The nun who walks death row inmates to the gallows


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Sister Gerard Fernandez: spiritual advisor, counsellor and friend to those on death row

In 1981 a Catholic nun from Singapore began writing letters to a female inmate on death row. It became an exchange that would last seven years. The nun was Sister Gerard Fernandez and the prisoner Tan Mui Choo, a former student of hers who had been sentenced to death over one of the most brutal murders the country had ever seen. She knew her as Catherine, a “sweet, simple girl” who came from a devout family and attended convent school.Tan, along with her husband Adrian Lim and his mistress Hoe Kah Hong, were convicted of the ritualistic killing of two young children. “She made a grave mistake,” says the softly-spoken nun, now 81. “I was saddened when I first heard the news but I knew I had to see her.”

For years Sister Gerard would visit Tan in prison, often spending long nights with her in prayer. The process, she said, allowed them to reconnect and build a deeper understanding. “I was there to support Catherine and she knew she could talk to me,” she says. “I think that freed her from her mental prison.” The nun was there until the end on 25 November 1988 – the morning of Tan’s execution. “Every person is worth more than the worst they have done,” the nun says. “No matter one’s sins, everyone deserves a death with dignity.”
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On her last morning, Tan wore a blue dress with a sash and matching shoes. “She was very calm,” Sister Gerard recalls. The two women held hands on that final walk to the gallows. She sang out Tan’s favourite hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’ as she entered the hanging chamber. “I heard her walk up the spiral staircase and felt the lever when it was pulled. The trap door opened and that was when I knew Catherine was gone.”

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Prisoners are seen inside Changi Prison

Located in Singapore’s north-east is a sprawling high-security prison complex, a short drive away from its world-famous airport. It houses the country’s most serious criminal offenders and serves as a detention site for prisoners on death row. Tan Mui Choo was one of 18 inmates who Sister Gerard Fernandez walked with to the gallows.”A death sentence isn’t something one readily accepts,” she said. “It takes time for a person to accept their fate and there will naturally be a lot of pain.” ‘I befriended a death row murderer’Sister Gerard continued her work with prisoners for the next 40 years. She believes it was part of her calling. “Death row inmates need a lot of mental, emotional and spiritual support,” she said.”I wanted to help them understand that with forgiveness and healing, they would then be able to go to a better place.” ‘When I see God I will tell him all about you’ Years later another convict approached Sister Gerard after seeing her from his cell. “He said my presence brought him comfort,” she recalled. He asked to see her the day before he was to be hanged.

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Sister Gerard Fernandez

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Sister Gerard Fernandez, 81, at her convent in Singapore’s central Toa Payoh district

Sister Gerard considers it “the greatest privilege” to walk with inmates on death row. “For someone to share their deepest sorrows and allow me into their hearts during their final moments is love and trust at the highest level,” she said. She remembers his last words: “I am going to see God in the morning and when I do, I will tell him all about you.”

The Singapore Prison Service, which runs 14 prisons and drug rehabilitation centres, said support was “integral to the rehabilitation and reintegration of inmates”. “Sister Gerard Fernandez served as a volunteer [with us] for 40 years,” a spokesperson told the BBC. “Her dedication, passion and sacrifice continue to inspire all of us, as well as many others who give their time and effort to support inmates and their families.” To many, it would have been a very different picture without Sister Gerard. Speaking on condition of anonymity, the mother of a drug trafficker said the nun was a positive influence in her late son’s life.”Sister Gerard never judged him or gave up,” she said, adding that she saw a huge change in his attitude. “His anger and resentment transformed into acceptance and remorse.” The elderly cleaner added: “She was very kind and was also there for me when I did not know what to do or how to feel.”

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The death penalty remains a controversial and divisive topic in Singapore. The wealthy South East Asian city-state prides itself on its safe reputation and low crime rate. While Singapore’s government passed changes to capital punishment laws in 2012, official prison statistics show that 13 people were executed in 2018 – the highest figure in recent years. Public polls also show strong support for harsh laws.”There is generally high public support for the death penalty,” said Singaporean Kirsten Han who co-founded the group We Believe in Second Chances, which actively campaigns for prisoners on death row.”The death penalty is portrayed as a deterrent to crime,” Ms Han said. “There is plenty of conditioning that leads Singaporeans to support such hard laws but very little open debate and information that reaches the wider public.”Human Rights Watch condemns the death penalty unreservedly.

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“It is inherently cruel and blatantly violates international human rights norms,” its Asia Deputy Director Phil Robertson said. “The ruling People’s Action Party in Singapore is not above using capital punishment [even as] more and more nations abolish the death penalty every year.”There is just no acceptable rationale for a government putting someone to death.”
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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Sister Gerard Fernandez herself opposes the death penalty because “it takes away life”.”All life is precious,” she says. “I respect our laws but I hope to see the death penalty abolished some day.”

100 Women

What is 100 Women?BBC 100 Women names 100 influential and inspirational women around the world every year and shares their stories. In 2019, the BBC recognised Sister Gerard Fernandez’s work with death row inmates by nominating her for the list.It’s been a year of huge change around the globe, so in 2019 BBC 100 Women is asking: what could the future look like in 2030?.Find us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and use #100Women



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Disney boss Bob Iger talks Star Wars, Marvel and Martin Scorsese


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“I don’t think he’s ever seen a Marvel film” – Bob Iger hits back at Martin Scorsese

He’s arguably the most powerful man in Hollywood – the boss of The Avengers, The Lion King, Star Wars and Toy Story, not to mention Mickey Mouse.Since becoming chief executive of The Walt Disney Company in 2005, Bob Iger has masterminded the Mouse House’s growth into an entertainment empire with the takeovers of Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm and 21st Century Fox.The studio’s films have taken $8.3bn (£6.4bn) at box offices worldwide so far this year, and account for about $4 in every $10 spent at North American cinemas.Following the publication of his memoir, titled The Ride of a Lifetime (Disney does theme parks too), he gave his only UK interview to BBC media editor Amol Rajan.Here are five key things he said, including why “less is more” in the Star Wars universe, why Martin Scorsese was wrong to compare Marvel films to theme parks, and why Disney didn’t go through with a deal to buy Twitter.

‘Too many Star Wars films’

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Iger and Star Wars creator George Lucas inside the Millennium Falcon at Disneyland’s Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

Disney bought Marvel in 2009 and turned it into film’s most lucrative franchise. There have been 10 Marvel films in the past three years, with eight more coming in the next three. Is there a danger of over-saturation?”Marvel is just doing sensationally well,” Iger replies. “The last film they released [Avengers: Endgame] had the highest global box office in the history of the motion picture business, and their pipeline is very, very rich with new stories and new characters and new adventures and new superhero exploits. So not true.”It’s a different story with Star Wars, though. After a run of a film a year for five years, ending with The Rise of Skywalker this December, there will now be a gap until the next instalment in 2022.”I have said publicly that I think we made and released too many Star Wars films over a short period of time,” Iger says. “I have not said that they were disappointing in any way. I’ve not said that I’m disappointed in their performance. I just think that there’s something so special about a Star Wars film, and less is more.”

Britain must wait for Disney+There may have been too many Star Wars films, but there clearly haven’t been enough Star Wars TV shows.Disney is launching its own streaming service, Disney+, in the US on 12 November, with the highlights including The Mandalorian, an original live action series that takes place after the fall of the Empire in 1983’s The Return of the Jedi.But British viewers will have to wait to watch it. Or anything else on Disney+. For up to a year.”We haven’t announced a date for launch in the UK,” Iger says. “Our plan is to roll out Disney+ in most of Western Europe within the first year that we launch in the US.”

Scorsese ‘has never watched Marvel’

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Iger (centre) with the stars of Avengers: Endgame at Disneyland in California

The legendary Taxi Driver and Goodfellas director recently put the boot into Marvel by saying they are closer to theme parks than real films because it “isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being”.”Ouch!” is Iger’s reply. “Martin Scorsese is a great film-maker. I admire him immensely. He’s made some great films. I would debate him on this subject. First of all, Marvel’s making movies. They’re movies. That’s what Martin Scorsese makes. And they’re good movies.”He goes on: “I don’t think he’s ever seen a Marvel film. Anyone who’s seen a Marvel film could not in all truth make that statement.”Ouch!

Succession ‘reminds me of a certain family’Disney completed a $71bn (£54bn) deal for Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox – including the likes of X-Men, The Simpsons and Fantastic Four – earlier this year after a bidding war with Comcast.”As, you’d expect, Rupert is a tough negotiator. But he’s true to his word. When he says yes to something, he sticks to it,” Iger says.He also lifts the lid on the lengths he went to before a Fox board meeting in London in 2018 in order to win the deal. He wanted to make a new bid to Murdoch in person without Comcast getting wind of his plan, but was worried the Disney private jet would be picked up by online plane trackers.”We decided that if we flew a Disney corporate plane to London, it may tip Comcast off that we may be coming in with a bid that was higher than theirs, and we didn’t want anybody to know that,” he says. “We decided we would leave our plane in Belfast and then charter another plane from Belfast to London so that we wouldn’t fly in with the Disney jet.”He asked to meet Murdoch in the afternoon before Fox’s evening board meeting. That wheeling and dealing has echoes of TV hit Succession, about a media mogul and his family.Iger said he had seen a few episodes. “There are things in it that remind me of a certain family that’s been involved in the media business. But I think, you know, there’s a lot of fiction in it as well.”

‘Cold feet’ over buying TwitterIger’s book reveals Disney also came close to a deal to buy Twitter, but he pulled the plug at the last minute. He says he got “cold feet” because it was “too controversial”.”I thought there were responsibilities we would have to take on in running Twitter in terms of its position in the world and its effect on the world,” he says.”While I was intrigued with what it might represent in terms of opportunity for us, I thought the responsibilities would burden us with things that would be potentially too distracting, too controversial, too challenging to manage.”Listen to the full interview with Bob Iger on BBC Sounds in Making the Mouse Roar.

It is customary in most examinations of a CEO’s tenure to highlight errors and missed opportunities, find competitors who will bad mouth said individual, and, when it comes to those who lead global corporate giants, question whether any financial successes have been justly shared, within the company and across wider society. To immerse yourself in coverage of Bob Iger is to find journalists struggling and generally failing on all three fronts. Mr Iger’s reign at The Walt Disney Company does present challenges to even the most sceptical of journalists. Read more from Amol

Follow us on Facebook, or on Twitter @BBCNewsEnts. If you have a story suggestion email entertainment.news@bbc.co.uk.



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UK fracking halted after government pulls support


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Fracking at Cuadrilla Resources site in Lancashire in August caused a 2.9 magnitude earth tremor

The government has called a halt to shale gas extraction – or fracking – in the UK amid fears about earthquakes.It comes after a report by the Oil and Gas Authority said it was not possible to predict the probability or size of tremors caused by the practice. Fracking has been suspended in the UK since a tremor in Lancashire in August.Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said shale gas offered “huge potential” but the government was “no longer convinced” it could be done safely.She said: “After reviewing the OGA’s report into recent seismic activity at Preston New Road, it is clear that we cannot rule out future unacceptable impacts on the local community.For this reason, she said, she had concluded the government should put a moratorium on fracking “with immediate effect”.The government says it will “take a presumption against issuing any further Hydraulic Fracturing Consents” and this will continue unless compelling new evidence is provided.However, it has stopped short of an outright ban.
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Fracking has been suspended in the UK since August after activity by Cuadrilla Resources – the only company licensed to carry out the process – at its Preston New Road site in Lancashire caused a magnitude 2.9 earthquake.

Fracking – which involves drilling down into the earth to release gas from shale rock – must be halted for 18 hours if it causes a tremor measuring 0.5 or above. It is the second time the government has placed a moratorium on fracking.The first suspension, which lasted a year, was in November 2011 during the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government.Ms Leadsom said: “Shale gas offers huge potential in the UK, there’s no doubt about that” “There’s also no doubt that in our determination to decarbonise, the continued use of gas will be very important for the next several decades so there’s no doubt that extracting more natural gas in the UK would be very attractive.”But we’ve always been clear we can only do that if it can be done safely and on the advice from the Oil and Gas Authority we’re no longer convinced that is the case.”The fracking industry has faced fierce opposition from both communities and environmental groups.

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Local communities and environmental groups have protested against fracking

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has in the past supported fracking, writing in the Daily Telegraph that the discovery of shale gas in the UK was “glorious news for humanity”.A recent report by the National Audit Office found the UK had spent at least £32.7m supporting fracking since 2011.Labour has promised to stop the technique if elected in the general election on 12 December. Labour’s shadow business secretary, Rebecca Long Bailey, said: “The next Labour government will ban fracking – whereas the Tories will only call a temporary halt to it.”You can’t trust a word the prime minister says.”Both the Liberal Democrats and Green Party also support a ban on fracking.All fracking in Scotland has been suspended since 2013 andthe SNP recently confirmed that a policy of “no support” for the extraction method.The suspension will put pressure on Cuadrilla Resources which has so far invested £270m in the country’s shale gas industry.

Cuadrilla Resources has 30 full-time workers but also employs a number of contractors.A spokeswoman for Cuadrilla Resources declined to comment.

AnalysisBy Judy Hobson, environment correspondent, North West TonightThis will be a blow to Cuadrilla which has been exploring for shale gas in Lancashire for almost a decade. The industry said fracking had the potential to help the country become self-sufficient in gas, creating thousands of jobs. But fracking causes earthquakes. To limit the risk, a “traffic light system” was introduced that required fracking to stop following a tremor of 0.5 or more. This happened several times. But when it triggered a quake of 2.9 in the summer, fracking was halted indefinitely.Cuadrilla’s chief executive Francis Egan said last year if the 0.5 limit wasn’t lifted, the industry would be “strangled at birth”. The question for the prime minister is, what happens now? Tens of millions have been spent looking for shale gas.But opposition to fracking has doubled over the past six years while demand for renewable sources has grown. Is this a genuine change in policy? Or will shale gas be back on the agenda in the future?

Ken Cronin, chief executive of UK Onshore Oil and Gas, which represents fracking companies, said: “Going forward, we are fully committed to working closely with the Oil and Gas Authority and other relevant regulators to demonstrate that we can operate safely and environmentally responsibly.”But Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace UK said: “If the government reads the science and listens to the strong public opposition then fracking has no future.”This lesson now needs to be applied to unlock onshore wind and solar, and significantly ramp up offshore wind.”



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Beto O'Rourke, Democratic hopeful, ends 2020 presidential bid


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Mr O’Rourke struggled to carry the energy of his insurgent Senate campaign into a White House bid

US Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke has announced he is ending his campaign.The former Texas congressman tweeted: “Our campaign has always been about seeing clearly, speaking honestly, and acting decisively. “In that spirit: I am announcing that my service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee.”Mr O’Rourke ran for president in March after losing his 2018 bid to oust Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz.In that Senate race, he did better than any Democrat had in Texas for decades, running a campaign that invigorated the party nationwide and drew comparisons with former President Barack Obama.His passionate delivery along with his good looks and background as a skateboarder and a punk rocker endeared him to liberals across the country.Who will take on Trump in 2020?But Mr O’Rourke struggled to carry that energy into a White House race crowded with more than 20 Democratic candidates.As the initial buzz over his campaign began to subside, Mr O’Rourke, 47, tried to reboot his candidacy. He began to focus on gun control after a mass shooting in August in his hometown of El Paso, Texas. He vowed to remove assault-style weapons from private ownership, saying in one televised debate: “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15s.”But he could not catch up with front-runners like former Vice-President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

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Mr O’Rourke also found himself leap-frogged by another young, charismatic, white candidate – 37-year-old Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana.In the latest opinion poll by New York Times/Siena College on Friday, Mr O’Rourke drew the support of just 1% of voters in the crucial early-voting state of Iowa.He acknowleged in a blog post announcing the end of his presidency that his cash-strapped campaign “does not have the means to move forward successfully”.He said: “It is in the best interests of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee [that I quit]; and it is in the best interests of the country.”He also took a parting shot at President Donald Trump. “We confronted institutional, systemic racism and called out Donald Trump for his white supremacy and the violence that he’s encouraged against communities that don’t look like, pray like or love like the majority in this country,” his statement said.

Skip Twitter post by @BetoORourke

I am grateful to all the people who made up the heart and soul of this campaign. You were among the hundreds of thousands who made a donation, signed up to volunteer or spread the word about this campaign and our opportunity to help decide the election of our lifetime.— Beto O’Rourke (@BetoORourke) November 1, 2019

End of Twitter post by @BetoORourke

Mr O’Rourke had been urged by donors to drop out of the presidential race and run against Texas Senator John Cornyn, who is up for re-election next year. But the O’Rourke camp reiterated in a statement on Friday night that he did not plan on standing for the Senate again.Mr O’Rourke is not the only once-promising Democratic candidate who is struggling – California Senator Kamala Harris this week scaled back her campaign, firing some staffers and shuttering offices in another key, early voting state, New Hampshire.

From rock star to rock bottom

In just about 12 months, Beto O’Rourke went from Democratic rock star to political rock bottom.During his 2018 Senate race, the former Texas congressman was fundraising like a top-tier presidential candidate. Beloved by Democrats across the country for his youthful energy, his passionate stump speeches became viral sensations.His obvious political skills in his home state did not translate on to the national stage, however, where a lack of campaign organisation and an inability to stand out on a crowded debate stage cost him dearly. Mr O’Rourke’s relatively thin CV, which wasn’t a concern for Democrats when he was facing conservative stalwart Ted Cruz in Texas, was also a liability in a match-up against senators and a former vice-president with extensive experience and in-depth policy knowledge.Some presidential hopefuls can run unsuccessful campaigns and end up with an elevated stature among party faithful – with more political prospects than when they began. Mr O’Rourke, whose campaign started high and trended only downward, was not so fortunate. He may have a second act in national politics, but his 2019 effort will be an experience he will have to overcome, not build on.

Who is Beto O’Rourke?Mr O’Rourke represented Texas’ 16th congressional district for three terms before running unsuccessfully last year for the US Senate. He travelled to all of Texas’ 254 counties during his Senate campaign, documenting his journey on social media, and broke Senate fundraising records by amassing more than $80m.He lives with his wife, Amy Hoover Sanders and three children in El Paso. He has an estimated net worth of nearly $9m (£6.7m). His first name is actually Robert, but he is known by his nickname Beto – a common contraction of Roberto, which he says he picked up as a child in El Paso.Following his November Senate defeat, Mr O’Rourke drew criticism for embarking on a road trip across the south-western US, during which he documented his travels in a blog and admitted he was stuck in a “funk”.Even supporters questioned why Mr O’Rourke was on the road, leaving his wife at home to look after their children, while other Democratic contenders were assembling staff and funding. As he launched his campaign, he posed on the cover of Vanity Fair, telling the magazine about the White House race: “Man, I’m just born to be in it.”He later said he regretted that move because it reinforced a “perception of privilege.”After Mr O’Rourke dropped out on Friday, President Trump, a Republican, mocked him in a tweet.



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Underground fire rises above New Street in Birmingham


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Part of a busy city centre street has been cordoned off after an underground fire reached above the surface in big flashes of flame.West Midlands Police said the flames seen on New Street, Birmingham, shortly before 17:00 GMT were caused by an electrical fault below.West Midlands Fire Service said it was liaising with power suppliers to isolate the problem electrics.There are no reports of injuries, police said.The force said the public was not thought to be at risk.Shoppers and workers who were about to make their way home have been sharing images of the scene, where tram travel has been disrupted.The fire service said it would tackle the blaze from within a service hatch, once the electrics were isolated by engineers. A Western Power Distribution spokesman said 103 properties had been affected by a power outage as a result of a fault with a junction box.He added that power had been restored to 60 properties by 19:00 GMT, and the remaining properties should have their power restored by 01:30 on Saturday.

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A fault with a junction box caused the blaze

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Police officers are supporting the fire service as it tackles the flames

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The area around New Street has been cordoned off by police

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Essex lorry deaths: People found dead were all Vietnamese


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Pham Thi Tra My and Nguyen Dinh Luong’s families are concerned they may be among the victims

All 39 people found dead in a refrigerated lorry in Essex were Vietnamese nationals, police have said.The victims were found in a container on an industrial estate last week and were initially thought to be Chinese.But Essex Police said it was now in “direct contact with a number of families in Vietnam and the UK” and the Vietnamese government.A number of Vietnamese families have previously come forward fearing their loved ones are among the dead. Pham Thi Tra My, 26, sent her family a message on Tuesday night, saying her “trip to a foreign land has failed”. Post-mortem examinations are being carried out on the 31 men and eight women to establish the cause of death.Assistant Chief Constable Tim Smith said: “At this time, we believe the victims are Vietnamese nationals, and we are in contact with the Vietnamese Government.”He said police were not in a position to identify any of the victims.

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The bodies were discovered in the lorry trailer in the early hours of 23 October

The Vietnamese Embassy in London said it was “deeply saddened” and sent its “heartfelt condolences” to the families of the victims.”Specific identities of the victims still need to be identified and confirmed by the relevant authorities of Vietnam and UK,” it said.It said would “closely co-ordinate with the relevant authorities of Vietnam and UK to support the families of the Vietnamese victims, if any, to bring their loved ones home”.The father of 30-year-old Le Van Ha, who comes from an agricultural part of Vietnam, previously told the BBC he was convinced his son was among the dead.VietHome, a popular Vietnamese community forum in the UK, said it had passed on the pictures of almost 20 people who have been reported missing to detectives. Earlier, police in Vietnam’s Ha Tinh province said they had charged two unnamed people with “organising or brokering illegal immigration”.

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Le Minh Tuan, pictured here, fears his son Le Van Ha was among the dead in Essex

The driver of the lorry, Maurice Robinson, from Northern Ireland, appeared in court on Monday charged with a string of offences, including 39 counts of manslaughter.Extradition proceedings have also begun against 22-year-old Eamonn Harrison, who was arrested in Dubin on a European Arrest Warrant.Police are also seeking two brothers from Northern Ireland, Ronan and Christopher Hughes, who are wanted on suspicion of manslaughter and people trafficking.



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General election 2019: Boris Johnson rejects pact with Nigel Farage


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Boris Johnson has rejected the suggestion from Nigel Farage and Donald Trump that he should work with the Brexit Party during the election.The Tory leader told the BBC he is “always grateful for advice” but he would not enter into election pacts.His comments come after the US president said Mr Farage and Mr Johnson would be “an unstoppable force”.Downing Street sources say there are no circumstances in which the Tories would work with the Brexit Party.In an interview with BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, the prime minister said the “difficulty” of doing deals with “any other party” is that it “simply risks putting Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10″.”The problem with that is that his (Mr Corbyn’s) plan for Brexit is basically yet more dither and delay,” Mr Johnson said.When pushed on whether he would rule out a deal with Mr Farage, Mr Johnson replied: “I want to be very, very clear that voting for any other party than this government, this Conservative government… is basically tantamount to putting Jeremy Corbyn in.”The UK is going to the polls on 12 December following a further delay to the UK’s departure from the EU, to 31 January 2020.The BBC will be talking to other party leaders during the course of the campaign.US president Donald Trump told Nigel Farage’s LBC show on Thursday that the Brexit Party leader should team up with Mr Johnson to do “something terrific” and he also criticised the prime minister’s EU withdrawal agreement.Meanwhile, Mr Farage has called on the prime minister to drop his Brexit deal, unite in a “Leave alliance” or face a Brexit Party candidate in every seat in the election.Mr Johnson said there were “lots of reasons” why he thinks a Labour government would be a “disaster”, but he believed a Labour government would see a renegotiation with Brussels on a Brexit deal, then another referendum.”Why go through that nightmare again?” He said.’Great relations’The prime minister also suggested that the US president was wrong to believe that a trade deal would be impossible with the UK after Brexit.Mr Johnson said his “proper Brexit” deal “enables us to do proper all-singing, all-dancing free trade deals”.

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“It delivers exactly what we wanted, what I wanted, what I campaigned in 2016 to come out the European Union,” Mr Johnson said.When asked about the criticism from Mr Trump, Mr Johnson said: “I am always grateful for advice from wherever it comes and we have great relations as you know with the US and many many other countries.”But on the technicalities of the deal anybody who looks at it can see that the UK has full control.”

The prime minister is never short of a word or two, never short of a colourful phrase or a metaphor.When we sat down this afternoon there was no suggestion of him being the Hulk, but Remain-tending MPs were accused of “rope-a-doping” the government, planning eventually to batter the prime minister and his Brexit deal into submission until he would have had to give up.But in Downing Street there is a serious awareness that trademark Johnson verbal gymnastics are no guarantee of success at the ballot box in six weeks’ time, no guarantee at all.That’s not just because there are even friends, like Donald Trump, and of course foes, like Jeremy Corbyn, whose words and actions will hamper his attempt to secure a majority to call his own.But also because this is a snap election, not a routine poll, and the public is hardly in a forgiving mood of our politicians right now.Read more from Laura

Mr Johnson said he hoped the government could get Brexit “over the line” by the middle of January if he wins a majority, claiming that the current Parliament would never have passed his Brexit deal.”Their strategy was to keep rope-a-dopeing the government” to push the date back and back, he said, before adding: “It would have been totally miserable”.He said he was left with “no choice” but to call a general election, saying: “Nobody wants an election but we’ve got to do it now.”This is a Parliament that is basically full of MPs who voted Remain.”They voted Remain and they will continue to block Brexit if they’re given the chance – we need a new mandate, we need to refresh our Parliament.”Mr Johnson also said there was no question that the NHS would be part of any future trade negotiation, but he did not rule out expanding the amount of private provision in the health service in the future.”Of course there are dentists and optometrists and so on who are providers to the NHS, of course, that’s how it works,” he said.”But… I believe passionately in an NHS free at the point of use for everybody in this country.”



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Former Speaker John Bercow demands apology over £1m I'm a Celebrity claim


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John Bercow is demanding an apology from the Daily Mirror over claims he asked for £1m to appear on “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!”The outgoing Commons Speaker has accused the paper of “publishing lies despite being advised of the truth” and has complained to the press watchdog.The Mirror claimed talks between Mr Bercow and ITV broke down over the size of his appearance fee.It said it stood by its story, which was based on “authoritative sources”.However, the newspaper also said it was “happy to accept” that Mr Bercow had “no serious desire to appear” on the programme.Mr Bercow, who retired on Thursday after 10 years in the Speaker’s chair, is understood to be furious about the story.’Utterly trashy’In a letter to the Mirror’s showbiz editor, he said: “I must make it clear to you in the most uncompromising terms that I have not had the slightest interest now or at any time or an any basis to go on that programme.”He adds that he “did not at any time to anybody ask for £1m to go on the show, which I consider to be utterly trashy”.He demands an apology from the paper and threatens legal action, if the “false allegations” are repeated.

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John Bercow is waving goodbye to Westminster after 22 years as an MP and 10 as Speaker

The Mirror suggested representatives for Mr Bercow had been in talks with ITV about him appearing on the next series of the reality show, in which celebrities take part in a series of eye-watering challenges, such as eating insects or being trapped underground with snakes. It said Mr Bercow had “allegedly demanded a £1m fee” for appearing in the next series, due to start in December. This was £400,000 more than any previous contestant had received, the newspaper reported.’Grave concern’It suggested ITV had confirmed discussions had broken down over the question of Mr Bercow’s fee, quoting an unnamed source saying “he has priced himself out of the market”.Mr Bercow has written to the Independent Press Standards Organisation to claim it is factually untrue and a breach of the editor’s code. In its response, the watchdog said: “We are looking at the points you raise, and will be in touch shortly.”Last Orderrrrs! Speaker John Bercow in numbersThe BBC has contacted the Mirror Group and ITV for an official response. In a text message to TV agent Nicki Clarke, who originally approached Mr Bercow with the idea of appearing, ITV talent producer Micky Van Praagh suggested the story was “obviously nonsense and I have no idea where it has come from”.She added: “ITV has not confirmed that talks broke down because of money. Please can you apologise to John for me for the story.”In an e-mail to Mr Bercow, Ms Clarke, who works for Shine Talent Management, said the story was “incredibly frustrating” and she had expressed her “grave concern” to ITV about it.The Mirror said the story was “based on information from authoritative sources”. “We are confident that conversations took place between ITV and a representative for John Bercow about appearing on I’m a Celebrity and that these talks broke down over money,” a spokesman said. A host of politicians have appeared on I’m A Celebrity over the years, including Conservative MP Nadine Dorries and Boris Johnson’s father, Stanley.Last month, Boris Johnson joked that he would like to see Mr Bercow perform the infamous Bushtucker Trial and eat a kangaroo’s testicle.



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General Election 2019: First head-to-head debate on 19 November


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PA Media

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Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are among the candidates competing to be prime minister

The first head-to-head election debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn will take place on 19 November. The programme will be shown on ITV, ahead of 12 December poll. The channel said it also plans to hold a multi-party debate in the run-up to the vote. On Thursday, Labour leader Mr Corbyn challenged the PM to a one-on-one debate, while Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson said she should take part in a three-headed encounter with the two leaders. After the announcement, Mr Corbyn welcomed the announcement on Twitter, claiming Mr Johnson had “accepted our challenge” for the “once in a generation election”. Political leaders’ TV debates have featured in the last three general elections in 2010, 2015 and 2017.



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General Election 2019: Government accused over 'political' Facebook ads


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HM Government

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The government’s MyTown campaign

The government has been accused of using public funds to target voters in key general election constituencies with Facebook ads.The ads say: “the Government is investing up to £25m” in the town where the message appears on Facebook feeds.They went live on Tuesday – the same day Boris Johnson secured support for an early general election.Labour MP Ian Lucas called it an “outrageous” misuse of public funds, according to The Huffington Post.The seventeen adverts are part of the government’s “MyTown” campaign on Facebook.
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Several of the towns, such as Northampton, Milton Keynes and Mansfield, are home to constituencies that will be key battlegrounds in the general election, with majorities of less than 2,000.The campaign promotes the government’s £3.6bn Towns Fund, which aims to increase investment in neglected parts of the country.

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The Facebook ads used for the government’s MyTown campaign

The ads, paid for by taxpayers, are not marked as being about “social issues, elections or politics”. This is the voluntary system that Facebook has put in place to help with the transparency of social and political ads on its platforms. Other adverts by the UK government, such as the “Get Ready for Brexit” campaign, are flagged in this way. Not flagging them also means they disappear from the Facebook Ad Library once they are no longer active – and that it is not possible to find out how much the government has spent on them.Facebook’s policies around political advertising have come under scrutiny in recent days as Twitter announced it would ban all paid political messages.

Analysis

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Reuters

By the BBC’s Paul SargeantFacebook has about 40 million users in the UK and most of the content people see on site is from their friends or pages they have liked. Anyone can also pay to have content shown to people who haven’t liked their page – and they can chose who sees this paid-for content by targeting things like gender, age, location, or interests.Political parties also use this paid-for content to reach new people. The difference is Facebook ask that any content about “about social issues, elections or politics” is labelled by the organisation posting it.This political content is archived and can be searched for in the Facebook Ad Library. Meaning for every political advert it’s possible to check who paid for it and get a rough idea of who has been shown the ad and how many times it has been seen.However, the system of labelling political adverts is voluntary. If an organisation fails to label their paid-for content, the adverts are only searchable while they are active on the site. This loophole could allow political organisations to hide old adverts or at least make them much harder to find.

Mr Lucas has written a letter to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove demanding to know how data for the campaign was gathered and accusing the government using public money for political purposes.”It is quite clear that those constituencies are, largely, politically contentious. “These marginal constituencies appear to have been selected on a political basis,” his letter said.He told the Huffington Post: “It is an example of how the government is merging political activity with the arms of government in its own political interest.” A government spokesman told the BBC that ministers would respond to Mr Lucas’ letter, but added: “These posts were published before the election was called and Parliament has not yet been dissolved. “All towns selected were chosen according to the same selection methodology, including analysis of deprivation, exposure to Brexit, productivity, economy resilience and investment opportunities.”The government has been the biggest UK spender on Facebook political adverts in the last month.The most recent figures available on Facebook’s ad library site cover spending between 22 and 28 October and show that the government spent £192,753 in that period. All of the spending was on ads promoting the Get Ready for Brexit campaign.In second place was the People’s Vote campaign for another EU referendum with spending of £52,234.



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