British Queen celebrates

UK news


More people are in fuel poverty than previously estimated, according to a new formula proposed for assessing the problem.

And the outlook is "profoundly disappointing", according to the independent expert commissioned by the Government to review fuel poverty, with the scale of the problem set to treble by 2016 on 2003 levels.

Under the new formula, which counts people who have to spend more than the typical amount on fuel bills and where the costs push them below the poverty line, 7.8 million people in 2.7 million households in England were in fuel poverty in 2009.

This compares with 7.2 million people in four million households in fuel poverty in 2009, the most recent year for which figures are available, under the current measure that they spend more than 10% of their income heating their homes.

Official figures show that the number of households in fuel poverty has more than trebled since 2004 when 1.2 million families struggled to afford to heat their homes.

The new figures were revealed in a report from Professor John Hills at the London School of Economics and Political Science, commissioned amid concerns about the 10% measure.

The report suggests the new formula because existing figures include people who are not actually poor and do not focus on the twin issues of low incomes and high fuel costs, or measure the depth of the problem. Professor Hills warned fuel poverty was a "serious national problem" which will have trebled in scale from 2003 levels by 2016, the year by which the Government has targets to eradicate the problem.


Britain will stick to its plans for a 2014 pullout from Afghanistan despite tensions over the shooting of 16 villagers by a US soldier, David Cameron's spokesman said Monday.

The spokesman said that the killing spree in the southern province of Kandahar, which has sparked a new crisis in relations between western countries and Afghanistan, was "abhorrent".

"This was clearly a tragic event that has taken place. Our hearts and sympathies go out to the families of those that have died," the Downing Street spokesman told reporters.

"As far as we are aware it was an abhorrent act by a single individual. There is a NATO-ISAF investigation underway.


The Chief Legal Ombudsman has told lawyers they need to do a better job in explaining their costs and pricing system to customers.

Adam Sampson said around one in four people contacting the legal complaint service does so to bring up the issue of fees.

In a report, he called on legal professionals to be more open and honest about their "confusing" costs and issued separate guidance for consumers and lawyers in an effort to tackle the problem.

The ombudsman said lawyers should clearly explain charges to customers as soon as possible and give a "reasonable estimate" of the total costs of a case.

Mr Sampson said the "key issue" when people use lawyers is confusion.

Speaking on BBC Breakfast, he said: "Simply put, when you go to lawyer at an important time of your life, a lawyer very often talks lawyer at you and doesn't make it really crisp and clear what they are going to do for you and what the price is going to be at the end.

"And that ends up in huge confusion. Many of the complaints we see, actually the lawyer hasn't overcharged, it's simply that the customer hasn't understood what the nature of the bill is going to be."

He said clients also often do not understand how much they will be charged.


Thousands of jobs are to be created in London by a budget hotel chain over the next decade, with 184 new sites opening.

Travelodge said 5,000 new roles will be created in the capital by 2025, including 500 on its junior management apprenticeship programme.



David Cameron "probably" rode a horse which was lent by police to former News of the World editor Rebekah Brooks, his spokeswoman said.

The Prime Minister rode with Mrs Brooks's racehorse trainer husband Charlie, a friend since they went to school at Eton, while he was Leader of the Opposition.

His mount may have been Raisa, the ex-Scotland Yard horse that it emerged this week was stabled at the couple's Cotswolds home from 2008-10, the spokeswoman said.

But he had "no recollection" of ever having ridden with the ex-tabloid editor herself and had not ridden with Mr Brooks since entering 10 Downing Street, she insisted.


Rupert Murdoch's Sun on Sunday tabloid rolled off the presses for the first time, with a pledge that the paper replacing the scandal-hit News of the World would abide by ethical standards.

The 80-year-old media baron personally supervised the production late Saturday at a printworks in Hertfordshire, showing his support for what he hopes will be Britain's most-read weekly newspaper.

The front page featured an interview with Amanda Holden, who came near death after the birth of her daughter, with the headline: "My heart stopped for 40 seconds."

Inside, an editorial titled "A new Sun rises today" said the paper was appointing a so-called Readers' Champion to deal with complaints and errors, while also vowing that its journalists would be ethical.

"You will be able to trust our journalists to abide by the values of decency as they gather news," it said.

It also said the paper would be "fearless, outspoken, mischievous and fun".


A coach taking 47 British holidaymakers home from a school skiing trip rolled into a ditch in northern France on Sunday, killing a teacher and injuring 23 people, officials said.

Six people were said to be seriously hurt, including a 13-year-old girl who was in a critical condition in hospital in Reims, they said. Most of those on board were children.

The driver, who is believed to have fallen asleep at the wheel when the coach crashed in the early hours of Sunday, has been detained, a local prosecutor said.

The British Solus travel coach was on a school trip and carrying 29 children from a school in Alvechurch, just south of Birmingham, and 18 adults in addition to two drivers, the Foreign Office in London said.

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said: "Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with everyone involved in or affected by the tragic coach crash in Northern France earlier today.

"The French authorities are investigating the accident and we are working closely with them."

Burt said the British ambassador to France, Sir Peter Ricketts, had "seen many of the affected passengers this afternoon and has assured them that we are doing all we can to help them recover and get home.

The deputy ambassador would accompany some Britons back home Sunday, he added, and they would continue to assist those who were on the coach and their loved ones back in Britain.

Burt also thanked French emergency services "for all they have done".


Britain's unemployment rate hit a 16-month peak in the three months to December, while the number of people claiming jobless benefits struck the highest total in two years, official data showed Wednesday.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said in a statement that the unemployment rate stood at 8.4 percent. It was last higher in the three months to November 1995.

The so-called claimant count of people registered for unemployment benefit increased by 6,900 in January to reach 1.61 million, the ONS added. That marked the highest total since January 2010 and the eleventh straight monthly rise.

The number of unemployed people meanwhile increased by 48,000 over the quarter to reach 2.67 million. However, that was the smallest quarterly increase in unemployment since the three months to June 2011.

The data came as the Bank of England (BoE) predicted on Wednesday that Britain will likely avoid another recession but cautioned that the outlook was dependent on the debt crisis in key trading partner the eurozone.

"The latest jobs data were mixed overall but the underlying deterioration does appear to have eased recently which supports hopes that the economy will return to modest growth in the first quarter and avoid recession," said IHS Global Insight economist Howard Archer.


Britain's top-selling newspaper The Sun was in crisis Saturday after police arrested five of its journalists over bribery allegations, but owner Rupert Murdoch vowed to keep publishing the tabloid.

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) official, a member of the armed forces and a policeman were also arrested over allegations that journalists paid officials for information, police said.

Publisher News International said Murdoch had given a "personal assurance" that The Sun would not face the same fate as its sister paper, the News of the World, which he closed in July amid a scandal over phone hacking.

The tycoon will travel to London to meet with journalists, a person familiar with the situation told AFP, without saying when.

The arrested Sun journalists were deputy editor Geoff Webster, picture editor John Edwards, chief reporter John Kay, chief foreign correspondent Nick Parker and reporter John Sturgis, News International said.

In an email to staff, News International chief executive Tom Mockridge said the company was facing its "greatest challenge".

"You should know that I have had a personal assurance today from Rupert Murdoch about his total commitment to continue to own and publish The Sun newspaper," he said.

Mockridge said he had also written to Britain's police watchdog to "seek clarification" about the independence of the police investigation.

The tabloid's editor, Dominic Mohan, said he was "shocked" at the arrests but was "determined to lead The Sun through these difficult times".

The arrests come a fortnight after another four current and former Sun journalists were arrested and bailed over similar allegations.

Scotland Yard said it had now broadened its corruption probe, Operation Elveden, beyond payments to police, to include other public officials.

The five journalists were arrested in dawn raids at their homes in London and nearby areas on suspicion of corruption and of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office, police said.

In the first cases of their kind, an MoD employee aged 39 was also arrested at her home in Wiltshire, and a 36-year-old man serving in the armed forces was arrested in the same area.

The pair, reported by Sky News to be an army officer and his wife, were held on suspicion of corruption, misconduct in a public office and conspiracy in relation to both offences. The MoD refused to comment.

A police officer in the county of Surrey, which borders London, was also arrested on suspicion of corruption and misconduct in a public office.

All eight were later released on bail.

Police said they had searched the offices of News International in Wapping, and the homes of those held.

The arrests were sparked by information provided to police by the Management and Standards Committee set up by Murdoch's US-based News Corporation, Scotland Yard and the company said.

The National Union of Journalists condemned the detentions, as well as News International and what it called a "witch-hunt" against journalists.


Queen Elizabeth II marks 60 years as monarch on Monday with a deliberately low-key programme of visits to eastern England, kicking off five months of diamond jubilee celebrations. The queen will visit the town hall in King's Lynn and then a nearby school, six decades to the day since she ascended to the throne after
her father King George VI suddenly died on February 6, 1952. The day in Norfolk kicks off a series of events culminating in a flotilla of 1,000 boats sailing up the River Thames on June 3, led by the queen in an ornate barge adorned with flowers.

At the age of 85, the queen's programme will be restricted to Britain over the next five months, but other members of the royal family will
criss-cross the Commonwealth in her place.  The diamond jubilee festivities have been scheduled over four days on June 2-5, and will also include a chain of beacons being lit across the Commonwealth and a pageant of horses and performers in the grounds of Windsor Castle.

On Sunday, the queen braved snowy weather to attend a church service alongside her 90-year-old husband Prince Philip, who appeared sprightly despite undergoing heart surgery just before Christmas.

After the service, she was presented with flowers by local children outside the church, which lies on the royals' private Sandringham estate.