Top story: ‘Transparency, accountability and justice’
Hello, Warren Murray here, welcome to the round-up.
The revelation that Iranian forces may have shot down the Boeing 737 airliner that crashed on Wednesday is prompting a reassessment of the consequences of Donald Trump’s decision to assassinate the Iranian general Qassem Suleimani. Intelligence sources have told the Guardian that it appeared two surface-to-air missiles targeted Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752, killing all 176 people onboard.
US officials told media that satellites picked up an anti-aircraft missile battery switching on, followed by infrared signals from two suspected missiles, then an infrared blip from the burning aircraft. Of the 176 people onboard, 78 were Iranian, 63 were Canadian and 11 were Ukrainian along with 10 Swedes, seven Afghans, four Britons and three German nationals. The Canadian PM, Justin Trudeau, said: “We have intelligence, including from our allies and own intelligence, that the plane was shot down by Iranian surface-to-air missiles. Canadians want answers. That means transparency, accountability and justice.”
Iranian officials on Thursday rejected the western intelligence assessments and said it was “scientifically” impossible for the plane to have been hit by one of their missiles. Boris Johnson said the shooting down “may well have been unintentional. We are working closely with Canada and our international partners and there now needs to be a full, transparent investigation.” In the US, the House of Representatives has voted to curb Trump’s power to make war against Iran, though the resolution is not binding. A short time ago Trump spoke at a rally in Toledo where he was unapologetic about the killing of Suleimani, who he said was planning attacks on US interests. “We stopped him and we stopped him quickly and we stopped him cold.”
Police plea to ban burners – Anonymous pay-as-you-go mobile phones should be banned to help tackle county lines drug dealers, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary has recommended. The police inspectorate says the gangs use phones extensively and are able buy phones or sim cards without needing to prove their identity, despite police being able to order telephone companies to cut them off. “We were told of one example where a county lines network received and shared a new number within an hour of the service provider acting on the order,” said the inspectorate in a report. The report said school exclusions expose children to being recruited into county lines gangs – but HMIC’s chief inspector, Sir Tom Winsor, said social workers were dealing with enormous caseloads without enough resources for services to protect the vulnerable. “Children’s services are under extraordinary strain,” he said.
MoD not deterred from Trident waste – The cost of maintaining three British nuclear sites spiralled by £1.35bn because of poor management by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), Whitehall’s watchdog has found. The National Audit Office also said work to build and maintain the UK’s Trident nuclear deterrent in Cumbria, Derbyshire and Berkshire will be completed more than six years later than planned. Civil servants rely on the work of three monopolistic suppliers – the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE), Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems – which means contracts cannot be terminated for poor performance. Auditors found three programmes – a new nuclear warhead plant, a nuclear core plant and shipyard work – were valued at £2.5bn but found costs ballooned and delays ran at between 1.7 and 6.3 years. The MoD was continuing to repeat mistakes made in the last cycle of investment in the nuclear enterprise in the 1980s and 1990s, the report found.
Grassy slopes of Everest – Shrubs and grasses are springing up around Mount Everest and across the Himalayas, one of the most rapidly heating regions of the planet. The melting of Himalayan glaciers has doubled since the turn of the century. Studying images from 1993 to 2018 provided by Nasa’s Landsat satellites, researchers from Exeter University measured the spread of vegetation in the “subnival” region, between the snowline and the treeline.
There are fears it could lead to increased flooding in the vast Hindu Kush Himalayan region, as plants absorb more light and heat, and this warms the soil, leading to greater water run-off. “That would be bad news for the Himalayas,” said Dr Karen Anderson from Exeter University. “The subnival zone is where seasonal snow is held and if it is warmer you will get flashy hydrology – quicker melt rates and an increased risk of flooding.”
Maximum fine over Dixons hack – Dixons Carphone has been hit with the largest possible fine of £500,000 after “systemic failures” in its cybersecurity allowed a hack that affected millions of customers. An attacker installed malicious software on 5,390 tills in branches of its Currys PC World and Dixons Travel chains. The hack harvested payment card details of 5.6 million people as well as personal information from about 14 million, said data watchdog the ICO. Dixons Carphone has said it is considering appealing against the fine and argues there is “no confirmed evidence of any customers suffering fraud or financial loss as a result”.
‘Engaging and humanistic’ – John le Carré has been named this morning as the latest recipient of the $100,000 (£76,000) Olof Palme prize, an award given for an “outstanding achievement” in the spirit of the assassinated Swedish prime minister. Prize organisers praised the 88-year-old author, whose real name is David Cornwell, “for his engaging and humanistic opinion-making in literary form regarding the freedom of the individual and the fundamental issues of mankind”.
The acclaimed author of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Spy Who Came in from the Cold has been outspoken about abuses of power, his targets including governments, big pharma and arms dealing. Agent Running in the Field, his most recent book – which he has hinted will be his last – depicts collusion between Donald Trump’s US and the British security services with the aim of undermining the European Union. Le Carré said he would donate the winnings to Médecins Sans Frontières.
In case you missed it – What with everything else going on … the Brexit withdrawal agreement bill has passed the Commons and is in the hands of the House of Lords. Peers are unlikely to block it, which means the UK is on track to leave the EU on 31 January. Downing Street has stressed that it is ready to begin the next stage of the Brexit process – negotiating a trade deal by the end of the year – on 1 February.
Today in Focus podcast: The Ayia Napa rape case
On 17 July 2019 an 18-year old British woman claimed she had been gang-raped by a group of Israeli tourists. Ten days later she was being charged with lying by the Cypriot police. Michael Polak, her lawyer, discusses the case, while Israeli journalist Noa Shpigel describes covering the story. And: Caroline Davies discusses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s decision to step back.
Lunchtime read: Gary Younge’s last Guardian column
Gary Younge is leaving the Guardian after 26 years to become a sociology professor with Manchester University. “In my interview for a Guardian Scott Trust bursary to study a postgraduate course in journalism, I was asked what kind of job I would aspire to if I ever got to work at the paper. ‘A columnist, like Hugo Young,’ I said. ‘There’s only room for a handful of columnists on a newspaper,’ I was told. ‘And why shouldn’t one of them be me?’ I asked.”
“The bursary I was awarded emerged in the early 1990s and was a response to the uprisings among black youth in the 80s. Black people were always in the news, but rarely in the newsrooms. The Scott Trust, which owns the Guardian, wanted to offer a correction and so gave bursaries to under-represented groups in journalism. Without it I would have chosen another profession … ‘Ingratitude’ is the accusation launched by racists at black people in the public eye who have the audacity to highlight the racial injustice they see and have experienced. So I’d like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the youth who took to the streets, and bereaved families who took to the courts, to make my career possible.”
Andrew Strauss has insisted there must be an overwhelming case for the proposed switch to four-day Test cricket or it should not occur. Dan Evans’s ATP Cup victory over Australia’s Alex de Minaur proved in vain but the Great Britain coach, Tim Henman, has said the Briton’s performances “were a huge positive” as the Australian Open looms. Lewis Hamilton contributed $500,000 in an auction for Shane Warne’s baggy green, which fetched $1m to aid those affected by Australia’s bushfires. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen would have been in line to replace Hamilton at Mercedes if the champion moves to Ferrari but instead the Dutchman may be the man who keeps Honda in Formula 1.
Harry Kane will undergo surgery to repair the damage to his hamstring and has been ruled out by Tottenham until April. Sir Mo Farah has claimed he would have been the “first one out” of the Nike Oregon Project if he had known about Alberto Salazar’s dubious practices – despite sticking with his former coach for two years after serious allegations were made against him in 2015. And Magnus Carlsen became No 1 in fantasy football during a highly successful year and the chess world champion now has his sights set on a record unbeaten streak in chess.
Asian shares have risen with worries receding of war between the United States and Iran. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 edged up 0.2% in morning trading while gains were also recorded by the S&P/ASX 200 in South Korea’s Kospi and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng. The Shanghai Composite fell. On Wall Street money flowed into riskier investments, such as technology stocks, and trickled out of traditional havens such as gold. The pound is worth $1.308 and €1.178. The FTSE is trending higher by around 30 points ahead of the open.
The Sun deploys its well-worn “orf” device with “Meg’s mugged us orf”. “Meghan flees to Canada” says the Mail and it also plugs a “Countdown to chaos” leading up to the Sussexes’ announcement. The Metro runs with “Harry up and go” saying the Queen wants a “quickie split”.
The Guardian’s top story is the plane crash in Iran and mounting suspicions the Iranians shot it down. The reluctant royals get the pic slot though. “Iran plane ‘shot down by missile’” leads the i with Meghan and Harry relegated to a skybox, and the FT’s news values lean that way as well: “International fears mount that Iran missile downed jet in error”.
But the spotlight is back on the troubled royals in the Times: “Charles threatens to halt Harry and Meghan’s cash”. “Furious Queen orders: sort it out now”, says the Express. “Queen fights to save monarchy” says the Mirror, which sounds a bit drastic considering her uncle quit the throne altogether and it is still there. The Telegraph says the Queen called a “family crisis meeting” to try and figure out how this is going to work.
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