Thursday, 31 May 2012

Rush for safe havens as euro fears rise

US benchmark borrowing costs plunged to levels last seen in 1946 and those for Germany and the UK hit all-time lows as investors took fright at what they see as a disjointed policy response to the debt crisis in Spain and Italy. In a striking sign of the flight to haven assets, German two-year bond yields fell to zero for the first time, below the equivalent rate for Japan, meaning investors are willing to lend to Berlin for no return. US 10-year yields fell as low as 1.62 per cent, a level last reached in March 1946, according to Global Financial Data. German benchmark yields reached 1.26 per cent while Denmark's came close to breaching the 1 per cent level, hitting 1.09 per cent. UK rates fell to 1.64 per cent, the lowest since records for benchmark borrowing costs began in 1703. "They are extreme levels because we are in an extremely perilous situation. People just want to put their money somewhere where they think they will get it back. People may soon be paying Germany or the US to look after their money," said Gary Jenkins, head of Swordfish Research, an independent credit analysis company. The flight to safety came as the situation in Italy and Spain, the eurozone's third- and fourth-largest economies, deteriorated further. Italy held a disappointing debt auction and saw its benchmark borrowing costs rise above 6 per cent for the first time since January. The euro fell 0.8 per cent against the dollar to under $1.24 for the first time in two years. Confusion over how the Spanish government's rescue of Bankia, the stricken lender, will be structured led the premium Madrid pays over Berlin to borrow to hit fresh highs for the euro era at 540 basis points. Analysts said the elevated level meant that clearing houses could soon raise the amount of margin, or collateral, that traders need to post against Spanish debt, a move that led to the escalation of crises in Portugal and Ireland. The European Central Bank has made clear to Spain that it cannot use the bank's liquidity operations as part of a recapitalision of Bankia. However, the central bank said on Wednesday it had not been officially consulted on the plans. Equity markets globally fell on the eurozone fears with bourses in Paris, Frankfurt and London all dropping 2 per cent. But Nick Gartside, international chief investment officer for JPMorgan Asset Management, noted that while US bond yields had halved since April last year the S&P 500 equity market was at the same level. "One of those two markets is mispriced. Core government bonds are an efficient market and they are ahead," he added. Investors said borrowing costs for the US, UK and Germany were likely to continue to fall amid a worsening economic backdrop and the threat of more central bank intervention. Wealth managers have been moving client assets into currency havens in recent weeks, with the Swiss franc and the US dollar among the biggest beneficiaries "Risk aversion, a rapidly slowing global economy and unusually low policy rates will pin these short and intermediate maturity bonds at unprecedented low levels for quite a while," said Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of Pimco, one of the world's largest bond investors. Mr Gartside said he could easily see German rates going below 1 per cent, following a path that only Japan and Switzerland have taken among major economies, while the US and UK could dip under 1.5 per cent. Markets are increasingly resigned to more turmoil until policy makers take more radical action. The two most popular plans of action for investors are for the ECB to buy Spanish and Italian bonds in unlimited size or for eurozone countries to agree on a fiscal union involving the pooling of debt. "You have to throw everything at it. Spain is just too big for half measures. The next intervention has to be not just massive in size but it has to show a total commitment," said Mr Jenkins. He recommends that the ECB set targets either for the premium Spain and Italy pay to borrow over Germany or for their yields.

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Euro break-up 'could wipe 50pc off London house prices'

Property prices in the capital’s most sought-after postcodes have been driven up by investors moving funds out of assets held in euros to buy into what is seen as a “safe haven” alternative. Foreign money seeking a refuge from the wider economic turmoil accounted for 60pc of acquisitions of prime central London property between 2007 and 2011, according to a report by Fathom Consulting for Development Securities. If the shared currency broke up completely, London property would initially be boosted by the continued flight towards a safe haven, the report predicts. But, once the break-up had taken place, demand for these assets as an insurance against this event would start to ebb. “Although fears about a messy end to the euro debt crisis may account for much of the gain in prime central London (PCL) prices that has taken place over the past two years, we find that a break-up of the single currency area is also the single greatest threat to PCL,” said researchers.

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Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Leveson - The Hunt is on

Up until now, Lord Justice Leveson has only held the future of the British press in his hands. Today, despite all his protests to the contrary, his inquiry may determine the fate of the culture secretary, Jeremy Hunt. The judge insists that it is not his job to put any minister in the dock and that he certainly will not be giving his verdict on whether there have been any breaches of the ministerial code. Nevertheless, the prime minister has made it clear that he sees today's hearing as the moment when Mr Hunt must defend his much criticised handling of News Corp's £8bn bid for total control of BSkyB. The culture secretary has, I'm told, submitted more than 160 pages of internal memos, emails and text message transcripts to the Leveson Inquiry. I understand that he will insist that, despite having originally been a cheerleader not just for Rupert Murdoch but also for his bid, he acted in ways which frustrated it rather than accelerated it once he was made the minister in charge. He will claim that he referred it to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom when told by officials that it wasn't necessary to do so. He is likely to face questions about why he did not follow Ofcom's advice to refer the bid to the Competition Commission. He is likely to reply that he was given legal advice that he had first to consider News Corps offer to spin off Sky News so as to deal with so-called plurality issues. The culture secretary is likely to be asked how he can claim to have been unaware of the scale or nature of the contact between News Corp and his political adviser, Adam Smith - who resigned once his flood of emails and texts were revealed. I understand that Jeremy Hunt originally believed that his adviser had done nothing wrong and told friends he would resign himself rather than letting a junior official resign for him. The prime minister shows no sign yet of wanting to force him out - believing that however bad things may now look, Mr Hunt didn't actually do anything wrong or anything which helped the Murdochs and their bid. Labour argue that - even before today's hearing - it is evident the culture secretary should go as he is in breach of the ministerial code for failing to supervise his adviser, and for misleading the House of Commons when he wrongly asserted he had published all contacts between his department and News Corp - as well as claiming never to have intervened to affect the outcome of the bid.

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Coulson on Sheridan perjury charge

David Cameron's former communications chief Andy Coulson has been charged over allegations he committed perjury during the trial of former MSP Tommy Sheridan. The 44-year-old was detained for questioning at Govan police station in Glasgow by officers from Strathclyde Police. More than six hours later, the force confirmed he had been arrested and charged with perjury. A report will be sent to the procurator fiscal which will decide if Coulson is to face court proceedings. The former News of the World editor gave evidence at Sheridan's perjury trial at the High Court in Glasgow in December 2010, while he was employed by Downing Street as director of communications. At the trial, he claimed he had no knowledge of illegal activities by reporters during the time that he was editor of the now-defunct newspaper. He said: "I don't accept there was a culture of phone hacking at the News of the World." Sheridan was ultimately jailed for three years in January last year after being found guilty of perjury during his 2006 defamation action against the News of the World. He had been awarded £200,000 in damages after winning the civil case but a jury found him guilty of lying about the tabloid's claims that he was an adulterer who visited a swingers' club. The former Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) leader was convicted of five out of six allegations in a single charge of perjury relating to his evidence during the civil action at the Court of Session in Edinburgh. Sheridan was released from jail in January this year after serving one year of his sentence and vowed to continue the fight to clear his name. Coulson was arrested last year in relation to Scotland Yard's long-running investigation into phone hacking at the newspaper. He was held in July on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and corruption, and had his bail extended earlier this month. Coulson resigned as editor in 2007 after the paper's former royal editor Clive Goodman and private investigator Glenn Mulcaire were jailed for phone hacking. In May that year, he was unveiled as director of communications and planning with the Conservative Party. He quit his role as Downing Street communications chief in January last year after admitting the News of the World phone-hacking row was making his job impossible.

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Julian Assange's fight to evade extradition to Sweden appears doomed despite stay of execution

Julian Assange's fight to evade extradition to Sweden appeared doomed today though he was given a stay of execution by the highest court in the land. His celebrity-endorsed legal battle trundled on without him as the self-proclaimed champion of truth and transparency remained stuck in London's notorious traffic, undoubtedly disappointing his legion of fans. While vastly diminished in number from the early days of the furore surrounding the WikiLeaks founder, they were as vociferous as ever, penned in outside the Supreme Court yesterday, carrying megaphones, guitars and banners proclaiming “Free Assange” and “God Save Julian”. Mr Assange, 40, had argued that an European Extradition Warrant from Sweden to face allegations of rape and sexual molestation was invalid as the public prosecutor who issued it did not constitute a “judicial authority”. He denies the accusations, insisting they are “politically motivated”. His case was partially trumped by the French translation of the words judicial authority, which judges at the Supreme Court said carried a far wider meaning that simply a judge or court. By a majority of five to two they decided the practice by many European countries to have public prosecutors issue such warrants countered the interpretation in United Kingdom and his appeal failed. Nevertheless they granted his lawyers 14 days to apply to have the case re-opened after they insisted that they had not been given an opportunity to argue on the very legal points on which the judges had based their decision.

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FORMER Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson has been arrested on suspicion of committing perjury during the Tommy Sheridan trial

Andy Coulson has been arrested on suspicion of perjury. Picture: Getty

Andy Coulson has been arrested on suspicion of perjury. Picture: Getty

FORMER Downing Street communications chief Andy Coulson has been arrested on suspicion of committing perjury during the Tommy Sheridan trial at the High Court in Glasgow, the Crown Office said today.

 

The 44-year-old was detained in London this morning by officers from Strathclyde Police.

 

Coulson gave evidence in Mr Sheridan’s perjury trial at the High Court in Glasgow in December 2010.

 

He was also arrested last year in relation to Scotland Yard’s long-running investigation into phone-hacking at the News of the World.

 

He was held in July on suspicion of conspiring to intercept communications and corruption and had his bail extended earlier this month.

 

A Strathclyde Police spokesman said: “Officers from Strathclyde Police Operation Rubicon detained a 44-year-old man in London this morning under section 14 of the Criminal Procedures Scotland Act on suspicion of committing perjury before the High Court in Glasgow.

 

“It would be inappropriate to comment any further at this time.”

 

It is understood Coulson is on his way to Glasgow.

 

Operation Rubicon detectives have been looking at whether certain witnesses lied to the court during Sheridan’s trial as part of a “full” investigation into phone hacking in Scotland.

 

Mr Coulson, then employed by Downing Street as director of communications, told the trial in December 2010 he had no knowledge of illegal activities by reporters while he was editor of the News of the World.

 

He also claimed: “I don’t accept there was a culture of phone hacking at the News of the World.”

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Former News of the World Editor arrested in dawn raid on his London home

 

PR man: Andy Coulson was held today by Strathclyde Police,David Cameron’s former No 10 spin doctor Andy Coulson was arrested today on suspicion of committing perjury.

Mr Coulson, 44, was detained at his home in Dulwich at 6.30am by seven officers from Strathclyde police and taken to Glasgow where he will be questioned.

The case centres on claims that he misled a court about his knowledge of phone-hacking during a criminal trial in Glasgow. The former News of the World editor, hired by the Prime Minister as his director of communications, told a court in 2010 that he had no knowledge of illegal voicemail interception when in charge of the tabloid.

During the perjury trial of former Scottish MP Tommy Sheridan, Mr Coulson said: “I don’t accept there was a culture of phone hacking at the News of the World.” He also denied knowing that the

 newspaper paid corrupt police officers for tip-offs. Mr Cameron has faced questions over his decision to bring Mr Coulson into the heart of government. Mr Coulson has already been arrested by the Met on suspicion of phone-hacking and bribing public officials.

The perjury charge, which carries a maximum prison sentence of seven years, is potentially the most serious facing the former Conservative Party spokesman.

One Downing Street source said the arrest came as a “complete surprise”.

Mr Coulson was a major witness in a trial involving Sheridan who was accused of lying in court during a libel victory against the NoW.

Coulson was editor when it published a story that labelled Sheridan an adulterer who visited swingers’ clubs. He was called as a witness and told the court that he had no knowledge of illegal activities by reporters.

Sheridan was jailed for three years last year after being found guilty of perjury during his 2006 defamation action against the NoW. He had successfully sued the newspaper over its claims.

Strathclyde police announced its probe into Mr Coulson last July but it was thought to be taking a back seat as five major Scotland Yard inquiries into the Murdoch media empire rumbled on.

However, the Standard can disclose that officers from Scotland recently visited London to interview several former NoW staff about their old boss.

Under Scottish law a suspect is detained on suspicion of an offence unlike in England and Wales where a suspect is arrested. Mr Coulson has not been charged.

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Friday, 25 May 2012

EU cookie implementation deadline is today

A year after its implementation in May 2011, the European Commission's Privacy and Electronic Communications Directive will finally start to be enforced as of tonight, meaning visitors to websites are required to be informed of, and given choice over, the site's intentions to store their data in cookies. Though there has been fierce opposition to the directive, some companies, such as the BBC, Channel 4 and the Guardian, have now begun implementing measures that range from multiple user choices in the level of information shared with the site, to a single message informing the user that, by continuing to browse, they have automatically agreed to have their information stored. Further reading EU cookie law is a 'restraint to trade online', says online retailer Most UK organisations not compliant with EU cookie law New EU cookie law set to come into force But the majority of companies, it is widely reported, will miss tonight's deadline. While the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) still disagrees that a "one size fits all" policy of standardisation is not the way forward when enforcing cookie legislation, some believe such a framework is the only way forward. Society for engineering and technology professionals, the Institution of Engineering & Technology said, "The implementation of this directive is likely to prove very variable until the introduction of a set of standards on the best way to provide a balance between easy browsing and personal privacy. "We had hoped that more progress would have been made on achieving this in the 12 month implementation delay that the Information Commissioner, Christopher Graham, gave British organisations."

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Google plans to warn more than half a million users of a computer infection that may knock their computers off the Internet this summer.

Unknown to most of them, their problem began when international hackers ran an online advertising scam to take control of infected computers around the world. In a highly unusual response, the FBI set up a safety net months ago using government computers to prevent Internet disruptions for those infected users. But that system will be shut down July 9 -- killing connections for those people.

The FBI has run an impressive campaign for months, encouraging people to visit a website that will inform them whether they're infected and explain how to fix the problem. After July 9, infected users won't be able to connect to the Internet.

On Tuesday, May 22, Google announced it would throw its weight into the awareness campaign, rolling out alerts to users via a special message that will appear at the top of the Google search results page for users with affected computers, CNET reported. 

“We believe directly messaging affected users on a trusted site and in their preferred language will produce the best possible results,” wrote Google security engineer Damian Menscher in a post on the company’s security blog.

“If more devices are cleaned and steps are taken to better secure the machines against further abuse, the notification effort will be well worth it,” he wrote.

The challenge, and the reason for the awareness campaigns: Most victims don't even know their computers have been infected, although the malicious software probably has slowed their web surfing and disabled their antivirus software, making their machines more vulnerable to other problems.

Last November, when the FBI and other authorities were preparing to take down a hacker ring that had been running an Internet ad scam on a massive network of infected computers, the agency realized this may become an issue.

"We started to realize that we might have a little bit of a problem on our hands because ... if we just pulled the plug on their criminal infrastructure and threw everybody in jail, the victims of this were going to be without Internet service," said Tom Grasso, an FBI supervisory special agent. "The average user would open up Internet Explorer and get `page not found' and think the Internet is broken."

On the night of the arrests, the agency brought in Paul Vixie, chairman and founder of Internet Systems Consortium, to install two Internet servers to take the place of the truckload of impounded rogue servers that infected computers were using. Federal officials planned to keep their servers online until March, giving everyone opportunity to clean their computers.

But it wasn't enough time.

A federal judge in New York extended the deadline until July.

Now, said Grasso, "the full court press is on to get people to address this problem." And it's up to computer users to check their PCs.

'We started to realize that we might have a little bit of a problem on our hands...'

- Tom Grasso, an FBI supervisory special agent

This is what happened:

Hackers infected a network of probably more than 570,000 computers worldwide. They took advantage of vulnerabilities in the Microsoft Windows operating system to install malicious software on the victim computers. This turned off antivirus updates and changed the way the computers reconcile website addresses behind the scenes on the Internet's domain name system.

The DNS system is a network of servers that translates a web address -- such as http://www.foxnews.com -- into the numerical addresses that computers use. Victim computers were reprogrammed to use rogue DNS servers owned by the attackers. This allowed the attackers to redirect computers to fraudulent versions of any website.

The hackers earned profits from advertisements that appeared on websites that victims were tricked into visiting. The scam netted the hackers at least $14 million, according to the FBI. It also made thousands of computers reliant on the rogue servers for their Internet browsing.

When the FBI and others arrested six Estonians last November, the agency replaced the rogue servers with Vixie's clean ones. Installing and running the two substitute servers for eight months is costing the federal government about $87,000.

The number of victims is hard to pinpoint, but the FBI believes that on the day of the arrests, at least 568,000 unique Internet addresses were using the rogue servers. Five months later, FBI estimates that the number is down to at least 360,000. The U.S. has the most, about 85,000, federal authorities said. Other countries with more than 20,000 each include Italy, India, England and Germany. Smaller numbers are online in Spain, France, Canada, China and Mexico.

Vixie said most of the victims are probably individual home users, rather than corporations that have technology staffs who routinely check the computers.

FBI officials said they organized an unusual system to avoid any appearance of government intrusion into the Internet or private computers. And while this is the first time the FBI used it, it won't be the last.

"This is the future of what we will be doing," said Eric Strom, a unit chief in the FBI's Cyber Division. "Until there is a change in legal system, both inside and outside the United States, to get up to speed with the cyber problem, we will have to go down these paths, trail-blazing if you will, on these types of investigations."

Now, he said, every time the agency gets near the end of a cyber case, "we get to the point where we say, how are we going to do this, how are we going to clean the system" without creating a bigger mess than before




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Under European Union law, Greece cannot leave the euro.

That is the theory. But in practice, any protection the law offers investors could be difficult to enforce, according to lawyers trying to protect their corporate clients against the upheaval sure to follow if Greece defaults on its debts and adopts a new currency. So their advice is blunt: Remove cash and other liquid assets from Greece and prepare to take a short-term hit on any other investments. “My personal view is that it is irrational for anyone, whether a corporation or an individual, to be leaving money in Greek financial institutions, so long as there is a credible prospect of a euro zone exit,” said Ian Clark, a partner in London for White & Case, a global law firm that has a team of 10 attorneys focusing on the issue. Several multinational corporations have already taken the same view. Vodafone, the mobile phone operator, and GlaxoSmithKline, the pharmaceuticals firm, say they are “sweeping” money out of Greece and into British banks each evening. This applies not just to Greece but to most other euro nations, although Glaxo says it still keeps money in Germany. Corporate attorneys say looking to E.U. law provides only approximate guidance on whether Greece could stop using the euro while remaining in the Union. Although the E.U. prides itself on basing decisions on strict interpretation of the legal texts in its governing treaty and other legislation, the rules on euro membership have proved flexible. For example, while all 27 E.U. nations are supposedly obliged to join the single currency, once they meet certain economic criteria, Britain and Denmark were able to negotiate the option of retaining their own currencies. Sweden is one of the nations technically obliged to join the euro, but since a national referendum opposed the idea in 2003, no one has pressed the country to do so. Similarly, while leaving the euro might, legally, mean quitting the union itself, most experts see this as a technicality that can be circumvented as well. “The treaty doesn’t cover the question of what would happen if a country were to leave the euro and return to its previous currency,” said Stephen Weatherill, Jacques Delors Professor of European Law at Oxford University. “In the absence of any provision, there is plenty of space for European governments to concoct a solution, adopt it and for it to be legally enforceable,” he added. “In general, you can do anything you like, so long as you do not breach pre-existing international obligations.” The mechanics of leaving the euro would surely lead Greece to impose so-called capital controls to stem the flight of money from a currency destined to be devalued. Again, such controls look impossible under E.U. law. But Mr. Weatherill thinks that a loophole allowing for the protection of public security could be invoked. Mr. Clark, of White & Case, a global law firm, points to a clause in Article 65 of the treaty that says that the pledge on free movement should not prevent countries from taking measures “which are justified on grounds of public policy or public security.” Mr. Clark and his team serve clients that include financial institutions like BNP Paribas and hedge funds. In February, Andrew Witty, the chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, said: “We don’t leave any cash in most European countries” except Germany. Tens of millions of pounds flow into accounts in Britain every day, he said. But, apart from trying to ensure that debts are paid promptly and therefore in euros, legal options for companies are limited. Contracts covered by Greek law, particularly for services delivered in Greece, provide little protection against the currency’s being redenominated and devalued — a development regarded as unlikely until recently. “Greece would, through its laws, be able to amend contracts governed by Greek law or to be performed within the territory of Greece,” Mr. Clark said. “It is the governing law and the place of performance of the contract that is most important.” International contracts, which might be covered by English, German or Swiss law, would be more likely to be honored in the designated currency, though in some cases the wording of the legal document may be vague. And even if the law is on their side, companies would find that to extract payment from a Greek company, they would need a judge in Greece to enforce a ruling from a foreign court. “Enforcement of foreign judgments is harder or easier from country to country within the E.U.,” Mr. Clark said. “Greece has always had a reputation of being a difficult place in which to enforce judgments, from a practical perspective.” That means that international trading partners are likely to share in any losses that accompany a Greek exit from the euro. “International businesses that have long-term interests in Greece are going to have to be pragmatic and probably, in the short term, give some dispensation to their Greek counterparties, rather than trying to enforce the terms of contracts that cannot be performed,” Mr. Clark said.

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Former Lloyds worker Jessica Harper in £2.5m fraud charge

A former head of security at Lloyds Bank has been charged in connection with an alleged £2.5m fraud. Jessica Harper, 50, of Croydon, south London, is accused of submitting false invoices to claim payments, between September 2008 and December 2011. At the time she was working as head of fraud and security for digital banking and allegedly made false claims totalling £2,463,750. Ms Harper will appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court on 31 May. She has been charged with one count of fraud by abuse of position. The bank, which is now 39.7% state-owned after being bailed out by the government during the financial crisis, refused to comment on the charging of Ms Harper. A Metropolitan Police spokesman said she was arrested on 21 December 2011 by officers from its fraud squad. Andrew Penhale, from the Crown Prosecution Service's Central Fraud Group, said: "The charge relates to an allegation that between 1 September 2008 and 21 December 2011, Jessica Harper dishonestly and with the intention of making a gain for herself, abused her position as an employee of Lloyds Banking Group, in which she was expected to safeguard the financial interests of Lloyds Banking Group, by submitting false invoices to claim payments totalling £2,463,750.88, to which she was not entitled. "This decision to prosecute was taken in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors. "We have determined that there is a realistic prospect of conviction and a prosecution is in the public interest."

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Bankia shares are suspended in Madrid

Trading in shares in the Spanish lender Bankia have been suspended in Madrid. The market regulator CNMV said it was "due to circumstances that may affect the normal share trading". Bankia is reported to be due to ask the government for a bailout of more than 15bn euros ($19bn; £12bn) after a board meeting later on Friday. Bankia, which is Spain's fourth-largest bank, was part-nationalised two weeks ago because of its problems with bad property debt. Any extra government money would be on top of the 4.5bn euros in state loans that the government had to convert into shares in the group in the part-nationalisation process. Shares in Bankia's parent company Banco Financiero y de Ahorros (BFA) have also been suspended. Bankia was created in 2010 from the merger of seven struggling regional savings banks. It holds 32bn euros in distressed property assets.

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Tuesday, 22 May 2012

UK Jobseekers who reject help for alcohol and drug addiction face benefits cut

Unemployed people suspected of suffering from alcoholism or drug addiction will have their benefits cut if they refuse treatment for their condition, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, will signal on Wednesday. In a sign of the government's new benefits regime, which lies at the heart of Duncan Smith's cost-cutting welfare changes, staff in Jobcentre Plus offices will be encouraged to cut the jobseeker's allowance of claimants who reject treatment for addiction. The new rules will come into place in October 2013 when the universal credit, which is designed to wrap benefits into one payment, is introduced. A new claimant contract lies at the heart of the universal credit reforms. Claimants will have to sign a contract in which they agree to look for work in exchange for an undertaking from the government to support them while they do so. Government sources said the contract would allow Jobcentre Plus staff to say that a suspected addict is in breach of their commitments if they refuse help for alcoholism or drug addiction. Duncan Smith will give a flavour of the new rules when he addresses an event in parliament organised by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). He will say: "The outdated benefits system fails to get people off drugs and put their lives on track. We have started changing how addicts are supported, but we must go further to actively take on the devastation that drugs and alcohol can cause. "Under universal credit we want to do more to encourage and support claimants into rehabilitation for addiction and starting them on the road to recovery and eventually work. Getting people into work and encouraging independence is our ultimate goal. Universal credit will put people on a journey towards a sustainable recovery so they are better placed to look for work in future and we will be outlining our plans shortly." It is understood that the work and pensions secretary will not make a formal announcement on Wednesday of the powers that will be handed to Jobcentre Plus staff. Duncan Smith wants to use the event to focus on what he regards as the positive work AA does in helping to treat alcoholism. A government source said: "Iain wants to focus on the brilliant work Alcoholics Anonymous does in changing people's lives. He really wants to encourage people who have drink problems to go to AA for treatment. It will transform their lives and will help them into work." The source said Duncan Smith believes it is right to give jobcentre staff powers to cut benefits if an addict refuses treatment because they can detect signs of trouble. The source said: "The universal credit will allow staff in Jobcentre Plus offices to say: this person has been unemployed for some time. The staff know if people are addicted to alcohol. They know the people they are dealing with. "But we want this to be positive and to be about signposting people to superb organisations that can help them. This is about changing their lives. It is very important to support addicts into the workplace." But if claimants refuse they will have their benefits docked. "There will be sanctions," the source said, citing cuts to the jobseeker's allowance as an example. Ministers believe that one indicator Jobcentre Plus staff can use to see whether a claimant is an addict is the amount of times they apply for a crisis loan. "If you are applying for that up to 10 times a year then that is a sign of a chaotic life," one source said. Analysis by the Department of Work and Pensions shows that almost 40,000 people claim incapacity benefit with alcoholism declared as their "primary diagnosis". Of these, 13,500 have been claiming for a decade or more. There are about 160,000 "dependent drinkers" in England who receive one or more of the main benefits. There are 1m violent crimes a year that are related to alcoholism and 1.2m admissions to hospitals a year related to alcoholism. Universal credit is the most important element of Duncan Smith's welfare reforms, developed during his years in opposition through his Centre for Social Justice, which is designed to achieve his central goal of encouraging people into work. It will integrate tax credits and out-of-work benefits into one payment, with the aim of smoothing the transition to work. Labour has given the universal credit a cautious welcome, though it has taken issue with the scale of benefit cuts. Lord Low of Dalston, the vice-president of the Royal National Institute of Blind People who sits as a crossbencher, told peers this year: "Though it has some very sensible and progressive things at its core, in the shape of the universal credit, nevertheless it goes too far to most people's consciences in the way in which it takes vital support away from some of the most needy in our society."

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Sunday, 20 May 2012

Three killed in northern Italy earthquake

Three people have been killed in a 5.9-magnitude earthquake that struck northern Italy near Bologna, according to reports. The quake that struck at just after 4am local time was centred 21.75 miles north-northwest of Bologna at a relatively shallow depth of six miles, the US Geological Survey said. Italian news agency Ansa, citing emergency services, said two people were killed in Sant'Agostino di Ferrara when a ceramics factory collapsed. Another person was killed in Ponte Rodoni do Bondeno. In late January, A 5.4-magnitude quake shook northern Italy. Some office buildings in Milan were evacuated as a precaution and there were scattered reports of falling masonry and cracks in buildings. The tremor was one of the strongest to shake the region, seismologists said. Initial television footage indicated that older buildings had suffered damage. Roofs collapsed, church towers showed cracks and the bricks of some stone walls tumbled into the street during the quake. As dawn broke over the region, residents milled about the streets inspecting the damage. Italy's Sky TG24 showed images of the collapsed ceramics factory in Sant'Agostino di Ferrara where the two workers were reportedly killed. The structure, which appeared to be a hangar of sorts, had twisted metal supports jutting out at odd angles amid the mangled collapsed roof. The quake “was a strong one, and it lasted quite a long time”, said Emilio Bianco, receptionist at Modena's Canalgrande hotel, housed in an ornate 18th century palazzo. The hotel suffered no damage and Modena itself was spared, but guests spilled into the streets as soon as the quake hit, he said. Many people were still awake in the town since it was a “white night”, with shops and restaurants open all night. Museums were supposed to have remained open as well but closed following the bombing of a school in southern Italy that killed one person. The quake epicentre was between the towns of Finale Emilia, San Felice sul Panaro and Sermide, but was felt as far away as Tuscany and northern Alto Adige. The initial quake was followed about an hour later by a 5.1-magnitude aftershock, USGS said. And it was preceded by a 4.1-magnitude tremor. In late January, a 5.4-magnitude quake shook northern Italy. Some office buildings in Milan were evacuated as a precaution and there were scattered reports of falling masonry and cracks in buildings. In 2009, a devastating tremor killed more than 300 people in the central city of L'Aquila.

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Thursday, 17 May 2012

‘Save euro’ plea to Germans as Spain slumps

BRITAIN yesterday piled pressure on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to save the euro. 6 comments Related Stories PM: Make or break for euro HE to issue plea to Merkel to fork out as only way to stave off meltdown New French Pres gets a soakingFrench warning for CameronSarky poll malarky will leave PM narky David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne said she must use her financial clout to stop the single currency collapsing. The PM hammered the message home in emergency talks via video-link with Mrs Merkel and French president Francois Hollande. It came as the chaos in Greece spread to Spain — with fears of a run on banks in both countries. Greeks have taken £560million from local banks in the past week. And yesterday Spain’s Bankia bank was forced to deny reports customers had taken £800million out of its coffers in the past seven days. Last night the fears hit Santander UK as credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded the bank along with its Spanish owner and 15 other Spanish banks. And credit agency Fitch downgraded Greece on fears it will be booted out of the Eurozone. Earlier, Mr Osborne said the Treasury had drawn up emergency plans to cope with Greece quitting the euro. He told MPs: “Britain will be prepared for whatever comes.” Mr Cameron had warned countries such as Greece and Spain can only survive if richer countries did more to “share the burden of adjustment”. He also backed Eurobonds to raise billions to prop up crisis-hit countries — a proposal that would have to be bankrolled by Berlin. After the video chat, a Downing Street spokesman said the PM urged the eurozone to take “decisive action to ensure financial stability and prevent contagion”.

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Spain’s banking crisis reached Britain’s high streets last night when the credit rating of Santander UK was cut.

In a sweeping reassessment, ratings agency Moody’s announced in Madrid that it is downgrading 16 Spanish banks because it could not be sure of the ability of the country’s government to provide the necessary support.

Santander UK was among the banks highlighted after the ratings agency took aim at its parent Banco Santander, based in Spain. 

The Spanish banking crisis has hit the British high street, with the news that Santander has had its credit rating cut

The Spanish banking crisis has hit the British high street, with the news that Santander has had its credit rating cut

Santander is one of the biggest players in UK retail banking, having taken over the former Abbey National, Alliance & Leicester, Bradford & Bingley and most recently the English branches of the Royal Bank of Scotland.

The new lower A2 credit rating is certain to be a cause of anxiety to Santander UK’s millions of British customers. 

Nevertheless, they can be confident that their deposits up to £85,000 are guaranteed by the British government should there be a loss of confidence.



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'Queen of Disco' Donna Summer 'thought she became ill after inhaling 9/11 particles'

The 63-year-old singer, who had hits including Hot Stuff, Love to Love You, Baby and I Feel Love, died in Florida on Thursday morning. She had largely kept her battle with lung cancer out of the public eye. But the website TMZ reported that the singer had told friends she believed her illness was the result of inhaling toxic dust from the collapsed Twin Towers. On Thursday night tributes were paid to the singer, considered by many to be the voice of the 1970s. A statement released on behalf of her family — husband Bruce Sudano, their daughters Brooklyn and Amanda, her daughter, Mimi from a previous marriage and four grandchildren — read: “Early this morning, surrounded by family, we lost Donna Summer Sudano, a woman of many gifts, the greatest being her faith. "While we grieve her passing, we are at peace celebrating her extraordinary life and her continued legacy.

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Investigators are questioning Mexico's former deputy defence minister and a top army general for suspected links to organised crime

49 BODIES FOUND IN A HIGHWAY NORTHERN MEXICO
Grafitti saying 'Z 100%', referring to the Los Zetas cartel, near to where 49 mutilated bodies were found in Northern Mexico. Photograph: Miguel Sierra/EPA

Investigators are questioning Mexico's former deputy defence minister and a top army general for suspected links to organised crime, in the highest level scandal to hit the military in the five-year-old drug war.

Mexican soldiers on Tuesday detained retired general Tomás Angeles Dauahare and general Roberto Dawe González and turned them over to the country's organised crime unit, military and government officials said.

Angeles Dauahare was number 2 in the armed forces under President Felipe Calderón and helped lead the government's crackdown on drug cartels after soldiers were deployed to the streets in late 2006. He retired in 2008.

Dawe González, still an active duty general, led an elite army unit in the western state of Colima and local media said he previously held posts in the violent states of Sinaloa and Chihuahua.

An official at the attorney general's office said they would be held for several days to give testimony and then could be called in front of a judge.

"The generals are answering questions because they are allegedly tied to organised crime," the official said.

Angeles Dauahare said through a lawyer that his detention was unjustified, daily Reforma newspaper reported.

If the generals were convicted of drug trafficking, it would mark the most serious case of military corruption during Calderón's administration.

"Traditionally the armed forces had a side role in the anti-drug fight, eradicating drug crops or stopping drug shipments," said Alejandro Hope, a security analyst who formerly worked in the government intelligence agency.

"After 2006, they were more directly involved in public security, putting them at a higher risk of contact [with drug gangs]," he said.

About 55,000 people have been killed in drug violence over the past five years as rival cartels fight each other and government forces.

Worsening drug-related attacks in major cities are eroding support for Calderón's conservative National Action Party, or PAN, ahead of a 1 July presidential vote.

Over the weekend, police found 49 headless bodies on a highway in northern Mexico, the latest in a recent series of brutal massacres where mutilated corpses have been hung from bridges or shoved in iceboxes.

Opinion polls show Calderón's party is trailing by double digits behind opposition candidate Enrique Peña Nieto from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which says the government's drug strategy is failing.

Traditionally, the military has been seen as less susceptible to cartel bribes and intimidation than badly paid local and state police forces, who are often easily swayed by drug gang pay offs.

But there have been cases of military corruption in the past. Angeles Dauahare himself oversaw the landmark trial of two generals convicted of working with drug gangs in 2002.

Those two generals were convicted of links to the Juárez cartel once headed by the late Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who was known as the Lord of the Skies for flying plane load of cocaine into the United States.

Since then, the Sinaloa cartel - headed by Mexico's most wanted man Joaquín "Shorty" Guzmán - has expanded its power and is locked in a bloody battle over smuggling routes with the Zetas gang, founded by deserters from the Mexican army.

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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

JPMorgan's Trading Loss Is Said to Rise at Least 50%

The trading losses suffered by JPMorgan Chase have surged in recent days, surpassing the bank’s initial $2 billion estimate by at least $1 billion, according to people with knowledge of the losses. When Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan’s chief executive, announced the losses last Thursday, he indicated they could double within the next few quarters. But that process has been compressed into four trading days as hedge funds and other investors take advantage of JPMorgan’s distress, fueling faster deterioration in the underlying credit market positions held by the bank. A spokeswoman for the bank declined to comment, although Mr. Dimon has said the total paper trading losses will be volatile depending on day-to-day market fluctuations. The Federal Reserve is examining the scope of the growing losses and the original bet, along with whether JPMorgan’s chief investment office took risks that were inappropriate for a federally insured depository institution, according to several people with knowledge of the examination. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is still under way. The overall health of the bank remains strong, even with the additional losses, and JPMorgan has been able to increase its stock dividend faster than its rivals because of stronger earnings and a more solid capital buffer. Still, the huge trading losses rocked Wall Street and reignited the debate over how tightly giant financial institutions should be regulated. Bank analysts say that while the bank’s stability is not threatened, if the losses continue to mount, the outlook for the bank’s dividend will grow uncertain. The bank’s leadership has discussed the impact of the losses on future earnings, although a dividend cut remains highly unlikely for now. In March, the company raised the quarterly dividend by 5 cents, to 30 cents, which will cost the bank about $190 million more this quarter. A spokeswoman for the bank said a dividend cut has not been discussed internally. At the bank’s annual meeting in Tampa, Fla., on Tuesday, Mr. Dimon did not definitively rule out cutting the dividend, although he said that he “hoped” it would not be cut. John Lackey, a shareholder from Richmond, Va., who attended the meeting precisely to ask about the dividend, was not reassured. “That wasn’t a very clear answer,” he said of Mr. Dimon’s response. “I expect that shareholders are going to suffer because of this.” Analysts expect the bank to earn $4 billion in the second quarter, factoring in the original estimated loss of $2 billion. Even if the additional trading losses were to double, the bank could still earn a profit of $2 billion. And many analysts and investors remain optimistic about the bank’s long-term prospects. Glenn Schorr, a widely followed analyst with Nomura, reiterated on Wednesday his buy rating on JPMorgan shares, which are down more than 10 percent since the trading loss became public last week. What’s more, the chief investment office earned more than $5 billion in the last three years, which leaves it ahead over all, even given the added red ink. But the underlying problem is that while these sharp swings are expected at a big hedge fund, they should not be occurring at a bank whose deposits are government-backed and which has access to ultralow cost capital from the Federal Reserve, experts said. “JPMorgan Chase has a big hedge fund inside a commercial bank,” said Mark Williams, a professor of finance at Boston University, who also served as a Federal Reserve bank examiner. “They should be taking in deposits and making loans, not taking large speculative bets.” Not long after Mr. Dimon’s announcement of a dividend increase in March, the notorious bet by JPMorgan’s chief investment office began to fall apart. Traders at the unit’s London desk and elsewhere are now frantically trying to defuse the huge bet that was built up over years, but started generating erratic returns in late March. After a brief pause, the losses began to mount again in late April, prompting Mr. Dimon’s announcement on May 10. Beginning on Friday, the same trends that had been causing the losses for six weeks accelerated, since traders on the opposite side of the bet knew the bank was under pressure to unwind the losing trade and could not double down in any way. Another issue is that the trader who executed the complex wager, Bruno Iksil, is no longer on the trading desk. Nicknamed the London Whale, Mr. Iksil had a firm grasp on the trade — knowledge that is hard to replace, even though his anticipated departure is seen as sign of the bank’s taking responsibility for the debacle. “They were caught short,” said one experienced credit trader who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the situation is still fluid. The market player, who does not stand to gain from JPMorgan’s losses and is not involved in the trade, added, “this is a very hard trade to get out of because it’s so big.” He estimated that the initial loss of just over $2 billion was caused by a move of a quarter percentage point, or 25 basis points, on a portfolio with a notional value of $150 billion to $200 billion — in other words, the total value of the contracts traded, not JPMorgan’s exposure. In the four trading days since Mr. Dimon’s disclosure, the market has moved at least 15 to 20 basis points more against JPMorgan, he said. The overall losses are not directly proportional to the move in basis points because of the complexity of the trade. Many of the positions are highly illiquid, making them difficult to value for regulators and the bank itself. In its simplest form, traders said, the complex position assembled by the bank included a bullish bet on an index of investment-grade corporate debt, later paired with a bearish bet on high-yield securities, achieved by selling insurance contracts known as credit-default swaps. A big move in the interest rate spread between the investment grade securities and risk-free government bonds in recent months hurt the first part of the bet, and was not offset by equally large moves in the price of the insurance on the high yield bonds. As the credit yield curve steepened, the losses piled up on the corporate grade index, overwhelming gains elsewhere on the trades. Making matters worse, there was a mismatch between the expiration of different instruments within the trade, increasing losses. The additional losses represent a worsening of what is already the most embarrassing misstep for JPMorgan since Mr. Dimon became chief executive in 2005. No one has blamed Mr. Dimon for the trade, which was under the oversight of the head of the chief investment office, Ina Drew, but he has repeatedly apologized, calling it “stupid” and “sloppy.” Ms. Drew resigned Monday and more departures are anticipated.

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Friday, 11 May 2012

Rebekah Brooks turns screw on Jeremy Hunt with 'hacking advice' email

Jeremy Hunt, came under renewed pressure when the former News International chief executive Rebekah Brooks disclosed an email appearing to show he had sought the company's advice over how Downing Street should respond to the mounting phone-hacking scandal. The email, which also suggests Hunt sought to avoid a public inquiry into phone hacking, emerged on another day of extraordinary disclosures about the intimacy between Rupert Murdoch's company and government ministers. The email from News Corporation lobbyist Frédéric Michel written in June 2011 told Brooks that Hunt was poised to make an "extremely helpful" statement about the company's proposed acquisition of BSkyB, saying the takeover would be approved regardless of phone-hacking allegations. Michel also warned her, days before the Guardian revealed that murdered teenager Milly Dowler's voicemail had been targeted by the News of the World, that "JH [Jeremy Hunt] is now starting to looking into phone-hacking/practices more thoroughly" and that he "has asked me to advise him privately in the coming weeks and guide his and No 10's positioning". During five hours of testimony, Brooks revealed she dined with George Osborne on 13 December 2010, when she discussed Ofcom's initial objections to News Corp's £8bn bid. The objections had been sent in a confidential "issues letter" by the media regulator to her company three days before. Following a short discussion, the then News International boss reported to James Murdoch the next day that Osborne had expressed "total bafflement". In a steely and at times tetchy performance, Brooks said her lobbying of the chancellor had been "entirely appropriate" because she was "reflecting the opposite view to the view he had heard by that stage from pretty much every member of the anti-Sky bid alliance". But Robert Jay QC, counsel to the inquiry, said that the email demonstrated that it was "obvious that he was supportive of your bid, wasn't he", a suggestion Brooks rejected. The disclosures about her conversations with the chancellor will increase the likelihood that he is called to appear before the inquiry. He is the only one of eight ministers who have submitted statements to Leveson not to have been asked to appear. Though less damaging than some in Downing Street had feared, Brooks' testimony also proved embarrassing for David Cameron. She revealed the prime minister signed texts "DC" or sometimes "LOL" – until she explained that the phrase meant "laugh out loud", not "lots of love". She said she typically texted Cameron once a week, and twice a week during the 2010 election campaign, dismissing as preposterous reports that he sometimes texted her up to 12 times per day. Brooks said any email correspondence between her and politicians was now held by News International. She had only copies of emails and texts that were on her BlackBerry during a six-week period in June and July 2011, but a single message from Cameron had been "compressed" and could not now be read. Brooks confirmed that she had socialised with Cameron at least twice within four days in Oxfordshire during Christmas 2010, the culmination of a year in which they had already met at least five times. The first contact of the festive season was at a dinner at her house on 23 December, when there was a conversation about the BSkyB bid. The second was a previously undisclosed "mulled wine, mince pie" party organised by her sister-in-law on Boxing Day 2010, an event at which she was unsure if she had spoken to Cameron or his wife, Samantha, although "my sister-in-law tells me they were definitely there". Although Brooks has been arrested in connection with phone hacking and bribery investigations, and on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, the inquiry also heard that she had discussed the growing hacking allegations with Cameron at some point during 2010. She said the prime minister – who at that point was still employing former News of the World editor Andy Coulson – had asked her for an update. "I think it had been on the news that day, and I think I explained the story behind the news. No secret information, no privileged information, just a general update," Brooks said. The disclosure will add to the pressure on Cameron to explain why he failed to challenge Coulson about the hacking allegations against him at any time after the Guardian broke the story in July 2009. However, the most serious evidence to emerge regarded Hunt, whose fate has been hanging in the balance since Rupert Murdoch provided 163 pages of News Corp emails to the Leveson inquiry, which suggested that Michel had obtained a large amount of information about the progress of ministerial approval of the BSkyB bid. Finding a fresh email from Michel that had eluded Murdoch's legal team last month, Brooks showed that she had been told that Hunt would essentially approve the long-delayed takeover because he believed "phone hacking has nothing to do with the media plurality issues" that were increasingly concerning rivals. Michel told Brooks that the sought-after approval would happen later in the last week of June 2011.

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Rebekah Brooks refused to name source of Brown son story

Rebekah Brooks has denied that The Sun hacked the medical records of Gordon Brown's four-year-old son - and refused to disclose the source of the information to the Leveson Inquiry She also insisted that the paper had permission from the former Prime Minister and his wife before publishing an article about the child's medical condition. Brooks said that she and Gordon's Brown wife Sarah "were good In a written response to the Inquiry's questions submitted in October last year Brooks set out a detailed description of safeguards put in place to check stories. The former tabloid editor and News International chief executive also denied commissioning any computer hacking or feeling any "negative pressure" from proprietor Rupert Murdoch. Much of the 12-page statement consists of explanations of the processes used to check accuracy and sources, train staff and decide whether to run a particular story. Despite those efforts, there were "failures from time to time" - significantly so at the News of the World, Mrs Brooks conceded. "I was horrified when I learned of them and I was and am deeply sorry about the further anguish that was caused to Milly Dowler's parents in particular," she wrote. Corporate governance was taken "seriously" within the newspaper group though, she added. Mrs Brooks also told the inquiry: :: She was not aware of any use of computer hacking: "I have been specifically asked by the Inquiry whether I or the newspapers where I worked ever used or commissioned anyone who used 'computer hacking' in order to source stories or for any other reason. I did not and I was not aware of anyone at either the News of the World or The Sun who did." :: There was a crackdown on the use of private investigators following highly critical reports by the Information Commissioner's Office and the Commons media and sport select committee. "I believe their use is now virtually non-existent," she wrote - noting there were exceptions such as using them to track down convicted paedophiles who had broken their bail conditions. :: The use of cash payments had been "considerably tightened up". :: It would be "highly unusual and not practical" for an editor to check the accuracy and sources of stories going into their paper other than the biggest or most controversial. :: There were "numerous examples" of times when she resisted publishing a story because the invasion of privacy outweighed any public interest or because it was more important to alert the police to criminal activities than to secure an exclusive. "It is quite wrong to believe that the press simply publishes what it can get away with, irrespective of the ethical requirements," she insisted. :: The industry felt privacy laws had "slowly crept in through the back door", stymieing legitimate journalism but failing to regulate inaccurate internet gossip. :: In her decade as a national newspaper editor she "never experienced or felt any negative pressure either financial or commercial from the proprietor. In fact the opposite is true. There was always constant advice, experienced guidance and support available." There was no financial motive to print exclusive stories. "Professional pride was the biggest incentive."

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David Cameron sent commiserations to Rebekah Brooks after she resigned as News International chief executive over the phone hacking scandal

David Cameron sent commiserations to Rebekah Brooks after she resigned as News International chief executive over the phone hacking scandal, the Leveson Inquiry has heard. Ms Brooks said the indirect messages from the Prime Minister were "along the lines" of "keep your head up" and had also expressed regret that he could not be more loyal in public. She also received sympathetic messages from other senior figures in 10 and 11 Downing Street, the Home Office, the Foreign Office and some Labour politicians, including Tony Blair. The glimpse of Ms Brooks's network of high-powered friends and contacts came as she took to the witness box, despite being under investigation by police. Ms Brooks said she only had access to around six weeks of texts and emails from her time as NI chief executive, from the beginning of June to July 17 last year. Only one of those emails was relevant to the inquiry, according to her evidence. One of the text messages had been from Mr Cameron, but the content was compressed and unreadable, she said. Robert Jay QC, counsel for the inquiry, asked Ms Brooks about reports that she had received sympathetic messages after her resignation last July. "I had some indirect messages from some politicians but nothing direct," she replied. "A variety - some Tories, a couple of Labour politicians. Very few Labour politicians. I received some indirect messages from Number 10, Number 11, the Home Office, the Foreign Office..." She said Tony Blair had been among them but Gordon Brown had not. "He was probably getting the bunting out," she added, provoking laughter in the courtroom. Questioned on whether reports were correct that Mr Cameron's message had urged her to "keep your head up", Ms Brooks responded: "Along those lines." Pressed on whether the premier had also conveyed regret that political circumstances meant he could not be more "loyal", Ms Brooks replied: "Similar, but very indirect."

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Sunday, 6 May 2012

Brink's Mat the reason that Great Train Robber was shot dead in Marbella

The Brink’s-Mat curse even touched on the Great Train Robbery gang of 1963. One of them, Charlie Wilson, found himself in trouble when £3 million of Brink’s-Mat investors’ money went missing in a drug deal. In April 1990, he paid the price when a young British hood knocked on the front door of his hacienda north of Marbella and shot Wilson and his pet husky dog before coolly riding off down the hill on a yellow bicycle.

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Saturday, 5 May 2012

British tourist falls to her death from hotel balcony in Magalluf

23 year old British tourist has fallen to her death from the third floor balcony of her hotel in Magalluf, Mallorca. Emergency sources said it happened at 4.25am Saturday morning at the Hotel Teix in Calle Pinada. Local police and emergency health services went to scene. After 20 minutes of an attempt to re-animate her heart, the woman was pronounced dead. Online descriptions for the Hotel say it is the best place to stay of you are looking for non-stop partying, adding it not suitable for families.

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Friday, 4 May 2012

Four of the last reporters and photographers willing to cover crime stories have been slain in less than a week in violence-torn Veracruz state

Four of the last reporters and photographers willing to cover crime stories have been slain in less than a week in violence-torn Veracruz state, where two Mexican drug cartels are warring over control of smuggling routes and targeting sources of independent information. The brutal campaign is bleeding the media and threatening to turn Veracruz into the latest state in Mexico where fear snuffs out reporting on the drug war. Three photojournalists who worked the perilous crime beat in the port city of Veracruz were found dismembered and dumped in plastic bags in a canal Thursday, less than a week after a reporter for an investigative newsmagazine was beaten and strangled in her home in the state capital of Xalapa. Press freedom groups said all three photographers had temporarily fled the state after receiving threats last year. The organizations called for immediate government action to halt a wave of attacks that has killed at least seven current and former reporters and photographers in Veracruz over the last 18 months. Like most of those, the men found Thursday were among the few journalists left working on crime-related stories in the state. Threats and killings have spawned an atmosphere of terror and self-censorship, and most local media are too intimidated to report on drug-related violence. Social media and blogs are often the only outlets reporting on serious crime. Veracruz isn't the only battleground for Mexican media. In at least three northeastern states, journalists are under siege from assailants throwing grenades inside newsrooms and gunmen firing into newspaper and TV station buildings. In the state of Tamaulipas, on the border with Texas, local media stopped covering drug trafficking violence, mentioning drug cartels or reporting on organized crime shortly after two gangs began fighting for control of Nuevo Laredo in 2004. As part of that war, reporters were targeted to keep them silent or because they had links to gangs. Mexico has become one of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists in recent years, amid a government offensive against drug cartels and fighting among gangs that have brought tens of thousands of deaths, kidnappings and extortion cases. Prosecutions in journalist killings are almost nonxistent, although that is widely true of all homicides and other serious crimes in Mexico. The latest killings came in Boca del Rio, a town near the port city of Veracruz where police found the bodies. The victims bore signs of torture and had been dismembered, the state prosecutors' office said. One victim was identified as Guillermo Luna Varela, a crime-news photographer for the website http://www.veracruznews.com.mx who was last seen by local reporters covering a car accident Wednesday afternoon. According to a fellow journalist, who insisted on speaking anonymously out of fear, Luna was in his 20s and had begun his career working for the local newspaper Notiver. The journalist said Luna was the nephew of another of the men found dead, Gabriel Huge. Huge was in his early 30s and worked as a photojournalist for Notiver until last summer, when he fled the state soon after two of the paper's reporters were slain in still-unsolved killings. He had returned to the state to work as a reporter, but it was not immediately clear what kind of stories he was covering recently. State officials said the third victim was Esteban Rodriguez, who was a photographer for the local newspaper AZ until last summer, when he too quit and fled the state. He later came back, but took up work as a welder. The London-based press freedom group Article 19 said he, like the other two, had been a crime photographer. The fourth victim was Luna's girlfriend, Irasema Becerra, state prosecutors said. Article 19 said in a report last year that Luna, Varela and Rodriguez were among 13 Veracruz journalists who had fled their homes because of crime-related threats and official unwillingness to protect them or investigate the danger. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in 2008 that Huge had been detained and beaten by federal police as he tried to cover a fatal auto accident involving officers. Last June, Miguel Angel Lopez Velasco, a columnist and editorial director for Notiver, was shot to death in Veracruz along with his wife and one of his children. Authorities that month also found the body of journalist Noel Lopez buried in a clandestine grave in the town of Chinameca. Lopez, who disappeared three months earlier, had worked for the weeklies Horizonte and Noticias de Acayucan and for the daily newspaper La Verdad. The following month, Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz, a police reporter for Notiver, was found with her throat cut in the state. Lopez was found after a suspect in another case confessed to killing him, but the other two murders have not been resolved. The cartel war in Veracruz reached a bloody peak in September when 35 bodies were dumped on a main highway in rush-hour traffic. Local law enforcement in the state was considered so corrupt and infiltrated by the Zetas and other gangs that Mexico's federal government fired 800 officers and 300 administrative personnel in the city of Veracruz-Boca del Rio in December and sent in about 800 marines to patrol. Mike O'Connor, the Committee to Protect Journalists' representative for Mexico, said journalists in Veracruz were exercising an unusual degree of self-censorship even before Ordaz and Lopez were killed. He said media avoided much coverage of crime and corruption. "Important news was not covered because it might upset the Zetas. Then these guys were killed and self-censorship cracked down even more," O'Connor said. "Almost all of the police beat reporters left town after those killings." Regina Martinez, a correspondent for the national magazine Proceso, continued to cover crime-related stories along with a handful of other journalists, however. On Saturday, authorities went to her home in Xalapa, the state capital, after a neighbor reported it to be suspiciously quiet. They found the reporter dead in her bathroom with signs she had been beaten and strangled. "Self-censorship was extraordinarily strong but whoever killed these journalists wanted more," O'Connor said. "It still wasn't enough to satisfy whoever killed these journalists." Mexico's human rights commission says 74 media workers were slain from 2000 to 2011. The Committee to Protect Journalists says 51 were killed in that time. It noted in a statement on the Mexico killings that Thursday was World Press Freedom Day.

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Greek far-right parties could end up with as much as 20 percent of the vote in Sunday's elections. The neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has intensified the xenophobic atmosphere in the country.

At night, the streets leading to Omonoia Square are empty. That wasn't always the case. The area was the premier multicultural neighborhood of Athens and one of the first quarters to be gentrified. Jazz bars and Indian restaurants lined the streets, separated by the occasional rooms-by-the-hour hotel. It was a quarter full of immigrants, drug addicts and African prostitutes, but also of journalists, ambitious young artists and teenagers from private schools. Today, the immigrants stay home once night falls. They are afraid of groups belonging to the "angry citizens," a kind of militia that beats up foreigners and claims to help the elderly withdraw money from cash machines without being robbed. Such groups are the product of an initiative started by the neo-Nazi Chrysi Avgi -- Golden Dawn -- the party which has perpetrated pogroms in Agios Panteleimon, another Athens neighborhood with a large immigrant population. There are now three outwardly xenophobic parties in Greece. According to recent surveys, together they could garner up to 20 percent of the vote in elections on Sunday: the anti-Semitic party LAOS stands to win 4 percent; the nationalist party Independent Greeks -- a splinter group of the conservative Nea Dimokratia party -- is forecast to win 11 percent; and the right extremists of Golden Dawn could end up with between 5 and 7 percent. My name is Xenia, the hospitable. Greece itself should really be called Xenia: Tourism, emigration and immigration are important elements of our history. But hospitality is no longer a priority in our country, a fact which the ugly presence of Golden Dawn makes clear. A Personal Attack Shaved heads, military uniforms, Nazi chants, Hitler greetings: How should a Greek journalist deal with such people? Should one just ignore them and leave them unmentioned? Should one denounce them and demand that they be banned? One shouldn't forget that they are violent and have perpetrated several attacks against foreigners and leftists. I thought long and hard about how to write about Golden Dawn so that my article was in no way beneficial to the party. On April 12, the daily Kathimerini ran my story under the headline "Banality of Evil." In the piece, I carefully explained why it was impossible to carry on a dialogue with such people and why I thought the neo-Nazi party should disappear from media coverage and be banned. Five days later, an anonymous reply to my article appeared on the Golden Dawn website. It was a 2,500-word-long personal attack in which the fascists recounted my entire career, mocked my alleged foreign roots (I was born in Hamburg) and even, for no apparent reason, mentioned my 13-year-old daughter. The unnamed authors indirectly threatened me as well: "To put it in the mother tongue of foreign Xenia: 'Kommt Zeit, kommt Rat, kommt Attentat!'" In other words, watch your back. Most Greeks believe that Golden Dawn has connections to both the police and to the country's secret service. Nevertheless, I went to the authorities to ask what I should do. I was told that I should be careful. They told me that party thugs could harass me, beat me or terrorize me over the phone. It would be better, they said, if I stopped writing about them. If I wished to react to the threats, they suggested I file a complaint against Golden Dawn's service provider. That, however, would be difficult given that the domain is based somewhere in the United States. Like Weimar Germany A friend told me that I should avoid wearing headphones on the street so that I can hear what is going on around me. My daughter now has nightmares about being confronted by members of Golden Dawn. Three of her classmates belong to the party. The three boys have posted pictures of party events on their Facebook pages. For their profile image, they have chosen the ancient Greek Meandros symbol, which, in the red-on-black manifestation used by Golden Dawn, resembles a swastika. The group's slogans include "Foreigners Out!" and "The Garbage Should Leave the Country!" The fact that immigration has become such an issue in the worst year of the ongoing economic crisis in the country can be blamed on the two parties in government. The Socialist PASOK and the conservative Nea Dimokratia (New Democracy, or ND) are running xenophobic campaigns. ND has said it intends to repeal a law which grants Greek citizenship to children born in Greece to immigrant parents. And cabinet member Michalis Chrysochoidis, of PASOK, has announced "clean up operations" whereby illegal immigrants are to be rounded up in encampments and then deported. When he recently took a stroll through the center of Athens to collect accolades for his commitment to the cause, some called out to him: "Golden Dawn has cleaned up Athens!" Yet, Chrysochoidis is the best loved PASOK politician in his Athens district, in part because of his xenophobic sentiments. His party comrade, Health Minister Andreas Loverdos, is just as popular. Loverdos has warned Greek men not to sleep with foreign prostitutes for fear of contracting HIV and thus endangering the Greek family. High unemployment of roughly 22 percent, a lack of hope, a tendency toward violence and the search for scapegoats: Analyses in the Greek press compare today's Greece with Germany at the end of the Weimar Republic. "We didn't know," said many Germans when confronted with the truth of the Holocaust after Nazi rule came to an end. After elections on May 6, no Greeks should be able to make the same claim.

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Thursday, 3 May 2012

Locked Up Abroad is different.

Reality TV is, at its core, about letting viewers revel in the bad decision-making of others: those who speak without thinking, who backstab, who have sex without condoms, who cheat. Frustratingly, though, reality shows—to which I am unapologetically addicted—tend to reward bad behavior, by giving its villains notoriety, spinoffs, opportunities to endorse weight-loss products, a nice sideline in paid interviews with supermarket tabloids, and other D-list rewards.

Locked Up Abroad is different. The National Geographic show, the sixth season of which premiered last week, gives its stars something they wouldn’t get on other reality shows: their comeuppance.

Having debuted in the U.K. (under the title Banged Up Abroad), Locked Up Abroad showcases one person (sometimes a couple) who ends up in prison overseas. Participants fit into one of two categories. The first group are the (largely) innocent: the married missionary couple who were kidnapped in the Philippines by the Islamist group Abu Sayyaf, for instance, or the seemingly goodhearted duo who wanted to help children in Chechnya, but ended up held hostage. These tales of the altruistic and naive can be difficult to watch.

But then there are those who rather deserve what happens to them. Typically these are drug smugglers, and their episodes follow a familiar arc. A young person—they’re almost always young—is bored or in need of cash (usually both). She is desperate or feels invincible (usually both). Someone approaches her and offers a seemingly great deal: an all-expenses-paid, luxurious overseas trip in exchange for a small favor. Sometimes the would-be employer is upfront and admits he needs a drug mule, but downplays the risk; other times, he hints at harmless-sounding illegalities, like bringing back legal goods to beat the export tax. In a few cases, the cover story is painfully thin: Come with me to check out this cool new nail polish technology only available in Thailand, for example. (That woman was in a vulnerable place: She had just been released on bail after killing her partner’s former husband—in self-defense, she claimed.)

The drug smugglers are caught, of course, usually at the airport, and brought to prison. And while a few episodes have taken place in developed countries—Spain, Japan, South Korea—the majority of our anti-heroes end up incarcerated in places with some of the dirtiest and most dangerous penitentiaries in the world.

Take last week’s episode, “From Hollywood to Hell.” (And pardon my spoilers, but this installment is too good not to describe in detail.) In 2001, actor Erik Aude was living the marginal Hollywood dream. An ür-bro, he had played bit parts in Dude, Where’s My Car?(credited as “Musclehead”) and 7th Heaven (“Boyfriend”) when a gym buddy asked him to go to Turkey to bring back “leather goods.” Aude makes the trip, and though a drug-sniffing dog alerts authorities at the Turkish airport, they find nothing—so Aude feels sure the whole thing is legit. He even recommends that one of his brothers start couriering for his friend. Then, when his brother backs out of a planned trip to Pakistan in 2002, Aude steps in, and shit gets real.

It is difficult to feel sorry for Aude. After his escort dumps him in an Islamabad hotel and warns him not to leave because the area is unsafe for Americans, he doesn’t head to the embassy or the airport. Instead, he goes jogging—and even tries to flirt with girls in headscarves on the street (with disastrous results). And when he is taken to the airport with just one suitcase, he is (he claims) not the least bit suspicious that he might be a drug mule. When a customs official asks him whether his trip was for business or pleasure, he cheeses, “Pleasure is my business.”

Aude’s episode is mind-bogglingly watchable, not least because he—of course!—plays himself in the re-enactment. In his telling, he was a virtual action star: On at least three occasions, he single-handedly fights back dozens of Pakistanis. After he takes out a prison bully, he is hailed a hero. He rejects a reduced sentence because it would require him to plead guilty—and his pride is more valuable than his freedom, he says.

Aside from those truly in the wrong place at the wrong time, the most sympathetic characters of Locked Up Abroad may be the embassy employees called in to assist the suspected smugglers. Inevitably, Locked Up Abroad participants are horrified that the embassies of their homelands—usually English-speaking countries like the U.S., the U.K., or Australia—can’t do more for them. I can just imagine U.S. Embassy workers calling “not it” every time they get word from local authorities about some young American knucklehead who thought he could sneak past security with a bag full of cocaine.

Tonight’s episode is called “The Juggler Smuggler,” and its “hero” is Mark Greening, a “party-loving” drug-runner who knows his latest trip is “doomed” when he doesn’t get his fortune told by “his favorite Gypsy woman.” I can’t wait.

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Low fare airline bmibaby to close

Low fare carrier bmibaby is set to close later this year, threatening the loss of hundreds of jobs and the ending of its flights. The carrier transferred to International Airlines Group, the owners of British Airways, last month, but consultations have now started with unions about its closure in September. The GMB union said it was "devastating" news, especially for the East Midlands, where hundreds of jobs are now threatened with the axe. With bmi Regional, bmibaby transferred to International Airlines Group ownership on completion of the purchase from Lufthansa. IAG has consistently said that bmibaby and bmi Regional are not part of its long-term plans. A statement said: "Progress has been made with a potential buyer for bmi Regional, but so far this has not been possible for bmibaby, despite attempts over many months by both Lufthansa and IAG. Bmibaby has therefore started consultation to look at future options including, subject to that consultation, a proposal to close in September this year." Peter Simpson, bmi interim managing director, said: "We recognise that these are unsettling times for bmibaby employees, who have worked tirelessly during a long period of uncertainty. Bmibaby has delivered high levels of operational performance and customer service, but has continued to struggle financially, losing more than £100 million in the last four years. In the consultation process, we will need to be realistic about our options. "To help stem losses as quickly as possible and as a preliminary measure, we will be making reductions to bmibaby's flying programme from June. We sincerely apologise to all customers affected and will be providing full refunds and doing all we can with other airlines to mitigate the impact of these changes." Jim McAuslan, general secretary of the pilots' union Balpa, said: "This is bad news for jobs. Bmibaby pilots are disappointed and frustrated that, even though there appears to be potential buyers, we are prevented from speaking with them to explore how we can contribute to developing a successful business plan. "The frustration has now turned to anger following the news that Flybe (which is part owned by BA) has moved onto many of these bmibaby routes without any opportunity for staff to look at options and alternatives. Balpa's priority is to protect jobs; and we will use whatever means we can to do so." The changes mean that all bmibaby flights to and from Belfast will cease from June 11, although this will not affect bmi mainline's services to London Heathrow. Bmibaby services from East Midlands to Amsterdam, Paris, Geneva, Nice, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Newquay, and from Birmingham to Knock and Amsterdam, will end on the same date.

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Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Sam Ibrahim headed to jail

Former Sydney bikie boss Sam Ibrahim has been sent back to jail for allegedly breaching his parole. The 46-year-old was arrested yesterday at his home in Sydney's north-west at Bella Vista by a police strike force targeting the city's bikie gun war. The New South Wales Parole Authority revoked parole for the former Nomads boss after receiving a report from parole officers alleging he had been taking prohibited drugs and failing to obey directions. The arrest followed a police raid of his house last Friday, which was part of an operation targeting 18 homes and businesses linked to feuding Hells Angels and Nomads bikies. The house had been sprayed with bullets only a week earlier, in one of nine tit-for-tat shootings between the gangs in just over a week. Ibrahim is being held at Silverwater jail, ahead of a public hearing by the NSW Parole Board later this month. The board will decide whether to keep the former Nomads boss in prison until his sentence expires on October 7, or whether to extend his jail time. Ibrahim spent five months in jail as part of the 15-month sentence over the violent kidnapping of a 15-year-old boy in 2009. His arrest was part of a crackdown by the Gangs Squad's Strike Force Kinnara, which was set up to combat an escalation in bikie gun crime. The strike force also arrested convicted Sydney drug boss Bill Bayeh a fortnight ago for an alleged breach of parole.

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Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Rupert Murdoch was branded “not a fit person” to run a major company


 Rupert Murdoch was branded “not a fit person” to run a major company in a bombshell report by MPs today. His son and business heir James was accused of “wilful ignorance” towards phone hacking, while Murdoch executives were accused of lying to cover it up. The verdicts leave the 81-year-old tycoon fighting to justify his leadership of a worldwide empire including the broadcaster BSkyB. He faces being dragged before Parliament to apologise. The force of the report was partly diminished by a row between members of the culture select committee. Four Conservatives voted against the final draft because they felt the attack on Rupert Murdoch’s fitness  to run a company was over the top. However, the final 100-page report backed by the Labour and Lib-Dem MPs on the committee amounted to one of the most scathing parliamentary verdicts on an international business. The MPs said Rebekah Brooks, former News of the World editor and chief executive of News International, “should accept responsibility” for the culture that led to Milly Dowler’s phone being hacked, along with hundreds of others. The report also found editors, lawyers, the police and prosecutors guilty of a catalogue of failings. Several former Murdoch lieutenants were singled out for misleading Parliament, including former News International executive chairman Les Hinton, former News Group  lawyer Tom Crone, and former News of the World editor Colin Myler. It criticised the Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, and the former Metropolitan Police acting deputy commissioner John Yates, saying “they both bear culpability for failing to ensure that the evidence ... was properly investigated.” Rupert Murdoch was accused of “wilful blindness” about the mounting evidence of phone hacking. The verdict will add muscle to shareholders seeking to topple Mr Murdoch and to critics demanding that media regulator Ofcom strip him of his broadcasting licence. The report accused the Murdoch companies of trying to “buy the silence” of victims by awarding huge payouts to victims of hacking such as football players’ union boss Gordon Taylor. Verdicts on some figures who have been arrested by the police were held back in case they hampered fair trials. Among these was Andy Coulson, the former News of the World editor who was hired by David Cameron as his spin chief at No 10. The ferocious conclusion, which divided the committee in a series of votes on the final wording, was that Mr Murdoch was ultimately to blame and therefore not fit to hold his position. It said: “On the basis of the facts and evidence before the committee we conclude that, if at all relevant times Rupert Murdoch did not take steps to become fully informed about phone-hacking, he turned a blind eye and exhibited wilful blindness to what was going on in his companies and publications. “This culture, we consider, permeated from the top throughout the organisation and speaks volumes about the lack of effective corporate governance at News Corporation and News International. We conclude, therefore that Rupert Murdoch is not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company.” The committee branded it “simply astonishing” that Rupert and James said it was not until December 2010 that they realised that News International’s claim that hacking involved a single “rogue reporter” was untrue. It poured scorn on James Murdoch’s “lack of curiosity” that raised “questions of competence”. Mr Hinton was “complicit in the cover-up at News International” that included paying inflated compensation to victims. Mr Crone and Mr Myler misled the committee by answering questions “falsely”. The final devastating verdict on Mr Murdoch was a triumph for Labour MP Tom Watson who drafted the conclusions. But the 11-member committee divided along party lines, with the full denunciation being passed by the vote of a single Liberal Democrat member. Mr Watson said of Rupert Murdoch: “More than any individual alive, he is to blame. Morally, the deeds are his. He paid the piper and he called the tune.” Conservative MPs Louise Mensch and Philip Davies insisted the MPs had no right to make such a ruling and hit out at “partisan” voting by Labour members led by Mr Watson and Paul Farrelly. Mrs Mensch said Tory members could not back the declaration, describing it as “wildly outside the scope” of the committee and “improper attempt to influence” watchdog Ofcom.” Mr Davies said Mr Murdoch was “very clearly” a fit and proper person to run a major firm, pointing to the jobs he had created. He added: “Many people may conclude that some people’s conclusions were written before any of the evidence was heard, and that is very sad.” Mr Watson said he was disappointed there had been splits, but insisted Mr Murdoch must be held to account for crimes at News Corporation. Committee chair John Whittingdale said he did not vote on any of the amendments in the report, but hinted at his opinion on whether it should have branded Mr Murdoch unfit, saying: “I would merely observe that as well as being the chairman of the committee, I am a Conservative MP.” Lib-Dem member Adrian Sanders who was effectively left with the casting vote, sided with the Labour view. He said he would have faced accusations of party bias whichever way he had decided. After the report was published Mr Watson said he had “reason to believe” that even more the material in the form of hard drives was in the hands of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. He sought to extend the probe into new areas — including claims News Corp could be in contempt of Parliament over claims they sought to use private investigators to dig dirt on committee members. He also said politicians — including Tony Blair and Gordon Brown as well as David Cameron and George Osborne — should reveal their email and text message contacts with News Corp executives.

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