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Grenfell Tower fire: Public inquiry hearings to start

Remains of Grenfell TowerImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Sir Martin Moore-Bick will lead the public inquiry into the blaze

Two days of hearings will begin later to establish the framework of the Grenfell Tower fire public inquiry.

Its chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, will look into the best way for witnesses to give evidence.

It comes as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the government of “failing” survivors of the 14 June blaze, with more than 100 still living in hotels.

A residents’ group said only 42 families of the 208 needing re-housing had been moved to permanent homes.

The procedural hearings are being held at the Holborn Bars in central London and will deal with case management issues, such as proposed timescales, matters concerning witnesses and the disclosure of evidence.

Survivors are calling for Sir Martin to give them a more central role in the inquiry and for the community to be represented on the panel.

The retired judge has already appointed three assessors to advise on housing, local government and technical matters, and five expert witnesses on fire safety.

But the BBC‘s home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds said it is unlikely that he will give a bigger role to local people in order to maintain the inquiry’s independence.

‘Disgrace’

Last week, a survivors’ group called Grenfell United said 118 families that needed re-housing would still be in emergency accommodation over Christmas or staying with friends.

It said that a further 48 households had accepted offers for permanent housing, but have still not been moved in, leaving them in temporary accommodation.

Mr Corbyn said the government was “failing to learn its lessons and, more importantly, failing the survivors.

“It is a disgrace that the majority of Grenfell residents have still not been given homes and that tower blocks across our country have still not been made safe.

“We need answers from the government and we need action.”

A government spokesman said it expected the local authority – Kensington and Chelsea – to do “whatever is necessary” to help families, but said the council was moving “at the pace of the families and individuals involved.”

He added: “Hundreds of homes have been acquired to give people as much choice as a possible – nobody will be forced to move until they are ready

Image copyright Reuters

Sir Martin wants to produce an initial report explaining the immediate cause and spread of the Grenfell Tower fire, along with an assessment of the evacuation process.

Our correspondent says hopes for that to be published by Easter have been abandoned – partly because the ongoing police investigation has to take priority.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has now announced its own investigation, examining if authorities failed in their legal obligations to residents.

It will also look at whether the government has adequately investigated the fire – including looking into the public inquiry – and expects to conclude its work in April.

Memorial service

The six-month anniversary of the tragedy will be marked on Thursday with a national memorial service at St Paul’s Cathedral.

Attendees will include the Prince of Wales, Duchess of Cornwall, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry.

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Megan Bannister: Friend calls for ‘duty to help’ law

Megan BannisterImage copyright Family handout
Image caption Megan Bannister was found lifeless on the back seat of a crashed car

The best friend of a teenager who died after taking drugs has called for a law to oblige people to seek help for someone they know is dangerously ill.

Sixteen-year-old Megan Bannister died while in a car driven by the men who had supplied the drugs.

Jason Burder, 29, and Adam King, 28, were jailed for supplying MDMA but cleared of her manslaughter.

Louis King said he wanted a new law that could see people prosecuted for failing to call an ambulance.

“I was angry, I felt that Megan had not had any justice,” he added.

Image caption Louis King says Jason Burder and Adam King’s sentences were not long enough

Louis said Megan’s death “counted as an aggravating factor to the drugs charges but I don’t think [the sentence] was anywhere near long enough”.

What happened has prompted him to call for a change in the law.

“They gave her these drugs and then they recorded her having a completely different reaction to what they were having,” he said

“They should have known something was wrong with her, they did know and they did nothing about it.

“It’s their fault she is gone, they took away her chance of having any help.”

Louis said Burder and King “showed none of the kindness she showed to friends, they just treated her like trash”.

Image copyright Leicestershire Police
Image caption Jason Burder (left) was jailed for eight and a half years and Adam King was sentenced to four and a half years

Megan was found lying in the back of a Vauxhall Astra which had crashed near Enderby, Leicestershire, on 14 May.

Their trial heard Burder and King had given Megan ecstasy, then filmed her bad reaction.

The men, both from Leicester, then drove around buying beer and calling escorts while the teenager was left to die.

They were acquitted of manslaughter as it was unclear that their failure to seek medical help had caused Megan’s death.

Burder was jailed for eight and a half years and King for four and a half years.

Image caption Kirsten Bannister said her family’s lives had been ruined

Louis has started an online petition to try to have the idea debated in Parliament.

Megan’s sister Kirsten, who is backing the move, said she missed her sister every day.

“Megan was caring, kind and beautiful,” she added.

“We are taking each day as it comes and we are lucky to have a big family and a big support network.

“But our lives are ruined, they will never be the same again.”

Borehamwood blockbuster

Star Wars filming in Tunisian desertImage copyright Shutterstock
Image caption Tunisia doubled for desert planet Tatooine in the original Star Wars movie, but the bulk of the film was shot at Elstree Studios

The Last Jedi is released on Friday – 40 years after Star Wars fever first came to Britain. But the original film would never have been made without a British studio and host of talented artists and technicians.

Long before it became an all-conquering cultural phenomenon, Star Wars was facing a problem.

Director George Lucas had cast a trio of young unknown American actors in the lead roles of his space adventure and was gearing up to shoot in Britain. But his UK production executive Peter Beale knew Britain probably wouldn’t let them.

“Equity was trying to look after the British actors; there was no work around and they didn’t want foreign actors coming in and taking midsize roles or big roles that the British actors could do,” he said.

But Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill needed work permits. So Beale, like others involved in the blockbuster’s production, had to get creative.

He drew up an alternative cast list showing the film’s British actors, including Alec Guinness, Peter Cushing and David Prowse at the top, and Ford, Fisher and Hamill in apparently minor roles.

“I went to Equity and said ‘Look, the English have got the best parts in this, but the director wants three little Americans for the smaller parts‘ and I also went to the Home Office and told them the truth… and they supported it because they wanted the work and they recognised it.”

What did Equity say? “By the time they realised, I think they had forgiven me.”

Image copyright Shutterstock
Image caption When George Lucas (centre) began work on Star Wars, few in the industry believed a space movie could be a hit

As one of the world’s best-loved and most successful films, the casual observer might think of Star Wars as the archetypal Hollywood blockbuster, created in the studios of Los Angeles.

But as fans of the saga and film history know, the movie that spawned a multibillion-dollar franchise was shot mainly in Hertfordshire at Elstree Studios, Borehamwood – using the talent, expertise and ingenuity of hundreds of British workers.

A new documentary, The Galaxy Britain Built, tracked down these filmmakers to get their stories, revealing how they drew on all their ingenuity to bring George Lucas’s vision to life in the face of a tight schedule and even tighter budget.

Costume designer John Mollo won an Oscar for his work on Star Wars and kept all of his original workbooks with early sketches of characters including Chewbacca and the Jedi.

During pre-production, he would meet Lucas every morning and remained modest about his award-winning creations.

“It was a question of who won and who didn’t that particular day. We [him and Lucas] always got on pretty well,” he said.

“The costumes were pretty simple on the whole. They were very straightforward, in fact.”

The interview was Mollo’s last. He died in October, aged 86.

Image caption Oscar-winning costume designer John Mollo showed documentary-maker David Whiteley many of his original sketches

Despite its modest budget, Star Wars remained a big production. At least seven sound stages would be needed, and only two or three were available at 20th Century Fox’s Los Angeles studios.

Cost was another major factor. Executives originally estimated the film could be made in the UK for $4m, half the cost of Hollywood.

Production supervisor Robert Watts told how he was rebuffed when he asked to rent every available stage at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.

Elstree, however, quoted £75,000 for the entire studio. “All the stages, all the workshops – everything,” said Watts. “Fantastic. Best deal I’ve ever made in my life.”

Image caption Elstree Studios offered the filmmakers the facilities they needed at half the price of Hollywood

Money was tight throughout the production, which caused a huge headache for set decorator Roger Christian

“I had a list of weapons, robots, sets, vehicles,” he said. “[I] just stared at it in horror, thinking ‘I can’t do this.'”

Improvisation was needed. R2-D2’s dome was made from a lampshade salvaged from a scrapheap. Another breakthrough was the design of the lightsaber, which Christian knew would be the “Excalibur” of the film.

Inspiration came as he rummaged through dusty boxes at a photography firm and found the handle of a 1940s press camera became a lightsaber

“I just took it and went ‘There it is. This is the Holy Grail'”, he said.

Image caption Thanks to Roger Christian, the handle of a 1940s press camera became a lightsaber
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The original dome for droid R2-D2 came from a lampshade salvaged from a scrapheap

Star Wars may now be established as the one of the most successful franchises in movie history, but Lucas’s ideas were initially met with scepticism. Science fiction simply wasn’t “box office”, and few believed a space movie would be a hit.

“Space and special effects were considered B movies, and this was a comic-book, expensive B movie, a lot of people thought,” said Peter Beale, the executive in charge of production who was forced into the work permit improvisation.

Art director Les Dilley went further. He said that scepticism extended to the British crew.

“No, I don’t think we really understood it,” he said.

“I remember a couple of people on the crew said ‘Well what is it? A load of rubbish. What does all this mean?'”

Image caption When Peter Beale told his boss it was impossible to fit four weeks’ work into a fortnight, he was told: “Solve it.”

Another challenge came in the form of the trade unions. The film’s American producer Gary Kurtz told how production returned to Elstree after a challenging shoot in Tunisia.

“We were warned in advance that British crews were very sticky about the time of day they worked and whether the shop stewards would allow you to work overtime at the end of the day or not. On location, they were fantastic. In the studio, it was more difficult,” he said.

But many problems could be ironed out through another British tradition: going for a pint.

“We did discuss potential problems for the next day’s shoot and sometimes solve them, there in the pub,” he added.


‘It was a time everything felt good’

Documentary-maker David Whiteley grew up with Star Wars, and has fond memories of watching the films with his dad, Clive, who died 11 years ago.

“Star Wars was mine and my dad’s thing, so there’s an element of nostalgia, it was a time everything felt good,” he said.

“I wish he was around to see I’ve made a documentary about it.”

Born on 4 May – “Star Wars Day” – three weeks before the original movie’s US release, Whiteley’s interest was rekindled by 2015’s release of The Force Awakens and the idea for The Galaxy Britain Built came soon after.

Eighteen months’ work followed to track down the veteran filmmakers. Countless emails, letters and phone calls were needed.

Image caption The Force was strong in Whiteley from a young age

Highlights included handling Roger Christian’s prototype lightsaber – “That was pretty amazing” – and leafing through John Mollo’s sketchbooks: “Apparently I said ‘I’m trying to remain professional but on the inside I’m like a child again.'”

Whiteley said it had been an honour to meet his filmmaking heroes and hear their stories.

“You don’t really hear from these guys. They haven’t done many interviews,” he said.

“They are very proud but also very humble, and that comes across in the film. They were just doing their job but at the time they realised they were working on something very special and it was a very exciting time.

“They all say it was a privilege to do it and that Star Wars made their careers.”


Away from the pub, a much bigger logistical problem appeared on the horizon when shooting overran and the film’s financiers ordered it to cease in two weeks – with four weeks’ work still to do.

Beale said the problem was solved by splitting the production into three units with Watts and Kurtz each directing in addition to Lucas

And despite the headaches and doubts about the material, one moment stood out that made him realise the movie could be a hit.

“I got to the set late one day and noticed there were some children on the set and I thought ‘What’s happening here?'”

The children were fascinated by the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO, but slightly scared of Chewbacca. More youngsters visited and had the same reaction. “I started to think ‘Well, if the children are relating at this level, maybe we have something.'”

Image copyright Shutterstock
Image caption Producer Gary Kurtz said unions were happy to work extended hours during the Tunisia shoot, but less so when filming returned to Elstree
Image caption Star Wars opened in the UK on 27 December 1977, seven months after its US premiere
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Fans queued once again outside the premiere of 2015’s The Force Awakens

That was confirmed at the film’s premiere on 25 May 1977.

“It was absolutely thrilling. To have seen all that come together, and come together so well… it was fantastic,” said Beale.

Christian said: “I felt the entire cinema almost left their seats… everyone just exploded, and you knew then this was going to be a massive hit and everyone came out buzzing.”

Makers of subsequent Star Wars movies, including Gareth Edwards, director of 2016’s Rogue One, have returned to film at Elstree. He described it as “such a great experience”.

Edwards, from Nuneaton in Warwickshire, said: “I think as a kid you picture it in this galaxy far, far away and it’s a real shock to learn one day that it was just somewhere off the M25.

“It’d be very easy to argue that you’d worked with the best in the world.”

Image caption Gareth Edwards was inspired to enter the film world after being captivated by the Star Wars movies

Colin Goudie, who edited Rogue One, said: “These are the movies that the whole world is going to watch. And it’s made in Britain.”

Watts, whose own production credits include two Indiana Jones movies, believes Elstree was a “lucky charm” for Star Wars, but added: “Talent… that’s the most important thing.

“Here in Britain we have the most extraordinary talent, both in the acting profession and but also, very importantly, in the production department of it.

“To this very day, I still have to pinch myself because people say to me sometimes ‘You worked on Star Wars.’ I’m extremely proud to have been involved in it.

“I look at myself now as I get older and the rest of it, and I think ‘Bloody hell Robert, how did that happen?’ It was something else.”

The Galaxy Britain Built will be shown on BBC Four on 21 December at 22:00 GMT and then on BBC iPlayer.

Protest planned at city’s children’s services cuts and job losses

CAMPAIGNERS will be on City Hall’s steps in Bradford next week protesting against job losses and cuts in Children’s Services.

Unite the Union will be supporting Bradford People’s Assembly at the protest from noon until 2pm on December 12.

George Williamson from Bradford People’s Assembly is hoping as many people as possible will turn out to add their support to stop cut backs of hundreds of jobs and “a drastic reduction” in the prevention and early help services provided by Children’s Services.

The plans are out for public consultation until February and on Tuesday the Council’s Executive will hear a motion from Bolton and Undercliffe’s Independent councillor David Ward urging the Council to give more details about where the proposed job losses would be made.

Mr Williamson said the protest next week was also is against changes that would be made to the way Bradford’s Prevention and Early Help is delivered. He said if the plans are rolled out it would mean there would be just one worker helping a family with children aged 0-19 or 0-25 if a child has Special Educational Needs and Disabilities. Any changes would come into effect next October, before being fully implemented by 2020.

“This means that regardless as to how complex the needs are of the family, just one worker will be responsible for helping the family,” he said.

Andy Dye , regional organiser for Unite said the plans would also be to downgrade children’s centres even though they are used by more than 22,000 children aged 0 to 4 each year. He said there were also plans to reduce many teams.

“Unite have been very clearly opposed to these cuts from the very start and we have made it very clear that we will do all that we can to defend our members against job cuts.”

Councillor Val Slater, Executive Member for Health and Wellbeing, said: “Central Government cuts mean we are having to take out £13.3 million by 2020/21, that is one third out of the Early Help budget – something none of us want to do. But we have to use the money we have left to the best advantage for the families who need it. The new arrangements are currently being consulted on, no decision will be made until April 2018. Naturally people have a right to protest but until Government starts to address our major concerns regarding funding for children’s social care, then we have to manage with the limited funding we have.”

7,800 Bradford children ‘don’t own a book’ – according to new study

ALMOST 7,800 children in Bradford do not own a single book – according to new research by a literacy charity.

The findings, by the National Literacy Trust, show that the most likely children to not have a book are those from deprived backgrounds, boys, and teenagers.

The trust, which has a hub in Bradford to book literacy in the district, has now launched a campaign to get the provide the country’s poorest children with their first book at Christmas.

The national survey shows that 5.5 times as many children and young people who say that they don’t have a book at home say that they don’t enjoy reading at all compared with those who have their own book.

The research report, Book ownership and reading outcomes, found that children who say they don’t own a single book have much poorer educational outcomes than their book owning peers.

Children who own books are 15 times more likely to read above the level expected for their age than their peers who don’t own a book (28.8 per cent vs 1.9 per cent) and four times less likely to read below the expected level (12.9 per cent vs 48.1 per cent).

Breaking down the figures, the Trust found that in the Bradford District there were 7,773 school children aged 8-18, who don’t own a single book.

Jonathan Douglas, Director of the trust, said: “Books have the power to transform children’s lives, which is why it is so alarming to discover that more than 7,000 school children in Bradford don’t have a single book to call their own.

“By donating to the National Literacy Trust this Christmas, you could help give a disadvantaged child their first ever book and set them on the path to a brighter future.”

The Christmas Stories campaign is being lead by best-selling author and illustrator, Cressida Cowell. She said: “Far too many children from some of the poorest families in the UK are missing out on the chance to reach their potential for one simple reason – they don’t have a single book of their own at home.

“Just one book can make a huge difference. By joining me in supporting the National Literacy Trust’s Christmas Stories campaign, you can help a disadvantaged child unwrap their very first book this Christmas.”

To donate to the campaign, visit literacytrust.org.uk/support-us/fundraising/change-childs-life-story-christmas/

Britain on the verge: Life along the A1

Collins Road Atlas of Britain hans inside BABS cafe. Retford, Nottinghamshire.Image copyright Peter Dench

Winding across the United Kingdom, the A1 is the longest numbered road in Britain, providing a route between the capitals of England and Scotland.

Embarking on a visual road trip, Peter Dench photographed the characters and locations he encountered as he drove the length of this road. This project was intended as an homage to Paul Graham who undertook a similar photographic expedition in 1981.

Despite the nature of the task, Dench admits, “I don’t like driving cars; I don’t like the smell of cars, the sound of cars, the process of refuelling cars or even talking about cars, but I do like taking journeys.”

Regardless of his misgivings, he hit the asphalt with the specific aim of exploring the idea of British identity in the age of Brexit.

Dench wanted to meet the real people of the UK and says, “The A1 was to be my tendril to them, an artery that connects as much as it divides. It would provide a route of certainty in a time of tumult, through a nation on the verge.”

City workers check their phone. St Paul's, London.Image copyright Peter Dench
Men in suits wait to cross the road. St Paul's, London.Image copyright Peter Dench
A woman holding a cigarette. Barbican, London.Image copyright Peter Dench

The A1 begins near St Paul’s in the City of London, passing the concrete blocks of the Barbican Complex. Dench captures the city workers texting in their slick suits, as others make their way through the busy city.

Further north in Holloway, he photographs young Muslims removing their shoes as they prepare to enter a mosque.

The Holloway Mosque can hold around 300 worshippers and is headed by Imam Shafiullah Patel, who advises the community to exercise their right to vote.

A young worshipper arrives for Friday prayer at the Holloway Mosque in London.Image copyright Peter Dench
A Union Flag decorated refrigerator for sale. Holloway, London.Image copyright Peter Dench
Mark, 32, from Essex selling fruit and vegetables. Holloway, London.Image copyright Peter Dench

At another point on the Holloway road, Dench met Mark, a 32-year-old fruit and vegetable seller from Essex.

Mark believes that his business has suffered because of price rises in transportation and import costs as a result of Brexit.

Despite this, he remains optimistic that the business will survive until things “settle down”.

A woman reads The Daily Mirror newspaper. Archway, London.Image copyright Peter Dench
View north towards Hornsey Lane Bridge. Archway, London.Image copyright Peter Dench

At the Baldock Extra Motorway Services, Dench encounters Challis and her boyfriend Arnold, both dressed in camouflage tracksuits, socks and open-toe pool shoes. They are making their way north to visit family in Great Yarmouth.

Challis Cooper (20) and Arnold (22) take a break at Baldock Extra Motorway Services, on their way to visit family in Great Yarmouth. Radwell, Baldock, Bedfordshire.Image copyright Peter Dench
Mathew, at The Rockery Centre in Sandy, BedfordshireImage copyright Peter Dench

Further north he meets Matthew, the proprietor of the Rockery Centre in Bedfordshire which lies on the A1.

He is more positive about the state of business. On sale for £6,000 is a selection of animal sculptures, specially imported from Kenya. “You’ve got to do something different,” he explains. “It’s the only way to survive.”

Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, speak to Sky News on a television screen at an Extra Motorway Services. Haddon, Cambridgeshire.Image copyright Peter Dench
Visitors to the Nene Valley Railway. Stibbington, Camridgeshire.Image copyright Peter Dench
The NORTH. The SOUTH. Stibbington, Cambridgeshire.Image copyright Peter Dench
Friends meet at the statue of mathematician and physicist, Sir Isaac Newton, who was born near the town. Grantham, Lincolnshire.Image copyright Peter Dench

Babs sits under the menu board in the BABS cafe by the side of the road in Blyth, Nottinghamshire.

Alongside her husband Pendleton, she has worked in this roadside cabin for 27 “long” years.

Just over a mile up the road, visitors to Flo’s cafe can read complimentary copies of the Truckstop News while a cardboard cut-out of the Queen watches over.

Babs sat under the menu board in BABS cafe. Blyth, Nottinghamshire.Image copyright Peter Dench
The flag of Saint George flies next to the A1. Nottinghamshire.Image copyright Peter Dench
A man eats a Flo's cafeImage copyright Peter Dench
Customers at Flo's Cafe can get a photo taken with a cut out of the Queen. Blyth, Nottinghamshire.Image copyright Peter Dench

Not far from the A1 in West Yorkshire Norman lives in a retirement home for the over-40s. The park was originally aimed at the over-50s but, due to poor business, the proprietor painted the sign down by a decade.

One of six siblings, Norman recently lost a brother to bowel cancer, the same disease that cut short his father’s life at 37. It’s a disease that Norman has survived.

He attributes his own illness to habitually eating bad food at unconventional times, having worked on the railways from the age of 15.

Originally a left-leaning voter, he has been influenced over the years to vote Conservative by his wife. They are both keen to move house but are having difficulty selling up, due to the location.

76 year old Norman lives in a retirement home close to the A1. Darrington, West Yorkshire.Image copyright Peter Dench
Condiments on the table at Little Chef. Doncaster, South Yorkshire.Image copyright Peter Dench
Houses situated in close proximity to the cooling towers at Ferrybridge Power Station. Knottingley, West Yorkshire.Image copyright Peter Dench
An elderly couple sat in a park. Wetherby, West Yorkshire.Image copyright Peter Dench

The Angel of The North, a large public sculpture by Anthony Gormley, welcomes visitors driving into Gateshead.

Around 33 million people a year see what is believed to be the largest sculpture of an angel in the world.

One visitor takes a detour off the A1 in order to take a selfie with his daughter.

A man takes a seflie on his phone holding a young girl in front of The Angel of the North, a contemporary sculpture, designed by Antony Gormley. Gateshead, Tyne and Wear.Image copyright Peter Dench
Entrance to the tea room at Esshottheugh Animal Park. Morpeth, Northumberland.Image copyright Peter Dench
Adi's Diner situated at the border of England and Scotland.Image copyright Peter Dench
A French couple, who arrived in Hull by ferry, document their arrival to Scotland.Image copyright Peter Dench

Dench captures a French couple, who have come via ferry to Hull, documenting their passing into Scotland.

On reaching Edinburgh, he encountered another group who have recently arrived in the UK: a family on holiday from India. They wait at the northern end of the A1, at the junction of North Bridge and Princes Street.

Looking back on his experience, Dench feels conflicted. “Driving the length of the A1, Britain doesn’t seem full,” he says. “At times it feels lonely. This is Britain on the verge.”

Thorntonloch Caravan Park. Dunbar.Image copyright Peter Dench
A family on holiday from India at the northern end of the A! at the junction of North Bridge and Princes Street. Edinburgh.Image copyright Peter Dench

All photographs copyright Peter Dench.

A1: Britain on the Verge will be on show at Project Space, Bermondsey Street, London 16-20 January 2018.

Galloway national park fight stepped up

Loch TroolImage copyright Getty Images

A bid to create Scotland‘s third national park in Galloway is taking a step forward.

A discussion paper is being published by the organisation campaigning for the move.

Scotland currently has two national parks – in the Cairngorms and at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs.

The Galloway National Park Association has now put together a document looking at potential boundaries, governance and cost for the south of Scotland scheme.

Former MSP Sir Alex Fergusson, who is a patron of the group and president of the Scottish Campaign for National Parks, said the launch of the document was “very exciting”.

Image copyright Getty Images

“It is the launch of a region-wide discussion, for want of a better word, on the proposals that have been brought forward by some very hard working people about the potential of a Galloway National Park,” he said.

“I use the word discussion rather than consultation because that is what it is and that is what everybody wants to happen – a genuine discussion.

“Consultations tend to have a preconceived outcome – this one doesn’t.”

He said the document being launched contained suggestions and issues that should be debated.

Image copyright Getty Images

“Over the next few months I hope as many people as possible will take part in that discussion and have their say,” he added.

The neighbouring Scottish Borders is also home to a similar campaign.

Any national park project would require Scottish government approval.

It has previously said any new parks would incur significant costs and that at a time of pressure on public finances it would not be right to raise expectations.

It said that instead it would focus on existing parks to “continue their track record of success”.

‘We are coming for you’ message on abuse

Police officer in domestic abuse online campaignImage copyright Police Scotland
Image caption A police officer uses the controlling language often heard by victims in an online campaign targeting perpetrators

Police Scotland has warned domestic abusers “we are coming for you” in a Christmas crackdown on offenders.

The force highlighted a 25% rise in reports of domestic abuse over the festive period last year.

It received an average of 199 reports of domestic incidents every day between Christmas Eve 2016 and 5 January 2017, compared to 158 at other times.

The #every9minutes campaign will highlight the problem of physical and emotional abuse.

It uses the language and controlling behaviours heard by victims to target the perpetrators.

Zero tolerance

Launching the campaign, Assistant Chief Constable Gillian MacDonald said officers would not tolerate any form of domestic abuse.

She added: “Domestic abusers want to control the actions and thoughts of their victims, this can take the form of violence but equally it can be threats or other abuse which demean their victim, destroying their confidence, and isolating them financially or from family and support.

“This type of abuse is often subtle and not necessarily as obvious as physical violence. However, this behaviour is equally as damaging, with some saying it can be worse than physical violence.

“Our officers are called to a domestic incident on average every nine minutes. Over Christmas this increases. Domestic abuse affects every community regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, age or sexual orientation.

“We will not tolerate domestic abuse. If you commit domestic abuse there will be consequences. We are coming for you.”

Image copyright Police Scotland
Image caption The police officer tells abusers they are “going to get what’s coming to you”

The four-week campaign will run in cinemas, on radio and online, at a cost of £22,500.

It will encourage people to report abuse and point victims towards organisations that will be able to help.

The campaign has been welcomed by Justice Secretary Michael Matheson.

He said: “Even though we know it happens every year, it’s no less disheartening to find police experience a surge in domestic abuse calls during the festive period.

“This Police Scotland campaign is an excellent challenge to all perpetrators, reminding them that police officers take a zero tolerance approach and are fully prepared to take on what is one of society’s most insidious crimes.”

A new domestic abuse bill aimed at strengthening and expanding the law was backed unanimously by MSPs earlier this year.

Mr Matheson said that if the bill is passed by parliament, it will make psychological abuse and coercive control a criminal offence.

“I want victims of domestic abuse to know they will be taken seriously and be supported by the justice system even if it seems like they are alone,” he said.

“If passed by parliament, this legislation will deliver more effective powers to pursue perpetrators, helping us on our way to eradicate domestic abuse from our society.”

Pricey season

A table of Christmas foodImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption The cost of Christmas: Some seasonal favourites have gone up in price since last year

From boxes of chocolates to mince pies and even Brussels sprouts, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without a table piled high with food.

But the price of the festive grocery shop has spiralled this year, thanks to growing food inflation.

Food and soft drink prices rose by 4.1% in the year to October – the biggest growth in four years and a move that’s hit some perennial Christmas favourites particularly hard.

The average price of smoked salmon shot up by 22.9% between November 2015 and November 2016, according to Kantar Worldpanel.

Brussels sprouts are up 8.4%, while Christmas puddings are 7.7% more expensive, according to the figures.

In September and October, consumer price inflation hit 3% compared with a year earlier – the highest level in five years and 0.9% above the rate of wage growth.

But some of the key components of Christmas – including popular presents such as smartphones and clothes – have seen average prices rise by far more than that.

So what’s behind the increases? And are we tightening our belts this Christmas as a result?

Grocery squeeze

The pound has fallen by as much as 20% relative to other currencies following the Brexit vote in 2016, meaning that retailers who rely on imports have seen significant price rises.

The UK brings in about 50% of the food we eat from overseas, so supermarkets have been under particular pressure.

Paul Martin, head of retail at KPMG, says that consumers are particularly sensitive to food price changes.

“Before 2017, grocery prices were falling off the back of the supermarket price war,” he says.

“We have gone quickly from a position where people are used to their weekly shop getting cheaper to getting more expensive.”

Mr Martin points out that the effect is psychological, with people paying more attention to rising prices than falling ones.

“Some sectors are hit particularly hard. For example, the price of smoked salmon has gone up markedly and that is an important part of Christmas for many people,” he adds.

Although some foods have become more expensive, we are buying it in increasing quantities. Over the three months to November, total food sales increased 4%, according to the British Retail Consortium and KPMG.

And it seems we are still keen to treat themselves as Christmas approaches, but are being more innovative in how we shop.

One in three shoppers say the cost of Christmas is a growing concern compared with last year, says grocery research firm IGD.

About 45% of shoppers told the IGD they would start Christmas shopping early to spread the cost, compared with 35% who said the same last year.

And 43% are planning to spread the bulk their food shopping across a range of stores – twice as many as were planning to do a big Christmas shop in one place.

Tech troubles

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The rising price of phones means users are holding on to their handsets for longer, according to some reports

Many tech enthusiasts will be hoping for an iPhone X in their Christmas stocking. But they could be left disappointed if the price hikes seen on smartphones make them an unappealing purchase.

The cost of premium smartphones has been rising steadily each year. Average prices increased by 10.2% in 2015, 16.7% last year and 6.7% in 2017, according to technology analysts Gartner.

PC price hikes have been even more pronounced, with the average selling price rising by 23% in 2016 and 14% in 2017 – after an average fall of 29% in 2014.

Technology prices largely fell by 3-5% every year until 2012, but now things are different, says Ranjit Atwal, a research director at Gartner.

“On the PC side, a lot of people started to buy better models that were higher spec, so started to move up the price curve,” he says.

“Then there are issues around exchange rates. When the pound fell in 2016 we saw quite a big increase in pricing. The cost of the components has been increasing too.”

Will this strike tech gifts off Christmas lists? Phone users are typically holding on to their handsets for four or five months longer, as prices have become more expensive, Dixons Carphone’s chief executive Seb James warned back in August.

But Mr Atwal says shoppers aren’t overly bothered by price hikes.

“Smartphones are much more pervasive – everybody has one,” he says.

“People don’t buy them all in one go, so they don’t really realise. Groceries are a frequent purchase: if the price of milk goes up 5p, you notice that.”

Clothing woes

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Average clothing prices have risen 11.5% since last year, after retailers timed the winter wather better

Prices have gone up 11.5% in the UK online clothing, shoes and accessories market from November 2016 to November 2017 on a like-for-like retailer basis, says data analytics platform WGSN Instock.

WGSN’s Nivindya Sharma notes that retailers have had to grapple with increased sourcing costs as the pound lost value after the Brexit referendum.

Incorporating this year’s trends such as ruffles, embellishments and embroidery in designs has also pushed prices up, while the fashion for upmarket trainers has given retailers a boost.

“There is an increasing propensity among shoppers to buy less, buy better,” she says.

“As a reaction to this, retailers have invested in expanding or introducing their premium collections and price points. There is also a greater volume of premium wool products such as merino and cashmere now available on the High Street.

“Shoppers are increasingly concerned about value for money, so retailers have had to really justify their price points through initiatives such as design innovation, quality, premium fabric or high-profile collaborations.”

Shops have also learnt from last year’s mistake of discounting clothing too early.

The mild winter weather of last year meant shops had to slash the price of coats and jackets. This year, they waited until the temperature started to drop significantly, making shoppers more willing to pay full price.

As a result, women’s coat prices online have gone up 6.8% year on year, while women’s jacket prices have gone up 9.9%.

Community rallies round as vigil held after death of James Etherington, 24

A JUSTGIVING appeal for the family of James Etherington who died after being injured outside a Bingley nightclub has raised almost £10,000 in just four days.

A sea of floral tributes and messages have been left outside the now-closed Bijou Cocktail Bar and Nightclub in Chapel Lane where Mr Etherington, who died on Tuesday, was found with serious head injuries in the early hours of November 25.

The 24-year-old, who worked for Yorkshire Water, was also remembered by a vigil and memorial service in the town today.

Karen Pritchard, who set up the crowdfunding page at justgiving.com/crowdfunding/tohelpthefamilyofjames, said: “The fund for James’ family stands at £9,456, truly amazing. No amount of money can compensate for his loss but I hope that this wonderful show of support from people near and far can give his family some small comfort knowing how much we all care. Thank you, thank you everyone who’s donated.”

The Justgiving goal was set at £10,000 and still has more than 20 days to run.

The vigil and service for Mr Etherington took place in Bingley Market Square outside The Ferrand Arms and was organised by Leah-Dionne Short, a lifelong friend of Mr Etherington, who was supported by her mother, Bingley Town councillor Michelle Chapman (Ind).

Cllr Chapman said with permission from Mr Etherington’s family, they had decided to arrange the tribute to James.

She said there had been a huge outpouring of grief and they felt it was a way to bring the town together so people could share their feelings and pay respects to the “lovely young man who was a friend to so many.”

The candlelit celebration was led by the Reverend Andrew Clarke, the vicar of Holy Trinity and St Wilfrid’s Church in the town.

More than 700 people, many holding candles and releasing balloons, filled Bingley Market Square. A DJ and singers pounded out music from a truck stage, all donated for free. Organisers surprised the crowds at the end with fireworks and James’s name brightly lit up in flares.

Councillor Chapman added:”The turnout is amazing but no surprise – he was a much loved young man.”

On Saturday the Telegraph & Argus reported how the Bijou club had its licence suspended at the request of police after the owners received threats it would be burned down. A full review hearing is expected to take place next month but Bijou’s directors have announced their decision to permanently close the business.

Four men were arrested following the incident, with three aged 23, 30, and 31 being released under investigation and one, aged 28, released without charge. Anyone with any information is asked to call police on 101 quoting crime reference number 13170551254 or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.