All posts by Emmanuel justice

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Brexit amendments: The MPs trying to change Theresa May’s course”:


MPs are trying to influence the Brexit process in a number of ways, as Theresa May continues her bid to get the EU to change the deal.

The prime minister has asked MPs to approve a motion on Thursday simply acknowledging that process is ongoing and restating their support for the approach.

Several MPs tabled amendments setting out alternative plans and Commons Speaker John Bercow has selected three to be put to a Commons vote.

Even if they won the backing of a majority of MPs, the proposals would not be binding on the government. However, they could put pressure on Mrs May to change course.

She has adopted proposals from two successful backbench amendments tabled in January.

One asked her to seek alternatives to the “backstop”, which aims to prevent the return of customs checkpoints on the Irish border in the event that no trade deal has come into force. The other rejected leaving the EU without a formal exit deal.

The selected proposals are below. Use our guide to Brexit jargon or follow the links for further explanation.

Labour frontbench amendment

Jeremy Corbyn
AP

Requires the government to either give MPs a vote on the withdrawal agreement and political declaration on future UK-EU relations by 27 February, or make a statement saying there is no longer an agreement in principle with Brussels and so allow MPs to vote on – and amend – its planned next steps.

Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s amendments are considered unlikely to receive the necessary backing from Conservative backbenchers to succeed.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable has tabled a bid to change the wording of this amendment to delay the Brexit date to allow for a referendum on the deal, with the option to remain in the EU.

SNP amendment

PA

The SNP’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford, centre, tabled the amendment on behalf of his party

Seeks to postpone the Brexit date by at least three months.

This has the backing of Liberal Democrats, as well as the SNP contingent.

Conservative backbencher Anna Soubry’s amendment

Anna Soubry with Labour's Chris Leslie, left and Chuka Umunna
Anna Soubry’s amendment has the backing of Labour MPs including Chris Leslie, left, and Chuka Umunna, right

Instructs the government to publish within seven days “the most recent official briefing document relating to business and trade on the implications of a no-deal Brexit presented to cabinet”.

This has the backing of some mostly Remain-supporting Labour and Conservative backbenchers.

Does the government motion face defeat?

The government may well fight off these attempts to amend its motion.

But even if it does, it is not guaranteed to win the subsequent vote. Some Conservative Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) have indicated they will refuse to back the government.

They are angry because the motion not only supports the view backed by a majority of MPs last month that the government should seek an alternative to the “backstop”, but also a separate move to stop Brexit happening without a formal deal, which the Commons supported at the same time.

Most MPs want to avoid a no-deal scenario, fearing chaos at ports and disruption to business. However, some Brexiteers have played down that prospect, arguing it is an example of “Project Fear”, and say the no-deal option offers leverage in negotiations with Brussels.

Prince Philip will not be prosecuted over crash”:


The Duke of Edinburgh will not face prosecution over his road crash near the Sandringham estate, the Crown Prosecution Service has said.

The 97-year-old voluntarily gave up his driving licence on Saturday after his Land Rover Freelander collided with another vehicle in Norfolk last month.

He later apologised to the occupants of the other car – two women and a baby.

The CPS says it decided that it would not be in the public interest to prosecute the duke.

Chris Long, Chief Crown Prosecutor from CPS East of England, said: “We took into account all of the circumstances in this case, including the level of culpability, the age of the driver and the surrender of the driving licence.”

The duke escaped injury after his vehicle landed on its side following the collision with a Kia on 17 January on the A149 near the Queen’s country estate.

Two days later Norfolk Police gave him “suitable words of advice” after he was pictured driving without a seat belt.

He wrote to one of the passengers in the Kia – Emma Fairweather, who broke her wrist in the accident.

In the letter, dated 21 January andreproduced by the Sunday Mirror , the duke acknowledged the “very distressing experience”.

“I would like you to know how very sorry I am for my part in the accident,” he wrote, on Sandringham House headed paper.

“The sun was shining low over the main road. In normal conditions I would have no difficulty in seeing traffic coming… but I can only imagine that I failed to see the car coming, and I am very contrite about the consequences.”

Ms Fairweather had previously criticised the duke for a lack of communication following the crash.

Paul Manafort: Trump ex-aide lied to prosecutors, judge rules”:


Paul Manafort was found guilty of multiple fraud charges in 2018

Donald Trump’s former election campaign chief Paul Manafort breached his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller by lying to prosecutors, a US judge says.

US District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Manafort “made multiple false statements” to the FBI, Mr Mueller’s office and a grand jury.

Mr Mueller leads a probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election.

This related to his work as a political consultant in Ukraine.

Manafort, 69, then accepted a plea deal on other charges in return for co-operating with Mr Mueller’s investigation.

In her ruling on Wednesday, Judge Berman Jackson said there was evidence that showed Manafort had lied about – among other things – contacts he had with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian political consultant. Prosecutors claim Mr Kilimnik had ties to Russian intelligence.

The judge also cleared Manafort of allegations that he lied on two other subjects.

The verdict means that Manafort – who has been held in a detention centre in Virginia since June – could now potentially face harsher sentences or have charges against him re-filed.

Last year, Mr Mueller said that Manafort lied “on a variety of subject matters” after signing the plea deal.

What was the plea deal?

Last August, Manafort was convicted on eight counts of fraud, bank fraud and failing to disclose bank accounts.

A month later he pleaded guilty to one charge of conspiracy against the US and one charge of conspiracy to obstruct justice in a plea bargain with Mr Mueller. The agreement avoided a second trial on money laundering and other charges.

The plea deal meant Manafort would face up to 10 years in prison and would forfeit four of his properties and the contents of several bank accounts – but deadlocked charges from the previous trial would be dismissed.

It was the first criminal trial arising from the Department of Justice’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the presidential election.

However, the charges related only to Manafort’s political consulting with pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine, largely pre-dating his role with the Trump campaign.

How did we get here?

Manafort worked for the Trump presidential campaign for five months in 2016 and was in charge when Mr Trump clinched the Republican party nomination.

President Trump has branded the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt” and insisted there was no collusion between his team and Russia.

Manafort was charged by Mr Mueller last October and during the trial he was accused of using 31 foreign bank accounts in three different countries to evade taxes on millions of dollars.

Prosecutors presented evidence of Manafort’s luxurious lifestyle, saying it was only possible because of his bank and tax fraud.

MPs to debate next steps, Brexit:


MPs are to debate and vote on the next steps in the Brexit process later, as Theresa May continues to try to get a deal through Parliament.

A series of amendments – designed to change the direction of Brexit – will be considered in the debate, which is expected to be a routine procedure.

But BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg said the PM could be facing another defeat.

Some Tory Brexiteers are refusing to back the government, she said.

No 10 insists Mrs May still plans to hold a vote on a deal as soon as possible but Labour has accused her of “running down the clock” in an effort to “blackmail” MPs into backing her deal.

The prime minister has asked MPs to approve a motion simply acknowledging that the process was ongoing and restating their support for the approach.

But several MPs have tabled amendments – which set out alternative plans – including one from Labour that would force the government to come back to Parliament by the end of the month to hold a substantive Commons vote on its Brexit plan.

Another, from the SNP, calls on the government to pass a law leading to the Brexit process being halted.

Commons Speaker John Bercow is yet to decide which of these will actually be considered by MPs.

However, influential Brexiteers from the European Research Group of Tory backbenchers are angry at being asked to support the PM’s motion.

This is because it combines the view backed by a majority of MPs last month that the government should seek an alternative to the “backstop” with a separate move to stop Brexit happening without a formal deal.

The backstop aims to prevent the return of customs checkpoints on the Irish border in the event that no trade deal comes into force.

The group’s deputy chairman, Mark Francois, told the BBC: “We cannot vote for this as it is currently configured because it rules out no deal and removes our negotiating leverage in Brussels.”

He said members had “pleaded” with Downing Street to change the wording, which he said goes back on what the prime minister has previously told MPs.

“A senior ERG source says they haven’t decided whether to abstain or vote against, but they won’t back the government,” said BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg.

Most MPs want to avoid a no-deal scenario, fearing chaos at ports and disruption to business. But some Brexiteers have played down that prospect, arguing it is an example of “Project Fear”.

MPs rejected the deal negotiated with the EU by a historic margin in January and the prime minister says she is seeking legally-binding changes to the controversial “backstop” – the “insurance policy” aimed at avoiding a return to border checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The UK is currently due to leave the EU on 29 March, whether or not a deal has been approved by the Commons.

Presentational grey line

Could Brexit cause a Labour split?

By BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg

You’ll be used to people in my kind of job saying things like, “these are critical days”.

And hands up, on many of the occasions when a big move is predicted, a damp squib often comes along to squelch the expectation.

What I’m about to say may well be a repetition of that familiar phenomenon. But I’m not the only person in Westminster this week to be wondering whether after many, many, many months of private conversations where this possibility was discussed, in the next couple of weeks, maybe even in the next couple of days, something that actually is critical is going to start happening.

Read more

What happens next?

The prime minister has promised to return to the Commons on 26 February with a further statement – triggering another debate and votes the following day – if a deal has not been secured by that date.

If a deal is agreed, MPs will have a second “meaningful vote”, more than a month after Mrs May’s deal was rejected in the first one.

Mrs May told MPs on Tuesday she was discussing a number of options with the EU to secure legally binding changes to the backstop, including replacing it with “alternative arrangements”, putting a time limit on how long it can stay in place, or a unilateral exit clause so the UK can leave it at a time of its choosing.

The EU has continued to say it will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement.

On Wednesday, European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that “no news is not always good news”, saying the EU was “still waiting for concrete, realistic proposals from London”.

The prime minister has also said she will lift the requirement for a 21-day period before any vote to approve an international treaty, which means she could delay the final Brexit vote until days before the UK is due to leave the EU.

Former attorney general Dominic Grieve warned on Tuesday that time was running short for the ratification of a deal under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act.

The Act requires 21 sitting days before the ratification of any international treaty, to allow MPs to study the agreement.

But Mrs May responded: “In this instance MPs will already have debated and approved the agreement as part of the meaningful vote.”

If there was not time for normal procedures, the government would amend the law around Brexit to allow it to be ratified more quickly.

Brexit: MPs to debate next steps
Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

Theresa May ‘scrapes the mould off jam’


As if Theresa May was not in enough of a jam over Brexit, she has now sparked a debate about how to handle actual jam – the kind that comes in jars.

It comes after she reportedly told cabinet ministers she scrapes the mould off the fruit preserve rather than throw it away.

The SNP’s Pete Wishart picked up on the PM’s comment on Twitter, saying it was “a bit like she runs the Tory Party”.

The PM reportedly made the comments in a cabinet discussion on food waste.

The prime minister told colleagues that she scrapes the mould off and the rest is “perfectly edible”, according to the Daily Mail.

She added that people should use “common sense” to work out if the whole jar should be thrown out.

Labour’s shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said on Twitter “I don’t reckon too many Tories will be scraping mould off food” in “Tory-fuelled austerity UK”.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems say the jam reference is “very apt”.

Campaign group Wrap says 10m tonnes of food is binned in the UK every year.

Of this figure, which is largely made up of household food waste, it is thought about 60% could be avoided.

Mrs May is understood to have been discussing the issue with cabinet ministers on Tuesday.

Last year the government announced a £15m scheme to address food waste from the retail and manufacturing sectors and outlined further plans to reduce it in England in its Resources and Waste Strategy.

Asked whether the prime minister thought people should follow her example, her official spokesman said: “That is a matter for the individual.”

A spokesman for Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, who makes his own jam with fruit grown on his allotment, said: “Jeremy’s love of both making and consuming jam is well known, and as such he personally never gets to the point of scraping or chucking mould.”

Safe to eat?

The Food Standards Agency’s advice is that some species of mould can produce toxins, and that food that is obviously rotten or containing mould should not be eaten. Children, elderly people and pregnant women, along with others who have a weakened immune system, should be especially careful, the FSA advises.

It adds that while removing the mould – along with significant amount of the surrounding product – may work, there is no guarantee it would remove all unseen toxins.

But Hugh Pennington, professor of bacteriology at Aberdeen University, told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme that he would scrape the mould off, “depending on the quality of the jam”.

“Generally speaking, I wouldn’t be worried about the mould doing any harm,” he said. “I would just question how long it has been in the cupboard, but it’s safe to eat.”

“Jam’s got a lot of sugar in it, which stops nasty bugs getting in it. It’s been made by boiling… so it’s a pretty safe product.”

Prime Minister’s Questions: The key bits and the verdict”:


Theresa May went head-to-head with Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons. Here’s what happened.

Jeremy Corbyn threw the prime minister a Brexit curveball at this session.

Most observers were expecting the PM to get a grilling over reported comments by her chief Brexit adviser Olly Robbins – but the Labour leader went after Transport Secretary Chris Grayling instead.

He focused all six of his questions on the “fiasco” of the Seaborne Freight contract.

The ferry company with “no ships and no trading history” has had its contract to provide services in the event of a no-deal Brexit cancelled.

Mr Corbyn said this was symbolic of the government’s “costly, shambolic and evasive” handling of Brexit. “What went wrong?,” he asked the prime minister.

PM says there was “due diligence” over its ferry plan, but Jeremy Corbyn is “impressed” she can “keep a straight face”.

Mrs May said 90% of the ferry contracts awarded in case of a no-deal Brexit scenario, went to DFDS and Brittany Ferries.

“Due diligence was carried out on all of these contracts,” she told the Labour leader.

The transport secretary had told MPs the decision to award a contract to Seaborne Freight “had no cost to the taxpayer”, said Mr Corbyn, but the National Audit Office found that £800,000 had been spent on external consultants to assess the bid. Could the prime minister “correct the record”?

Mrs May said Mr Corbyn was “late to the party” because she had been asked about this yesterday by the SNP. “Labour following the SNP, well whatever next,” sniped the PM before repeating her line about “proper due diligence”.

Mr Corbyn said Freedom of Information requests showed Chris Grayling had “bypassed” the rules which allow normal scrutiny of a deal.

Mrs May said the Seaborne Freight contract had been handed out following individual assessments by consultants, and no money had been paid to Seaborne Freight.

It was “entirely right and proper” to make sure that the government was preparing for any no-deal Brexit, she added.

Mr Corbyn said taxpayers were facing a £1m legal bill for contesting Eurotunnel’s court case against the government over its “secretive and flawed” no-deal transport contracts process.

Not only that, he told MPs, Thanet Council, in Kent, was facing a £2m budget deficit as a result of the Seaborne Freight debacle. Could the PM offer “cast iron guarantees” that the people of Thanet would not be hit with this bill?

Mrs May said Department of Transport officials were “in discussions” with Thanet council. The ferry contracts were about safeguarding medical supplies in the event of a no-deal Brexit, she added.

Mr Corbyn said the prime minister should follow the advice of the House and take no deal off the table and “negotiate seriously with the EU”.

He broadened out his attack on Chris Grayling, for “ignoring warnings” about drones at airports, ignoring warnings about the collapse of outsourcing giant Carillion, overseeing the “disastrous” new rail time tables, and rail fare increases.

And now, said Mr Corbyn, Mr Grayling was in charge of a “vital aspect of Brexit planning”. “How on earth” could the prime minister have any confidence in him?

Mrs May replied that rail investment was at its highest since the Victorian era and that was 20% higher every year on average than under Labour.

She had clearly come armed with attack lines for Mr Corbyn over his Brexit strategy, so she unloaded them all as their exchange came to an end, accusing the Labour leader of “ambiguity” and “playing politics” and of failing to say whether he wanted Brexit, or a second referendum.

People no longer say he is a “conviction politician”, she concluded.

What else came up?

The SNP’s leader at Westminster Ian Blackford said that with 44 days to go until Brexit, Mrs May must stop “playing fast and loose” with the economy.

Ian Blackford says the PM has “come to the end of the road” and he calls for an extension to Article 50

Conservative backbencher Henry Smith gave the prime minister a chance to rebut the reported comments by Olly Robbins, who was overheard in a Brussels bar saying the EU was likely to allow an extension to the Brexit process.

Conservative MP George Freeman, a former adviser to Mrs May, asked whether those who had brought the system into disrepute “like Philip Green” should be stripped of their honour. Mrs May says there was an independent forfeiture committee.

Labour MP Rosie Cooper asked Theresa May about a Conservative election promise to keep the provision for those 75 and older.

Theresa May told Rosie Cooper: “We want and expect the BBC to continue free TV licences”

Stop and search, when carried out the right way, is an “effective tool for our police forces”, Theresa May told Conservative MP Gareth Thomas, adding that officers must these powers “lawfully”.

Theresa May says stop and search, when carried out the right way, is an “effective tool for our police forces”

Labour’s Steve McCabe reminded the PM of her call to end rip-off energy prices, telling her 2.5 million people were now in fuel poverty.

Steve McCabe reminds the PM of her call to end to rip-off energy prices

And finally, Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May shared their memories of England’s victory in the 1966 World Cup final, as they paid tribute to legendary goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who died this week.

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May tell MPs they are both old enough to remember the 1966 World Cup

The Verdict

Here is BBC Parliamentary Correspondent Mark D’Arcy’s take

Both the main players at PMQs had one of their better days, proving, I suppose, that it’s not a zero-sum game, where one of them must do badly for the other to do well.

Jeremy Corbyn continued Labour’s recent targetting of the Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, with a series of detailed questions about the Seabourne Ferries saga.

It was an old school piece of PMQs questioning, building up an attack over a series of questions, which saw the PM digging into her file for the pre-scripted answers.

She, in turn, was at her most effective when she counter-attacked on Labour’s policy ambiguity over Brexit, with a particularly wounding line that Jeremy Corbyn was losing his reputation as a conviction politician.

It was also notable that the Conservative benches were rather muted during the attacks on their transport secretary. Perhaps the accumulated weight of the railway timetables saga, the Gatwick drones and even his policies as justice secretary have depressed backbench support? So maybe the attack was a tactical success for Mr Corbyn, but was it also a strategic missed opportunity?

Brexiteer Tories rather tiptoed around the reported remarks of the PM’s Brexit advisor, Olly Robbins, overheard in a Brussels bar. But the twin suggestions attributed to him, of a postponement of Brexit day and of the Northern Ireland backstop being a “bridge” to a post-Brexit customs union with the EU, cause them deep alarm.

Mr Corbyn did not seek to deepen it further, even though it would have been quite easy to segue from Grayling to Robbins, and it was left to the SNP’s Ian Blackford and later the Conservative Henry Smith, to target the alleged bar-room indiscretion.

The PM’s elegant prepared response: “What someone said to someone else, overheard by someone else…in a bar” was eventually deployed in answer to Mr Smith, but was probably drafted with Mr Corbyn in mind.

The other big PMQs player, John Bercow, had a quiet time. His rebukes were genial, even jovial, and no-one was bruised by them. He even indulged a few spurious points of order at the end, although I’m not sure how grateful Ian Blackford will have been for his colleague Mharie Black’s complaint that when her leader rose to ask his question, lots of MPs immediately got up and left the Chamber.

Elsewhere, there were interesting responses to well placed questions from Tories Robert Halfon (on school exclusions) and George Freeman (Sir Philip Greene’s knighthood) and to Labour’s Chris Evans (on suicide and self harm images on social media) with the PM keen to demonstrate that her government is not so fixated on Brexit that it can’t deal with other issues.

John McDonnell calls Winston Churchill a ‘villain’:


Speaking at a Politico event, shadow chancellor John McDonnell called Churchill a “villain”

John McDonnell has branded Sir Winston Churchill a “villain” over his role in dealing with striking miners in 1910.

Speaking at a Politico event and when asked whether Churchill was a hero or villain, the shadow chancellor replied: “Tonypandy – villain”.

During the Tonypandy riots of 1910, troops were sent out to control striking miners who wrecked town centre shops and mine-owners’ property.

Churchill was voted the greatest Briton in a BBC poll in 2002.

In response to Mr McDonnell’s comments, Labour MP Ian Austin posted a picture of the wartime leader on social media.

He tweeted: “Look who takes pride of place on my mantelpiece in Dudley: a real British hero, the greatest ever Briton, the man who motivated Britain to defeat the Nazis and fight not just for our liberty but the world’s freedom.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock tweeted that Churchill “was one of the greatest ever to have lived”.

The Tonypandy riots took place on the evenings of 7 and 8 November 1910 and involved violent clashes between striking miners and the police, with soldiers arriving on the second day.

One miner was killed.

The incident haunted Churchill for the rest of his career and many of his critics saw it as an anti-trade union stance.

Winston Churchill
Churchill was voted the greatest Briton in a BBC poll in 2002

British IS schoolgirl ‘wants to return home’:


Ms Begum was 15 when she left the UK in 2015

One of three schoolgirls who left east London in 2015 to join the Islamic State group says she has no regrets, but wants to return to the UK.

In an interview with the Times, Shamima Begum, now 19, talked about seeing “beheaded heads” in bins – but said that it “did not faze her”.

Speaking from a camp in Syria, she said she was nine months pregnant and wanted to come home for the sake of her baby.

She said she’d had two other children who had both died.

She also described how one of her two school friends that had left the UK with her had died in a bombing. The fate of the third girl is unclear.

‘It was like a normal life’

Bethnal Green Academy pupils Ms Begum and Amira Abase, were both 15, while Kadiza Sultana was 16, when they left the UK in February 2015.

They flew from Gatwick Airport to Turkey after telling their parents they were going out for the day. They later crossed the border into Syria.

After arriving in Raqqa, she stayed at a house with other newly arrived brides-to-be, she told the Times.

“I applied to marry an English-speaking fighter between 20 and 25 years old,” she said.

Ten days later she married a 27-year-old Dutch man who had converted to Islam.

She has been with him since then, and the couple escaped from Baghuz – the group’s last territory in eastern Syria – two weeks ago.

Her husband surrendered to a group of Syrian fighters as they left, and she is now one of 39,000 people in a camp in northern Syria.

Asked by Times journalist Anthony Loyd whether her experiences of living in the one-time IS stronghold of Raqqa had lived up to her aspirations, Ms Begum said: “Yes, it did. It was like a normal life. The life that they show on the propaganda videos – it’s a normal life.

“Every now and then there are bombs and stuff. But other than that…”

“I’m not the same silly little 15-year-old schoolgirl who ran away from Bethnal Green four years ago,” she told Mr Loyd.

“I don’t regret coming here.”

‘I always thought we’d die together’

But Ms Begum said the “oppression” had come as a “shock” and said she felt the IS “caliphate” was at an end.

“I don’t have high hopes. They are just getting smaller and smaller,” she said. “And there is so much oppression and corruption going on that I don’t really think they deserve victory.”

She referred to her husband having been held in a prison where men were tortured.

Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum
Kadiza Sultana, Amira Abase and Shamima Begum (l-r) in photos issued by police

A lawyer for the family of Kadiza Sultana said in 2016 that she was believed to have been killed in a Russian air strike.

Ms Begum told the Times her friend had died in a bombing on a house where there was “some secret stuff going on” underground.

She added: “I never thought it would happen. At first I was in denial. Because I always thought if we got killed, we’d get killed together.”

‘Scared this baby is going to get sick’

Ms Begum said losing two children “came as a shock. It just came out of nowhere, it was so hard”.

Her first child, a girl, died at the age of one year and nine months, and was buried in Baghuz a month ago.

Her second child – the first to die – died three months ago at the age of eight months, of an illness that was compounded by malnutrition, the Times reports.

She told the paper she took him to a hospital. “There were no drugs available, and not enough medical staff,” she said.

As a result she said she was “really overprotective” of her unborn child.

“I’m scared that this baby is going to get sick in this camp,” she said. “That’s why I really want to get back to Britain because I know it will be taken care of – health-wise, at least.”

She said she should be giving birth “any day now”.

“I’ll do anything required just to be able to come home and live quietly with my child.”

IS has lost control of most of the territory it overran, including its strongholds of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria.

However, fighting continues in north-eastern Syria, where the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) say they captured dozens of foreign fighters in recent weeks.

Pangolins: Rare insight into world’s most trafficked mammal”:


A study is being conducted by conservationists from Chester Zoo

The secret life of the world’s most trafficked mammal, the pangolin, has been caught on camera in Africa.

Footage gives a rare insight into the behaviour of the giant pangolin, the largest of all the scaly animals.

Observed by remote-operated cameras, a baby takes a ride on its mother’s back, while an adult climbs a tree.

Scientists are releasing the footage to highlight the plight of the animals, which are being pushed to extinction by illegal hunting for scales and meat.

Large numbers of their scales have been seized this month alone, including Malaysia’s biggest-ever interception of smuggled pangolin products.

The images and video clips of giant pangolins, one of four species in Africa, were taken at Uganda’s Ziwa sanctuary, where the animals live alongside protected rhinos and are safe from poaching.

Stuart Nixon of Chester Zoo’s Africa Field Programme said much of their behaviour has never been recorded before.

“We know so little about this species, almost everything we’re picking up on camera traps this year as a behaviour is a new thing,” he told BBC News.

The giant pangolin: The largest of the eight pangolin species
The giant pangolin: The largest of the eight species
Short presentational grey line

Pangolins

  • Sometimes called scaly anteaters, they are the only mammals in the world to be covered in protective scales
  • Their scales are made of keratin, the same material found in human fingernails
  • Pangolins lap up ants and termites with their long sticky tongues
  • There are four species in Africa -the African white-bellied pangolin, giant ground pangolin, ground pangolin and black-bellied pangolin
  • The giant pangolin, found in the rainforests and grasslands of equatorial Africa, is the biggest, measuring up to 1.8m long and weighing up to 75lbs.
Short presentational grey line

The pangolin is said to be the most widely trafficked mammal in the world.

Its scales are in high demand in Asia for use in traditional Chinese medicine, despite there being no medical benefit for their use, while its meat is considered a delicacy in some countries.

This week, authorities in Malaysia seized more than 27 tonnes of pangolins and their scales – believed to be worth at least £1.6m – on Borneo, in the biggest such haul in the country.

Pangolins are regarded as a delicacy in some countries
They are regarded as a delicacy in some countries

The wildlife monitoring group Traffic said police had discovered two big pangolin-processing facilities stocked with thousands of boxes of meat in the eastern state of Sabah.

“It is hoped that comprehensive investigations can lead to unmasking the syndicate and networks operating from the state and beyond,” said Kanitha Krishnasamy, Traffic’s director in Southeast Asia.

The discovery comes just days after 10 tonnes of scales were intercepted in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Uganda.

Scientists say the plight of the animals looks bleak, and they have no idea how many are left in the wild.

Pangolin scales intercepted on Borneo
Pangolin scales intercepted on Borneo

Stuart Nixon, who is working in collaboration with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the Rhino Fund Uganda on the project, said they are encountered so rarely in the wild that there is not enough data to allow a decent estimate.

A study is under way to survey and monitor giant pangolins at the site as the first step towards identifying their strongholds.

“This species is literally being wiped out, it’s being obliterated across central Africa, there’s no doubt about that,” he added. “Trying to get people engaged and to care about pangolins is really the key step.”

Sam Mwandha of the Uganda Wildlife Authority added: “These rare glimpses into the lives of giant pangolins are very exciting for those of us dedicated to protecting Uganda’s rich wildlife and challenges us to ensure that we protect and conserve this highly threatened species for future generations.”

Six California officers shot man as he woke in his car”:


Willie McCoy (right) in an image shared by his cousin David Harrison (centre)

California police have said a 20-year-old black man who was shot and killed in his car by six officers last week had reached for a gun first.

But Willie McCoy’s family has pushed back, saying the aspiring rapper was not a threat to the officers as he was just waking up.

Vallejo police had been called for a wellness check when a driver was spotted slumped over in his vehicle.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene on 9 February.

“Any loss of life is a tragedy,” police chief Andrew Bidou said in an updated report of the incident on Tuesday.

The police report does not name Mr McCoy as the driver, citing the ongoing investigation, but local media identified him after speaking with family members.

Vallejo is a city near San Francisco that has been the site of several alleged cases of police brutality against black residents.

What do Vallejo police say?

According to the police department, officers received a call from employees at a Taco Bell fast food restaurant on Saturday night, requesting a check-up on a driver in the parking lot.

When they arrived on scene, they saw Mr McCoy unresponsive in his vehicle with a semi-automatic handgun on his lap. More officers were called while Mr McCoy slept.

Police had planned on opening the car door and retrieving the weapon before engaging Mr McCoy, but were unable to do so as the doors were locked.

Mr McCoy then woke up and looked at the officers, who commanded him to keep his hands visible. Police then say he did not comply and “quickly moved his hands downward for the firearm”.

“Fearing for their safety, six officers fired their duty weapons at the driver,” the news release stated. Multiple rounds were fired in a span of four seconds.

“Officers continued to yell commands at the driver and ultimately reached through the broken glass of the driver’s window to unlock the vehicle.”

Police attempted medical assistance but the driver died at the scene. An official post-mortem examination is still under way.

A preliminary investigation found that the gun had been reported stolen in Oregon.

The officers have not been named and have been placed on administrative leave for the duration of the investigation.

Photo of Willie McCoy and his cousin David Harrison
Willie McCoy (left) and his cousin David Harrison

What does the family say?

Mr McCoy’s family has disputed this police account.

During a vigil on Sunday, Mr McCoy’s older brother Mark said police had surprised Mr McCoy and fired too quickly.

“My little brother was just shot for no reason,” he said, according to CBS News.

“If I wake you up… if I knock on your front door and, ‘Bang bang bang!’ you’re going to jump off the bed,” he said. “Why wouldn’t you be safe while you wake him up and then [say] ‘Driver, exit the car’?”

David Harrison, Mr McCoy’s cousin, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday that Mr McCoy was raised by relatives after his parents passed away when he was a child.

He said his cousin had finished up a session in a recording studio before he drove to the Taco Bell.

In an emotional Facebook video, Mr Harrison pleaded with other young people to listen to their parents and keep away from cops.

“I want no other parents, no other kid’s parents, to go through this ever again,” Mr Harrison said. “They can’t just keep killing us in the street like this. My little cousin was asleep in the car.”

Mr McCoy’s family has hired civil rights attorney John Burris – who recently took on a case where a homeless man sleeping in Oakland was killed by police – to represent them, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.