sea oil and gas, Jeremy Hunt says | UK News

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt says the former net zero chief is “wrong” after he quit the Tory party in protest of the government’s decision to ramp up oil and gas drilling.

Chris Skidmore resigned as an MP on Friday, accusing the government of “rowing ever further back from its climate commitments”.

Speaking on Saturday, Mr Hunt – who praised Mr Skidmore’s work as energy minister on climate change – said he “profoundly” disagrees with his reason for stepping down.

“The point is, I think he is wrong on North Sea oil and gas,” he told the BBC.

“When you have the problems in the Red Sea [with shipping routes under attack], it is very important for energy security that we have domestic sources of that kind of energy as we go into transition.”

It comes ahead of a vote in parliament on Monday on the Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which, if passed, would mandate that licences for oil and gas projects in the North Sea are awarded annually.

Mr Skidmore said he could not vote for legislation that “clearly promotes the production of new oil and gas”.

Read more: There’s a lot of noise in the debate over North Sea oil and gas – but numbers tell a different story

A former energy minister has said he will quit as a Conservative MP over new legislation "that promotes the production of new oil and gas".
Chris Skidmore quit over new legislation ‘that promotes the production of new oil and gas’

“To fail to act, rather than merely speak out, is to tolerate a status quo that cannot be sustained,” he said in his resignation statement.

But Mr Hunt said the independent panel for climate change state the UK will still get a “significant proportion” of energy from fossil fuels “even when we reach net zero in 2050”.

“And domestic oil and gas is four times cleaner than imported oil and gas,” he added.

Mr Skidmore’s decision leaves Prime Minister Rishi Sunak facing two tricky by-elections in early 2024, with another already in motion after voters last month ousted scandal-hit Peter Bone in Wellingborough.

Read more:
Sunak ‘doubted Rwanda plan would stop boat crossings’
When could the next general election be?

Kingswood, in South Gloucestershire, had been held by Mr Skidmore since 2010, after beating second-placed Labour by 11,220 votes at the last general election in 2019.

But that margin is far smaller than in the last two by-election defeats Labour handed to the Tories, with a majority of more than 24,000 overturned in Mid Bedfordshire and more than 19,000 in Tamworth.

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Analysis: North Sea oil and gas

Labour says it will vote against Monday’s oil and gas legislation and has challenged Mr Sunak to call a general election rather than undergo more by-elections.

The prime minister has indicated the country will go to the polls in the second half of 2024.

In one of London’s most dangerous areas, being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be deadly | UK News

“Jaden” was stabbed a couple of weeks ago while walking the streets of Croydon, south London.  

Luckily for him, it wasn’t serious. But a week later, he was arrested for carrying a knife of his own.

When we meet him, he tells us he is appearing before the magistrates in the morning.

The thing is, Jaden – which is not his real name – is only 13 years-old.

He seems a quiet boy, dressed in black tracksuit bottoms and wearing a dark coat with the hood pulled up over his head.

A bag is slung over one shoulder and he is constantly looking down at his phone.

We ask about the stabbing. What happened?

He pauses for a moment, then says: “Wrong place, wrong time.”

Welcome to Croydon, one of the most dangerous boroughs in the capital for a child to grow up in. Where “wrong place, wrong time” can be a lethal combination.

It is where local services have been decimated. The local council has declared that it is effectively bankrupt.

And it is where children carry knifes.

Youth worker James Watkins
Community worker James Watkins

There is another huge issue affecting Jaden’s life. He has not been to school at all this year, and that is putting him in huge danger, says James Watkins, a community worker.

“I think a lot of the older gang members target young people who have stopped going to school because they see them as vulnerable,” he explains.

“Sometimes young people just need to feel like they belong and because they’ve been kicked out of school they feel almost cast out of society and they can become easy targets.”

Nearly half of all children in Croydon who are excluded from school are black. And official figures show that excluded children rarely return to mainstream school. They are cast out to the fringes of an already overstretched education system.

Like most excluded kids, Jaden ended up in a pupil referral unit (PRU) – a segregated school for youngsters for whom no mainstream school can be found. He has been excluded from two PRUs.

This group of children run the risk of disappearing from the system altogether, and are often called “ghost children”.

But demand for PRU is high and places are often hard to come by, according to Nicola Peters, from the Project for Youth Empowerment.

“The situation is just getting worse by the day and I don’t see it getting any better. Demand is skyrocketing and the numbers of children being excluded keeps going up and up.

“There are pupil referral units popping up all over the place and we cannot accommodate all of the children who are being excluded.

“The education system for these kids is collapsing. For a lot of them, school is old and out of date and no longer supports their needs.”

Read more:
Thousands are missing school
The ‘ghost children’ crisis explained
Absence in schools is now at crisis point

The number of children regularly absent from school is double what it was before the pandemic.

Reports of an increase in anxiety among youngsters is also putting pressure on schools.

But there is also some evidence to suggest that there has been a “seismic” shift in parental attitudes towards school attendance.

A report, compiled by the public policy research agency Public First, draws on focus group conversations with parents from different backgrounds across the country, which shed some light on why children are not always in lessons.

A mother of two primary school children from Manchester told the report’s authors: “Pre-COVID, I was very much about getting the kids into school, you know, attendance was a big thing. Education was a major thing.

“After COVID, I’m not gonna lie to you, my take on attendance and absence now is like I don’t really care anymore. Life’s too short.”

But the bigger picture shows a lack of progress by government to tackle the problem.

A recent report by the Education Select Committee, made up of cross-party MPs, was critical of the government’s response to this crisis – saying there had been “no significant improvement in the speed” of reducing the absence numbers to pre-pandemic levels.

Andy Cook chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice
Andy Cook chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice

Andy Cook, chief executive of the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), a centre-right think tank, says the crisis could have far reaching consequences for society.

“You go into any prison and you talk to the people there, 90% of them say they missed a lot of school on a regular basis. So we need to take this seriously.”

The CSJ says up to 9,000 more young offenders, including 2,000 violent criminals, could be on Britain’s streets by 2027 because of a rise in school absence, according to calculations based on official studies.

“We are storing up ourselves a load of problems,” Mr Cook warned.

“This issue is the whole ball game. It’s the ticking time bomb that’s already gone off. It is the most urgent thing facing us.”

Ding Junhui: Chinese snooker star forfeits opening frame for wearing wrong trousers at English Open | Offbeat News

A snooker player was docked the opening frame of a match after he turned up in the wrong outfit for the tournament.

Chinese player Ding Junhui “forgot” about the all-black dress code for the English Open in Brentwood and, after a friend dashed out to buy him a set, he was late for the start and forfeited the first frame.

Ding, 36, was wearing his usual brown snooker suit with bow tie and waistcoat when he arrived for his best-of-seven match against compatriot Ma Hailong on Monday.

Ding told the World Snooker Tour website: “I totally forgot that I needed a black shirt and trousers for this tournament.

“My memory is not good! I didn’t think about it. Once I was playing, I tried to just concentrate on the match.”

After falling behind 3-1, the 14-time ranking event winner made a strong comeback by winning the last three frames.

Ding said: “Luckily Ma’s safety was not that good, and he gave me enough chances to win.”

It’s not the first time a snooker player has had trouble with their clothes during a match.

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In 2022, Judd Trump had to borrow fellow player Xiao Guodong’s waistcoat after his luggage was lost en route to the European Masters in Germany.

Twenty years earlier, Graeme Dott played the first two frames of his China Open match against Darren Morgan minus underpants after oversleeping due to jet-lag following a much-delayed 43-hour journey to Shanghai.

UK ‘prepared for the wrong pandemic’, COVID inquiry told as it opened for first time | UK News

The UK prepared for the wrong pandemic, the official COVID-19 inquiry was told as it opened its doors for the first time.

Hugo Keith KC, the lead counsel to the inquiry, said the nation was “taken by surprise” by “significant aspects” of the disease, which has killed more than 226,000 people in the UK.

He told the inquiry the government was more concerned about an influenza pandemic, rather than one originating from a coronavirus, so it devoted more time and resources to it.

“The evidence may show simply, and terribly, that not enough people thought to ask because everybody started to assume it would be flu,” he said.

While the UK may have been prepared for an outbreak of the flu, “it had not adequately foreseen and prepared for the need for mass testing in the event of a non-influenza pandemic”.

Addressing the chair of the inquiry, Baroness Hallett, Mr Keith said: “You will hear evidence that for many years an influenza pandemic was assessed as being one of the most likely risks to the United Kingdom.

“But what about other risks? That whilst they might be less likely could be just as if not more deadly?”

Pete Weatherby KC, speaking on behalf of COVID Bereaved Families for Justice said the closest the UK had to a plan was the Department of Health’s 2011 Pandemic Flu plan.

Kirsten Heaven, speaking on behalf of Welsh bereaved families, said the Welsh government also failed to plan for any other virus that had “pandemic potential”.

“This was a catastrophic and unjustifiable failure,” she said.

Claire Mitchell KC, speaking on behalf of COVID Bereaved Families for Justice Scotland added: “Despite a belief that the UK was a world leader in preparedness, it quickly and terrifyingly became clear we were not.”

The UK, she said, “prepared for the wrong pandemic”.

Meanwhile, Ronan Lavery, speaking on behalf of families from Northern Ireland, said the region was at least 18 months behind the rest of the UK in ensuring resilience to any pandemic flu outbreak.

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COVID inquiry begins with remarks from chair

Government ‘crowded out’ pandemic preparedness

The inquiry is split into several modules, with interim reports being produced at the end of each one.

This module looks at how prepared the UK was for the COVID pandemic.

Hugo Keith KC told the official inquiry that work around a possible no-deal exit from the European Union may have drained “the resources and capacity” that were needed for pandemic planning.

The Operation Yellowhammer document, which was published by the government in 2019, set out a series of “reasonable worst-case assumptions” about what would happen if the UK did not reach a deal with the EU.

It suggested there would be real risks of a rise in public disorder, higher food prices and reduced medical supplies.

But Neasa Murnaghan, speaking on behalf of the Department of Health Northern Ireland, said no-deal preparations may have actually been advantageous for her country’s planning.

“Whilst these preparations did divert some of our focus away from pandemic preparedness planning, as was no doubt the case for all four nations of the United Kingdom, on the positive side the many aspects of additional training, improvements in the resilience of supply chains and the preparedness to manage the potential consequences were, when considered overall, advantageous,” Ms Murnaghan said.

But she did admit managing the pandemic was “particularly difficult for a newly formed executive after three years with no government”. The Stormont assembly was suspended from January 2017 until 11 January 2020, after power-sharing collapsed.

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‘My son died alone without dignity’

Families’ ‘dignified vigil’

The retired Court of Appeal judge began the first day of evidence of the official inquiry by welcoming the “dignified vigil” held by bereaved relatives outside the hearing.

Members of the COVID-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group lined up outside holding pictures of loved ones as they expressed frustration at feeling “excluded from sharing key evidence”.

Among them was Kim and her daughter Louise. They were emotional as they held a photo of their father and husband, Paul. In it, the smiling ambulance worker is warning his colleague to keep their distance from his baguette.

“He loved to make people laugh,” said Louise. “If someone didn’t find him funny, he would make it his mission to make them smile.”

“I think that’s what I miss the most,” said Kim.

“Every day he would make me laugh.

Kim and Louise Nutt with a photo of Paul
Kim and Louise Nutt with a photo of Paul

“It has been three years but it is still such a wrench. We had so many plans.”

They were standing outside the inquiry, they said, because they wanted Paul’s story to be told.

“I wish it wouldn’t shut us out,” said Kim.

“I felt locked out when Paul was in hospital and I feel locked out now.”

Archie Battersbee inquest: Coroner concludes 12-year-old died accidentally in ‘prank or experiment’ that went wrong | UK News

Archie Battersbee died accidentally in a “prank or experiment” that went wrong, a coroner has concluded.

Essex senior coroner Lincoln Brookes said that Archie “hadn’t intended to harm himself but had done so inadvertently” during the prank or experiment.

Mr Brookes added that Archie wanted to “shock his mum as she came out of the bedroom to find him doing something shocking or reckless” or he was “just experimenting”.

He said: “It probably went wrong very quickly and very badly.”

He added it was “possible” that Archie had been taking part in an online challenge, but he had not seen evidence of this.

Read more:
Hollie Dance tells inquest she believes son’s death was result of tragic accident
Archie Battersbee: Hundreds of mourners gather at funeral for 12-year-old boy

Mr Brookes had considered a conclusion of suicide but ruled this out, adding: “It seems to me that while there were periods of low mood and very low mood during the previous 12 months, in the days preceding his death I haven’t received any evidence of that.”

Speaking outside the court after the inquest, Archie’s mum, Hollie Dance said the coroner had reached the “right decision”.

Hollie Dance, the mother of Archie Battersbee, speaks to media following the second day of the inquest into the death of Archie Battersbee, at Essex Coroner's Court in Chelmsford, Essex. 12-year-old Archie died on August 6, 2022, after his life support was withdrawn following a legal battle between his parents and the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, east London.
Archie’s mum, Hollie Dance said the coroner had reached the ‘right decision’

It had helped her with “some of the answers, but not all”.

She said: “It’s time to allow us as a family to grieve.”

She wanted people to remember her son as “fun-loving, very energetic, one of the most talented children I know”.

Meanwhile, Mr Brookes had said Archie was “full of energy” and “very physical” and that he was “at times very bored”.

He added that Archie liked to “trick” and carry out “stunts” that would “alarm people”.

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August 2022: How Archie’s story unfolded

On the day of the incident in April 2021, Archie had gone out to lunch with his mum, before shopping at Tesco, where he had told her he needed a new coat.

When they got home, she said he had been joking around and playing with their pet rabbit.

They had planned to go to the cinema after and discussed what was on.

That was the last conversation they had, as 10 minutes later, Ms Dance said she found Archie unconscious on the stairs.

Archie would remain on life support until 6 August 2022, when it was withdrawn after his parents failed to overturn a High Court ruling that doctors could lawfully do so.

The 12-year-old died of a brain injury, according to the coroner.

Archie’s family wanted the inquest to address the issue of online safety, in a similar way to the inquest into the death of 14-year-old Molly Russell, which found she died from “an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content”.

Ms Dance said her family had experienced trolling and that online abuse was a “major issue that really does have to be addressed”.

Potty training goes wrong: Firefighters free toddler who got her head stuck in a toilet seat | UK News

An evening of potty training went badly wrong after a toddler got her head stuck in a toilet seat.

Kay Stewart, 37, had been trying to potty train her two-year-old daughter Harper at their home in Wallsend, North Tyneside.

But the toddler decided to try to wear the seat around her neck and got into difficulty, crying: “Mammy, I’m stuck.”

Ms Stewart’s efforts to get the seat off were unsuccessful and, in desperation, she asked her 16-year-old daughter Shannon to call firefighters for help.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service dispatched a crew from Wallsend Community Fire Station and they arrived within minutes.

They used small tools to remove the potty, and amused Harper’s siblings with the blue lights on their fire truck.

Ms Stewart said: “They were so calming and kept the other kids busy while helping Harper.

“Harper gave the firefighter a big hug once he was done.

“They even put their light on and gave them a big wave before heading off.

“I was so grateful for their help that evening.

Station manager Trevor Sturrock said he was “so glad” that his crew were able to assist the family and wished Harper well with her future potty training.

“She had to be very still which can be really frightening for such a little person.

“Harper was very brave, which helped the firefighters complete the rescue.

“I want to thank the crew for their professionalism at this incident – sometimes when you turn up people are really panicked and it’s about remaining calm and calming others.”

Pensioner slit throat of wife in suicide pact that went wrong, court hears | UK News

A pensioner slit the throat of his wife of more than 40 years in a suicide pact went wrong, a court was told.

Police were greeted with the “extraordinary scene” of Dyanne Mansfield, 71, slumped dead in a chair at the bottom of the couple’s garden backing on to open fields in Hale, Greater Manchester.

Mrs Mansfield had bled heavily from a 16cm “gaping incised wound” and her windpipe had been severed.

Three knives and a lump hammer were found near her body.

They had responded to a 999 call on the morning of 24 March last year from her husband, Graham Mansfield, 73, who was discovered lying seriously injured in the kitchen.

He told officers he killed his wife at about 9pm the day before and then tried to take his own life but it had “all gone wrong”, Manchester Crown Court heard.

Together forever

Mrs Mansfield had been suffering from cancer and the court was told the pair “had a perfect relationship and wanted to remain together for the rest of their lives”.

Opening the case, prosecutor David Temkin QC said: “He explained what he had done was in pursuance of a ‘pact’ made with his wife.”

He said Mansfield, who denies murder and manslaughter, does not dispute he intended to kill his wife but claims his reason for doing so provides him with a defence.

Also discovered at the scene nearby were two bricks on top of a plastic wallet containing a note written by Mansfield for the police.

“We have decided to take our own lives,” it said, giving instructions on where to find his house keys and how to contact his sister, the court heard.

‘Don’t get upset’

Another note written by Manfield, addressed to his family, was found in an envelope on the dining room table.

It read: “We are sorry to burden you with this but there is no other way.

“When Dyanne was diagnosed with cancer, we made a pact. I couldn’t bear to live without Dyanne and as the months progressed and as things got worse, it only reinforced our decision that the time has arrived.

“We hope you all understand.

“Don’t get too upset. We have had a wonderful and happy life together.”

Mansfield was arrested on suspicion of murder at the scene and was captured on police body-worn cameras explaining how he killed his wife and then tried to kill himself in the garden and then in the house.

Mr Temkin said: “He repeatedly expressed frustration at having failed to kill himself. He said that he just wanted to die.”

Mansfield was taken for surgery at Manchester Royal Infirmary, where he said he and his wife made the suicide pact on the first day of her diagnosis in September 2020.

Devoted to his wife

When interviewed by police, Mansfield said life had been “turned upside down” in the preceding six months. Mrs Mansfield’s disease had spread rapidly and quickly reached stage four.

Mansfield searched the internet for ways to end life, Mr Temkin told the jury, with the pair settling on the garden as the “venue” at the suggestion of Mrs Mansfield.

Police spoke to the couple’s family, their friends and neighbours.

Mr Temkin said: “All of them spoke about the defendant’s unswerving devotion to her.”

No record of her wishes

However, he added an “important feature” of the case was there was no record of Mrs Mansfield’s wishes.

“The defence has to satisfy you on the balance of probabilities that a genuine suicide pact existed,” he said.

He said Mansfield had also pleaded not guilty to the alternative count of manslaughter because he maintained “his actions were lovingly undertaken through duress of circumstances or necessity for the purpose of avoiding any further severe pain and suffering”.

The trial continues on Tuesday.