World News

The flashy Nigerian Instagrammers ‘caught with $40m’

The day after his 29th birthday in May, Olalekan Jacob Ponle posted a picture on his Instagram standing next to a bright yellow Lamborghini in Dubai.

“Stop letting people make you feel guilty for the wealth you’ve acquired,” he admonished, wearing designer jewellery and Gucci from head to toe.

A month later, the Nigerian, who goes by the name “mrwoodbery” on Instagram, was arrested by Dubai Police for alleged money laundering and cyber fraud.

The most famous of the dozen Africans nabbed in the dramatic operation was 37-year-old Ramon Olorunwa Abbas, “hushpuppi” or just “hush” as he was known by his 2.4 million Instagram followers.

Police in the emirate say they recovered $40m (£32m) in cash, 13 luxury cars worth $6.8m, 21 computers, 47 smartphones and the addresses of nearly two million victims.

It’s a different type of GLOW and STANDARD when you start hopping out of Rolls Royces to catch a Jet just to attend fashion shows in a different continent. Your smile begin to be bright just as the sun. #SettingNewStandards #RollsRoyce #PrivateJet #LouisVuitton #Fendi #OffWhite #Nike #Gucci #Fashion #Dubai #Paris #VirgilAbloh #Dior #Sun #Nature

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Mr Abbas and Mr Ponle were both extradited to the US and charged in a Chicago court with conspiracy to commit wire fraud and laundering hundreds of millions of dollars obtained from cybercrimes.

The two have not yet been asked to plead and are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

“I think there’s probably a certain arrogance when they believe they’ve been careful about maintaining anonymity in their online identities, but they live high on the hog and get careless on social media,” said Glen Donath, a former senior prosecutor in the US Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC.

It is a spectacular crash for the two Nigerian men who extensively documented their tacky, high-flying lifestyle on social media, raising questions about the sources of their wealth.

A smile on my face doesn't mean my life is perfect, it means I appreciate what I have and what God blessed me with.

A post shared by @ mrwoodbery on

End of Instagram post by mrwoodbery

They unwittingly provided crucial information about their identities and activities for American detectives with their Instagram and Snapchat posts.

They are accused of impersonating legitimate employees of various US companies in “business email compromise” (BEC) schemes and tricking the recipients into wiring millions of dollars into their own accounts.

On Instagram, hushpuppi said he was a real estate developer and had a category of videos called “Flexing” – social media lingo for showing off. But the “houses” were actually a codeword for bank accounts “used to receive proceeds of a fraudulent scheme”, investigators allege.

“Our value system in Nigeria needs to be checked, especially the emphasis we place on wealth, no matter how you got it,” the economist Ebuka Emebinah told the BBC from New York.

“It’s a culture where people believe that results speak for you. We don’t place as much emphasis on the process and this has built up over time.”

English Premier League team targeted

In April, hushpuppi renewed his lease for another year at the exclusive Palazzo Versace apartments in Dubai under his real name and phone number.

“Thank you, Lord, for the many blessings in my life. Continue to shame those waiting for me to be shamed,” he captioned an Instagram picture of a Rolls-Royce just a fortnight before he was arrested.

“Abbas finances this opulent lifestyle through crime, and he is one of the leaders of a transnational network that facilitates computer intrusions, fraudulent schemes (including BEC schemes), and money laundering, targeting victims around the world in schemes designed to steal hundreds of millions of dollars,” the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) said in an affidavit.

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What y’all think about my new bespoke black badge Rolls-Royce Wraith? Lol. This post is to everyone who has been made to feel low about themselves, to those who has been told will never amount to anything, to those who has been looked down upon, I want you to know today that as long as you don’t see yourself as low as they make you seem, as long as you have a valid dream and work hard, and most importantly if you believe in God, you can achieve anything and everything. This post is specially dedicated to all Hushpuppi fans worldwide, to those who don’t know me and has defended and supported me in anyway or the other, to my real friends JJ, Rawflesh, OvaWise, Debo Bentley, SK, Hp and S.p of Ghana and all those that I can’t mention, God bless you all. Make una repost and congratulate me o make my success loud pass my failures and shortcomings 🤣 #RollsRoyce #Bentley #Wraith #Bentayga #BlackBadge #Versace m

A post shared by HUSHPUPPI (@hushpuppi) on

What y’all think about my new bespoke black badge Rolls-Royce Wraith? Lol. This post is to everyone who has been made to feel low about themselves, to those who has been told will never amount to anything, to those who has been looked down upon, I want you to know today that as long as you don’t see yourself as low as they make you seem, as long as you have a valid dream and work hard, and most importantly if you believe in God, you can achieve anything and everything. This post is specially dedicated to all Hushpuppi fans worldwide, to those who don’t know me and has defended and supported me in anyway or the other, to my real friends JJ, Rawflesh, OvaWise, Debo Bentley, SK, Hp and S.p of Ghana and all those that I can’t mention, God bless you all. Make una repost and congratulate me o make my success loud pass my failures and shortcomings 🤣 #RollsRoyce #Bentley #Wraith #Bentayga #BlackBadge #Versace m

A post shared by HUSHPUPPI (@hushpuppi) on

End of Instagram post 2 by hushpuppi

In one case, a foreign financial institution allegedly lost $14.7m in a cyber-heist where the money ended up in hushpuppi’s bank accounts in multiple countries.

The affidavit also alleged that he was involved in a scheme to steal $124m from an unnamed English Premier League team.

The FBI obtained records from his Google, Apple iCloud, Instagram and Snapchat accounts which allegedly contained banking information, passports, communication with conspirators and records of wire transfers.

About 90% of business email compromise scams originate in West Africa, research from American email security firm Agari shows.

‘Yahoo boys’

The complaint against Mr Abbas and Mr Ponle describe tactics that resemble what the company calls Vendor Email Compromise tactics where scammers compromise an email account and study communication between a customer and a vendor.

“The scammer would gather contextual details, as they watched the legitimate email flow,” explains Crane Hassold, Agari’s senior director of threat research.

“The bad actor would redirect emails to the bad actor’s email account, craft emails to the customer that looked like they are coming from the vendor, indicate that the ‘vendor’ had a new bank account, provide ‘updated’ bank account information and the money would be gone, at that point.”

Mr Ponle, known online as “mrwoodberry”, used Mark Kain in emails, according to the FBI.

He is accused of defrauding a Chicago-based company into sending wire transfers of $15.2m. Companies in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, New York, and California are also said to have fallen victim.

The cash trail allegedly disappeared after his accomplices, called money mules, converted the money into the cryptocurrency bitcoin.

Email scams have become so prevalent globally, and so deeply linked to Nigeria, that the fraudsters have a name in the country: “Yahoo boys”.

They try to convince a recipient to wire money to the other side of the world or they go “phishing”, stealing a user’s identity and personal information for fraud.

The FBI warns against the Nigerian letter or “419” fraud; emails promising large sums of money called advance fee scams. The “Nigerian prince” trope has become shorthand for deception.

How a 419 and romance scam works

A Washington, DC-based attorney, Moe Adele, finds it frustrating as a Nigerian because it ignores the “systemic failures that have led to brilliant Nigerian youths engaging in these scams”, in the country and abroad.

“They see it as an easy way out in a country that offers them limited options and, in many cases, no options at all,” she says.

“But there are also many brilliant Nigerians are represented in world stages from education to pop culture.”

How Nigeria suffers

Last month, the US Treasury Department blacklisted six Nigerians among 79 individuals and organisations in its Most Wanted cybercriminals list. It accused them of stealing more than $6m from American citizens through deceptive global threats like BEC and romance fraud.

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Ayò Bánkólé, founder of a Nigeria-based firm Bootcamp, faults the international attention on Nigeria alone.

“A lot of Nigerians are doing fantastic things all over the world, but they don’t get as much media mileage as the guys doing bad things. It affects all the guys doing legitimate stuff especially in the tech space,” he said.

“A lot of foreign companies don’t ship to Nigeria, many payment platforms don’t accept payments from us because it has ruined our image.”

In its internet crime report for 2019, the FBI said it had received more than 460,000 complaints of suspected cyber fraud, with losses of more than $3.5bn reported. More than $300m was recovered, it said.

However, many online fraudsters don’t get caught and even fewer end up going to jail.

Mr Donath says the cases are challenging because they happen overseas and tend to be quite sophisticated.

“They’re time-consuming, highly document-intensive, and in many federal criminal cases, you have the difficulty of walking a jury through a chronology of relevant facts,” said the partner at law firm Clifford Chance.

If convicted, Mr Abbas and Mr Ponle could be locked up for up to 20 years.

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World News

The financial inequality behind America's racial divide

Today is #BlackoutDay2020. To demonstrate their economic force with an estimated $1.3 trillion in spending power, Black consumers — and anyone wishing to support the Black community in its quest for justice against systemic racism and financial inequity — are encouraged to not spend money today.

Or, if they do, to limit their purchases to companies owned by Black people.
#BlackoutDay2020 is today. Here's what you need to know
Black-owned small businesses often are more vulnerable financially than others, with smaller cash reserves to survive tough times. And now times couldn’t be tougher. In the wake of a pandemic and protests of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of police, they are in jeopardy on every front.

    Want to help support them? Here are a few ways.

    Become a customer

    The most obvious and critical way to help Black-owned businesses survive, of course, is to buy their products and services. Shop and eat at Black-owned establishments, and buy gift cards for your friends and family to spend at your favorite ones.
    To find businesses that are Black-owned near you, there are directories, such as this one from Dobobo. You might also check the list of members at your local Black or African-American Chamber of Commerce.
    “Now is the time for Americans to demonstrate they really appreciate inclusion. Spend money on less fortunate and disadvantaged businesses, where it can have an immediate impact. Be conscious where you’re spending your money,” said Kenneth Kelly, chairman of the National Bankers Association, a voice for minority banks aiming to help revitalize economies in underserved areas.

    Set up a GoFundMe page

    That’s what supporters of the popular Sammy’s Avenue Eatery in Minneapolis did. “We currently have a GoFundMe set up by the community! I’d suggest others take the initiative to do it because it’s soooo hard to ask for money from folks!,” said owner Sammy McDowell.

    Spread the word

    Let people know why the Black-owned businesses you support are worth their support, too.
    “It’s an even more important time to post positive reviews of your experience. The mere fact that people are on their phones so much because they’re home, that can drive traffic,” said Apollo Woods, who created OKC Black Eats, a marketing platform to bring attention to Black-owned restaurants and culinary artists in the Oklahoma City area.
    Woods believes video testimonials are the most effective because people can both see and hear your enthusiasm.

    Call direct

    For restaurants that have takeout and delivery, before automatically ordering through a third-party delivery platform like GrubHub or Seamless, try calling the restaurant directly because it will save the business from paying a portion of their sales in fees.
    “They may not have a sophisticated ordering system. But every last one will work their hardest to take your order,” Woods said.

    Volunteer your services

    If you have critical skills that can be useful to a small business — for example, if you’re an electrician, painter or carpenter, or an accountant or lawyer — ask the owner if there’s some way your services might come in handy.
    For businesses that sustained damage during the protests, you might volunteer to help with clean up. Or, for example, if you have a glass business, you might offer a new store front window gratis.
    “I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma. Everyone looked out for each other,” Woods said. “Have a good heart.”

    Take a stand

    There is a petition called 15% Pledge you can sign if you believe retailers should commit 15% of their shelf space for products made by Black-owned businesses.
    Why 15%? Black people make up nearly 15% of the population of the United States, according to the most recent Census Bureau estimates.

    Provide useful information

    Many Black-owned small businesses may be in need of financial lifelines for some time as fallout from coronavirus continues. Let them know of small business grant or loan programs from state or local governments or private organizations.
    For instance, the Local Initiatives Support Corp (LISC) has an ongoing small business grant program open to anyone, but the organization has a special interest in supporting minority owners who operate in underserved areas.
    Hello Alice, a free online business adviser platform, has earmarked more than $200,000 out of its emergency grant pool to make $10,000 grants to Black-owned businesses. That amount is likely to increase as the company continues to fundraise. Hello Alice also has partnered with Verizon to launch the Black-owned Business Resource Center.
    Starting in July, online payments platform Finli will offer $500 grants for Black-owned businesses in education and enrichment, such as those offering classes in art, music, yoga, dance or martial arts.

      And the National Business League, founded by Booker T. Washington in 1900, has created a digital platform for all Black-owned businesses to find contracting opportunities, funding opportunities and private and public sector clients looking for suppliers. NBL also will launch a global directory of Black-owned businesses that anyone can use.
      Both the platform and directory will launch on July 21.
      Source: Read Full Article


      Details out on the biggest Paycheck Protection Program borrowers in Colorado – The Denver Post

      The U.S. Small Business Administration provided more details about the Paycheck Protection Program on Monday, including the names, addresses and industries of borrowers who took out loans of more than $150,000.

      Nearly 103,000 Colorado businesses and nonprofits borrowed $10.3 billion under the Paycheck Protection Program as of June 27, including 13,385 who borrowed more than $150,000 and 95 who received more than $5 million, according to the latest counts from the SBA.

      Although firms shut down by pandemic closures sought help, such as the Blue Bonnet Restaurant and the Appliance Factory, so did law firms like Davis Graham & Stubbs and personal injury attorney Franklin D. Azar, the Strong Arm.

      About one in six small businesses in the state accessed the program, which was designed to provide employers 2.5 months’ worth of payroll expenses to cope with disruptions from the COVID-19 outbreak. If the funds are primarily used to cover labor costs, the loans become forgivable.

      Initially, there were concerns that banks, who provided the loans, were providing preferential treatment to their largest borrowers, and that firms with political connections or those who had other programs they could access were benefitting at the expense of small firms.

      “It seemed like the lenders wanted to deal with the big companies and that the Main Street businesses were getting left out,” said Tony Gagliardi, Colorado State Director of the National Federation of Independent Business.

      Accessibility concerns eased when Congress provided an additional $320 billion to the program after the first round of $349 billion ran out in just a couple of weeks in early April. Carve-outs were made for small loans, and the program still had nearly $130 billion left to lend out at the end of June when it was supposed to end. It was extended through Aug. 8.

      Pressure has mounted for greater transparency about who received taxpayer funds. After resisting at first, the Treasury Department relented and on Monday identified roughly 650,000 borrowers or 15% of the total. In Colorado, there were about 91,000 borrowers who took out PPP loans of under $150,000. They were not named.

      The more detailed information shows that industries less directly impacted by the pandemic, such as manufacturing and construction, received a greater proportion of the loans than the hardest-hit industries like restaurants and hotels.

      Many law firms and private equity companies also sneaked in there, as did public companies that had access to other capital sources, religious and cultural institutions, and nonprofits.

      Nationally, businesses owned by politicians also borrowed from the program, including a minor league baseball team owned by the family of the governor of Ohio. A large franchisee of Wendy’s, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut restaurants, whose CEO is a major donor to President Donald Trump, received loans totaling $15 to $30 million, according to the Associated Press.

      Other recipients included Kanye West’s clothing and sneaker brand Yeezy, Ice Cube’s professional basketball league, Planned Parenthood clinics in more than two dozen states, including Colorado, the nonprofit arm of the anti-tax group headed by Grover Norquist, Americans for Tax Reform, as well as Rosenblatt Securities, one of the biggest names on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

      Colorado borrowers in the $5 million to $10 million range included restaurant chains Big Daddy’s and Boston Market, contractors Gerald H. Phipps and Haselden Construction, moving firm Graebel Companies, luxury travel firm Inspirato, and the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers.

      There were another 438 Colorado borrowers in the $2 million and $5 million range. They included restaurant chains Modmarket and Mad Greens, the Phil Long and O’Meara Ford dealerships, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe,  and robotic toymaker Sphero.

      A multitude of local religious groups and congregations received government help, including the Archdiocese of Denver, Temple Sinai, Cherry Hills Community Church, Flatirons Community Church, New Life Church, Mile Hi Church and several Catholic parishes.

      Cultural institutions of all stripes sought federal assistance, including the Denver Art Museum, the Colorado Museum of Natural History, the Children’s Museum of Denver, the Denver Zoo, the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the Colorado Ballet, Opera Colorado and the Colorado Symphony.

      And in a worrying sign for the future, several groups who help those in need sought help themselves, including the Denver Rescue Mission, Jewish Family Service, Catholic Charities of Central Colorado and the Mile High United Way.

      “Without this incredible economic lifeline, tens of thousands of businesses would have closed their doors, forever eliminating countless local jobs,” Dan Nordberg, the SBA’s Region 8 Administrator, said in a statement.

      But the program was only intended to carry the economy through a short interruption from the pandemic, which is now threatening to have a longer-lasting impact. The Treasury Department initially required the loans to be spent within eight weeks of being received, though that was later extended to 24 weeks.

      Many small businesses have already run through their PPP money and still face sharply smaller demand, as consumers remain wary of returning to previous habits of shopping, visiting gyms, or eating out. Texas, Florida, California, New York and others states have reversed their reopenings, closing down bars and delaying the onset of indoor dining.

      “The biggest issue is that PPP is short-term help,” said Adam Ozimek, chief economist at Upwork, a freelancing platform. “And now we’re dealing with a mid- to long-term problem.”

      The Associated Press contributed to this report.

      Source: Read Full Article

      World News

      We depended on the NHS during lockdown – and it didn't let us down

      As the nation gears up for one last Clap For Carers at 5pm today to mark the NHS’ 72nd birthday, we spoke to five people whose lives relied on its care during the coronavirus crisis.

      From giving birth to surviving Covid-19, here they share their stories and why they want to say a special thank you.

      ‘Behind the face masks there was a lot of laughter and smiles on the maternity ward’

      Amy Girling is a palliative care nurse and lives in Buckinghamshire with her husband, Steve, and their baby daughter Ellie

      ‘Giving birth during a pandemic wasn’t part of my birthplan, but after going through it, I would never worry about it again. Although having to be swabbed to check for Covid-19 while also in labour isn’t the most pleasant experience!

      Visit our live blog for the latest updates: Coronavirus news live

      When I was admitted to Stoke Mandeville Hospital late on 9 May after I started suffering labour pains, I knew things would be different.

      At first I had to go in on my own while my husband waited in the car, so they could check I really was in labour. I was nervous about being on my own as I was in so much pain, but from the minute we arrived at the hospital the staff were brilliant. They reassured and checked me very promptly, and as soon as labour was established Steve was allowed to be with me.  

      As my two midwives were wearing face masks, it did feel very strange speaking to them and not seeing their faces properly. But I work for the NHS and knew that the labour ward would be well run and the staff well trained. Even so, I was nervous about not having everything with us and I was scared that once baby was here I would be on my own again as partners could not stay longer than two hours after birth. 

      The staff were truly amazing throughout and the midwife we had was always upbeat and positive despite being sat in the PPE all day long. 

      Our daughter Eleanor was born on 10 May after an emergency delivery as she didn’t want to come out. I didn’t know it at the time but I lost a lot of blood during her birth, but the staff took good care of me.

      When my husband had to go home, I was really nervous and scared about being on my own with our newborn baby. I’d had an epidural so was quite sleepy and relied heavily on the staff to help me. I always felt safe and supported. I knew I could ask them anything and they helped straight away. 

      Of course there were moments when I wished things could have been different. One of the worst bits was not being able to have visitors – being in hospital is lonely despite there being lots of people round.

      My mum met us outside the hospital from a distance with a face mask on and it absolutely broke my heart as I walked baby Ellie to the car, and my mum could only wave and see her, and not cuddle. 

      However, there was also lots of laughing and smiles while I was on the maternity ward – despite being hidden by face masks. Before Ellie arrived we’d joked with the midwife about a bet we had on what the sex of the baby would be and whoever lost had to buy a pizza dinner. Three weeks after the birth Steve brought me the pizza! 

      I honestly don’t think I would fear going back to hospital to have another baby in a pandemic – and that’s down to the amazing staff that looked after me.

      The whole experience was so positive and safe and that’s why I want to say a huge thank you to each and every member of staff that works for the NHS. You are amazing.’

      ‘I am one of the lucky ones – I survived Covid-19’

      Scott Dixon, is a consumer writer and blogger and lives in Edinburgh

      ‘My first symptoms began with an itchy rash on my right wrist mid-March before lockdown and before Covid-19 really made the headlines. Whilst there are no definitive symptoms to indicate that you have coronavirus, this is a fairly common one – although I didn’t know it at the time.

      Within 48 hours I developed an excruciating headache across the top of my head which was disabling.

      I was steadily deteriorating and I simply couldn’t move, spending up to 20 hours a day in bed for the next 10 days.

      I lost 10lb in as many days, my GPs missed me twice through no fault of their own, I couldn’t get through to 111 and I’ve since been told that if I hadn’t rung 999, I could have died in my bed.

      Once in hospital, various tests were taken, including a blood test followed by a chest x-ray. Eventually, I was told that I had patches of pneumonia on my lungs and I tested positive for coronavirus. It felt like a death sentence hearing that, knowing that there was no cure.

      As I settled onto a ward, I discovered that one of the nurses had put a request out on Facebook for toiletries as most Covid-19 patients are admitted in just the clothes they arrive in and nothing else.

      This prompted a flood of donations from kind-hearted well-wishers and we received over £10,000 worth of gifts. Tesco across the Lothians donated pyjamas and clothing, whilst others donated iPads, toiletries and all sorts of gifts to help those who needed them most.

      It had me in tears at the time. I didn’t have any deodorant, shower gel, razors or shaving foam as I literally just had a few minutes to pack my bag after dialling 999 and I wasn’t thinking straight. This really touched me and restored my faith in humanity when I was at my lowest ebb.

      I don’t know how the staff could be so cheerful, chatty and compassionate under such demanding and stressful circumstances. It was truly admirable and touching to see.

      My appetite, sense of taste and smell returned during my time in hospital and the care, compassion and kindness shown to me by the NHS – in addition to some delicious meals – played a big part in that.

      Although I was allowed to go home on 30 March, fatigue remains a problem, coupled with weak and aching legs. I can’t walk far or do much without having to rest. It will take a long time to fully recover and it has been a harrowing experience.

      The NHS has coped admirably throughout the pandemic, and I would like to convey my heartfelt thanks to all of their workers. I am one of the lucky ones and they have saved my life, which I can’t thank them enough for.’

      Scott’s book ‘Pandemic – My Story’ is available on Amazon

      I’ve had four rounds of chemo during lockdown

      Emily Jones is a retail manager and lives in Southampton with her husband Davey and her two cats, Marilyn and Alice.

      ‘I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the end of 2019. It’s hard to believe it’s been only seven months since then, as so much has happened. I had found the lump myself in my left breast and immediately made an appointment to see my GP, who then referred me to the breast clinic.

      Because of this, the cancer was found early while the tumour was very small and, as a result, my prognosis was really positive. My cancer was always described as curable. After numerous biopsies and scans, I had surgery to remove the lump at the start of this year and a couple of months later started chemotherapy. Then lockdown hit.

      Over the last 15 weeks life has been very up and down. I work in retail so haven’t been able to do my job since mid-March and initially I went a bit stir crazy. It was also difficult when exercise was restricted as I love to run.

      On top of that I’ve had to have four chemo treatments. It’s strictly a solo affair because of coronavirus, but the nurses at the chemotherapy centre have been incredible. They are just amazing at chatting to me about anything and everything and taking my mind off what’s going on. When I’m in my super comfy chair having a cuppa and a giggle with them it’s pretty easy to forget what’s going on in the outside world.

      All my face-to-face appointments have been moved to either telephone or video calls so there’s no need for me to visit the hospital unless I’m having any treatment, which has helped put my mind at ease. Despite not visiting the hospital as much as I would have done if coronavirus wasn’t part of our lives, I know that the team are just at the end of the phone should I need anything.

      Being diagnosed with cancer is scary. Dealing with it during a pandemic is even scarier. But the NHS team taking care of me have made sure that, for not one second, I feel like I’ve been forgotten about – and I could not be more grateful.’

      Emily is a Boobette ambassador for the breast cancer charity CoppaFeel!

      ‘There were times when I really thought I would never see my children again’

      Tracy Byrne is a podiatrist and lives in Essex with her two daughters and husband.

      ‘I didn’t plan on being in hospital during lockdown. But on Friday 13 March – I know! – I ended up having emergency surgery for a perforated bowel at the height of the Covid-19 hype.

      Being hospitalised has sadly become part of my life over the last couple of years, due to a battle fought and won with ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease which results in a heightened immune system that attacks it’s own body.

      In my case, my body was attacking my colon (large intestine), but for months I had no idea and have since needed five major bowel surgeries, including a temporary stoma. 

      I remember worrying about contracting coronavirus when I was rushed to hospital that fateful Friday, after a sudden spike in temperature and crippling abdominal pains.

      The staff at Princess Alexandra Hospital in Harlow were outwardly calm and reassuring, while all the time knowing that things were changing at a rate of knots. Not only that – they really were on the frontline, up close and personal with patients presenting with all sorts of disease and illness – who knew what they would pick up and when. Did they voice their fear? No. Did they show it? Never.

      As I was receiving a plasma transfusion (blood clotting protein type stuff to help your blood clot) one of the lovely healthcare assistants, Louise, noticed I wasn’t quite right. I was having an allergic reaction to the plasma and going into anaphylactic shock, which she spotted immediately. In a flash, my surgeon, two anaesthetists and countless nurses were there to save my life – and that’s before they even opened me up. 

      It was an unwanted and almost deadly complication, but they just sprung up as if from nowhere, saved my life, and wheeled me down for the operation to fix my perforated bowel. It was a moment I’ll never forget.

      In the end I spent eight days in hospital, watching from my bed as the world slowly went into lockdown. It was frightening, but I knew I was in the safest place for me.

      It’s no understatement to say I owe my life to the phenomenal NHS and all its people. I have been treated by the best and most empathetic individuals you could meet, people who can somehow make you feel human and invincible even when you are at your most vulnerable. 

      There were times when I really thought I would never see my children again and my family were told to expect the worst, and that’s a scary place to be in. I have been to some very dark places with this disease and all that comes with it, and time and again, I have been brought very gently back to reality by some extraordinary nurses and healthcare assistants on the wards at PAH and Queens Hospital in Romford. 

      I’m not sure we knew until the virus hit us with an almighty bang, how lucky we are to have what is hands down the best and most effective healthcare system in the world. Seeing the work that goes on, the hours that are put in and the sheer determination of the people who make up the NHS, and the enormity of running such a well oiled machine, takes a very special type of person. 

      To the National Health service, I salute you, I thank you, and one day hope that I can in some small way repay a debt to you.’

      Tracy runs Holistic Health in East London

      ‘I woke up in a hospital bed with an oxygen tube up my nose’

      Jacqui Mott is a healthcare support worker from Kent

      ‘After suffering several nights of hot sweats – which I initially put down to the menopause – I got up early on the morning of June 2, expecting to go about my day as normal.

      I remember it being lovely and sunny, so spent most of the time tidying up my garden. But as the day wore on, I felt quite tired – more than usual. I was also quite thirsty and drinking a lot of water, but figured that was because it was hot and I was doing physical work in the garden.

      Sitting down for a break in the afternoon, I suddenly felt incredibly parched, so downed a couple of pint-sized glasses of water. 15 minutes later I felt just as thirsty, so drank another pint of water.

      It wasn’t until I was in the shower a couple of hours later that I realised something was very wrong. Hit by dizziness and nausea, I felt really odd. I got out, dried myself off and tried to eat and drink some more – but nothing helped and I was hit with an overwhelming wave of fatigue.

      The next thing I knew I was being woken up on my sofa, surrounded by strangers.

      One was saying quite loudly and sternly. ‘Jacqui, what have you been drinking today?’ I thought he meant alcohol and tried to say ‘Nothing, but I feel drunk’. But I couldn’t speak properly.

      Then someone else asked where all the blood was from. I had bitten through my tongue on both sides.

      I didn’t realise it at the time but the people around me were paramedics.

      They were very kind, but wouldn’t let me sleep. They phoned my sister to ask if I had previously had a fit or a seizure and before I knew it, I was on a stretcher being wheeled to the ambulance.

      I remember feeling really breathless all of a sudden, and hearing the paramedic say: ‘We’re here, you’re going to be OK, we’ll help’, then everything went dark again.

      I woke up the next day in a hospital bed with an oxygen tube up my nose. A doctor told me I’d suffered two seizures – one at the caravan, one in the ambulance – as I had too much water in my bloodstream.

      I don’t remember a lot of that day as I dozed between the seemingly endless blood tests, but I do remember one kind nurse bringing me an ice lolly to help with the pain of my bitten tongue.

      Eventually the doctor told me I had hyponatraemia – a low level of sodium in my blood caused by my excessive water intake, which had been caused by an inappropriate secretion of an antidiuretic hormone. I’m still having tests to find out how that happened in the first place.

      Luckily, my neighbour had seen me collapse as I’d left the door open to let in a bit of a breeze. She’d gotten another neighbour – a former nurse – and they’d called the ambulance. I’ve since been told that if they hadn’t called the ambulance when they did, it was likely that cardiac failure was imminent.

      After two days I was discharged and went home to self-isolate. My kidneys had been under so much pressure from my thoughtless water intake and I couldn’t risk getting ill again.

      When I look back on what I’ve been through and the treatment I received, I would never have known it happened in the middle of a pandemic. A group of exceptionally busy people working under unique circumstances, yet still managing to give so much thought, care, consideration and – dare I say it – love for their patients.

      I am so grateful to the NHS. From my ex-nurse neighbour to the ambulance crew, the emergency paramedic who also attended, all of the nurses and the doctor.

      The level of care in terms of treatment was obviously essential. But the actual care – sitting with people, checking them, keeping an eye out for anything, just saying ‘Hi, how’re you doing?’ – was amazing. They saved my life. That’s why I’ll be out clapping today. And when I can go back to the ward, I’ll give all the amazing people who looked after me lots of cakes and treats – it’s the least I can do.’

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      World News

      Brits party well into the morning on chaotic first night of pubs reopening

      The streets of England were filled with carnage on Saturday night as thousands of party-goers hit bars and pubs for the first time in 104 days, with some forced to close early due to arrests and anti-social behaviour.

      Experts predicted revellers downed around 15 million pints on ‘Super Saturday,’ as Brits left the confines of their homes and flocked to drinking holes as Covid-19 restrictions were eased, allowing the hospitality industry to reopen.

      Images show the streets of English cities and towns packed full of drinkers appearing to ignore social distancing rules, sparking fears of a second coronavirus wave as Professor Chris Whitty cautioned the pandemic ‘is a long way from gone’. Partygoers were seen twerking on cars, brawling, stumbling over, and pouring booze over their body like a scene from Flashdance, while police were out in force keeping an eye on the crowds.

      London’s Soho was described as ‘absolute madness’ with party-goers staying out into the early hours of Sunday. Pictures of the night have sparked fears over a second peak, amid concerns that the R rate in the capital has risen above 1 again.

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      Some punters headed out to their local from 6am, with one man in Manchester describing his first pint of Carling like ‘an angel p**sing on the tip of me tongue’ to the MEN.

      Drinkers had been told to get used to the ‘new normal’ at pubs and bars featuring longer, social distanced queues, quieter music, hand sanitiser, disposable menus, and even increased prices as the hospitality industry worked to make their businesses safe to reopen.

      But after working a long night shift, the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales said it was ‘crystal clear’ that drunk people are unable to stick to the one-metre plus social distancing rule as restrictions were eased.

      John Apter said during the busy night of mayhem his team grappled with all sorts of scenes, including naked men who had enjoyed a few too many on their first night back on the town.

      He tweeted: ‘We dealt with anti-social behaviour, naked men, possession of class ‘A’ drugs, happy drunks, angry drunks, fights, more angry drunks and was called a fascist pig by somebody we tried to help! What was crystal clear is that drunk people can’t/won’t socialy [sic] distance.

      ‘It was a busy night but the shift managed to cope. I know other areas have had issues with officers being assaulted. Now heading home, to those still on shift please stay safe.’

      Despite the scenes of carnage, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said this morning that the vast majority of people who went out were ‘doing the right thing’ and following social distancing.

      By 9pm last night, several pubs in Lincoln and Nottinghamshire had closed early due to drink-related anti-social behaviour, while another in Leicestershire also shut after a customer was assaulted and suffered neck injuries.

      Inspector Craig Berry from Nottinghamshire Police said: ‘Officers were quickly on the scene to deal with a number of alcohol related anti-social behaviour reports including a smashed window and minor assault.

      ‘As a result four arrests were made by officers and we supported licensees who chose to close their own premises.’

      Devon and Cornwall police said they had received more than 1,000 calls yesterday, with the majority related to drink-related anti-social behaviour.

      Meanwhile, Dorset Police said they had recorded 525 incidents in 24 hours.

      A brawl also broke out on the High Street in Brentwood, Essex, leading to four arrests.

      Special Inspector Steve Weaver tweeted: ‘That didn’t last long. Disturbance in Brentwood High street assisted other units.

      ‘4 people arrested. 2 of my team have arrested and are currently on the way to custody.’

      Speaking on Sky’s Ridge On Sunday, the health secretary said: ‘Well I think that from what I’ve seen, although there’s some pictures to the contrary, very, very largely people have acted responsibly.’

      He added: ‘So overall I’m pleased with what happened yesterday. It was really good to see people out and about and largely, very largely social distancing.’

      Mr Hancock said ‘the large proportion of people, the vast majority of people are, I think, doing the right thing’.

      He added: ‘But of course we’ll take action when we need to when… if the minority break the rules.’

      The night before pubs reopened the prime minister urged Britons to not let the country down warning that we are ‘not out of the woods yet’.

      Hospitals had been told to prepare for July 4 as if ‘it’s New Year’s Eve’ awaiting a surge in A&E admissions.

      Emails from NHS officials to hospital trusts, seen by Health Service Journal and the Evening Standard, ask them to ‘ensure that your demand/activity planning reflects a busy weekend, with peaks in activity into the evenings similar to that of New Years’s Eve’.

      Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected].

      For more stories like this, check our news page.

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      World News

      The Government needs to step up to end hygiene poverty – here's how to help

      Today, I would like to draw attention to an often undiscussed and ignored issue: hygiene poverty. 

      Some people think this is a made up problem, but it hugely impacts many across the country. Those affected can often feel ashamed, but it really isn’t their fault. 

      It occurs when you are unable to afford everyday cleaning and personal grooming products. These are items that most of us take for granted, like soap, toilet roll and toothpaste. 

      I remember when I sat as a magistrate from 2011 to 2015 until I was elected (and I am still a dormant magistrate) being surprised and confused because people would steal handbags and wallets, and then when Universal Credit was introduced in 2013 they started stealing deodorant and basic food and hygiene necessities.

      It was a sad, sad day for me in court having to judge people for taking products they need to survive in society. 

      There were no provisions in place for these people. In fact I was continually told that I was not a social worker and I should stop trying to change the system, which was a strange thing to tell someone whose very driver is to do just that.

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      Many low income or unwaged people are forced into the desperate and unenviable choice of paying their rent, heating up their home, or buying food. Once they have done that, buying hygiene products may no longer be an option. 

      Take a minute to imagine what that must be like, how desperate a situation it must be. Imagine not being able to afford shampoo, deodorant, a new toothbrush, or sanitary products. 

      Put yourself in the shoes of someone not able to change their baby’s nappy when necessary because they don’t have access to any new ones.   

      I’ve spoken to women on the streets who have had to use socks in place of a sanitary towel, and girls who have been forced to miss school because they didn’t have the money to buy provisions. 

      I’ve heard firsthand how even admitting you’re in this position can strip you of your dignity and self-confidence. 

      It’s no surprise that some would rather steal than ask for help. 

      We live in the fifth richest country in the world, so there is no reason why someone should have to go through such financial hardship. 

      Over 14 million people in the UK live in poverty – that is one fifth of the population. At least two thirds of those people work.

      On top of that, the Trussell Trust have said people stop buying toiletries long before they visit a food bank. It makes me so sad. 

      It is frankly a disgrace that period poverty – or any form of hygiene poverty – exists in the UK

      Once the furlough system ends, people will find it even harder to make ends meet and we will unfortunately see poverty rise. So even more people may not be able to afford the basic products they need to keep themselves and their families clean. 

      Covid-19 may have masked this particular poverty, but as the lockdown eases, I expect we’ll see more people in need.

      This issue is close to my heart, and I have campaigned for years to put an end to period poverty. 

      I developed a Party policy, based on Scotland’s own led by Monica Lennon MSP, to provide free sanitary products in secondary schools, homeless shelters and airports. This is still Labour Party policy and will be implemented within the first 100 days of a Labour government.

      It is frankly a disgrace that period poverty – or any form of hygiene poverty – exists here. 

      It is a great shame that the Government is not taking the bold action we need to combat this, especially given the current circumstances. 

      One organisation that is stepping up and doing good work is The Hygiene Bank. They are a wonderful charity that run a network of banks, collecting new, unused, in-date toiletries, beauty and personal care products, and household cleaning essentials. 

      I am proud of the work they are doing – as we should all be – even if it is shameful that they have to exist in the first place. 

      And I am proud to be supporting’s fundraising campaign for them. To raise vital funds, the site has organised a sponsored 26-mile hike across London.

      It will take place on Saturday 19 September, 2020, to tie in with National Hygiene Week and will be starting in North London, going on to explore 10 of London’s hidden peaks.

      I know for many this will be a great chance to get out into the great outdoors after a long time inside. Knowing that it is all for a fantastic cause, supporting people affected by hygiene poverty, is just so exciting and inspiring. I’m looking forward to it!

      I encourage everyone to join me in doing all you can to support this great cause, to help eradicate hygiene poverty from society and give people back the dignity they deserve.

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      World News

      Coronavirus: On the streets of Leicester, where lockdown remains and fear reigns

      The streets around North Evington to the east of Leicester’s city centre certainly aren’t deserted, but many of those out and about are wearing face masks and trying to keep their distance.

      The people we speak to say they’re doing their food shopping, which is permitted.

      Most businesses are closed – but those selling essential supplies are open.

      We see at least six police officers and community support officers walking around the streets reminding people of the coronavirus lockdown rules in the hour or so that we’re there.

      A few days ago the authorities closed two businesses for breaching lockdown, and they’re assessing whether others have breached rules.

      There’s a fine of anywhere between £100 and £3,200 for anyone caught breaking the rules.

      I’m surprised to see a coffee shop open – but when I see inside, they’ve diversified to sell food.

      It’s about “survival”, says Wahid, who runs it.

      He’s surrounded by closed factories, so footfall is significantly down. If he’s lucky he’ll makes 30% of what he normally does. He tells me that his customers are “scared” of the virus.

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      World News

      Coronavirus: ‘The first wave was a trial run’ – what lockdown easing may mean for hospitals

      On the same weekend as pubs and bars in England open their doors for the first time since lockdown was imposed, we pause to honour the NHS as it reaches its 72nd birthday.

      The two events – lockdown easing and acknowledging our healthcare workers – are inextricably linked. The pandemic has made it that way.

      During the height of the outbreak, A&E waiting rooms were almost deserted. Doctors feared for their missing patients.

      They are filling up again in numbers that are manageable. That could change over the next 48 hours.

      Staff I spoke to in the emergency department at University Hospital Coventry have legitimate concerns.

      It could be Saturday night business as usual when it is anything but. We are still in the middle of a pandemic.

      “It’s made it more challenging. The pandemic is not something that’s there one day and gone the next.

      COVID-19 will stay around for a long time. It’s a bit of a juggling act marrying the two together. The pressures will always be there. It’s part and parcel of life.”

      Dr Ali Husain is one of the medical staff I interviewed when I spent the week filming at the hospital. I also spoke to nurses, doctors, midwives, managers and patients.

      After speaking to these men and women I was struck by one thing: unless you were a healthcare worker on the frontline during this pandemic you cannot understand how truly dreadful it was.

      The deaths were relentless. Trained medical professionals suffered a sense of helplessness they had never felt before.

      The enforced isolation that kept dying patients away from their loved ones was unbearable. The heartbreak of this separation extended to the hospital’s mortuary whose bereavement counsellors could not properly comfort grieving families.

      Dani Johnstone is a theatre nurse but she was redeployed to work one in of the hospital’s intensive care units. She told me it was “like going to war”.

      “Initially it was very daunting. I was watching the news in tears. I thought we were getting ready to go to war. The briefings, the training, it was pretty intense. As a theatre nurse you see death quite often. Not at this rate.

      Ms Johnstone was worried about her own health, scared about taking the infection back to her family and worried about the safety of her team of nurses.

      “I didn’t know if I wanted to be a nurse anymore. I questioned if I had chosen to the wrong profession. I remember some junior colleagues crying and saying ‘When it is going to end?’ I said ‘I don’t know’.”

      Ms Johnstone’s concerns were shared by her colleague Craig Butt, an operating department practitioner.

      “We are used to unfortunate things happening. But this was on an unprecedented level. You see these things happening a couple of times a year but this was every day.

      “It’s heartbreaking. They’ve got family out there worried about them. They are not allowed their loved ones for support.

      “So not only were the patients dying alone but the families couldn’t say goodbye. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I wish we could have done more.”

      University Hospital Coventry lost 253 patients to COVID-19. More than 500 people infected with the virus were treated and allowed to go back to their homes. During the crisis more than 4,000 operations were carried out.

      Professor Kiran Patel has not had a day off since February. He is the hospital’s chief medical officer but still undertakes surgery. He says the pandemic has forced the hospital to change and adapt to a new future.

      He said: “In the age of COVID the whole procedure is so different. Sometimes we will not have seen the patient, we often meet just before the operation.

      “During the procedure itself we are wearing more protective equipment – visors, gowns and gloves. It’s a bit more challenging but we are becoming accustomed to it.

      “We are not certainly going back to where we were. This is the new normal. It’s a continuous journey of improvement on a scale and pace never witnessed before.

      “What would have taken five years, we have achieved in 12 days.”

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      World News

      Norilsk: The city built by gulag prisoners where Russia guards its Arctic secrets

      The drive from Norilsk airport to the city takes you past mile after mile of crumbling, Soviet-era factories.

      It looks like an endless, rusting scrapyard – a jumble of pipes, industrial junk and frost-bitten brickwork. If you were looking for an industrial apocalypse film setting, this would be your place – but you’re unlikely to get the permissions.

      Norilsk was built in Stalin’s times by gulag prisoners. This gritty industrial city is a testament to their endurance both of the cruelty of Stalin’s regime and of the harsh polar climate. There were no thoughts then on how to build to protect the environment, just to survive it.

      Vasily Ryabinin doesn’t think much has changed, at least in ecological terms. He used to work for the local branch of the federal environmental watchdog, Rosprirodnadzor, but quit in June after exposing what he says was a failure to investigate properly the environmental impact of the gigantic diesel spill which poured into two Arctic rivers in late May.

      At 21,000 tonnes, it was the largest industrial spill in the polar Arctic.

      Despite the Kremlin declaring a federal emergency and sending a host of different agencies to participate in the clean-up, just last week Mr Ryabinin and activists from Greenpeace Russia found another area where technical water used in industrial processes was being pumped directly into the tundra from a nearby tailing pond. Russia’s investigative committee has promised to investigate.

      “The ecological situation here is so bad,” Mr Ryabinin says.

      “The latest constructions such as the tailing pond at the Talnack ore-processing plant were built exclusively by Nornickel chief executive Vladimir Potanin’s team and supposedly in accordance with ecological standards, but on satellite images you can see that all the lakes in the vicinity have unnatural colours and obviously something has got into them.”

      Mining company Nornickel would disagree. It has admitted flagrant violations at the tailing pond and suspended staff it deems responsible at both the Talnack plant and at Norilsk Heat and Power plant no 3 where the diesel spill originated from.

      On Thursday it appointed Andrey Bougrov, from its senior management board, to the newly-created role of senior vice president for environmental protection. It has a clear environmental strategy, provides regular updates on the status of the spill, and its Twitter feed is filled with climate-related alerts.

      But what investors read is very different to the picture on the ground.

      Norilsk used to be a closed city – one of dozens across the Soviet Union shut off to protect industrial secrets. Foreigners need special permissions approved by the Federal Security Service (FSB) to enter the region. It would take an invitation from Nornickel to make that happen and, for the past month since the spill, that has not been forthcoming.

      Unlike in Soviet times, Russian citizens are now free to come and go. That’s why our Sky News Moscow team were able to fly in and travel around the city, even if getting to the spill site was blocked. What they were able to film provides a snapshot of the immense challenge Russia faces in upgrading its Soviet-era industrial infrastructure, particularly at a time when climate change is melting the permafrost on which much of it was built.

      Just downwind from one of the rusting factories on the city outskirts is a huge expanse of dead land. The skeletal remains of trees stand forlorn against the howling Arctic winds. Sulphur dioxide poisoning has snuffed the life out of all that lived here. Norilsk is the world’s worst emitter of sulphur dioxide by a substantial margin.

      “For 80km south of here everything is dead,” Mr Ryabinin says, “and for at least 10km in that direction too. Everything here depends on the wind.”

      Immediately after the spill, Mr Ryabinin filmed and took samples from the Daldykan river just a few kilometres from the fuel tank which had leaked. By that point the river was a churning mix of diesel and red sludge dredged up from the riverbed by the force of the leak. Norilsk’s rivers have turned red before and the chemical residues have sunk to the bottom, killing all life there. Nothing has lived in those rivers for decades.

      In his capacity as deputy head of the local environmental watchdog, Mr Ryabinin says he insisted that he be allowed to fly further north to check the levels of contamination in Lake Pyasino and beyond. Nornickel at the time claimed the lake was untouched by the spill. Mr Ryabinin says his boss encouraged him to let things be.

      “I can’t be sure I would have found anything, but this sort of confrontation – making sure I didn’t go there with a camera, let alone with bottles for taking samples, it was all very clear to me. It was the final straw.”

      Rosprirodnadzor refused to comment to Sky News on Mr Ryabinin’s allegations or suggestions that the agency was working hand in hand with Nornickel.

      Georgy Kavanosyan is an environmental blogger with a healthy 37,000 following on YouTube. Shortly after the spill, he set out for Lake Pyasino and to the Pyasina River beyond to see how far the diesel had spread.

      “We set out at night so that the Norilsk Nickel security wouldn’t detect us. I say at night, but they’ve got polar nights there now, north of the Arctic Circle. So it’s still light but it’s quieter and we managed to go past all the cordons.”

      He is one of the few to have provided evidence that the diesel has in fact travelled far beyond where the company admits. Not just the 1,200km (745m) length of Lake Pyasino but into the river beyond.

      He says his measurements indicated a volume of hydrocarbons dissolved in the water of between two and three times normal levels. He thinks after he published his findings on YouTube, the authorities’ vigilance increased.

      Greenpeace Russia have spent the last two weeks trying to obtain samples from Lake Pyasino and the surrounding area. They have faced difficulties getting around and flying their samples out for independent analysis.

      They are now waiting for results from a laboratory in St Petersburg but say the samples remain valid technically for just four days after collection and that they weren’t able to make that deadline due to the authorities’ actively obstructing their work.

      Elena Sakirko from Greenpeace Russia specialises in oil spills and says this has happened to her before. This time, a police helicopter flew to the hunter’s hut where they were staying and confiscated the fuel for the boat they were using. Then a deputy for the Moscow city parliament tasked with bringing the samples back from Norilsk was forced to go back empty-handed.

      “We were told at the airport we needed permission from the security department of Nornickel,” Ms Sakirko says. “We asked them to show us some law or statement to prove that this was legal or what the basis for this was, but they haven’t showed us anything and we still don’t understand it.”

      Nornickel announced this week that the critical stage of the diesel spill is over. The company is now finalising dates for a press tour for foreign media and for other international environmentalists.

      Mr Ryabinin thinks this should have happened weeks ago.

      “If we don’t let scientists come to the Arctic region to evaluate the impact of the accident, then in the future if anything similar happens, we won’t know what to do.”

      A spokesperson for Nornickel said the company “is actively cooperating with the scientific community and will meticulously assess both the causes and effects of the accident.

      “We are currently focusing all our efforts on cleaning up the affected territory and safely processing whatever contaminated soil or water is collected. We expect decontamination efforts to largely be completed before the onset of winter.”

      Nornickel considers permafrost thawing to be the primary cause of the accident, but is waiting for the end of investigation before making a final statement, the spokesperson said.

      “In the meantime, Nornickel has implemented a series of urgent measures to increase industrial safety. Among other solutions, an advanced system for monitoring the state of permafrost is expected to be developed by the end of 2021,” they said.

      “Nornickel accepts full responsibility for the incidents on its sites these past two months and holds itself accountable for any infrastructural deficits or poor decisions by personnel. The imperative is to do everything to clean up our sites, instil a stronger culture of transparency and safety in our workforce, and ensure that such situations do not occur in the future.”

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      World News

      Boris would not take the knee for BLM as 'I don't believe in gestures'

      Boris Johnson suggested he would not take the knee in support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, saying people shouldn’t be ‘bullied’ into doing things ‘they don’t necessarily want to’.

      The PM said he ‘does not believe in gestures’ during a phone-in on LCB, adding ‘I believe in substance, I believe in doing things’.

      He admitted the government needed to do more to improve the lives of black people in the UK but refused to say whether he was a ‘Raab or a Starmer’ – a reference to the foreign secretary who didn’t take the knee and the Labour leader, who did.

      ‘I would rather see a story of championing success and talking about the opportunities we can open’, the PM said.

      He insisted progress had been made on racism in the UK, claiming black representation in the Met Police had ‘massively increased’ during his time as London Mayor and more young black people were getting into the top universities.

      He accepted that there ‘are injustices we need to rectify’ but said: ‘I don’t want people to be bullied into doing things they don’t want to do’.

      He alleged some police officers felt coerced into taking the knee because their colleagues had done so during recent BLM protests, and that he believed the police should not take the knee as it is not safe for their colleagues.

      The symbolic move was popularised in 2016 when NFL star Colin Kaepernick got down on one knee while the US national anthem played before games, to protest against racism and police brutality.

      It has become more widespread in the wake of global demonstrations sparked by the killing of an unarmed black man in the US, George Floyd.

      Some politicians, including Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer and deputy leader Angela Rayner have taken the knee in solidarity with anti-racism protesters in the UK.

      Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab came under fire last month for saying he would not take the knee in support of BLM and attributing the origin of the gesture to Game of Thrones.

      The PM’s comments have come under criticism from a number of Labour MPs and other critics who have highlighted his past record on making big gestures – including a recent controversial decision to spend £900,000 making over the prime minister’s plane.

      He said: ‘I think about this a lot, its something I want to get right, we need to reflect the country we serve and send out a clear powerful signal [to companies]’.

      Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at [email protected]

      For more stories like this, check our news page.

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