Culture

 

British Queen celebrates

UK news

 

Whitehall blunders over the now-scrapped West Coast Main Line rail franchise has led to the suspension of three Department for Transport (DfT) officials.

They were suspended by Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam after Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin laid the blame for the fiasco "wholly and squarely" on the DfT.

A DfT spokesman said: "Three officials involved in the West Coast franchise competition were today suspended by the Permanent Secretary while the full facts are established. No further details will be issued at this time about the suspensions."

There will be a £40 million cost to taxpayers of the scrapping of the process which would have meant Sir Richard Branson's company, Virgin Rail, losing its West Coast contract to rival transport company FirstGroup.

Mr McLoughlin pulled the plug on the whole process early on Wednesday, saying "unacceptable mistakes" were made by the DfT in the way it managed the franchise bids from FirstGroup, Virgin and two other companies.

Describing the bidding process as "flawed" and "insane", Sir Richard had launched a legal challenge to the FirstGroup decision. Having intended to contest the challenge, Mr McLoughlin is now dropping his opposition, cancelling the West Coast franchise competition and ordering two independent inquiries into what went wrong with the West Coast process.

 

The Government should re-think its plans to set one national benefits cap, shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne has said.

He said it would make "much more sense to have a different cap in different parts of the country".

Speaking ahead of Labour leader Ed Miliband's party conference speech in Manchester, the shadow minister called for an independent panel of experts to examine the issue to ensure "no matter where you live, you are better off in work".

Mr Byrne told BBC Radio 4's Today programme there should be a cap on benefits, but added: "They've, in a clumsy and pretty politicised way, tried to set one national cap for the country whereas everybody knows that one cap for the whole of Britain would be pumped up a bit by the very, very high levels of rent and housing benefit that you see in London.

"We've said 'Look come on, think about this carefully, it would make much more sense to have a different cap in different parts of the country and let's try and take the politics out of that a bit'.

"Let's get an independent panel of wise experts who can look at this and say what is the right level in different parts of the country, so that no matter where you live, you are better off in work."

Mr Byrne also called for "fast and fundamental reform" of the test to see if individuals are eligible for Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

 

Seven British tourists were among 19 people who have died in a plane crash in Nepal.

The British victims were identified by local travel company Sherpa Adventures as Raymond Eagle, 58, Christopher Davey, 51, Vincent Kelly, 50, Darren Kelly, 45, Timothy Oakes, 57, Stephen Holding, 60, and Benjamin Ogden, 27.

The group, which arrived in Nepal on Wednesday and was due to begin trekking later on Friday, was travelling with Hampshire-based travel company Explore Worldwide.

Managing director Ashley Toft said: "We are devastated by this news. Our thoughts are very much with the families of those affected, both in the UK and in Nepal."

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said the families of the victims have all been informed.

Mr Toft said the plane belonged to Nepal's domestic airline Sita Air, which is approved by airline authorities, adding: "The weather was good. The plane was departing for Lukla and our passengers were heading for Everest Base Camp at the start of their trek. We have no more information at present."

The twin-engine propeller Dornier plane crashed shortly after take-off at about 6.15am local time near Nepal's capital, Kathmandu. Five Chinese people and three passengers and four crew members from the Himalayan country were also killed, with reports suggesting the accident was caused by a bird strike.

The British ambassador to Nepal, John Tucknott, told Sky News: "Regretfully all those on board perished. Our thoughts at the moment are with the families and friends of those who lost their lives."

 

Officers have become unclear about what it is they are supposed to be doing on the streets, inspectors have said.

Some 90,000 officers and staff have their "own individual version of what they think they are there to do and the effect they are meant to have", Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) warned.

Their training focuses on reducing risk rather than creating crime fighters with only one module out of 190 focusing on crime prevention and no evidence that this knowledge is being applied on the ground, the report said.

Forces use different mission statements, different to the nationally agreed statement, which "served only to confuse officers and staff and undermined the legitimacy of both force's leadership and the role of officers in preventing crime".

The core mission of policing is "lost as it is interpreted and reinterpreted in different areas and at different organisational levels", the Taking Time for Crime report added.

Officers of all ranks were committed to dealing effectively with whatever situation arose and "were masterful at 'getting by'", but "this was despite the infrastructure rather than because of it", the report added.

Calling for the police to return to a preventive, as opposed to reactive, approach, the study of six forces found training for officers "focused more on how to use powers legally, than how to use them to be more effective crime-fighters".

Uniformed officers received little training after the first two years, but whenever there was a need to reduce risk to the officer or force, such as in health and safety, technical training was provided, the report said, although the study of six police areas found "no one force had all the elements necessary for efficient and proactive crime prevention".

 

Radical cleric Abu Hamza and four other terror suspects could be put on a plane to the United States within days after Europe's human rights judges rejected their bid for an appeal.

A panel of five judges threw out their request to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights, clearing the way for extradition.

Hamza and the others, who have racked up a multi-million pound bill in detention and legal costs, could be handed over to US authorities and put on a plane within days.

But putting in place the practical arrangements for extradition is likely to take up to three weeks, it is understood.

The ruling amounts to the first green light for US top security prisons and the right of European governments to approve US extradition requests for high-risk suspects.

Hamza, who was jailed for seven years for soliciting to murder and inciting racial hatred, has been fighting extradition since 2004.

Computer expert Babar Ahmad, who was also subject to the ruling, has been held in a UK prison without trial for eight years after being accused of raising funds for terrorism.

The Home Office said Hamza and Ahmad, with Seyla Talha Ahsan, Adel Abdul Bary and Khaled Al-Fawwaz, would be "handed over to the US authorities as quickly as possible".

 

Downing Street has resisted calls for an inquiry into Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell, after the Cabinet minister apologised publicly to police officers for subjecting them to a tirade of verbal abuse in Downing Street.

David Cameron's official spokesman said the Prime Minister believes that Mr Mitchell had done the right thing in apologising, and thinks a line should now be drawn under the affair.

But a senior Police Federation representative said Mr Mitchell was effectively accusing the officers involved of lying and called on Mr Cameron to hold an investigation.

Labour too called for an inquiry, while Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said it was right that Mr Mitchell should explain "fully and in detail" what happened during the altercation after officers refused to allow him to cycle through the main gates of Downing Street.

The Sun, which broke the original story, reported that it had now seen a police report of the incident, prepared for senior officers, which indicated that Mr Mitchell called the officers "plebs" as well as swearing repeatedly at them.

The report was said to be backed up by at least two officers making the same verbatim note of the exchange in their pocket books but in his first appearance before the cameras since news of his outburst broke last week, Mr Mitchell insisted that reports of his comments were inaccurate.

Asked whether he had used the politically explosive word "plebs", he said: "I want to make it absolutely clear that I did not use the words that have been attributed to me."

 

Britain and Canada will establish joint diplomatic missions and share embassy offices abroad, Foreign Secretary William Hague is set to announce.

Mr Hague will reveal more details of the plans when he meets his Canadian counterpart, John Baird, in Ottawa later, a Foreign Office spokesman said.

The proposals involve "co-locating" embassies and sharing consular services in countries where one of the nations does not have an embassy, the spokesman said.

Mr Hague and Mr Baird will sign an agreement and hold a press conference later on Monday to explain more about the plans.

Ahead of the meeting, Mr Hague said: "As the Prime Minister said when addressing the Canadian parliament last year: 'We are two nations, but under one Queen and united by one set of values'.

Nick Clegg's latest bid to draw a line under the damaging tuition fee row has been thrown into doubt after a video lampooning his apology swept the internet.

One of the Liberal Democrat leader's most senior colleagues, Vince Cable, also risked undermining him by claiming to have been "sceptical" about the manifesto pledge to oppose fee hikes.

Mr Clegg expressed regret over the promise for the first time as the party braced for a potentially difficult conference in Brighton.

In a two-and-a-half minute film he admitted that many voters were "angry and disappointed" at the coalition's subsequent move to treble the maximum annual fee to £9,000.

He said it was a mistake, adding: "It was a pledge made with the best of intentions - but we shouldn't have made a promise we weren't absolutely sure we could deliver."

Business Secretary Mr Cable endorsed the apology and insisted he also took responsibility for the "collective" decision, but told the BBC's Newsnight programme: "I was sceptical about the pledge but we agreed collectively to do it and I take my share of the responsibility."

Mr Cable said Danny Alexander, now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, was also among those who privately warned the policy was unaffordable.

In a bizarre turn of events, Mr Clegg has also given permission for a video making fun of his apology to be released as a single on iTunes.

 

Masked raiders have made off with a £500,000 haul of luxury watches in a "brazen robbery" in front of stunned city centre shoppers.

The robbers struck at Selfridges in Manchester while the store was open and busy.

They walked into the premises in Exchange Square wearing high visibility jackets and trousers shortly after 7.20pm on Wednesday.

Police said the trio then smashed display cabinets with an axe and crowbars and stole 100 watches.

They escaped in a black Mercedes Benz driven by a fourth offender. The car was found abandoned in Robert Street, Strangeways, a short time later.

Watches including Audemars Piguet, Jaeger Lecoultre, Hublot and Cartier were stolen.

Detective Constable Adam Cronshaw said: "This was a brazen robbery while the store was open and busy with members of the public. It was clearly well planned and executed. These men were in and out in less than 80 seconds and were very particular about the watches they selected.

 

The Government is reportedly considering linking hikes in benefit payments to average pay rather than inflation.

The automatic uprating could be axed and welfare payments frozen for two years, with any increases then linked to average pay, according to BBC Newsnight.

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokeswoman said any changes to how benefits hikes are calculated will be looked at by the Government later this year.

The claims come as Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith insisted shifting to monthly benefit payments would help the poorest as he dismissed claims the move will push low-income families into debt.

He told MPs the new Universal Credit had been designed for the majority but would also help longer-term claimants by weaning them off fortnightly payments before they return to work.

The Tory minister also defended moves to encourage claimants who have limited internet skills to apply online, arguing it would be a "very good opportunity to get these people back into the 21st century".

MPs on the Work and Pensions committee were also told that waiters, hairdressers and any other worker that receives tips will have to declare them if they claim the new benefit. "Tips are counted as income," welfare reform minister Lord Freud said.

Under the Universal Credit there will be one single monthly benefit payment - rather than weekly or fortnightly as at present - and social tenants will have to pay landlords themselves.