Terminal cancer means I won’t see the other side of lockdown | Elliot Dallen

I imagined spending my last weeks with friends. Isolated in my flat, Im having to rethink what a good death might be, says Elliot Dallen

As I was lying in a hospital bed last July after complications arising from chemotherapy, my oncologist entered the room with my scan results. Hospital had become familiar to me but his next words werent. The treatment wasnt working. There was little else that could be done. I pressed him to be more specific and was told bluntly that I wouldnt last a year. I would be lucky to have half that time. This was nine months ago, before Covid-19, and Im very unlikely to be alive to see the other side of lockdown.

Almost two years ago, as summer in London was just beginning, an ultrasound to investigate a bladder infection found a large tumour on my right adrenal gland that had spread to my lungs. I was diagnosed with adrenocortical carcinoma, an extremely rare and aggressive cancer. It is in desperate need of research; when it is advanced there is very little effective treatment. This was not something I expected in my late 20s. Early on, after reading the bleak statistics, I started preparing myself for the inevitable. But treatment began positively and my focus changed to getting better. When death isnt staring you in the face, it is easy to push back the difficult thoughts and conversations. Dying was something to address later.

Now my oncologist has said I cannot have further treatment. His reasoning is that it would leave me vulnerable to becoming ill at a time when there are not enough resources to help, and also because the nurses normally available are busy helping others. Im still feeling good, better, in fact, without chemo. But I feel like Im living on borrowed time. I no longer look like the archetype of someone with cancer Im back to my natural weight and have a full head of hair. I often feel like the old me, except with an awful attempt at a moustache.

Last month, before all this started, I took the opportunity to go to Colombia. I explored that beautiful country, danced badly to reggaeton and met people from around the world. The sun was shining and most of the time everything felt normal. But the dark clouds of coronavirus were looming, and when I arrived home, the reality hit that this was the final stage of my journey.

Whenever I had thought about the last few weeks of life before, I always pictured them being surrounded by friends and family. Id eat at my favourite restaurants, go to south London parks where Ive shared kisses and lazy days. Id get to watch the bands that soundtracked my life in Londons festivals, and frequent the bars and beer gardens that, for better or worse, have defined my adulthood. Crucially, Id spend time with the people whom I had shared those experiences with; who made me the person I am today. When I became sicker, we would watch films, listen to music, laugh, cry, talk about both the big things and the little things. It would be a period that maybe only tends to come in times of tragedy, where vulnerability and urgency create connections at a higher level. Where the bittersweet feelings of love and loss exist simultaneously and we are at our most human.

None of this can happen right now. This good death described above is being denied to me due to the pandemic, and instead I face a steady decline into nothingness. Currently I am cut off from my family; my sister, who I live with, works for the NHS so is temporarily staying with friends to avoid bringing home any infection. I am one of the many vulnerable people being protected for their own benefit.Just stuck in my flat, alone. Waiting.

Im taking each day as it comes. I wake up and take a few moments to be grateful that Im still feeling well. I eat well, exercise and have days filled with video calls and Netflix, like everybody else. After many months of chemo Im quite used to being housebound. Im not bored; I oscillate between feeling pensive and flat. I cant help my thoughts sometimes running away and turning to everything I will miss out on. Planned weddings that I now cant attend. Friends children Ill never meet. People I thought Id grow old with that Ill never see again. Let alone what my own future would have brought. In these moments I feel devastated, and frustrated that there is no one to blame. Others feel time is standing still right now, but for me it is slipping through my fingers.

I do expect to spend some quality time with my family soon. I still plan to have conversations with friends so that when I go, nothing is left unsaid, even if they are not held face to face. On top of that, I am still grateful for so much within these four walls listening to music, learning new things or even simply looking at the beautiful view from my window.

Before cancer I considered myself very independent. This man was an island. It has been humbling to learn how much I depend on people, both physically and emotionally. I feel so fortunate to have had my people over this period, and facing the future without them is truly daunting. Whether times are good, bad, or worse, it is ultimately the people whom you love and care about that get you through. For me, these people didnt just get me through the last two years, but somehow made them two of the best years of my life.

Real connection is something that I think a lot of people in the country are missing right now. As much as possible, it is vital we keep that going, even if it is limited, and help those most in need of this for example, elderly and homeless people: those who suffer isolation outside of an enforced lockdown.

Politicians and medical experts talk about the light at the end of the tunnel. People will eventually open their doors again and restart their lives as the country attempts to move back to normality. For me, and Im sure plenty of others in a similar position, there is no light to give me hope. The tunnel is all that there is, and Im having to find my way in the dark.

Elliot Dallen is from Cardiff and has worked in finance in London since graduating

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

At least 170,000 lose jobs as film industry grinds to a halt due to coronavirus

Around 120,000 people are out of work in Hollywood, while in the UK it is estimated that 50,000 freelancers will lose their jobs

About 120,000 film industry workers have already lost their jobs in Hollywood as a result of the coronavirus shutdown, according to the US entertainment industry union IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees).

The estimate emerged in a newsletter sent out by the ICG (International Cinematographers Guild) to its members, which said: The IATSE reports that the pandemic shutdown has resulted in the loss of 120,000 jobs held by its 150,000 members. It is critical that our industry be included in pending federal relief package.

The film and TV industry worldwide has experienced a near-total cessation of activity, with thousands of largely freelance crew laid off at short notice with little or no financial compensation. Scores of productions, ranging from studio shoots such as the Avatar sequels and Fantastic Beasts 3 to independent films such as Paul Schraders The Card Counter, have been halted.

The ICG, which has nearly 9,000 members, added: Although some of our members are being paid for up to two weeks after their shows shut down, based upon the reality of the healthcare crisis we now face, it is highly unlikely that productions will resume after so short a period of time This problem is likely to continue for months, not weeks.

In the UK, the situation for below the line crew appears equally catastrophic. Bectu (Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) estimates around 50,000 industry freelancers will have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic. The unions head, Philippa Childs, said: Nearly all film and TV production has ground to a halt in the UK The [countrys] world-class film and TV sector is at risk of a whole generation of talent being financially ruined by this crisis. A survey conducted by the union suggested that 71% of freelancers about 35,000 people in the industry will struggle to survive financially as a result of the shutdown.

Directors UK, the trade guild representing British screen directors, sent a letter to chancellor Rishi Sunak calling for further measures to support freelance and self-employed film industry personnel. Directors UK CEO Andrew Chowns wrote: There is now a critical need for similar emergency support measures to be introduced for self-employed workers who are worried, not just about losing their current work, but at the prospect of facing months without income as productions are suspended longer term and, for some smaller productions, indefinitely. Chowns called for the introduction of proportional income support and sick pay to mitigate the effects of the pandemic.

The Guardians callout for insight into how the shutdown has affected film industry workers has revealed scores of anecdotes about the impact of coronavirus. A selection will be published in the near future.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Wait, be patient, keep faith: an unlikely mantra for life | Alice OKeeffe

In these turbulent times, we can all learn from novelist Anna Burnss creative process for opening her mind, says literary critic Alice OKeeffe

Sometimes, for us bookish types, a particular moment in time requires a particular author, as surely as a bout of winter flu requires paracetamol. So I was very glad to find myself, last Thursday in that nervous/tragic/hopeful gap between voting and seeing the exit poll at a talk by Anna Burns, the Man Booker prize-winning author of Milkman. Ive been thinking about her perspective on life and art a lot this week, and it has been medicinal.

Burns has a very particular creative process. She says that she cant force her writing; if she tries to get grabby it doesnt work. Her method, therefore, is to wait sometimes for years for her characters to start to talk to her. This involves turning up at her computer and pretty much just sitting there. Its a bit like meditation, she explained. Sometimes she makes notes, although this is really just a way of managing her anxiety. She goes on a lot of walks. But the real task, she told us, is to wait and hold to create the mental space, to stay patient, and to keep the faith that eventually the characters will appear and take her where she needs to go.

Her message of persistence and patience has helped me get through a week of otherwise bitter disappointment. It is quite a radical approach in an everything now society. After all, we are conditioned to think that the way to get what we want is to do more to work longer hours, to knock on more doors, to shout ever more loudly on social media. But we cant actually force the world to give us what we want. There are times when we need to push, but there are also times when we do just have to wait, and create the space, and keep the faith that if we hang in here, eventually something will shift.

This approach is not for the faint-hearted. Although sitting around doing nothing for days on end may sound easy, in practice it would drive most of us round the bend. Now Ive won a big prize, everybody takes my artistic process seriously, Burns said. But for years people just thought I was mad. It means her output is not prolific, consisting of just three novels and one novella, and she endured years of grinding poverty before Milkman broke through (she famously thanked her local food bank in the acknowledgments). She has also had to abandon her writing entirely for long periods of time, due to a chronic pain condition and emotional stress.

And yet what she has achieved is a work of piercing insight and lasting value. As last years Booker prize, judges recognised that Milkman transcends its setting in war-torn 1970s Northern Ireland, and evokes universal truths about conflict, power and human relationships. More than anything, Burnss novels show, in terrifying detail, what happens to a society when people close their minds. Milkman explores a culture in which people have become obsessed with defending their own perspective, against anything they see as other.

In the small community of the Ardoyne, Belfast, all of life has become about keeping out this dreaded enemy the people from across the water, or even just over the road. This is done by the violent enforcement of endless obscure and unspoken rules. Any tiny deviation from these rules having the wrong name, or reading a book while walking, or describing the sky as anything other than blue marks you out as one of them.

Britain in 2019 has not reached those extremes. But we are undeniably drifting towards a very Milkman-esque othering mentality, clinging ever harder to our own view and perspective, and rejecting those of other people, whether they be over the water in Europe or over the road. And we have a dizzying array of social divisions: between rich and poor, young and old, north and south, English, Welsh, Irish and Scottish

An important weapon against this small-mindedness is the kind of contemplation that Burns uses in creating her work. Extended periods of contemplation play an important role in many different religious traditions because they can help open us up to new and different perspectives. And writing and reading fiction perhaps appreciating any kind of art similarly requires us to open our minds. When Burns sits and waits for her characters to speak to her, she is creating space in her head for a new perspective on the world. And when we read her books, we are allowing those characters to speak to us. As we look for ways to resist the seemingly unstoppable tide of division, perhaps trying, like Burns, to wait and hold is the most important work that any of us can do.

Alice OKeeffe is a literary critic and author. Her latest novel is On the Up

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Brexit funder Arron Banks threatens Netflix over Great Hack documentary

Legal threat comes as campaigners warn UK government that courts are being used to intimidate journalists

The businessman Arron Banks and the unofficial Brexit campaign Leave.EU have issued a legal threat against streaming giant Netflix in relation to The Great Hack, a new documentary about the Cambridge Analytica scandal and the abuse of personal data.

The threat comes as press freedom campaigners and charity groups warn the government in an open letter that UK courts are being used to intimidate and silence journalists working in the public interest.

In a joint letter to key cabinet members, they call for new legislation to stop vexatious lawsuits, highlighting one filed last week by Banks against campaigning journalist Carole Cadwalladr.

Award-winning reports by Cadwalladr, a freelance journalist who works for the Observer, have led to multiple investigations by regulators, and a $5bn fine for Facebook.

The legal claim against Ms Cadwalladr, issued on 12 July by lawyers acting for Arron Banks, is another example of a wealthy individual appearing to abuse the law in an attempt to silence a journalist and distract from these issues being discussed by politicians, the media and the public at a critical time in the life of our democracy, the letter says.

Banks had not seen The Great Hack, which comes out on general release on Netflix this week, when he instructed lawyers over the documentary.

London law firm Kingsley Napley, acting on behalf of Banks, his company Eldon Insurance, and Leave.EU, said in a letter on 16 July that their clients were concerned it would include false and defamatory allegations about their clients made by Cadwalladr and others.

The Observer understands they demanded a right to see any allegations made in the film, and be given a chance to respond, by Wednesday 17 July. The lawyers warned Netflix they would rely on any failure to respond, or failure to meet their demands, in any future legal proceedings they considered necessary or appropriate.

The Great Hacks co-director Karim Amer said: We have received a letter from Arron Bankss solicitors, which we have responded to, making clear that we stand by the contents of the film and will vigorously defend against any claim. We find it ridiculous that Arron Banks and his solicitors would issue such a letter without having seen the actual film.

We would invite Mr Banks to watch the film when it premieres worldwide on Netflix on 24 July. He added that Banks would be welcome at a London screening at the ICA that day.

The Observers editor, Paul Webster, criticised the legal action against Cadwalladr. Throughout her investigations she has been the target of a relentless campaign of smears and vilification by some of the subjects of her inquiries, he said.

The latest legal threats are a further attempt to smother vital investigative reporting.

Banks said: Im a great supporter of a free media and press. Unfortunately, Brexit has caused a breakdown in usual journalistic standards.

What we wont tolerate is outright lying or misrepresentation of the facts Carole Cadwalladr will have to stand up her wild claims in court and face the consequences or apologise, he said. He did not comment on the letter sent to Netflix.

Press freedom campaigners who signed the joint letter to the UK government say they have noted a growing trend of wealthy individuals using lawsuits to silence or intimidate journalists.

How the Observer covered the Cambridge Analytica story in March 2018.

The 16 signatories included Webster, and the directors of leading media and artistic freedom groups the Committee to Protect Journalists, PEN, Index on Censorship, Reporters Sans Frontires ,campaign group Greenpeace, a law scholar and the family of murdered Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia.

In addition to Bankss case against Cadwalladr, the letter also highlights legal threats to Galizia, who at the time of her death faced more than 40 civil lawsuits, many brought by UK-based firms.

Often the spectre of costly legal action can force a retraction or prevent a story being published; in other cases rich individuals may hope to silence critics with limited resources through the cost and time of a court case.

One of the things we have become increasingly worried about was the use of legal threats to silence journalists, and especially the threat of expensive libel suits, said Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship.

In the US there have long been concerns about lawsuits of this kind, which are known as strategic litigation against public participation, or Slapp cases. Several states have laws that stop these cases being brought to court.

Sometimes just the threat of legal action can kill a story. Slapp lawsuits can be a very low-cost means of [subjects of negative reporting] getting what they want, because quite often they dont even need to take anyone to court, said Rebecca Vincent, UK director of Reporters Sans Frontires.

The organisation last year gave Cadwalladr its Lesprit de RSF award, and Vincent praised her for discussing the lawsuit publicly.

I think she is very courageous about speaking out about this abusive defamation lawsuit that has been filed against her, because so often these cases remain hidden, she said.

Cadwalladr has questioned why Banks chose to lodge a personal case against her rather than suing the outlets that published her work, or the Ted platform that hosted a speech at the heart of his case, which have resources to fight a long legal battle.

Arron Banks is not suing Ted or the Guardian and Observer, though it is the extensive investigations that we have published and that have helped trigger several serious criminal investigations that has prompted this lawsuit, she said.

Instead, he has chosen to go after me as an individual in a clear attempt to intimidate and harass me. Its extremely concerning that a millionaire can use the law in this way. This isnt just an attack on me, its an attack on journalism.

This year Britain has positioned itself as a world leader on media freedom, hosting a global conference, appointing barrister Amal Clooney as a special envoy on the issue, and promising to consider the impact on press freedom of any new legislation.

Ginsberg urged authorites to make good on those promises by cracking down on abuses within the country. Given that the UK has made media freedom its major focus for 2019, one way it could take a lead is dealing with the big UK law firms who are helping the rich and powerful to stifle investigative journalism.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Brexit: Johnson says Britain will leave EU on 31 October ‘do or die’

Tory leadership frontrunner hardens position as Eurosceptics extend influence on faltering campaign

Boris Johnson has hardened his position on leaving the EU do or die by the end of October, as hardline Eurosceptics extended their influence on his faltering campaign to be prime minister.

The frontrunner toughened his Brexit stance as criticism continued over his refusal to answer questions about a police visit to his flat following a loud late-night altercation with his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds.

In a round of interviews designed to put the focus back on his EU policy and away from his personal life, Johnson appeared to signal there was an increasing prospect of a no-deal Brexit three months after he would take office.


Boris Johnson’s Tory leadership campaign

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Personal style

A late-night altercation between Tory leadership favourite, Boris Johnson, and his partner, Carrie Symonds have changed the dynamics of Johnson’s campaign. He had been either invisible or deliberately sober to the point of dullness, when his usual primary draw to Tory members is a self-created sense of optimism and fun. Much is also made of his supposed broad appeal to the electorate, evidenced by two terms as London mayor.

In most political contests, Johnsons character he has lost more than one job for lying, and has a complex and opaque personal life would be a big issue, but among the Tory faithful he seemingly receives a free pass. It remains to be seen what impact that late-night police visit will have on his chances.


He has promised to push for a new deal while insisting the UK will leave the EU come what may on 31 October, even if it involves no deal. While his hard Brexit supporters are adamant this is a cast-iron guarantee of leaving on that date, elsewhere Johnson has been somewhat less definitive. Asked about the date in a BBC TV debate, Johnson said only that it was ’eminently feasible’.


His main pledge has been to raise the threshold for the 40% higher tax rate from 50,000 to 80,000, at a cost of almost 10bn a year, which would help about 3 million higher earners, a demographic with a fairly sizeable crossover into Tory members. Johnsons camp insist it would be part of a wider and so far unknown package of tax changes.

Public spending

He has said relatively little, beyond promising a fairly small increase in schools funding, as well as talking about the need to roll out fast broadband across the country. Johnson has generally hinted he would loosen the purse strings, but given his prior fondness for big-ticket projects Londons cancelled garden bridge, the mooted ‘Boris island’ airport perhaps expect more of a focus on infrastructure projects than services.

Climate and environment

This is unlikely to be a big issue for Conservative party members, and Johnson has not said much on this beyond confirming his general support for the new government target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to a net zero by 2050.

Foreign policy

Also unlikely to be a big issue among Tory members, beyond vague platitudes on ‘global Britain’, it could be a weak spot for Johnson given his poor performance as foreign secretary. He was seen as something of a joke by diplomats both UK and foreign and is likely to face more questioning over his gaffe about the jailed British-Iranian womanNazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe

Peter WalkerPolitical correspondent

Photograph: Isabel Infantes/AFP

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Johnson first doubled down on his commitment to leaving on 31 October in an interview with Talkradio, saying he was in no way reneging on his firm pledge.

We are getting ready to come out on 31 October. Come what may, he said. Asked to confirm this, he added: Do or die. Come what may.

He then said he would scrap Theresa Mays withdrawal agreement and seek a completely new deal before then, as minor changes would not satisfy him.

I mean more than a change, he said. Its got to be, we need a new withdrawal agreement if were going to go out on the basis of a withdrawal agreement.

Not only has the EU said it will not reopen the withdrawal agreement, but the timetable would be extremely tight as parliament is in recess over the summer and then sitting for about 10 days before party conference season begins. MPs return midway through October, just a few weeks before the deadline.

Johnson then emphasised his position on leaving by 31 October yet again by writing a letter to Jeremy Hunt, his Tory leadership opponent, challenging him to commit to that date come what may.

Hunt replied with a dig that Johnson could find out his policy if he turned up to a Sky News head-to-head debate on Tuesday night that Johnson has refused to attend. Hi Boris, its good to talk. But no need for snail-mail, why not turn up to Sky tonight and Ill give you full and frank answers?#BoJoNoShow, he tweeted.

Hunt also tried to claim his Brexit policy was similar to Johnsons but that he would be a more trusted negotiator to deliver changes that could get through the UK parliament. Who is the person that we trust to send to Brussels on behalf of the British people and come back with a deal, and that has to be someone that they trust, that theyre prepared to talk to, because in the end you dont do a deal with someone you dont trust, Hunt told the BBC in an interview.

In fact, Hunts stance is more moderate than that of his rival as he has not committed to leaving on 31 October if he needs more time to do a deal. Johnson also wants to throw out the withdrawal agreement for a new one, while Hunt would be seeking more modest tweaks.

In another sign that Johnsons campaign was taking a more hardline turn, he appointed Iain Duncan Smith, a veteran Eurosceptic and former Tory leader, as his campaign chief. Johnson also revealed Mark Fullbrook, a business partner of the Australia election guru Lynton Crosby, would be formally joining the team.

Sources close to the campaign said Eurosceptics in the party were increasingly turning the screws on Johnson by warning they would withdraw support for his government if he fails to take the UK out of the EU by 31 October.

One of the 28 Spartan MPs who voted against Mays withdrawal deal said they would not tolerate minor changes to the agreement repackaged and sold as a great new deal. He said they were working on the assumption that Johnson was heading for a no-deal Brexit and parliament could either be not consulted or simply ignored.

Johnson appeared to bear out that strategy in his Talkradio interview in which he said he could categorically rule out an extension to article 50, meaning he believes he has a way to stop parliament blocking a no-deal Brexit.

It would be up to the prime minister of the day. I have myself to decide under the current terms of the extension that we have, to apply for such an extension. And it is up to the EU to decide whether to grant it. At the moment, the law says that the UK is leaving the EU, international treaty law says the UK is leaving the EU on 31 October.

At the same time, up to a dozen MPs on the centrist wing of the party, such as Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond, have been warning they could bring down the government in a confidence vote together with opposition parties if Johnson tried to exit without a deal.

In an earlier interview on LBC radio, Johnson dismissed the idea his Brexit plans could be hampered by Tory rebels, saying the party was staring down the barrel of defeat if it did not deliver a departure plan, which would focus minds.

Johnson has been criticised for hiding during the campaign but he attempted to neutralise that criticism with a series of choreographed campaign visits on Tuesday including a speech to a horticultural society and a walk down a high street in Surrey.

He conducted the round of media interviews and was filmed on the campaign trail, after keeping a low profile for the first part of the campaign and dodging questions over the weekend about the screaming row with his partner that prompted a neighbour to call the police.

He was asked 26 times on LBC about the provenance of a photograph showing him with his partner smiling in a Sussex garden, which appeared on news websites on Monday. However, Johnson refused every time to say whether it was staged, who released it and whether it was recent. Newspapers will print whatever they are going to print, he said. The longer we spend on things extraneous to what I want to do, the bigger the waste of time.

His mood was subdued at a hustings in Birmingham on Saturday, the day after the story of the row broke in the Guardian, where he told the events moderator, Iain Dale, that people did not want to know about that sort of thing.

But a film has emerged of him giving a rabble-rousing speech to a private garden party later that day, telling Conservative members that the NHS absolutely needs reform and firing them up for a general election by asking them to be ready to wallop Jeremy Corbyn.

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Boris Johnson tells Tory members NHS ‘needs reform’ video

Asked by one party member what he would do with the NHS, Johnson told the crowd the health service was a crowning glory but was not getting the kind of support and indeed the kind of changes and management that it needs, suggesting he as prime minister would aim to undertake an overhaul of the health service.

He said Simon Stevens, the NHS chief executive, had once helped him get elected president of the Oxford Union as a student, and together they would sort things out.

In remarks that may alarm those opposed to another reorganisation of the NHS, Johnson said: It needs more money but where you are absolutely right is that it needs reform.

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said the comments were alarming but unsurprising given the hard-right agenda Johnson has been putting forward.

His tax plans will benefit the richest, hes the biggest defender of the bankers who crashed the economy, and hes been buddying up with Trump to sell off our NHS to US corporations, he said. His comments to Tory party members about his plans for the NHS need to be clarified immediately.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Eurostar passengers stranded as trespasser with St George’s flag halts trains

Weekend travellers at St Pancras left frustrated, fed up and out of pocket

Thousands of passengers have had their travel plans thrown into chaos after Eurostar cancelled all services to and from St Pancras when a trespasser was caught brandishing a St Georges flag.

The 44-year-old spent the night on the roof of a tunnel leading away from the central London station, bringing Eurostar services to a halt before he was arrested by police on Saturday morning.

Eurostar was forced to cancel at least eight trains, sparking disruption for the weekend getaway, due to the man being in a precarious position.

An image showed the man standing in the middle of a tunnel entrance roof several hundred yards away from the station clutching the flag as police looked on.

Tasha S (@tic_tash_toe)

Wanna know why St Pancras and all the trains are messed up? The flag waving bell-end is on top of high speed tracks. pic.twitter.com/2U2g5TAR3I

March 30, 2019

Passengers vented their frustration on Twitter. One tweeted: I am not able to check in this morning at St Pancras because of a trespasser and I have hotels booked in Brussels that I cannot now cancel and receive a refund.

One woman described how she was left hundreds of pounds out of pocket and fed up after her Mothers Day treat had been scuppered by the cancellations.

Catherine Inkster organised a weekend break for her mother in Lille, France, but the pair were eventually forced to scrap their plans. They spent four hours waiting in a lounge at St Pancras on Friday evening before finding out their train had been cancelled.

There was this huge line, hundreds of people, and obviously there were no Eurostar staff, at least not visible to me, she said.

Inkster and her mother had to shell out 125 for a hotel in the capital before rising with just three hours sleep for a rebooked train, only to find out they could not travel on Saturday morning either because of further cancellations. Initially we had been advised it was likely to run. We arrived at 6.15am to find the same situation. No one going through the gate. The Eurostar staff just didnt know what was going on.

Im very frustrated, fed up and out of pocket, Inkster, who is from south London and works in sports PR, said. More than anything, I was surprised at how long it took for the police to resolve the situation, given it was a lone protester from what it seems.

Inkster had already spent 450 for accommodation in Lille. She and her mother have scrapped their plans to go to the continent and are going to spend the weekend in Brighton instead.

Police were called to investigate at 7pm on Friday after the man was spotted on the roof. It quickly led to disruption, with Eurostar cancelling the 7.34pm service from St Pancras to Brussels. Further services were cancelled to and from the station until 9.45am on Saturday morning.

The mans presence meant that overhead lines had to be switched off, leading to further disruption on Southeastern services heading towards the station from Kent.

British Transport Police said: A 44-year-old man has this morning been arrested for trespass and obstruction of the railway, having spent the night on the roof of St Pancras railway station.

A Eurostar spokesman said: We have suspended all services to and from London St Pancras until 9.45am, due to a trespasser on the tracks.

We strongly recommend you not travel this morning and please cancel your journey or exchange ticket free of charge.

Southeastern tweeted earlier on Saturday morning: SERVICE UPDATE: High Speed trains will not run to and from #StPancras due to the ongoing trespass incident just outside the station. The person is above the High Speed lines and as such the overhead wires can not be recharged. Please use mainline trains to Victoria or Charing X.

Eurostar announced shortly before 9am that services would resume soon.

A Eurostar spokeswoman added: Because of a trespasser near the tracks, we were not allowed to run any services in or out of St Pancras. Therefore we had to temporarily suspend services. The trespasser has now been apprehended and our services will be able to start to run in the area again soon.

Eurostar trains eventually re-started at around 11am.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Peasant revolt at earls bid to build flats on allotments

Anger at attempt by green aristocrat Earl Percy to develop wilderness site in London

It is a row that the scion of one of Britains oldest aristocratic families could rather do without as he carves out a career promoting his green credentials.

And, gallingly for the Percy dynasty (one of whose ancestors was the inspiration for Blackadders half-witted sidekick, Lord Percy) much of it has been self-inflicted. In the one camp is Earl Percy, friend to Wills and Kate and owner of Syon House, a historic Grade-I listed pile in west London where Henry VIIIs body once lay in state.

In the other camp are the 40 or so disgruntled members of the Park Road Allotments Association in Isleworth who have been ordered to vacate their plots on land adjacent to the stately home, having seen off a bid by the earl and his father, the Duke of Northumberland, to turn it into flats.

The fact that the land was leased to the local authority in 1917 by a previous duke, to grow vegetables for the war effort, has added piquancy to a dispute that has been simmering since the family reclaimed control of it from Hounslow Council in 2015.

Syon House in west London, one of the ancestral homes of the Percy family. Photograph: Maurice Savage/Alamy

In hand-delivered letters, Northumberland Estates, the management company that oversees the interests of the Percy family, informed the allotment holders that they must vacate their plots by the end of March next year. We thought we were out of the woods and then we were all served with notice to quit, which seemed somewhat spiteful, said Annie Aloysius, secretary of the association. There is a suspicion that they will leave [the land] fallow and then put in another application. Theyve been trying to wear us down but were not going without a fight.

Their bellicose response has triggered headlines about a peasants revolt, which threaten to embarrass the 34-year-old earl, who is the founder of a green energy company, Hotspur Geothermal. The companys website explains its mission is to benefit local communities through employment, positive social impact, and the development of new and sustainable businesses.

However, for the earls father, the Duke of Northumberland, a close friend of Prince Charles who takes a keen interest in environmental matters, planning problems are nothing new. Proposals to develop an elf-themed playground next to the Percy ancestral home, Alnwick Castle in Northumberland, famous as Hogwarts in the Harry Potter film franchise, have met with resistance from some local councillors.

Allotment map

The redevelopment of the Park Road allotments would have seen the construction of eight blocks of flats, the rent from which would have gone towards the upkeep of Syon House, which Northumberland Estates said needs major restoration work costing almost 19m. This is partly thanks to an ill-fated makeover given to the home by a previous occupant. In the 1830s, the third Duke of Northumberland had its facade re-faced with Bath stone held in place by iron cramps that have now rusted and caused the stonework to disintegrate. Lying under the flightpath to the north runway of Heathrow airport, there are concerns that aircraft emissions are contributing to the decay of the ironwork.

Rory Wilson, CEO at Northumberland Estates, said that even though planning had been refused, difficult decisions had to be taken if it was to preserve Syon House, Alnwick Castle and the 120 other listed monuments under its ownership. Options are very limited at Syon, and the former allotments site, which was underused and overgrown when it came back to us from the council, will be required for alternative use. Northumberland Estates has to remain a viable entity if it is to carry out its heritage obligations, maintain and create employment opportunities and play its role in supporting the rural economy.

The Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

This claim was rejected by Tim Lugg, an allotment holder for more than 15 years. When they took it back under management from the council, they said Well manage it better, but theyve done nothing of the sort. They havent filled any vacant plots, theyve really run it down. Lugg described the land as a haven. When you look at it, its almost a bit of a wilderness. There must be 20 different types of apple tree, there are newts in the pond, a bat corridor. From a wildlife flora and fauna point of view its quite unique.

Christine Diwell, secretary of the Isleworth Society, said it would watch what Northumberland Estates did next closely. The allotments are the remnant of the last market gardens in the area. Given that so many flats are going up, the need for allotments will only increase rather than decrease.

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Putin allegedly gave Skripal poisoning suspect hero’s award

Bellingcat claims photo exists of president giving Alexander Mishkin hero of Russia award

Vladimir Putin personally bestowed a hero of Russia award on Alexander Mishkin, one of two military intelligence officers who allegedly poisoned Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, it has been claimed.

The investigative website Bellingcat, which identified Mishkin, said on Tuesday that a photograph existed of him shaking hands with the Russian president. It is unclear when or where the ceremony took place.

Bellingcat revealed Mishkins true identity on Monday after tracking down his real passport. He travelled to the UK in March under the false name of Alexander Petrov, together with fellow GRU officer Anatoliy Chepiga, who used the alias Ruslan Boshirov.

Bellingcat said residents of Loyga, the remote village where Mishkin grew up, had seen the photo after his grandmother proudly showed it off. She disappeared from the village three days ago, after Bellingcat announced it was about to reveal her grandsons real identity.

A reporter working for Russias The Insider spoke to residents on Monday. Eight people, including three of the grandmothers close female friends, said they had seen the photo of Mishkin shaking hands with Putin, Bellingcat said.

According to one source, Mishkins grandmother, who is in her 90s, does not show the photo to everyone and never lets anyone hold it.

The revelation is a further embarrassment for the Kremlin, which in recent weeks has had the identities of several of its top GRU operatives revealed. Putin has denied Moscow had anything to do with the novichok attack on the Skripals, and has referred to the two suspects as civilians.

The Bellingcat researcher Christo Grozev said the website has used a mixture of open source information and human reporting to conclusively identify Mishkin. It established that he was a trained military doctor and, like Chepiga, a hero of the Russian Federation.

Grozev said Mishkin appeared to have got his state honour in autumn 2014, according to villagers. They believed it may have been for his activities in Crimea, the Ukrainian territory seized that spring by Moscow. The GRU and its special forces units played a leading role in the operation.

Alternatively, Mishkin may have helped move the ousted Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych to Russia, they said.

Last month the two GRU officers told state TV they were forced to turn back on the first of two day trips to Salisbury because of heavy slush. Mishkin grew up in the northern permafrost region of Archangelsk, where his village of 700 residents is covered in snow for 11 months of the year and can usually only be reached via narrow-gauge railroad.

Grozev said: Theres a lot of mud and slush. Its extraordinary that Mishkin said he cant tolerate snow.

According to Bellingcat, Mishkin was born in Loyga on 13 July 1979. He lived in the village until at least 1995, spending much of the time with his grandmother, Loygas only medical practitioner.

At some point between 1995 and 1999 he enrolled at the S Kirov military medical academy in St Petersburg. The institute trains doctors for Russias naval armed forces. Mishkin specialised in undersea and hypobaric medicine and graduated in 2003 or 2004 with a medical degree and the rank of senior lieutenant.

The GRU recruited him during or soon after his studies and by 2010 he had moved to Moscow and adopted the fake Petrov identity.

Bellingcat said it had unsuccessfully tried to match the photos of Petrov from CCTV and his TV interview with online records. It then considered that some of the details in his GRU-supplied passport could be correct.

One possible match was Alexander Yevgenyevich Mishkin, who had lived at an address in St Petersburg directly opposite the military academy. A Moscow online phone directory provided further clues and led to the identification of Mishkins Volvo. The car was registered to Khoroshevskoe Shosse 76B the GRUs headquarters.

Next, Bellingcat contacted hundreds of academy graduates, asking if they knew Mishkin. Two said they did, and confirmed he was Petrov. They also said Russias security services had been in touch three weeks earlier, warning them not to divulge Mishkins identity.

Bellingcat then managed to obtain Mishkins genuine passport from a source.

The investigation shows how hard it is for spies to keep their identities secret in an age of social media and bulk databases. It is unclear why Mishkin was chosen for the Salisbury mission. Bellingcat suggested he might have been picked to ensure the poison was applied to Skripals front door handle in a way that prevented self-poisoning.

Traditionally, officers working in Russian intelligences secret poisons factory in Moscow have been doctors. The factory has been linked to the murder of several critics of the Russian regime, including Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered in London in 2006 with radioactive tea.

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us

Swedish student’s plane protest stops man’s deportation ‘to hell’

Elin Ersson refused to sit down on Gothenburg flight until man being sent to Afghanistan was removed

A lone student activist on board a plane at Gothenburg airport has prevented the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker from Sweden by refusing to sit down until the man was removed from the flight.

Her successful protest, footage of which spread rapidly across the internet, shines a spotlight on domestic opposition to Swedens tough asylum regime, at a time when immigration and asylum are topping the agenda of a general election campaign in which the far right is polling strongly.

I hope that people start questioning how their country treats refugees, Elin Ersson, 21, told the Guardian in an interview. We need to start seeing the people whose lives our immigration [policies] are destroying.

The social work student at Gothenburg University bought a ticket for the flight from Gothenburg to Turkey on Monday morning, after she and other asylum activists found out that a young Afghan was due to be deported on it. In fact he was not on the plane but activists discovered another Afghan man in his 50s was onboard for deportation.

As she entered the plane, Ersson started to livestream her protest in English. The video received more than 4m hits on Tuesday.

Facing both sympathy and hostility from passengers, the footage shows Ersson struggling to keep her composure. I dont want a mans life to be taken away just because you dont want to miss your flight, she says. I am not going to sit down until the person is off the plane.

Repeatedly told by a steward to stop filming, Ersson says: I am doing what I can to save a persons life. As long as a person is standing up the pilot cannot take off. All I want to do is stop the deportation and then I will comply with the rules here. This is all perfectly legal and I have not committed a crime.

When an angry passenger, who appears to be English, tries to seize her phone, she tells him: What is more important, a life, or your time? I want him to get off the plane because he is not safe in Afghanistan. I am trying to change my countrys rules, I dont like them. It is not right to send people to hell.

After a tense standoff, during which the airport authorities declined to use force to eject Ersson, passengers broke into applause when the asylum seeker was taken off the plane.

Ersson told the Guardian she had been volunteering with refugee groups for about a year.

People [in Afghanistan] are not sure of any safety, she said. They dont know if theyre going to live another day. As Ive been working and meeting people from Afghanistan and heard their stories, Ive been more and more in the belief that no one should be deported to Afghanistan because its not a safe place. The way that we are treating refugees right now, I think that we can do better, especially in a rich country like Sweden.

As the country heads towards a general election in September, Swedens centre-left coalition government is keen to keep up expulsions of asylum seekers whose applications have been turned down. If you get rejected, you have to go home otherwise we will not have a proper migration system, the prime minister, Stefan Lfven, said last year after an Uzbek asylum seeker whose claim had been rejected drove a truck into shoppers in Stockholm, killing five people.

After Taliban violence increased in January, the country briefly halted deportations to Afghanistan. But the Swedish migration board stands by its assessment that the country is a safe destination for asylum seekers whose claims have been turned down.

In its most recent assessment, the migration board said Taliban attacks had been aimed mainly at the military or foreigners, and violence against Afghan civilians was rare. As for a bomb in an ambulance in January that killed at least 95 and injured many more in Kabul, the board said it was unclear whether the purpose was really to attack civilians.

Tens of thousands of deportation cases are expected to be handed over to the police as the country continues to process a backlog of asylum applications, after 163,000 people claimed asylum in Sweden in 2015. Last year, the border police deported 12,500 people, while the rate of expulsions so far this year is slightly higher.

Normally deportations go peacefully, according to a spokesperson for the police in Swedens west region. But occasionally the process is disrupted by demonstrators such as Ersson or by asylum seekers themselves.

You do it once or twice, and if it doesnt work we rent a private plane to send them back to Afghanistan, or wherever, the spokesperson said.

Erssons protest was a civil and not a criminal case, he said. Should the airline and passengers decide to prosecute, Ersson could face a substantial fine.

When the refugee crisis began to escalate 2015, Sweden made it much harder for refugees to get into the country and asylum applications fell sharply. In 2016 almost 29,000 people claimed asylum, followed by just under 26,000 last year. So far this year, asylum applications are running at about 1,500 a month.

The fates of the young man due to be deported on Monday, and the man who was on the plane, are unknown. A spokesperson for the Swedish Prison and Probation Service confirmed that the young man would be deported again, once transport was found. The Swedish border police in Kalmar, responsible for the attempted deportation, did not return calls from the Guardian.

Ersson believes the young man was taken to Stockholm and put on a flight there already.

This is how deportations in Sweden work. The people involved know nothing and they are not allowed to reach out to their lawyers or family, she said. My ultimate goal is to end deportations to Afghanistan.

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Finland is the happiest country in the world, says UN report

Nordic nations take top four places in happiness rankings, with annual study also charting the decline of the US

Finland has overtaken Norway to become the happiest nation on earth, according to a UN report.

The 2018 World Happiness Report also charts the steady decline of the US as the worlds largest economy grapples with a crisis of obesity, substance abuse and depression.

The study reveals the US has slipped to 18th place, five places down on 2016. The top four places are taken by Nordic nations, with Finland followed by Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

Burundi in east Africa, scarred by bouts of ethnic cleansing, civil wars and coup attempts, is the unhappiest place in the world. Strikingly, there are five other nations Rwanda, Yemen, Tanzania, South Sudan and the Central African Republic which report happiness levels below that of even Syria.

For the first time the UN also examined the happiness levels of immigrants in each country, and found Finland also scored highest.

Finland has vaulted from fifth place to the top of the rankings this year, said the reports authors, although they noted that the other three Nordic countries (plus Switzerland) have almost interchangeable scores.

The report, an annual publication from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, said all the Nordic countries scored highly on income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity. The rankings are based on Gallup polls of self-reported wellbeing, as well as perceptions of corruption, generosity and freedom.

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The UN placing is the latest accolade for Finland, a country of 5.5 million people that only 150 years ago suffered Europes last naturally caused famine. The country has been ranked the most stable, the safest and best governed country in the world. It is also among the least corrupt and the most socially progressive. Its police are the worlds most trusted and its banks the soundest.

That Finland is the top scorer is remarkable, said Meik Wiking of the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark. GDP per capita in Finland is lower than its neighbouring Nordic countries and is much lower than that of the US. The Finns are good at converting wealth into wellbeing.

In the Nordic countries in general, we pay some of the highest taxes in the world, but there is wide public support for that because people see them as investments in quality of life for all. Free healthcare and university education goes a long way when it comes to happiness. In the Nordic countries, Bernie Sanders is not viewed as progressive he is just common sense, added Wiking, referring to the leftwing US politician who galvanised the Democrat primaries in the 2016 presidential election.

In Britain, figures from the Office for National Statistics suggest people have become happier in recent years. But the UN ranking places the UK in a lowly 19th place, the same as last year but behind Germany, Canada and Australia, although ahead of France and Spain.

The UN report devotes a special chapter to why the US, once towards the top of happiness table, has slipped down the league despite having among the highest income per capita.

Americas subjective wellbeing is being systematically undermined by three interrelated epidemic diseases, notably obesity, substance abuse (especially opioid addiction) and depression, said Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Center for Sustainable Development at Columbia University in New York, and one of the reports authors.

Despite African countries getting the worst happiness scores, one west African nation has bucked the trend. Togo came bottom in 2015 but was the biggest improver in the 2018 report, rising 18 places. Latvians and Bulgarians are also reporting higher levels of happiness.

Venezuela recorded the biggest fall in happiness, outstripping even Syria, although in absolute terms it remains a mid-ranking country. The report notes that Latin American countries generally scored more highly than their GDP per capita suggests, especially in contrast to fast-growing east Asian countries.

Latin America is renowned for corruption, high violence and crime rates, unequal distribution of income and widespread poverty, yet has consistently scored relatively highly in the happiness report. The authors attributed this to the abundance of family warmth and other supportive social relationships frequently sidelined in favour of an emphasis on income measures in the development discourse.

Meanwhile, the greatest human migration in history the hundreds of millions of people who have moved from the Chinese countryside into cities has not advanced happiness at all, the report found.

Even seven-and-a-half years after migrating to urban areas, migrants from rural areas are on average less happy than they might have been had they stayed at home, according to John Knight of the Oxford Chinese Economy Programme at the University of Oxford and one of the contributors to the UN report.

Top 10 happiest countries, 2018

(2017 ranking in brackets)

1. Finland (5)

2. Norway (1)

3. Denmark (2)

4. Iceland (3)

5. Switzerland (4)

6. Netherlands (6)

7. Canada (7)

8. New Zealand (8)

9. Sweden (10)

10. Australia (9)

The 10 unhappiest countries, 2018

(2017 ranking in brackets)

147. Malawi (136)

148. Haiti (145)

149. Liberia (148)

150. Syria (152)

151. Rwanda (151)

152. Yemen (146)

153. Tanzania (153)

154. South Sudan (147)

155. Central African Republic (155)

156. Burundi (154)

Read more: http://www.theguardian.com/us