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Category Archives: Sky News

HMS Queen Elizabeth: A true feat of engineering

My first introduction to the awe-inspiring power of the Royal Navy‘s carrier force came aged just 10 years old, on a visit to see HMS Ark Royal R09 in Edinburgh.

It was the very last of Britain’s more traditional carriers, those that use catapults to launch fixed-wing aircraft and arrester wires to catch them on landing – the model still adopted today by the US and France.

For a young lad, spending the day on board a 40,000-tonne naval vessel was mind-blowing. I’ve been fascinated by aircraft carriers ever since.

Four decades on came a chance to rekindle some of that boyhood excitement – and do a little journalism as well.

As HMS Queen Elizabeth steamed into the English Channel ahead of her first visit to her home port of Portsmouth, I boarded a Royal Navy Merlin helicopter to join the ship.

A Merlin helicopter next to the ski jump on the flight deck of HMS Queen Elizabeth
Image: A Merlin helicopter next to the ski jump on HMS Queen Elizabeth’s flight deck

It is truly hard to appreciate the enormous scale of Britain’s new aircraft carrier, until you are face-to-face with her.

At more than 65,000 tonnes and almost 300 meters long, she is a true Leviathan.

Our helicopter, one of two, landed on the ship’s four-and-half acre flight deck.

There is room for many more. In times of high crisis, Queen Elizabeth can accommodate more than 50 aircraft, a mix of fast jets and helicopters.

Critics who complain the Queen Elizabeth is a giant carrier with no aircraft are badly informed.

The fact is the Royal Navy’s biggest ever warship is still on sea trials. It will be another three months at least before her builders hand her over and she is commissioned into the Royal Navy.

HMS Queen Elizabeth off the coast of the Isle of Wight ahead
Image: HMS Queen Elizabeth seen off the coast of the Isle of Wight

There are around 1,000 people on board the carrier for her trip into her home port, a mix of the ship’s company, air crew and their support and a couple of hundred contractors.

There is a real palpable sense of excitement among those embarked for this major milestone in the UK‘s return to carrier air power.

Captain Jerry Kyd told me the military are not usually emotional people, but some on board have been working on this project for the last four or five years.

This is the culmination of a massive feat of engineering which has seen parts of the carrier constructed at yards across the UK and assembled at Rosyth, in Fife.

For Captain Kyd, the carrier’s entry into Portsmouth has even more emotional resonance.

Crew members work in the ship control centre on board HMS Queen Elizabeth
Image: Crew members work in the ship’s control centre

He was in command of the Invincible class Ark Royal carrier when it made its final homecoming to Portsmouth seven years ago.

At more than three times the size of HMS Ark Royal, Queen Elizabeth has a much tighter fit to enter Portsmouth.

It’s a manoeuvre not for the faint-hearted, but the crew here have full confidence in their vastly experienced captain.

With a wry smile, Captain Kyd tells us that when Henry VIII first chose Portsmouth for his Navy, they were sailing ships the size of the Mary Rose.

No wonder the Navy has spent months dredging millions of cubic meters of mud from the seabed at the entrance to the port.

This modern day symbol of Britain’s maritime power, named after Henry VIII’s daughter, will enter the port ever so slowly – a journey she will make many times in her 50 years of service for the Royal Navy.

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Freak dinosaur may be the missing link

A freak dinosaur with a mixture of different features may have been the missing link between plant eaters and predators, scientists say.

Chilesaurus, discovered in Chile in 2004 and first described in 2015, was originally thought to be a vegetarian member of the theropods, the family of two-legged meat eaters that included the T rex and Velociraptor.

However, new research published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, suggests Chilesaurus could have actually belonged to the ornithischia – herbivorous dinosaurs whose structure was similar to that of a bird.

Tyrannosaurus rex istock
Image: T rex – a meat eating member of the theropods

Professor Paul Barrett, one of the scientists from London‘s Natural History Museum, said: “Chilesaurus is one of the most puzzling and intriguing dinosaurs ever discovered.

“Its weird mix of features places it in a key position in dinosaur evolution and helps to show how some of the really big splits between the major groups might have come about.”

The researchers analysed more than 450 anatomical characteristics of early dinosaurs to find Chilesaurus’s correct place in the dinosaur family tree.

It is now thought Chilesaurus was related to plant eaters Triceratops, Stegosaurus and Iguanadon.

The 150-million-year-old Chilean oddity had the head of a carnivore but had flat, plant grinding teeth.

Key traits of ornithischians include a bird-like hip structure and a beak-like jaw, but while Chilesaurus had classic ornithischian hips, it lacked the distinctive beak and its mouth parts resembled those of a meat eater, with the exception of carnivore teeth.

Triceratops istock
Image: Triceratops – a plant eating member of the ornithischia group

Lead author Matthew Baron, a PhD student at Cambridge University’s Department of Earth Sciences, said: “Chilesaurus almost looks like it was stitched together from different animals, which is why it baffled everybody.

“There was a split in the dinosaur family tree, and the two branches took different evolutionary directions.

“This seems to have happened because of change in diet for Chilesaurus.

“It seems it became more advantageous for some of the meat eating dinosaurs to start eating plants, possibly even out of necessity.”

‘Terrified’ usher stands in for concert soprano

It is a story that a classical singer could only dream of coming true.

Milly Forrest, a music student who was working as an usher, found herself stepping on to the stage at Wigmore Hall as a late replacement after a soprano called in sick.

The 23-year-old, who is training to be a classical singer, had auditioned at the prestigious classical venue before and been advised that her time would come when her voice matures.

But it came much sooner than expected, leaving Milly “terrified” ahead of the biggest performance of her life.

Milly Forrest
Image: The music student had just 36 hours to prepare for the performance

She told Sky News: “[I was] so scared, but because I knew the stage so well that was slightly more reassuring!”

The music student had just 36 hours to prepare but very nearly missed out on the chance altogether.

“I stupidly left my phone at home on the Wednesday afternoon,” she said.

“I got back in the evening and there were all these missed calls but luckily I got in there.”

Wigmore Hall’s director John Gilhooly said he nearly looked elsewhere.

“We were scrambling around to reach her, I got others to try and call her for about three hours,” he told Sky News.

“In the end I said ‘if we don’t hear from her by 5pm we’ll have to ask someone else in order to give them time to prepare. Then she called at ten to five!”

Director John Gilhooly said Milly made an 'auspicious' start to her career
Image: Director John Gilhooly said Milly made an ‘auspicious’ start to her career

The season’s closing concert received five-star reviews and Mr Gilhooly says Milly gave an “auspicious debut”.

“She’s an outstanding singer,” he said. “This is perhaps the beginning of something and it is a great joy to help a young artist.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we use her again, it is a voice of quality.

“Usually one is closer to 30 years old when things start happening in the operatic world, so we’ll be keeping an eye on her.”

Milly isn’t expecting to step into the big time just yet.

For now, she’s happy to return to her front of house role, collecting coats and tearing up tickets, while she studies for a Master’s degree.

“There’s plenty more I need to know,” she said. “I really enjoy my shifts here, we get paid to hear these fantastic musicians.”

Charlie charity to ‘honour life of little warrior’

The parents of Charlie Gard have confirmed plans to set up a foundation to help seriously ill children, saying the charity will honour the life of their “little warrior”.

In a post on their website, charliesfight.org, Chris Gard and Connie Yates said the £1.3m raised by donors to pay for their son’s treatment before he died would now go towards setting up The Charlie Gard Foundation.

The charity will help youngsters with mitochondrial diseases and rare illnesses, and their families.

“We feel that the foundation will be a lovely legacy for Charlie, and we hope that you will all continue to support us in honouring the life of our little warrior as he helps other poorly children and their families,” the couple said.

Announcing that the charity would be set up “in the following weeks” they said that “too many children” were losing the fight against rare medical conditions, “which emphasises the need for more research” – something they hope to deliver through the foundation.

:: Timeline: Parents’ battle to save Charlie Gard

Parents Connie Yates and Chris Yard with their baby Charlie
Image: The couple say the charity will be a ‘lovely legacy’

The aim is for the charity to become “a hub of information for parents that may find themselves in a situation like ours”, they said.

“There needs to be more clarity for parents about parental rights when it comes to making life-saving decisions about their children. Access to medical treatment, and expert clinicians, should never be denied if funds are available.

“We will be looking at ways in which we can help make things clearer for families and hospitals alike.”

Charlie was seemingly a “perfectly healthy” baby when he was born on 4 August last year, but was taken to hospital at just eight weeks old after he began losing weight and strength.

His fight against mitochondrial depletion syndrome, an inherited disease so rare that Charlie was only the 16th person in the world to be diagnosed with it, generated headlines around the world as his parents fought a lengthy legal battle to have him treated in the US with an experimental therapy.

The couple set up a crowdfunding page to pay for his care abroad and took their fight through the courts.

However, they ended their legal battle on 24 July after attempts to take him to the US were blocked by doctors and judges.

Charlie died in a hospice on 28 July, a week before his first birthday, after having his life support withdrawn.

BT hanging up 20,000 phone boxes by 2022

BT is to scrap half of the UK‘s remaining 40,000 telephone boxes during the next five years.

More than half of the boxes lose money and a third handle just a single phone call or are not used at all each month, the telecoms company said.

The cost of maintaining payphones each year is around £6m.

A spokeswoman told Sky News that 13,400 payphones – about 28% of the current estate – would disappear during the next three years, and another 6,600 would follow by 2022.

“BT is committed to providing a public payphone service, but with usage declining by over 90% in the last decade, we continue to review and remove payphones which are no longer used,” she said.

“Payphone removals are carried out in strict adherence to Ofcom guidelines and, where appropriate, with the consent of local authorities.

“In all instances where there’s no other payphone within 400 metres, we’ll ask for consent from the local authority to remove the payphone. Where we receive objections from the local authority, we won’t remove the payphone.”

There are currently 7,000 traditional red phone boxes on the streets – 2,400 of which have been designated as grade II listed buildings.

At their peak in 2002, before mobile phones became a staple of daily life, there were 92,000 payphones across the UK.

Since 2008, communities have been encouraged to buy unused phone boxes for £1, under the firm’s Adopt a Kiosk scheme, to preserve their own part of Britain’s heritage.

Teen left scarred after stranger bites face

A teenager has been left with permanent scarring after being bitten by a stranger as she left a nightclub.

The 18-year-old woman was attacked at 3:30am after leaving the Pryzm Nightclub in Kingston, southwest London.

Police are appealing for information following the incident, which happened on Sunday, 25 June.

Officers said the woman was approached by an unknown man who put her in a headlock before biting her face.

The victim needed immediate medical treatment after the attack.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Robert Wise said: “This was a savage attack that has left a young girl with a permanent scar; we urgently want to find the person responsible.

“There would have been many people who witnessed this horrible assault and I would appeal to anyone with information to contact police.”

The suspect is described as a white male with blonde hair.

There have been no arrests and the attack is being treated as grievous bodily harm.

Anyone with any information is asked to call Kingston CID on 101. You can also contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at crimestoppers-uk.org.

Crash cyclist ‘shouted’ at fatally injured woman

A cyclist accused of killing a mother of two after crashing into her on a bike got up and began shouting at her as she lay injured in the street, a court has heard.

Charlie Alliston, 20, was allegedly riding a fixed-wheel track bike with no front brakes when he collided with Kim Briggs in London‘s Old Street in February 2016.

A statement from David Callan, who witnessed the incident, was read out by prosecutor Duncan Penny QC at the Old Bailey.

Mr Callan had said: “I had my head down looking at something on my mobile phone when I heard a shout.

“It was a loud shout and seemed like a male voice conveying urgency, like a warning or alert.

“It made me look up immediately, just in time to see a collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian.”

The collision happened on Old Street in central London. File pic
Image: The collision happened in Old Street in central London

Mr Callan said Alliston “flew through the air” after the collision, while Mrs Briggs – a 44-year-old HR consultant – fell at the point of impact.

The witness said the cyclist, who was 18 at the time, “quickly sprang to their feet and shouted something” as she lay on the ground.

Jurors heard that Mrs Briggs suffered “non-survivable brain injuries” and died in hospital a week later.

During an earlier hearing, the court was told Alliston’s “fixie” bike was not legal to use on roads because it did not have a front brake.

The jury also heard that crash investigators had concluded the young cyclist would have been able to stop and avoid the collision if the bike had been fitted with a front brake.

CCTV footage played in the courtroom showed Alliston beginning to swerve as he approached Mrs Briggs at an average speed of 18mph – with crash investigator Edward Small saying she had stepped into the road 3.8 seconds before the crash.

Jurors heard the defendant changed the wheels on his bike after the crash, but the original set was later retrieved by police.

In a legal first, Alliston, from south London, is on trial for Mrs Briggs’ manslaughter – and has also been charged with causing bodily harm “by wanton or furious driving” under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act.

He denies the charges against him.

RBS to cut 880 IT jobs in London, says Unite

State-backed Royal Bank of Scotland is planning to cut 880 IT jobs by 2020, Unite has said.

The bank has told staff it will be cutting 40% of permanent staff (650 roles) at its London office and a further 65% of contractors (230 posts), according to the union.

RBS employed 2,200 staff in the capital in 2016 – which will be reduced to 950 in around three years’ time, Unite claimed.

“By 2020 just a fraction of the RBS IT function will remain, leaving this organisation operating a skeleton service with the customers and remaining staff paying the price,” said Rob MacGregor, Unite national officer.

“RBS’ fixation with cutting employee numbers, restructuring and offshoring work that could reasonably be done by displaced staff within the RBS IT community is unacceptable.

“This British-taxpayer-funded bank should be concentrating on investing in jobs here in the UK, rather than wholesale cuts.

“Unite is angry that the massive scale of IT job losses will sap morale, productivity and faith in the company.”

The lender, which is 72% owned by the Government, said the latest phase of its downsizing plan was still in the early stages.

It comes months after chief executive Ross McEwan ordered a cost-cutting drive widely expected to result in job losses and branch closures.

An RBS spokesperson said: “Inevitably as RBS becomes a simpler, smaller bank focused on the UK and Ireland, our technology function will undergo reorganisation and will reduce over time.

“As we develop long-term plans for our technology business, we have, in the interests of transparency, started to share our emerging proposals on a future operating model with Unite.

“We have not consulted on any headcount reduction, instead sharing a direction of travel with Unite which is subject to change.

“Our proposed plans are designed to reduce the number of contractors we employ and strengthen our permanent workforce and while we are downsizing in London we are reinvesting in other UK hubs.”

Man falls to his death at London Stock Exchange

A City worker has died after plunging from an upper floor balcony of the London Stock Exchange.

Police and ambulance crews were called to the scene after the man was said to have fallen from a glass walkway inside the historic building.

A City of London Police spokesman said officers were alerted to the fall at about 10am.

Paramedics were also in attendance and the man was pronounced dead shortly afterwards.

“The City of London Police is currently investigating the circumstances around the death and the incident is being treated as non-suspicious,” said the spokesman.

“We are now working to inform the man’s next of kin.”

The London Stock Exchange Group confirmed an employee had fallen to his death in the building.

“The emergency services were called immediately and are dealing with the incident. We will continue to offer them every support and cooperation possible,” a spokesman said.

Some brokers have offices at the exchange’s headquarters located at Paternoster Square in the heart of London’s financial district.

The London Stock Exchange, which dates its history back to 1698, is one of the world’s oldest stock exchanges.

UK hopes to strike new deals in Brexit transition

Ministers hope they will be able to negotiate and complete trade deals with other countries during any Brexit transitional period.

But they accept they won’t be able to implement them.

Speaking as the Brexit Secretary David Davis revealed future customs proposals with the EU, Government officials refused to be drawn on whether a third country trade deal could actually be signed.

This appeared to contradict an earlier promise made by Chancellor Philip Hammond and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who wrote in the Sunday Telegraph that once EU membership ends in March 2019, the UK would be an “independent nation with the freedom to sign bilateral free trade agreements”.

Mr Davis told Sky News a temporary customs arrangement with the EU will be “in both sides’ interests” but any transition period should not exceed two years.

He said any interim customs union was there to avoid a “cliff-edge” for manufacturers after Brexit.

Video: Davis: We want ‘slick’ EU customs arrangements

Mr Davis estimated the transition period would be roughly two years – with the deadline of the next General Election in 2022 as the “absolute maximum”.

The document sets out two broad approaches to a possible customs deal.

One aims to continue some existing arrangements the UK has with the EU, using technology to make custom requirements “as frictionless as possible”.

The second option is without precedent, which would involve the UK mirroring the EU’s requirements for imports where the final destination is the EU.

The Government also says it has contingency plans in place to deal with the possibility of no agreement.

But there are increasing concerns that all the Government’s possible options mean businesses will be hit with extra red tape and increased costs.

For example, proposals for goods that do not comply with the EU’s trade policy would need a “tracking mechanism” where traders could claim “refunds” if tariff trades differ.

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Video: Farage: ‘We did not vote for transitional arrangements’

The British Irish Chamber of Commerce responded saying it was cautious about the feasibility of some proposals being put forward in London on simplifying new trade barriers with Europe.

John McGrane, director of the association, said the ideas were a constructive contribution to the negotiations.

“The recognition of the need for an interim period to allow for the adoption of new systems and infrastructures will be welcomed by businesses who have long warned of the dangers of leaving the Customs Union without such a transition phase,” he said.

“It is important that this phase is as close to the status quo as possible with minimum disruption caused by tariff and non-tariff barriers.”

A European Commission spokesman said the UK position paper on customs would be examined carefully.

“We take note of the UK’s request for an implementing period and its preferences as regards the future relationship, but we will only address them once we have made sufficient progress on the terms of the orderly withdrawal,” the spokesman said.

“An agreement on a future relationship between the EU and the UK can only be finalised once the UK has become a third country.

“As (EU chief negotiator) Michel Barnier has said on several occasions, ‘frictionless trade’ is not possible outside the single market and customs union.”

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit coordinator, tweeted: “To be in and out of the Customs Union and ‘invisible borders’ is a fantasy.

“First need to secure citizens‘ rights & a financial settlement.”

Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, branded the customs proposals “incoherent and inadequate” and “designed to gloss over deep and continuing divisions within the Cabinet”.