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Former Post Office sub-postmasters have convictions over IT scandal quashed | UK News

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Former Post Office sub-postmasters have convictions over IT scandal quashed | UK News

Six former sub-postmasters wrongly accused of theft and fraud because of an IT error have become the first to have their convictions quashed.

The Post Office had earlier said it would not oppose attempts to overturn the convictions of 44 sub-postmasters.

The convictions, which were based on evidence provided by a faulty IT system, were “unsafe”, the Post Office admitted.

Hundreds of sub-postmasters were incorrectly accused of wrongdoing after the Horizon IT system was added to Post Office branches across the country between 2000 and 2002.

It incorrectly showed cash shortfalls, which resulted in many of the postmasters involved being sacked or even put in prison.

Among those having their names cleared is former Oxfordshire sub-postmaster Vipinchandra Patel.

Mr Patel, 67, was handed an 18-week prison sentence after pleading guilty to fraud in June 2011, after being accused of stealing £75,000.

He says he went from being a “pillar of the community to a pariah”, adding that the conviction was “impacting on every aspect of life”.

Now, he says he can “finally start enjoying and living life again”.

Chris Trousdale, 38, from Whitby in North Yorkshire, said he had been through a “long and torturous 16-year journey”.

Mr Trousdale was sentenced to a Community Punishment Order in March 2004, at the age of just 22, after being prosecuted by the Post Office and advised to plead guilty to false accounting or face jail.

He said: “Today feels like the heavy lead box we have been trapped in has had the lid ripped off. We can take our first breath and look forward to being able to start to heal and rebuild.”

Solicitor Neil Hudgell, of Hudgell Solicitors, represents three of the six who have had their convictions quashed.

He also represents another 30 former sub-postmasters whose appeals will not be contested by the Post Office at a Court of Appeal hearing in the New Year, his firm said.

Mr Hudgell said his company had received a “significant number” of new clients who have come forward to start the process of challenging their convictions.

He said it was a “historic day”, adding: “These people have always been innocent, but they have each had a criminal record against their name which they have had to live with for many years, bringing many difficulties to their lives.

“Lives were destroyed by this huge injustice. We’ve met many innocent, decent and upstanding people who were broken and who thought they would never see this day.”

In December last year, the Post Office agreed to pay nearly £58m to settle a civil claim brought by 550 sub-postmasters, which kickstarted the criminal appeals process.

Forty-seven convictions brought under Horizon evidence were referred to the Court of Appeal by the English Criminal Cases Review Commission.

In May, the Post Office launched a scheme to provide redress to current and former postmasters who were not part of the litigation settlement but who believe they were adversely affected by earlier versions of the Horizon computer system.

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Dutch police arrest alleged Asian drug syndicate kingpin | World News

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Dutch police arrest alleged Asian drug syndicate kingpin | World News

The alleged leader of an Asian drug syndicate and one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives has been arrested by Dutch police.

Tse Chi Lop, a Chinese-born Canadian national, was arrested at the request of Australian police, who led an investigation that found his organisation dominates the $70bn-a-year Asia-Pacific drug trade.

Dutch police spokesman Thomas Aling said Tse was detained without incident at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport on Friday “based on intelligence we received”.

He is expected to be extradited to Australia after an initial court appearance.

Tse, 57, has lived in Canada, Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan in recent years, according to authorities.

According to Australian newspaper The Age, his arrest will also be welcomed by authorities in the US, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Myanmar, Laos, Thailand and across Europe, places which have all served as markets or supply hubs for his organisation.

The syndicate he allegedly helps control is an amalgam of once-competing Chinese Triad groups that have variously worked with Australian bikies, South American cartels and European crime bosses, the newspaper added.

Australian Federal Police say he is the senior leader of the syndicate – called The Company – and is referred to as “Sam Gor” (Brother Number Three in Cantonese).

In 2019, Jeremy Douglas, Southeast Asia and Pacific representative for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), told Reuters that Tse is “in the league of (fellow drug kingpins) El Chapo or maybe Pablo Escobar”.

The AFP did not name Tse in its statement but said the man arrested “is of significant interest to the AFP and other law enforcement agencies”.

“The syndicate targeted Australia over a number of years, importing and distributing large amounts of illicit narcotics, laundering the profits overseas and living off the wealth obtained from crime,” the agency said.

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Appeal after ‘gentle soul’ road safety officer Allan is ‘kidnapped’ | UK News

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Appeal after 'gentle soul' road safety officer Allan is 'kidnapped' | UK News

Road safety officer Allan has been “kidnapped” from his post and residents of Braemar are appealing for his return.

The mannequin has been stationed on the A93 in Aberdeenshire for two months reminding drivers to slow down for the village’s 30mph speed limit.

Geva Blackett, councillor for Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside, said Allan was last seen at 1.30pm on Saturday before disappearing “not of his own volition”.

In a Facebook post, she wrote: “Allan took great pride in his role of reminding people driving into Braemar from Glenshee on the A93 that they were in a 30mph speed limit.

“Children, elderly folk and red squirrels are all at risk if people forget. Now he has gone – and not of his own volition.

“Someone has taken him!

“Have you seen Allan?

“Whoever kidnapped him, please give him back – he was last seen at 1.30 this afternoon (Saturday) and is a gentle soul, never offends anyone and well liked here in Braemar.”

Ms Blackett said she had initially asked the local police inspector if a cut-out police officer could be placed at the roadside to warn the speedsters.

But there were none spare, so Allan was drafted in.

There is no word on a replacement during Allan’s unplanned absence.

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COVID-19: Vaccinated people must stick to lockdown rules as they may spread coronavirus, says Jonathan Van-Tam | UK News

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England's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Jonathan Van-Tam speaks during a news conference on the ongoing situation with the coronavirus disease

Getting your COVID-19 vaccination does not mean you can liberate yourself from lockdown or other restrictions.

That is the warning from England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, who says the millions of people who have received their jab must still obey social-distancing rules.

Those who refuse risk prolonging the pandemic and its associated restrictions, he said, adding that they could also be putting at risk those who are vulnerable but further down the priority list.

Some 478,248 people received a vaccine dose on Saturday, meaning 5.8 million people have had the first of two required doses.

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Jonathan Van-Tam says millions of people who have received the jab must keep following social-distancing rules

But Prof Van-Tam said that, while the vaccination can prevent serious illness, it is not yet known if it prevents transmission of the coronavirus.

He wrote in The Sunday Telegraph: “Even after you have had both doses of the vaccine you may still give COVID to someone else and the chains of transmission will then continue.

“If you change your behaviour you could still be spreading the virus, keeping the number of cases high and putting others in danger who also need their vaccine but are further down the queue.

“Regardless of whether someone has had their vaccination or not, it is vital that everyone follows the national restrictions and public health advice, as protection takes up to three weeks to kick in and we don’t yet know the impact of vaccines on transmission.

“The vaccine has brought considerable hope and we are in the final furlong of the pandemic but for now, vaccinated or not, we still have to follow the guidance for a bit longer.”

Prof Van-Tam also repeated the reasoning between the government’s vaccine strategy following growing concerns from some medical experts about the decision to extend the gap between the first and second doses to 12 weeks.

The British Medical Association has called for a re-think of the policy, saying the Pfizer vaccine is recommended with a gap of six weeks between doses.

Prof Van-Tam said the government’s aim was to get a first dose to as many people as possible, meaning that more people would have at least some protection rather than fewer people having stronger protection.

He said: “But what none of these (who ask reasonable questions) will tell me is: who on the at-risk list should suffer slower access to their first dose so that someone else who’s already had one dose (and therefore most of the protection) can get a second?”

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Doctors challenge vaccine dose delay

Meanwhile, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is expected to rule out a return to the classroom for pupils after the February half-term break.

The Sunday Times reported that parents should be prepared for a long period of home-schooling, possibly until after the Easter holidays.

Ministers are also expected to meet this week to discuss a proposal to require UK arrivals to pay for quarantine in a designated hotel for 10 days, similar to schemes that operate in Australia and New Zealand.

Government sources say while complete closure of the border is not the likely outcome of the talks, it is still an option.

From Monday, a further 32 vaccine sites are set to open across England, including one at the Black Country Living Museum in Dudley, which featured in the hit TV series Peaky Blinders.

The new vaccination centres will be focusing on offering jabs to health and social care staff, before opening their doors to other priority patients.

Moves are also being made to provide thousands of rapid turnaround tests to businesses so workers with no coronavirus symptoms can be tested.

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The tests will be aimed at those who cannot work from home, such as those in the food, manufacturing, energy, retail, transport and military sectors.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “Lateral flow tests have already been hugely successful in finding positive cases we would not otherwise find and I encourage employers and workers to take this offer up to help protect essential services and businesses.”

On Saturday, the UK recorded another 1,348 coronavirus-related deaths and 33,552 cases, according to the latest government figures.

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