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Dr Strange actress Zara Phythian and husband jailed for abuse of underage girl

Sky News

Dr Strange actress Zara Phythian has been jailed for eight years for the sexual abuse of a girl who was aged between 13 and 15.

Her husband, Victor Marke, has been given a 14-year sentence in prison by Judge Mark Watson at Nottingham Crown Court after the couple were found guilty last week.

The judge told Marke: “I regard you as the driving force behind the abuse.

“You were clearly aware of this first incident but pretended to be asleep.”

He told Phythian: “On the evidence, I have heard I am in no doubt that your deviance was shaped by the influence that he [Marke] had upon you from an early age”, adding that “none of this excuses what you did”.

Marke and Phythian were found guilty last week of 14 counts of sexual activity with a child after jointly grooming and abusing a girl between 2005 and 2009.

Marke was also found guilty of indecently assaulting a second complainant.

Phythian featured in the 2016 blockbuster Marvel film Dr Strange alongside Benedict Cumberbatch and ran a martial arts academy.

She appeared calm in the dock on Monday as she was told the abuse was aggravated by its prolonged nature.

Judge Watson told the couple he believed the start of the abuse was pre-planned.

Phythian waved at the public gallery where a woman shouted “I love you Zara”, as she was led away to the cells.

The 37-year-old, from Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, and Marke, 59, were told they will have to serve at least half of their sentences before being considered for parole.

During the two-week trial, Phythian denied being a paedophile and her husband, who was also a martial arts instructor, broke down in the witness box.

He also denied touching one victim sexually and said the other complainant had given him oral sex when he was drunk and she had turned 18.

The jury heard about the abuse began when Phythian asked the victim: “Do you want to play a dare?” and invited her to copy a sex act she performed on Marke.

The victim, who cannot be named, told the court that Marke threatened her and ordered her to film some of the abuse at the hands of the couple.

Phythian said she was given a chance to star in films after being “spotted” at a martial arts contest in the US.

Google sued for using the NHS data of 1.6 million Brits 'without their knowledge or consent'

Sky News

Google is being sued over its use of confidential medical records belonging to 1.6 million individuals in the UK.

The company’s artificial intelligence arm, DeepMind, received the data in 2015 from the Royal Free NHS Trust in London for the purpose of testing a smartphone app called Streams.

The claim is being brought by Andrew Prismall in a representative action in the High Court. It alleges that Google and DeepMind “obtained and used a substantial number of confidential medical records without patients’ knowledge or consent”.

Why did Google get access to patient records?

Google received data belonging to 1.6 million patients, some of whom had simply attended A&E within the last five years, in order to test a smartphone app which could detect acute kidney injuries.

The smartphone app – which is designed to address the 25% of preventable deaths from acute kidney injuries if they were detected early enough – was subsequently used by the Royal Free NHS Trust on a discount basis.

Sky News previously revealed that Royal Free shared the patients data on an “inappropriate legal basis” according to a leaked letter from the most senior data protection adviser to the NHS.

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The deal was subsequently found to be illegal by the UK’s privacy watchdog which decided not to issue a fine to Google, stating there was a lack of guidance from the government.

At the time of the Information Commissioner’s Office announcement, DeepMind stressed that its “findings are about the Royal Free, [but] we need to reflect on our own actions too”.

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From 2017: Sky News has seen evidence that an NHS trust may have compromised patient data by partnering with Google

What impact will the High Court case have?

The representative action comes as the British government looks for ways for the private sector to use NHS data to mutually improve patient care and the country’s growing AI sector.

Mr Prismall said: “I hope that this case can achieve a fair outcome and closure for the many patients whose confidential records were – without the patients’ knowledge – obtained and used by these large tech companies.”

Ben Lasserson, partner at Mishcon de Reya, the law firm representing Mr Prismall, said the claim was “particularly important”.

“It should provide some much-needed clarity as to the proper parameters in which technology companies can be allowed to access and make use of private health information,” he added.

A spokesperson for Google did not immediately respond to a Sky News request for comment.

The Royal Free NHS Trust is not a party to the claim.

The action is being funded by Litigation Capital Management Limited, an asset management company that focuses on funding legal claims.

Last year the Supreme Court blocked a similar legal action against Google over claims it secretly tracked millions of iPhone users’ web browsing activity while telling them it was not.

That claim failed because the claimant could not prove that the group he was representing “suffered any material damage or distress”.

Mr Prismall’s claim, that Google’s use of patients’ confidential medical records was unlawful by the virtue of patients having been neither informed nor asked about it, will pose a different challenge for the company.

Martin Lewis apologises for calling Ofgem a 'f***ing disgrace' over energy prices

Sky News

Consumer champion Martin Lewis has apologised after ranting at energy staff, calling proposed changes to the energy price cap a “f***ing disgrace”.

Earlier today it was announced the energy price cap – the mechanism that determines gas and electricity bills for 22 million households – could soon be reviewed up to every three months.

Mr Lewis tweeted that he wanted to “formally apologise” to Ofgem staff for “losing my rag in a background briefing” and saying its changes are a “f***ing disgrace that sells consumers down the river”.

“I should’ve behaved better. My ire’s institutional not individual, it was inappropriate…

“I lost it when getting a briefing about today’s proposals, where it feels like at every turn, in these desperate times where lives are at risk, it has ignored all asks for consumers and instead kowtowed to the industry (I hope history proves me wrong).

“My breaking point was when hearing how instead of listening to calls to scrap its proposed market stabilization charge, it was making it harsher to really ‘stop the harmful effects of competition’.”

“I have had good meetings with Ofgem for years, so I’m sorry this blew up (they were calm I wasn’t)…” he added.

More on Cost Of Living

“Please accept that was (and this is) an emotional rant, not a considered piece.

“I pray when I do further analysis I have to apologise again as I’ve got it very wrong (if not I worry about dire consequences for consumers – we must do more to make things better for them).”

He later said the industry regulator’s demand for a more frequent price cap would be a “disaster… killing hopes of firms launching cheaper deals”.

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Ofgem: ‘Things are going to get tougher’

Ofgem revealed it was putting the idea for two more energy reviews a year – in January and July – out to consultation after criticism that the present twice-yearly adjustment arrangement in April and October had contributed to the failure of suppliers last year at the height of the wholesale gas price shock.

Its plans would not kick in until October when the next price cap adjustment is due – but the regulator says it will make the market fairer and more resilient after a tumultuous period for suppliers and their customers.

Dementia symptoms dismissed as 'just getting old' – as charity produces new checklist

Sky News

Dementia symptoms can often be wrongly blamed on just getting old – delaying the time for people to receive a correct diagnosis, research has shown.

The Alzheimer’s Society has worked with the Royal College of GPs to help people identify dementia symptoms and seek support.

The study found one in four people with dementia experience symptoms for more than two years before they are diagnosed.

The research suggests signs of dementia are too often dismissed by families or individuals as simply old age.

A poll of 1,019 dementia sufferers and their carers found that mistaking dementia symptoms for getting old (42%) was the number one reason it took people so long to get a diagnosis.

Some 26% of all people took more than two years to get a diagnosis, with over a quarter of these only receiving one, or seeking one, once they had reached crisis point.

A checklist by the charity is designed to help people communicate symptoms with a GP.

The checklist includes things like:

Asking the same question over and over again.

Struggling to find the right words or repeating questions and phrases.

Issues with daily living, such as struggling to pay bills or getting lost.

Behavioural or emotional problems such as becoming aggressive, withdrawn, acting inappropriately or walking about.

Putting objects in unusual places.

Being unable to learn new tasks.

Having frequent problems finding the right word or regularly referring to objects as ‘that thing’.

The checklist can be found here.

The Alzheimer’s Society’s new campaign – “It’s not called getting old, it’s called getting ill” – encourages people worried about their memory or that of their loved ones to seek support.

The charity’s chief executive, Kate Lee, said: “If you’re worried for yourself or someone you love, take the first step this Dementia Action Week – come to Alzheimer’s Society for support.

“The stark findings of our survey released today show just how dangerous it can be to battle dementia symptoms alone and put off getting help.

“Yes, getting a diagnosis can be daunting – I know I was terrified when my mum got diagnosed.

“But it is worth it – over nine in 10 people with dementia told us they benefited from getting a diagnosis.”

Read more:
GPS trackers given to those with dementia to help stop ‘tragic’ incidents

Dr Jill Rasmussen, the clinical representative for dementia at the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “It’s vital for patients, their families and GPs that conversations with the potential for a diagnosis of dementia are timely and effective.

“The new checklist developed with Alzheimer’s Society is a simple, free tool to help patients and their families clearly communicate their symptoms and concerns during an often time-pressured appointment.”

Northern Ireland Protocol talks 'kind of stuck' as PM heads to Belfast

Sky News

Talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol are “kind of stuck”, an EU source has told Sky News as Boris Johnson heads to Belfast to try to make headway on the issue.

The Brussels source said it was “not true or fair to say that we are being intransigent” and that the UK was asking for the kind of flexibility that has been offered to Ukraine even though “the UK is not at war”.

Ireland’s foreign minister foreign minister Simon Coveney warned that if Britain goes it alone in pulling out of the Protocol that could endanger its wider Brexit trade deal with the EU – an agreement which averted the threat of tariffs.

Boris Johnson hopes for talks ‘without drama’ in Northern Ireland – follow latest

Downing Street insiders told Sky News political editor Beth Rigby that acting unilaterally on the protocol, which governs Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangement, remains “very much a last resort” and that the PM wants to “sort this out calmly and rationally, without drama”.

Yet in an article for the Belfast Telegraph, Mr Johnson said there would be a “necessity to act” if Brussels does not agree to an overhaul of the arrangement – which has become an obstacle to reviving power-sharing at Stormont.

The prime minister’s trip to Northern Ireland comes after a call last week between foreign secretary Liz Truss and EU commission vice president Maros Sefcovic – a phone conversation that has previously been described as “tetchy” by UK government insiders.

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But the EU source suggested it was worse than that, describing the call as “horrendous” and adding that they had “seldom seen Sefcovic so cross and so upset”.

The source added: “We are kind of stuck here.

“The UK says this about democracy and avoiding potential civil war, on the other side the EU says there is a deal you should implement – it’s not true or fair to say we are being rigid or intransigent.

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Kwarteng on NI Protocol

“The UK is asking for the kind of flexibility that has been offered to Ukraine. But Ukraine is at war, so that is an exceptional measure.

“Firstly, the UK is not at war, and there is no serious risk of this. And secondly, this because of Brexit. This is a legitimate choice the UK has made.”

The protocol was designed to prevent the return of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after the UK left the European Union.

But that means customs checks on some goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain – effectively a border in the Irish Sea separating the two.

That creates rancour in particular among unionists as well as, critics including the UK government say, disruption for firms and consumers across both communities.

An impasse over efforts to renegotiate the deal has been brought to a head by the recent assembly election results, which saw Sinn Fein become the biggest party in Northern Ireland for the first time.

Northern Ireland’s main unionist party, the DUP, has said it will not take part in a power-sharing devolved government with Sinn Fein unless what it has described as “the poison of the protocol” is removed.

Mr Johnson is due to hold talks with Northern Ireland’s party leaders in a bid to unfreeze the deadlock.

The government is preparing to publish legislation to override the protocol but Sky News understands there are still concerns in cabinet about the legal position.

The bill could be challenged in parliament or in the courts if it is deemed to have breached international law.

Mr Coveney, who was in Brussels on Monday, warned that the entire UK-EU Trade and Co-operation Agreement deal – the TCA – could be jeopardised if Mr Johnson takes unilateral action.

He said with calmness, dialogue, compromise and partnership there could be “progress quickly to respond to the concerns of both the business community and the unionist community in Northern Ireland”.

Unilateral action by Britain would mean “tension, rancour, stand-offs, legal challenges and of course calls into question the functioning of the TCA itself”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson MP, DUP leader, said: “The protocol is not working and is harmful to Northern Ireland. Those problems must be addressed.

“It is decisive action that must be taken.

“Until that action is taken, the consensus necessary for power-sharing in Northern Ireland does not exist.”

Migrant crossings double as more than 8,000 have made it to UK this year

Sky News

More than 8,000 migrants have arrived in the UK after crossing the English Channel this year, new figures show.

In the first five months of this year, 8,393 people have reached the UK after navigating busy shipping lanes from France in small boats, according to an analysis of government data.

This is more than double recorded for the same period in 2021 (3,112) and more than six times the amount recorded by this point in 2020 (1,340).

This weekend, more than 600 people arrived in Kent after four consecutive days last week without any Channel crossings taking place amid poor weather conditions.

Some 436 people made the crossing to the UK in nine boats on Saturday after 167 in 13 boats arrived on Sunday, according to Ministry of Defence (MoD) figures.

There have been nine days of crossings so far in May, with 1,700 people arriving in the UK as a result.

The highest daily total for 2022 to date was recorded on 13 April when 651 people made the crossing in 18 boats.

A record 1,185 people made the crossing to the UK on November 11 2021 – the highest recorded since the start of 2020.

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Migrants stopped in the Channel

‘Cruel and nasty’ Rwanda plan

Under new plans, announced by the Home Office earlier this month, those who cross into the UK illegally will be sent to Rwanda.

The first group of asylum seekers that could be given a one-way ticket to the African country were to be notified this week – with those successfully claiming asylum to be given refugee status in the country.

In an interview with the Daily Mail this weekend, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said 50 migrants have already been told they are due to be flown to the east African nation within a fortnight but he anticipated legal opposition to the move.

The Rwanda plan has been described as “cruel and nasty” by charities and “opposite the nature of God” by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But the prime minister has argued that it will deter people from making perilous Channel crossings in small boats and is “morally the right thing to do”.

The first flights are expected to take place in the coming months.

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Despite the increasing numbers, the UK’s small boat arrivals are a fraction of the number of people arriving in Europe.

Data from the UN’s refugee agency shows at least 120,441 people arrived in Europe via the Mediterranean by land and sea in 2021.

Briton facing death penalty for collecting broken pottery 'did not know it broke law'

Sky News

A retired British geologist who faces the death penalty over accusations he tried to smuggle artefacts out of Iraq has told a court he had no idea he was breaking the law.

Jim Fitton, 66, collected 12 stones and shards of broken pottery as souvenirs while visiting a site in Eridu in the country’s southeast as part of an organised geology and archaeology tour.

He appeared with Volker Waldmann, a German tourist, before a panel of judges at a Baghdad court on Sunday wearing a yellow uniform.

They have been held in the country since the items were found in their bags as their tour group prepared to fly out of Baghdad on 20 March.

The men told the court they had not acted with criminal intent.

Fitton said that he “suspected” the items he collected were ancient fragments, adding that “at the time I didn’t know about Iraqi laws” or that taking the shards was not permitted.

“There were fences, no guards or signage” at the sites, he said.

More on Iraq

Jaber Abdel Jabir, the head judge, said: “These places, in name and by definition, are ancient sites. One doesn’t have to say it is forbidden.”

When Fitton said that some of the shards were “no larger than my fingernail”, the head judge said: “Size doesn’t matter.”

Jim Fitton and Volker Waldmann outside the court room in Baghdad, Iraq. Pic: AP
Image:
Fitton and Volker Waldmann outside the court room in Baghdad. Pic: AP

Fitton was in the habit of collecting such fragments as a hobby and had no intention of selling them, the court was told.

Waldmann said the two items found in his possession were not his and had been given to him by Fitton to carry.

Both men could face the death penalty under Iraqi law.

Fitton lives in Malaysia with his wife, Sarijah. His daughter Leila Fitton, 31, and her husband Sam Tasker are based in Bath.

Their petition – together with Fitton’s son Joshua – calling for UK ministers to intervene to help free the geologist has collected more than 270,000 signatures.

Joshua, Sarijah, Jim and Leila Fitton
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Fitton with his wife, Sarijah, and two children Joshua and Leila, who are fighting for his release

The case was also raised in the Commons last week.

Foreign Office minister James Cleverly said the British ambassador in Iraq has raised the case four times with the local authorities.

Scientists power computer with algae for six months

Sky News

Scientists have powered a miniature computer for six months using only the electrical current generated by algae.

The computer doesn’t pack the power of a traditional processing unit but the researchers believe it could function as a reliable and renewable way to run small devices.

It is the size of an AA battery and uses a species of blue-green algae that generates a tiny electrical current while photosynthesising sunlight into energy.

The researchers from the University of Cambridge managed to capture some of this energy using an aluminium electrode to power an Arm Cortex M0+ microprocessor.

The entire system is made from “common, inexpensive and largely recyclable materials,” according to the researchers, and they suggest that hundreds of thousands of the chips could used to power small computers in off-grid or remote situations.

The little device is definitely experimental for now and the researchers don’t propose any industrial uses.

However they note that it is far cheaper to make than batteries that rely on unsustainable materials like rare earth elements, and is more environmentally friendly than the hazardous materials used in solar-power photovoltaic material.

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But even more remarkable than how recyclable the device is was how long it lasted.

“We were impressed by how consistently the system worked over a long period of time,” said Dr Paolo Bombelli of the University of Cambridge.

“We thought it might stop after a few weeks but it just kept going,” added Bombelli, whose team of biochemists published a paper detailing their creation in the journal Energy & Environmental Science.

Fellow senior author Professor Christopher Howe said: “Our photosynthetic device doesn’t run down the way a battery does because it’s continually using light as the energy source.”

Because the algae creates its own food using photosynthesis it doesn’t need to be fed.

The scientists discovered it also continued working at night time without light, which they suspect is because the algae had managed to store up some energy to process its food.

Read more: No US takeover for UK chip designer Arm – but could it be destined for Wall Street?

The Cortex M0+ is described as “the most energy-efficient Arm processor available for constrained embedded applications”.

Arm, the UK’s flagship technology company, is behind the designs for computer chips used in practically every smartphone in the world alongside many other devices.

A recent attempted $66bn acquisition of the company by the US manufacturer Nvidia was abandoned following regulatory scrutiny.

Greenpeace stages protest to block oil tanker from docking

Sky News

Greenpeace says its activists have stopped a tanker carrying 33,000 tonnes of Russian diesel from docking in the Thames by occupying parts of the jetty.

The 12 protesters travelled overnight by boat, landing at the docking place at Navigator Terminals in Grays, and unfurled a banner reading “fossil fuels war.”

Essex Police said it has arrested eight people on suspicion of aggravated trespass and is working “with our partners to bring a number of others to safety”.

“Policing is not anti-protest, but we must intervene where there is a risk to life or where there is a suspicion laws are being broken,” the police said in a statement.

The 183-metre long Andromeda tanker is carrying fuels from the Russian port of Primorsk, supplied by the LLC KINEF refinery, while travelling under a Greek flag, according to Greenpeace.

The campaigning organisation has been tracking Russian fossil fuel shipments online and in April estimated the UK had imported £220 million of Russian oil since the outbreak of its war on Ukraine.

Since Russia sent troops and tanks into Ukraine, the UK has banned the arrival of Russian-flagged and owned vessels, and pledged to end Russian oil imports by 2023.

More on Fossil Fuels

Greenpeace protesters landed at Navigator Terminals, Grays, Essex, overnight.
Pic: Fionn Guilfoyle / Greenpeace
Image:
Greenpeace protesters landed at Navigator Terminals, Grays, Essex, overnight. Pic: Fionn Guilfoyle / Greenpeace
Greenpeace climber scaled the terminal to stop a tanker rom docking.
Pic: Fionn Guilfoyle / Greenpeace
Image:
Pic: Fionn Guilfoyle / Greenpeace

In the meantime Russian fossil fuels can still arrive on ships registered to other countries. The UK currently sources about 18% of its diesel from Russia. Greenpeace wants the government to bring the ban forward.

A Government spokesperson reaffirmed the commitment to phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year, saying there was “no excuse” for Greenpeace’s “wholly unacceptable” disruption.

Georgia Whitaker, oil and gas campaigner at Greenpeace UK, said the UK’s “attachment” to fossil fuels has “backfired in the worst way possible”.

“We’re funding a war, our energy bills and fuel costs are sky-high, and we’re driving the climate crisis,” she said.

Greenpeace UK says it forced the tanker, which it was tracking using an automated online system, from docking in the Thames. Pic: Greenpeace
Image:
Greenpeace UK says it forced the tanker, which it was tracking using an automated online system, from docking in the Thames. Pic: Greenpeace

It comes as the average price of diesel today hit a new record high, according to the AA. Both Labour and the Conservatives have recently condemned activists from Just Stop Oil – an offshoot of Extinction Rebellion – for disrupting fuel supplies at a time of spiralling living costs.

Campaigners say the government’s energy policies – moving too slowly on home insulation and renewables – are to blame for high fuel bills.

Watch the Daily Climate Show at 8.30pm Monday to Friday on Sky News, the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis

Work more hours or get a better job to cope with price rises, minister urges

Sky News

A government minister has suggested that people struggling with the cost of living could take on more hours or move to a better-paid job.

Rachel Maclean, the safeguarding minister, told Sky News’ Kay Burley that those were some of the ways households could “protect themselves” as prices soar.

She said that every minister was looking at the issue as consumers face “short term pressures” such as high energy and food bills – and added that there was “more help coming”.

Politics Hub: Details emerge of ‘horrendous’ call between Truss and EU negotiator

But she added: “Over the long term we need to have a plan to grow the economy and make sure that people are able to protect themselves better – whether that is by taking on more hours or moving to a better paid job and these are long term actions but that’s what we’re focused on as a government.”

Pressed over evidence that some people were working three jobs but still having to visit food banks, she added: “We have often heard in the past when people are facing problems with their budgets that one of the obstacles – and it may not be for everybody – is about being able to take on more hours or even move to a better-paid job.

“Of course, it’s an individual situation, depending on that particular family’s situation but that’s why the job centres exist, that’s why the work coaches exist, that’s why we’ve put the support into those job centres – to work with individuals on their own individual situation.

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“So it may be right for some people – they may be able to access additional hours.

“But of course it’s not going to work for people who are already working in three jobs.”

Help being given to schools and through local authorities would target assistance “where it’s most needed”, she said.

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Minister: Buy ‘value’ products

Ms Maclean added: “We’ve already taken action to help people with energy bills and there’s more help coming.”

Those comments echoed a hint made by Boris Johnson last week about more cost of living support – though this was swiftly followed by the Treasury making clear that there would be no emergency budget.

That followed an announcement in February by the chancellor that most households would be given a £150 council tax discount while consumers would also be given £200 to help with energy bills this autumn, to be repaid over five years.

Labour’s Peter Kyle, shadow Northern Ireland secretary, criticised Ms Maclean’s cost of living comments, describing how he recently met people at a food bank who were in work but having an “extremely difficult” time including a single mother with two jobs.

He told Sky News: “The idea that she could work longer and therefore not spend more time with her family – I think it’s just disconnected from the realities of people’s lives.”

Mr Kyle also referred to recent comments by environment secretary George Eustice, who suggested people struggling with higher shop prices should buy value brands.

The Labour MP said: “What we need ministers to be doing is solving the economic problems that families have because of the economic problems our country faces.

“Their jobs as politicians aren’t just to tell people to work harder, work longer and go for a promotion.

“It’s actually to accept the reality that because of the decisions they are making in Westminster, people are no longer able to eat a decent diet.”

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Labour: Work comments ‘disconnected’

Liberal Democrat work and pensions spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain said: “So the Conservatives’ answer to the cost-of-living emergency is that people should just earn more? This shows just how out of touch they truly are.

“Millions of families have had to make huge cutbacks and taken on extra work in order to weather the cost of living crisis. They simply cannot do any more.”

Couriers lose hundreds of new passports as delays threaten holidays abroad

Sky News

Couriers lost hundreds of passports over the pandemic despite millions fewer being issued as lockdown closed down international travel, new figures have revealed.

The waiting time for an adult passport renewal has risen to ten weeks, and with warnings this target is regularly being missed, families face missing out on summer breaks abroad with documents not returned in time.

The chaos has triggered questions in parliament and a pledge from the Passport Office to hire 700 new staff.

Now figures revealed in the Daily Mirror after a freedom of information request show that although the number of passports sent out by the government department fell in 2020 and 2021, more of them were lost en route.

In 2018 and 2019, before the pandemic closed down international travel, approximately 6.7 million passports were issued each year. Of those, 422 and 437 passports and supporting documents were lost during delivery.

In 2020, with borders closed and people forced to stay at home, the number issued shrank to 3.9 million – but 519 were lost.

In the first six months of 2021, the only months for which data is available, 4.8 million passports were dispatched. Of these, 1,196 passports or supporting documents were reported lost.

This means that in the first half of 2021, couriers for HM Passport Office lost more crucial documents than in the two years before the pandemic.

Read more:
Why you must check your passport if you’re travelling to Europe this summer

Mike Clancy, general secretary of the Prospect union, told the Daily Mirror: “Lack of government investment has already caused passport chaos, with many families facing huge uncertainty about whether they will get away for a break this summer.

“Now we find out that the privatised delivery service is losing passports at a record rate too.

“It’s time for the government to actually invest in public servants rather than threatening massive, damaging cuts to the civil service.”

‘Just 0.04% lost’

A Passport Office spokesman said: “Between January 1 and July 31 2021 HM Passport Office sent over 3.3 million items to its customers.

“While regrettable, less than 0.04% of those were reported as having been lost during delivery, and many of those items have been subsequently recovered.

“The safety of our customers’ personal data is of paramount importance and every attempt is made to recover lost or mis-delivered documents.

“Once reported, passports are cancelled on the system immediately in order to mitigate against the risk of misuse and we continue to work with our delivery partner to develop measures to reduce the number of losses overall.”

Between January and July 2021, 60% of the items reported as lost were subsequently recovered.

The reasons for loss include the customer making an error on an application form or no longer living at the address provided – or a human error by HM Passport Office or our delivery partner.

Working from home blamed for delay

Ministers have publicly blamed large-scale home working for the backlogs at the Passport Office.

Boris Johnson issued a renewed call for a return to the office after the pandemic, saying staff were “more productive, more energetic, more full of ideas” when they are in the workplace alongside their colleagues.

Last week, Labour MP Barry Gardiner said delays in the Passport Office are “absolutely unacceptable” as he told the Commons about an elderly couple in his constituency who ended up missing a niece’s wedding and a sister’s funeral.

He said: “I have an elderly couple who applied before the new year, back in December. They applied before Christmas.

“They were told that their passport was ready on January 24 but they had to send the old passport back in order to get it.

“By the end of March, they still hadn’t had it, by which time they had missed a niece’s wedding and then, sadly, a sister’s funeral.

Read more from Sky News:
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“It was only after multiple interventions that we eventually got that passport sorted at the end of last month. This is unacceptable. Absolutely unacceptable.”

Another Conservative MP said a member of his casework team spent “nine hours” on the phone to the agency and “did not manage to get through”.

The government expects 9.5 million British passport applications to be handled this year.

'I work more than 60 hours a week – I don't know what more I can do': People in Wigan say they are struggling

Sky News

Andy Nicholls works three jobs, earns the average UK salary, and lives with his parents but is still struggling to save for a house deposit. Siki Ali works with young people and says even children are talking about the rising cost of bills. Gemma is at college and wants to train as a paramedic but, because of her family’s finances, she says getting a full-time job is more important.

Andy Nicholls, 42, lives in Wigan and juggles three jobs
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Andy Nicholls works more than 60 hours per week

Andy Nicholls, 42, lives in Wigan and juggles three jobs; full-time youth work, part-time in a hotel and as a TV extra. He works more than 60 hours per week and earns around the UK average salary of £38,000 a year. But even then, he had to move back in with his parents to try and save enough money to afford a deposit for his own home.

“I didn’t want to move back in with my parents but it was the only way I was ever going to be able to save and afford my own place.

“I actually don’t know what I would have done without their support, especially now when all I see when I get home at 10pm at night is the news saying about prices rising for everything.

“I don’t get time to socialise really, or even think about going to the gym or anything like that.

“I get up at about 5am each day and maybe hit the snooze button a few times, because I know it’s going to be a long day.

“I work a lot but it’s only because I live with my parents that I can save.

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“And that does make me think. When I do get in the place of my own, am I then going to have enough money to pay my gas, pay my electric, pay the water bill? Everything is just going up and up and the panic and worry that puts on individuals, it’s just very difficult.

“And I’m not sure what more I could do to try and earn. I mean now, when I know I’ve done 63, 64, 65 hours and then someone offers me another six-hour shift, I just think, physically, can I? And then I think it’s that little bit of extra money that will go towards this and pay for that and get me that.”

“I know that’s not good for my health and mental health but it’s a really hard time for everyone and we just have to keep on going.”

Siki Ali has been a youth worker at Wigan Youth Zone for the past nine years
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Siki Ali: ‘Things are getting tougher than I’ve ever seen them for young people’

Siki Ali has been a youth worker at Wigan Youth Zone for the past nine years. The centre provides recreational facilities, job advice, food parcels and support for local young people and their families. More than half of the children that attend the youth centre come from Wigan’s most deprived areas.

“Things are getting tougher than I’ve ever seen them for young people in Wigan.

“I mean, you never used to hear young people coming in here and talking about things like energy bills, but now they do – about rising costs of fuel and electricity. I mean what child should be talking about that?

“We used to think we knew which kids might have families that were struggling, but honestly it’s getting harder and harder to know.

“We are getting more and more asks of support for free food parcels from families where both parents are in work. It’s families like those who are really feeling the pinch, because they are earning just enough to not be able to claim working tax credits – those are the families that we find are needing more support.

“And of course, it has a knock-on impact on children and young people. We have young people who get state financial support to help them through college but most of that is now going to their families, to help bills at home.

“We have children who come here from very deprived areas, where they might be the third-generation of unemployed. We try all we can to support them with various into-work programmes, and there are successes but it’s very hard.

“And for the now the question of university is out the window. If you raise that topic, it’s “nah I just need to go to work.” And some of these kids are ones who can go to uni, excel there and that would, in the future, help them get better jobs. But they need to work, for the now, for the present.”

Gemma Unsworth, 17, lives in Wigan
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Gemma Unsworth had a part-time job as a shop assistant to contribute to family finances but she lost this during the COVID-19 pandemic

Gemma Unsworth, 17, lives at home with her parents and siblings. She had a part-time job as a shop assistant to contribute to family finances but she lost this during the COVID-19 pandemic. She is busy finishing a BTECH Diploma in Sports Coaching and Development at a college in Wigan so that she can get full-time work, support her parents and start saving to live by herself.

“Right now, the most important thing is that I get into work. Getting a job, any job really that is full-time and pays, is more important than my own dreams or ambitions.

“I’ve always wanted to be a paramedic but that’s going to have to come further down the line.

“At the moment, as a family, we are struggling a bit and having to cut back on quite a lot of stuff. We used to do a food shop every two weeks, but now we have to budget with our food, so we do one big shop just at the end of the month.

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“You never really know what’s going to happen in the future. You never know if you’ll have a job, if you’re going to be let go.

“Obviously with the prices going up on absolutely everything it’s just really hard at the minute. You want to do the stuff you love but obviously you need the essentials as well.

“And the problem is prices keep on going up but wages aren’t. I do hope to rent a place of my own once I start work, but every time I check what sort of things I could afford, I see prices seem to be rising almost every day.”

Watch Kay Burley in Wigan between 7am and 10am Monday to Thursday on Sky News