Jeff Sessions hits back at Donald Trump after president labels him a 'disgrace' over FBI allegations

Issuing a rare response to criticism from Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has defended his decision to launch an internal probe of alleged surveillance abuses by the FBI. 

The statement came hours after Mr Trump took to Twitter to lambaste Mr Sessions – whom he appointed and has the power to remove – for having the Department of Justice’s internal watchdog investigate allegations that officials had misused their authority in surveiling former Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

“We have initiated the appropriate process that will ensure complaints against this Department will be fully and fairly acted upon if necessary,” Mr Sessions said in a statement. “As long as I am the Attorney General, I will continue to discharge my duties with integrity and honor, and this Department will continue to do its work in a fair and impartial manner according to the law and Constitution”.

In his earlier tweet, Mr Trump called Mr Sessions’ decision “DISGRACEFUL”!

Mr Trump has seized on a Republican-authored memorandum that alleges FBI and Justice Department officials concealed critical information about their sources in asking a special court to authorise surveillance of Mr Page. Democrats and law enforcement officials have criticised the memo’s claims as misleading, saying it omitted needed context.

The exchange of duelling statements by Mr Trump and Mr Sessions offered a public window into a remarkable breach between a President and his top law enforcement official. The spectacle drew disbelief even from their own party, with former Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz calling Mr Trump’s online broadside “embarrassing” in an appearance on Fox News.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling that he would call out his own Attorney General,” Mr Chaffetz said of the President. “He was the one who appointed him. If he’s not up the job, get rid of him”.

With his longtime focus on law-and-order policies and stringent immigration laws, Mr Sessions made a natural ally for Mr Trump and was one of the first elected officials to endorse what was then considered a long-shot presidential bid.

But the relationship between the two has deteriorated as the White House continues to operate under the cloud of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election interference and potential coordination with the Trump campaign.

Mr Sessions recused himself from investigating Russian meddling after it was revealed he had not disclosed prior contacts with the Russian ambassador, helping lead to Mr Mueller’s appointment and incurring Mr Trump’s fury. The President frequently denounces the investigation as politically tainted, saying there was no collusion between his campaign and Russia.

The President has repeatedly savaged his Attorney General on Twitter. Last year he called Mr Sessions “VERY weak” in handling allegations that Hillary Clinton misused a private server and questioned him for not replacing former FBI Director Andrew McCabe.

Earlier this month, after Mr Mueller unveiled charges against 13 Russian nationals for what an indictment described as a years-long campaign to disrupt American politics and buoy Mr Trump’s election bid, the President again lashed out.

“Why didn’t Obama do something about the meddling? Why aren’t Dem crimes under investigation? Ask Jeff Sessions!” Mr Trump said.

The probe has already produced multiple indictments of former Trump campaign officials. Former aides George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn – who briefly served as Mr Trump’s national security adviser – pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about contacts with Russian surrogates.

Former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who faces charges related to allegedly concealing the proceeds from lobbying activity for Ukraine, has maintained his innocence. His associate Rick Gates has pleaded guilty to fraud and lying to government investigators.

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Syria: Attack on Afrin will bring devastation and suffering like that seen in Eastern Ghouta, Kurds warn

The Turkish attack on the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria is likely to have the same devastating outcome as the Syrian army siege of Eastern Ghouta, destroying everything but failing to capture the area, says a senior Syrian Kurdish leader.

The official says it was inevitable that Afrin would come under siege, comparing it to Eastern Ghouta where hundreds of thousands of civilians have been left without food or humanitarian aid, adding that Afrin has a single supply line controlled by the Syrian government and the Russians “but they could block the way at any moment”.

Aldar Khalil, co-chair of the Movement for a Democratic Society, the Syrian-Kurdish dominated organisation that controls 30 per cent of Syria, also predicted that the war in Syria may last “another four years until a new balance of forces becomes clear”.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent in the city of Qamishli in north-east Syria, Mr Khalil says there are signs of a resurgence by Isis, whose fighters have taken advantage of the diversion of Kurdish forces to face the Turkish invasion of Afrin on 20 January, to make attacks in Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria.

“It used to be we who were attacking Isis, but now we are losing fighters every day and we have had 170 killed since the start of the Turkish operation,” says Mr Khalil. Reports from the ground in eastern Syria and from former Isis strongholds in northern Iraq confirm that the movement, which appeared wholly defeated a few months ago, is showing renewed activity.

Mr Khalil has a bleak but highly informed view of the future of Syria, believing that there is a lot more fighting to come. He is adamant that the Kurdish paramilitary forces, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), will fight to the end for Afrin city and will never surrender. Given the dedication and battle experience of its combatants, who have been fighting Isis since 2015, a prolonged and bloody siege of Afrin is in prospect.

The Syrian government sent a force of militia into Afrin to oppose the Turkish-backed forces earlier this month, but Mr Khalil says their number was small and the action was symbolic. He does not see it as opening the door to a wider agreement between the Damascus government and its Kurdish minority, which would be an essential development if peace is to be restored. He says that the Kurds often sent conciliatory messages to the Syrian government, but have yet to receive a positive response.

The problem for the two million Syrian Kurds, a persecuted and marginalised minority before 2011, is that the war between President Bashar al-Assad and the armed opposition has enabled them to make great political and military gains, which will be difficult to retain. Syrian government forces withdrew from most of the Kurdish region in 2012 to concentrate on defending strategically more important areas. The YPG began to advance, but came under ferocious attack by Isis in 2014 which tried to capture the Kurdish city of Kobani. The Kurds defended it heroically, but the siege was broken by the intervention of the US air force at the cost of the destruction of 70 per cent of Kobani.


The US decided that the Kurds and the YPG were the ground force they had been looking for in Syria to fight Isis. The Kurds, backed by the devastating firepower of the US-led coalition air forces, defeated Isis and ultimately captured Raqqa, its de facto Syrian capital. This enraged Turkey which denounced the Syrian-Kurdish mini-state as being the Syrian wing of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which the Turkish army has been battling since 1984.

A crucial question since the fall of Raqqa has been whether or not the US would withdraw its 2,000 advisers and air support and abandon the Kurds. Mixed signals have been coming out of Washington on this. But Mr Khalil sounds confident that the US is not going to go. “I don’t think the US will leave Syria to the Russians,” he says.

At one time, Russia had a few troops in Afrin to deter a Turkish invasion and these were backed up by the Russian air force and anti-aircraft missile defence systems in northern Syria. Mr Khalil says the reason that the Russians gave a green light to a Turkish invasion was in retaliation for the drive of the Kurdish Arab forces into Deir Ezzor, depriving Mr Assad of Syria’s biggest oilfields.

Mr Khalil is convinced that the Russians will do nothing to stop the Turks, even if they attack Syrian government forces in Afrin. Russia’s close relationship with Turkey is too valuable to Moscow for it to put it at risk. “Even if all of Assad’s army goes to Afrin, Putin will not defend it,” says Mr Khalil.

Afrin has an estimated population of about 400,000 which is much the same as Eastern Ghouta. So far, the Turkish advance has been slow. In the last few days, despite the UN Security Council resolution calling for a 30-day truce in all of Syria, Turkish forces have been taking the borders of Afrin. There are air strikes every day, but on Afrin city only once or twice a week, though it is being hit by artillery. This is likely to change as the Turkish army and associated Arab militias try to fight their ways into urban areas and suffer heavy casualties. The lesson of the many sieges in the wars in Syria and Iraq is that bombers and artillery end up destroying almost everything in order to clear the way for their infantry. The outlook for Afrin, which has so far survived the seven-year war in Syria untouched, looks grim.

Mr Khalil is sure that the next great battle of the Syrian war will be fought in Afrin. He does not think that the Turks will attack the town of Manbij further east, as they have often threatened to do, because of the US military presence. He describes a Syrian political landscape in which all the players still believe they can be successful, making his belief that the Syrian war still has at least four more years to run sound horribly convincing.

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Brexit: John Major tears into Theresa May's strategy as 'grand folly' as she prepares for critical speech on EU

Former Conservative leader John Major has launched a devastating attack on Theresa May’s approach to Brexit, just 48 hours before the Prime Minister sets out her plans for future relations with the EU.

In a significant intervention, Mr Major tore into Ms May’s negotiating red lines as “bad politics” and “grand folly” dictated by “ultra Brexiteers”.

He demanded MPs be freed from the party whip and allowed to vote with their conscience on her final deal, and said Britain may need a second referendum to avoid years of damaging rows over Brexit.

His explosive speech sparked a ferocious backlash from Tories that back hard Brexit, with one saying his arguments were “grubbing around in the weeds”.

The surgically timed intervention comes as Ms May prepares to reveal the final text of her next big Brexit speech to the Cabinet, before meeting European Council president Donald Tusk in Downing Street on Thursday.

Mr Major’s intervention also appears to have been choreographed with another speech from ex-prime minister Tony Blair in Brussels on Thursday, in which the ex-Labour leader will address European politicians on Brexit.

When the ex-Tory leader stood to make his speech on Wednesday, Ms May had already locked horns with Brussels negotiators who had in the morning published what she called an “unacceptable” draft withdrawal agreement.

Despite Ms May having repeatedly claimed she settled the withdrawal agreement last year, she argued in the Commons that a new draft had crossed her Brexit red lines.

It was those very “red lines” that Mr Major took aim at when he began talking in London minutes later, claiming they had “boxed” Ms May in.

He said: “They are so tilted to ultra-Brexit opinion, even the Cabinet cannot agree them – and a majority in both Houses of Parliament oppose them.

“If maintained in full, it will be impossible to reach a favourable trade outcome.”

He added: “This is not only grand folly. It’s also bad politics.” 

Mr Major then listed what he saw as Ms May’s negotiating disappointments, including the failure to secure simultaneous talks on withdrawal and trade last year which he branded “an immediate British retreat”.

His attack was given added prescience after the Government signalled that it would back down on a key negotiating position, by allowing EU citizens arriving in the UK during the transition period to gain settlement rights.

He then turned his fire on promises made during the referendum by people he called “ultra Brexiteers”– that the NHS would have more money, that the UK could remain in the single market and that a trade deal would be easy to get. All of which he said had been shown to be false.

The former prime minister took a particular swipe at Boris Johnson who had once said of the divorce bill that the EU could “whistle for their money”, with Mr Major pointing out that “Europe didn’t even have to purse her lips before we agreed to pay £40bn”.

Turning to the future he said that there had to be an end to the bitterness and division caused by Brexit whatever the outcome, and argued that a further referendum may be the only way to do it.

In particular he demanded that all parties allow MPs to vote with their own minds rather than whipping them one way or another on the final deal.

In a key section he said: “By 2021, after the likely two-year transition, it will be five years since the 2016 referendum.

“The electorate will have changed. Some voters will have left us. Many new voters will be enfranchised. Others may have changed their mind. 

“No one can truly know what ‘the will of the people’ may then be. So, let Parliament decide. Or put the issue back to the people.”


A Downing Street spokesman said: “The PM anticipates getting the right Brexit deal and anticipates MPs from across the House will support it.”

The Independent understands that the Government will whip the vote on the final deal, arguing that it is justified because it is party policy to deliver Brexit.

While Downing Street “respectfully disagreed” with Mr Major’s analysis, other Tories were less restrained.

Jacob Rees-Mogg said it was clear Mr Major was attempting to reverse the result of the referendum with “cheap comments and propaganda”.

He said: “We had a democratic vote, the decision has been taken and what he is trying to do is overturn that.

“This isn’t a statesman-like speech. This is one of somebody grubbing around in the weeds for weak arguments. It is a very poor speech.”

Ms May’s planned intervention on Friday – in which she will set out her approach to securing future trading relations with the EU – will be put to the Cabinet for final approval on Thursday.

With major divisions in her top team yet to be resolved, the speech will probably leave many questions unanswered, but what has come out so far has already been dismissed by the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier as “illusory”.

After seeing the Cabinet, Ms May will receive Mr Tusk at No 10 for discussions about her approach, with the EU politician expected to address journalists afterwards.

Meanwhile, Mr Blair will tell an audience in Brussels that the EU must also “share the responsibility” for finding a way to stop Brexit by agreeing to tighten immigration controls.

Speaking in Brussels, the former Prime Minister will urge EU leaders to see the Leave vote as a “wake-up call” – arguing reform would help persuade the British public to change its mind.

Mr Blair will say Britain’s departure also “weakens Europe’s standing and power”, undermining the single market and creating “a competitive pole” across the English Channel.

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Is there light at the end of the universe for dark energy?

A star-crossed mission nearly 20 years in the making that was intended to seek an answer to the most burning, baffling question in astronomy – and perhaps elucidate the fate of the universe – is in danger of being cancelled.

The Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope, or Wfirst, was being designed to investigate the mysterious force dubbed dark energy that is speeding up the expansion of the universe and search out planets around other stars.

In 2010, a select panel from America’s National Academy of Sciences, charged with charting the future of space-based astronomy, gave the mission the highest priority for the next decade. Under the plan, it could have launched in mid-2020s, with a price tag of $3.2bn.

But it was zeroed out in the NASA budget proposed by President Donald Trump last week.

In a statement accompanying the budget, Robert M Lightfoot Jr, the Nasa’s acting administrator, called the deletion “one hard decision”, citing the need to divert resources to “other agency priorities”. NASA is shifting its focus back to the moon.

Nobody is under any illusion that a President’s budget proposal is the last word on anything. Congress, which usually listens to the National Academy’s recommendations, will have the last word in a dance that many Nasa missions, including the Hubble Space Telescope, have participated in. As the old saying among space scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, home of many missions, goes: “It’s not a real mission until it is cancelled.”


The proposed cancellation drew an outcry from astronomers, who warned that stepping back from the mission would be stepping back from the kind of science that made America great and would endanger future projects that, like this one, require international help. It drew comparisons to the cancellation of the Superconducting Super Collider, in 1993, that ended US supremacy in particle physics.

David Spergel, former chairman of the Academy’s Space Studies Board, noted that in planning their own programmes, other countries depended on the United States to follow the advice of the National Academy.

“A handful of people within the bureaucracy”, and outside of Nasa, he went on, “have overturned decades of community-driven processes and tried to set the direction for space astronomy.”

Astronomers have hungered for a space mission to investigate dark energy ever since 1998, when observations of the exploding stars known as supernovas indicated that the expansion of the universe was speeding up, the distant galaxies were shooting away faster and faster from us as cosmic time went on. It is as if, when you dropped your car keys, they shot up to the ceiling.

The discovery won three American astronomers the Nobel Prize. The fate of the universe, as well as the nature of physics, scientists say, depends on the nature of this dark energy.

Physicists have one readymade explanation for this behaviour, but it is a cure that many of them think is worse than the disease: a fudge factor invented by Einstein in 1917 called the cosmological constant. He suggested, and quantum theory has subsequently confirmed, that empty space could exert a repulsive force, anti-gravity, blowing things apart.

If so, as the universe grows, it will expand faster and faster and run away from itself. Eventually other galaxies would be flying away so fast that we couldn’t see them. The universe would become dark and cold. Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss of Arizona State once described this as “the worst possible universe.”

Wide-Field Infrared Survey Telescope.jpg

If on the other hand some previously unsuspected forcefield is tinkering with the galaxies and space time, the effect could shut off or even reverse over the eons.

Or maybe we just don’t understand gravity.

Dark energy, said Frank Wilczek, a Nobel laureate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “is the most mysterious fact in all of physical science, the fact with the greatest potential to rock the foundations.”

The astronomers who made this discovery were using the exploding stars known as “Type 1a” supernovas as cosmic distance-markers to track the expansion rate of the universe.

Since then, other tools have emerged by which astronomers can also gauge dark energy by how it retards the growth of galaxies and other structures in the universe.

Way back in 1999, Saul Perlmutter of the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, one of dark energy’s discoverers, proposed a space mission known as Snap (Supernova Acceleration Probe) to do just that.

In 2008, Nasa and the US Energy Department budgeted $600m (£432m), not including launching costs, for a mission and the call went out for proposals. But Nasa and the Energy Department found it hard to collaborate and a working group of dark-energy scientists could not come up with a design that would fit in the budget.

In 2010, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences cobbled together several competing proposals that would do the trick. Paul Schechter, an MIT astronomer involved in the work called it Wfirst. The acronym had a double meaning: “W” is the name for a crucial parameter that measures the virulence of dark energy. But the telescope would also search for exoplanets – planets beyond our solar system.

In its report, New Worlds, New Horizons, the committee gave this mission the highest priority in space science for the next decade.

But Nasa would have no money to start on this project until it finished building the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the vaunted Hubble Space Telescope. Shortly after the academy’s deliberations, the space agency admitted that the Webb project had been mismanaged. The telescope, which had been set for a 2014 launch, would require at least another $1.6bn and several more years to finish. The Webb will search out the first stars and galaxies to have formed in the universe, but is not designed for dark energy. It is now on course to be launched next year.

Wfirst would have to wait.

To take up the slack until 2025 – or whenever the US mission can finally fly – the space agency bought a share in a European dark-energy mission known as Euclid, now scheduled to launch in 2021. But Euclid is not as comprehensive as Wfirst would be; it will not use supernovas, for example.

The story took another dramatic twist in June 2012, capturing headlines when the National Reconnaissance Office, which operates spy satellites, offered Nasa a leftover telescope, essentially a close relative of the Hubble, that had been designed to look down instead of up.

It had a wide field of view, which could enable inspecting large areas of the heavens for supernovas.

Its primary mirror – like the Hubble, 94 inches in diameter – is twice as big as the one that was being contemplated for Wfirst, giving it four times the light-gathering power and a deep reach into the cosmos.

Wfirst telescope..jpg

The gift would save them the cost of fashioning a whole new telescope but it was not without strings. As several astronomers pointed out, using a bigger telescope would mean a bigger, more expensive camera and more complicated back-end optics would have to be built. Nevertheless, the Academy bought into the idea.

Lately another controversial element has been added to the mission, a coronagraph, which could be used to block the light from a star so that faint planets near them can be discerned.

Last summer an independent review panel appointed by Nasa and led by Fiona Harrison, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, endorsed the mission’s basic science goals and methodology while cautioning against mission creep that could cause its costs to balloon.

The ball is now in Congress’s court.

Michael Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, says: “While one never wants to hear that someone important has recommended cancellation of your favourite project, I believe that like last year, Congress will be doing the budget writing. I hope and believe that Congress will be wiser.”

© New York Times

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World's oldest tattoo art found on Egyptian mummy that has been in British Museum for 100 years

Scientists have discovered the world’s oldest known tattoo art – hidden on an ancient Egyptian mummy which has been on public display at the British Museum for the past 100 years.

Previously, all that academics and museum visitors alike had been able to see were faint, dark smudges on the man’s right arm. But recent infrared examination has revealed the marks are in fact tattoos depicting two animals – a giant wild bull and a wild North African goat-like creature.

It is likely the man wore his tattoos in order to help project an image of strength and macho virility. Throughout much of the ancient world, both types of animal were often associated with male power, virility, fertility and creation.

The two animals were tattooed onto the man’s arm some 5,200 years ago. Along with a Copper Age European of almost identical vintage, found preserved in an Alpine glacier, the ancient Egyptian is the oldest tattooed individual ever discovered.

However, the Alpine mummy – often dubbed the Iceman – only had seemingly abstract groups of dots tattooed on him. The Egyptian, on the other hand, bears the earliest known example of tattoos in figurative art form.

Examination of the art suggests they were made with a carbon-based pigment, probably soot.

The bull portrayed in the larger of the man’s two tattoos represented a now-extinct species of giant wild bull, known as the aurochs. They were feared, admired and often worshipped throughout parts of the ancient world.

They are likely to have been the origin of many of the great bull legends of antiquity – the story of the Cretan Minotaur, the Mesopotamian Bull of Heaven and the Anatolian bull-shaped God of Storms. In ancient Egyptian religion, there are three bull gods, each symbolising either fertility or war.

The other animal, a goat-like creature known as a Barbary sheep and portrayed in tattoo form on the British Museum ancient Egyptian, may likewise have been associated with male virility.

Throughout much of the ancient world, goat-like creatures were often associated with masculine sexuality. In Greece, they feature in mythology as often erotic Pan, god of the wild. In ancient Egypt, the ram was sometimes perceived as a primeval force linked to procreation. Indeed, there were three Egyptian sheep gods linked to fertility and creation.

The Egyptian with the bull and Barbary sheep tattoos lived at a time before fully developed hieroglyphic writing had come into existence – and there is therefore no written record of the beliefs of his time. But later Egyptian and other belief systems and mythologies are well-documented and almost certainly often had their roots in his era or even earlier.


The British Museum scientists have also discovered a second ancient Egyptian individual with tattoos, dating from the same period. This second mummy, a woman, had more abstract designs – a series of small S-shaped marks on her right shoulder and a line with a slightly curved upper end on her right arm. The motif on her arm may represent a staff of office – a symbol of authority. She is by far the earliest woman in the world so far discovered with tattoo designs on her skin.

Both the man and the woman had been mummified naturally as a result of ultra-dry climatic conditions.

There are at least another 14 very early natural ancient Egyptian mummies in museums in Egypt, Canada and Italy – and it’s now likely that some of those will be examined with infrared imaging equipment in the hope of discovering more very early tattoos. Until the recent British Museum discoveries, the oldest known ancient Egyptian tattoo dated from around 2000 BC – some 1,200 years later than the ones just announced by the British Museum.

Just as in modern times, tattoos were a truly global phenomenon in the ancient world. Although the British Museum discoveries and the tattooed dots on the Alpine Iceman are the oldest known surviving tattoos, it is likely that the invention of tattooing occurred much much earlier in multiple locations across the globe.

There are some indications, from pottery figurines, that the art form may have been practised in Japan some 12,000 years ago. Certainly tattooing was known in China more than 4000 years ago – and in South America at least 1,500 years ago. There are also marks on 40,000-year-old Stone Age European figurines that could represent tattoos.

The British Museum’s newly discovered ancient Egyptian examples are therefore a fascinating addition to a very ancient worldwide artistic tradition.

The mummies were originally found more than 100 years ago in an ancient predynastic Egyptian cemetery at Gebelein in southern Egypt.

The newly discovered tattoos were published on Thursday in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Daniel Antoine, one of the lead authors of the research paper and the British Museum’s Curator of Physical Anthropology said: “The use of the latest scientific methods, including CT scanning, radiocarbon dating and infrared imaging, has transformed our understanding of the Gebelein mummies.

“Only now are we gaining new insights into the lives of these remarkably preserved individuals. Incredibly, at over five thousand years of age, they push back the evidence for tattooing in Africa by a millennium.”

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NHS spending £350m a year to send mental health patients miles from home

The NHS is reliant on private mental health services to treat seriously ill patients, often miles away from loved ones, and is doing too little to ensure they are not being kept in treatment longer than necessary, the care watchdog has said.

A report by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) today warns the health service is spending £350m a year to send these patients “out of area” for care.

Experts told The Independent this reliance is down to a lack of inpatient services to support patients locally, and a lack of incentives for “specialist” centres to send patients home.

The CQC is now calling on NHS managers to draw up plans to “repatriate patients” and to ensure every patient has a care plan aimed at getting them better to bring them back into the community.

Patients cared for in inpatient services often have complex psychosis and other serious mental health problems, which might need more supervision or security and can’t be met by conventional services.

Three out of four of these patients are sectioned under the Mental Health Act and the aim is for them to recover and regain skills and confidence to live in the community again.

However out of area placements can be detrimental to the patients’ longer-term recovery and wellbeing as they are further from their support networks and from local services that they would eventually be discharged to.

They also end up costing the NHS far more.

Of the £535m bill for inpatient rehabilitation spent on inpatient care, two thirds is spent on out of area placements.

While private providers are 53 per cent of the total inpatient beds, they account for four out of five (78 per cent) of out of area placements.

The independent sector keeps patients for more than twice as long on average.

The CQC reports that patients in these non-NHS facilities stay 14.5 months, compared to 7.5 months in an NHS service, they are also further from home – 49km compared to 14km.

This means private placements cost on average £162,000, compared to £81,000 in the NHS.

Patients are often sent to a specialist service when their NHS provider believes they lack the expertise or specialist services to care for them safely.

But a fear of the risk a patient poses, to themselves and to the organisation should they come to harm is a major factor as well.

“Between organisations who are making money from keeping hold of patients, and an organisation that is worried about having them back, you’ve got a good environment to keep people in out of area placements for a long-time,” Keir Harding, clinical lead of Beam Consultancy, told The Independent.

Beam was set up to help NHS organisations avoid out of area placements for people with personality disorders, patients who can have a high risk of self-harm or suicide.

“In theory, trusts have got people who would check up on the care plan of patients sent out of area, but if you don’t have confidence in your local services, that can just be a case of asking ‘Is it all going alright? Good, see you in six months’.

“You should interrogate it more. You’re buying a service, so you shouldn’t be deferential about what they think is best.”

The types of patients Mr Harding works with can get worse when sent away from home, and too often this leaves managers thinking “what if something happens when they’re discharged and we get blamed’, he said.

“Sometimes people aren’t allowed to leave hospital until the behaviours that they only do in hospital have stopped.”

The CQC’s report also notes that out of area placements can have negative benefits for patients care, particularly as these organisations had poor relationships with the trusts patients would eventually go back to.

In its recommendations to the heads of NHS trusts, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), and councils who pay for mental health services the CQC says they should “identify all patients in mental health rehabilitation wards whose care they are responsible for and to review the appropriateness of these patients’ current placement”.

It says they must also look at whether these providers are actually rehabilitating patients, and there are “active plans for discharge”.

Dr Paul Lelliott, the CQC’s lead for mental health said these residential services, in the NHS and independent sector, have a “vital role to play” in helping patients recover.

However the “dislocation” of being placed out of area can leave patients isolated, and can become “very costly for the NHS”.

“The attention now must be on developing services that are focused on people’s recovery and that are not ‘long-stay’ wards in disguise, that are closer to where people live, and that are well-connected to the wider local system including services that will provide aftercare,” he added.

Dr Rajesh Mohan, chairman of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ rehabilitation faculty, said the findings were “deeply concerning”.

He added: “The reason more and more patients are being sent inappropriately out of area is because NHS rehabilitation services have been closing at an alarming rate – in 2009 there were more than 130 such services in England; by 2015 that number had fallen by a third to just 82.

“Patients treated many miles from home take longer to recover partly because they don’t have ready access to their friends and families, whose support is so vital in aiding their recovery.”

An NHS spokesperson said: “We have started to eliminate out of area placements for non-specialist in-patient admissions, so patients get timely, appropriate acute mental health treatment as close to home as possible.

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Tony Blair to urge EU to 'share the responsibility' for stopping Brexit with new immigration controls

The EU must “share the responsibility” for finding a way to stop Brexit by agreeing to tighten immigration controls, Tony Blair will say.

Speaking in Brussels, the former Prime Minister will urge EU leaders to recognise the Leave vote as a “wake-up call” – arguing reform would help persuade the British public to change its mind.

Mr Blair will say Britain’s departure also “weakens Europe’s standing and power”, undermining the single market and creating “a competitive pole” across the English Channel.

And he will point to immigration as the key reform needed, while also warning time is running out. “We have months, perhaps weeks, to think, plan and act,” he will say.

“Europe knows it needs reform. Reform in Europe is key to getting Britain to change its mind,” Mr Blair will tell the European Policy Forum.

The former Labour leader will call for “a comprehensive plan on immigration control, which preserves Europe’s values but is consistent with the concerns of its people and includes sensitivity to the challenges of the freedom of movement principle”.

And, in a plea to EU leaders, he will say: “If, at this moment, Europe was to offer a parallel path to Brexit of Britain staying in a reforming Europe, that would throw open the debate to transformation.

“People will say it can’t happen. To which I say in these times in politics anything can happen.”

The speech will be delivered just a day after John Major’s dramatic intervention in the Brexit debate, suggesting a pincer movement agreed by the two former rival leaders.

Their interventions come at a perilous time for Theresa May, after Labour’s shift to supporting a customs union threatened defeat in a future Commons vote.

In his speech, Sir John said the British people had “every right” to reconsider Brexit in a further referendum, as he fiercely criticised the Prime Minister’s handling of the negotiations

Mr Blair has long advocated a second poll and, last week, predicted Parliament is heading for “an impasse” over Brexit that suggested no majority for any proposed form of exit.

But, in Brussels, he will argue an effective response to change minds on the “genuine underlying grievance” of immigration must not be left to Britain alone.

The speech will set out “why Brexit is also bad for Europe, and why European leaders share the responsibility to lead us out of the Brexit cul-de-sac and find a path to preserve European unity”.

The EU will be urged “to respond to Brexit by treating it as a “wake-up” call to change in Europe and not just an expression of British recalcitrance”.

“Britain without Europe will lose weight and influence. But Europe without Britain will also be diminished. And both of us will be less than we are and much less than we could be together,” Mr Blair will say.

Pointing to the post-war creators of what became the EU “after centuries of war”, he will add: “They would not have yielded to fatalism and neither should we.”

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Brexit: No deal for UK car industry puts hundreds of thousands of jobs at risk, MPs warn

Hundreds of thousands of British car industry jobs could be put at risk after Brexit unless the UK reaches a deal with the EU on the sector, MPs have warned.

Britain should continue to follow EU car industry rules after leaving the bloc, the Business Select Committee said. 

It said it could find no benefit to the country’s automotive sector from regulatory divergence from the EU, only costs.

The verdict will come as more bad news for Theresa May whose latest approach to Brexit – “ambitious managed divergence” – was mocked by Jeremy Corbyn during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday.

“There are no advantages to be gained from Brexit for the automotive industry for the foreseeable future,” the Business committee wrote, in its report published on Thursday

“The negotiations are an exercise in damage limitation.”

The report said a no-deal Brexit would “undoubtedly be hugely damaging” for the UK car industry, which directly or indirectly employs 900,000 people.

If the UK does not secure a deal, cars imported into the EU would be subject to a 10 per cent tariff which could make the mass production of cars in this country unviable. Production would be forced to move to within the EU because the sector is highly competitive with low profit margins, the report said. 

It continued: “The Government should acknowledge this and be pragmatic in seeking for the sector as close as possible a relationship with the existing EU regulatory and trading framework to provide volume car making – one of our great manufacturing success stories – a hopeful future.”

The committee said it had heard no evidence during its consultation on the UK car industry that Brexit could provide any advantages for the sector.

“Regulatory consistency and friction-free trade benefits car companies, consumers and car-workers,” said committee chair Rachel Reeves.

“The Prime Minister now needs to ensure common-sense pragmatism prevails and spell out the Government’s intention to seek continued regulatory and trading alignment with the EU in the automotive sector.”

Mass-produced cars in the UK are less than a quarter “British” for trade deal purposes, MPs said. This presents barriers to the UK attempting to roll over existing EU trade deals with other nations when the country leaves the bloc.

Typically, an EU free-trade agreement (FTA) requires 60 per cent of the content of a product to be locally sourced to be included under the deal’s terms.

For this reason, the committee recommended that the Government should prioritise securing the roll-over of existing EU FTAs with the necessary amendments to allow UK content to count as EU for rules of origin purposes.

Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke said: “The car industry would be hugely affected by a hard Brexit, but there should not be a specific deal just for this sector. It is essential that all the UK’s manufacturing base is protected by future barrier-free access.

“The Government must act on this report’s findings, rather than trying to ignore reality. If it cannot negotiate a deal which defends hundreds of thousands of highly skilled manufacturing jobs, then it must step aside for a Labour government which will.”

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National Offer Day 2018: Headteachers warn parents' anxious wait is made worse by lack of secondary school places

The Government is not fulfilling a basic duty of care for thousands of pupils who will lose out on their top choice of secondary schools places this year, headteachers have suggested.  

Hundreds of thousands of families across England will find out today whether their child will attend their preferred secondary school from September, on what is known as National Offer Day.

But headteachers warn that the anxious wait for parents is being made worse by the Department for Education’s failure to guarantee enough school places amid a boom in pupil numbers.

Last year, around one in six pupils did not get their favoured school. And today, even more children could lose out on their top choice of secondary schools due to rising demand.

Official Government statistics show that the number of children in secondary schools is expected to grow by almost a fifth in the next eight years – which amounts to 534,000 more pupils. 

The increase in numbers has been fuelled by a baby boom that began in 2002. The large numbers that have been passing through primary schools are now entering the secondary school sector.

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders’ union NAHT, said: “Until the Government sorts its act out and comes up with a national strategy to guarantee there are enough school places for every child in England, the annual anxious wait for families will always be a problem.

“For too many there will be huge disappointment. In some parts of the country, it will mean children having to travel long distances to go to secondary school or being separated from their peers.”  

He warned: “It’s an issue which isn’t going away. The massive increase in pupil numbers over the next few years, particularly at secondary age, will only make it harder.”

Last year, 16.5 per cent of 11-year-olds did not get their first preference of secondary school, up from 15.9 per cent in 2016. The last time the proportion was above 16 per cent was in 2010.

Mr Whiteman said that there was a “desperate need” for a coordinated approach to school place planning across “an increasingly fragmented school system”.

Currently local authorities are responsible for ensuring sufficient school places – but they lack powers to force academies and free schools to expand to meet any need for new places are required.

The Local Government Association has warned that almost half of councils in England and Wales were at risk of being unable to meet demand for secondary school places within the next five years.

Mr Whiteman added: “Until some agency at the local or regional level has the information and the clout to prioritise school places where they are most needed, parents and children will always be unsure that the system will give them what they want.”

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Unless there’s the provision of sufficient supply to meet the additional demand then people are going get less first choices. That’s a mathematical certainty.

“Some areas are not going to have any problems, they have enough schools and they are not full, others are seeing a huge increase [in numbers] and not enough places,” he added. 

New research by Teach First, published on National Offer Day, suggests that the poorest communities in all areas of England are less likely to be served by good and outstanding schools.

The study, based on an analysis of Ofsted rating of schools in the poorest 20 per cent of areas in England, does find that the number of good or outstanding schools varies depending on region.

For example, in London a third of schools in the poorest areas are considered outstanding, compared to only 5 per cent in the North East.

Justine Roberts, chief executive of Mumsnet, said: “In areas where popular schools are over-subscribed, our users report finding the process pretty darned stressful. Stories abound of some families cheating the system, which only adds to people’s anxiety and sense of injustice. 

“The consensus on Mumsnet is that more needs to be done by central and local government to address the problems now, rather than waiting for places to come online in a few years.”

Nick Gibb, the school standards minister, said: “We are raising standards across the country so that every child can go to a good school where they are taught the knowledge and skills they need for future success and we’re investing £5.8bn to create even more good school places.

“This builds on the 735,000 places we’ve created since 2010 – meaning nine out of 10 pupils get one of their top three choices of schools.”

Additional reporting from PA

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Science news in brief: From the nifty nautilus to extinct Tasmanian tiger babies

The chambered nautilus is the ocean’s most efficient jet engine

Like a tiny submarine, the chambered nautilus speeds through the ocean on little jets that it creates by sucking in water and spitting it out.

However, in the ocean’s depths where oxygen gets thin, the nautilus seems to be putting itself at risk by expending so much effort on movement. Fish use far less energy by pushing at the water with their fins. So how does it manage to jet around unscathed in the ocean’s depths?

Graham Askew, a biomechanics professor at the University of Leeds, set out with a graduate student, Thomas Neil, to understand better how this shellfish moves. They found that the nautilus is actually a highly efficient, jet-propelled creature, wasting much less energy than marine organisms like squid or jellyfish that get around in a similar way.

The researchers began their study, which was published 21 February in Royal Society Open Science, by liberally sprinkling an aquarium with minuscule floating particles of aluminium oxide. Then, they put five chambered nautiluses into the tank, and let them jet about. They used high-speed cameras, a laser that lit up the particles and software that could record the particles’ movements. In the constellation of specks, they saw the animals sucking in water, then forcing it out in the direction they were moving away from, with the pocket of expelled water and the nautilus shooting apart at velocities they could readily calculate.

When they ran the numbers, the researchers saw that the nautilus was able to use 30 to 75 per cent of the energy it transferred to the water to move.

That was much higher than other similar swimmers. “Squid, they tend to be about 40 to 50 per cent efficient,” Askew says.

In general, moving very large volumes of water relatively slowly, as a fish’s tail or a diver’s flippers do, wastes less energy than having to swiftly accelerate very small amounts.

It seems, says Askew, that when nautilus are sucking in water, they do so in a wide stream, rather than in a more energetically costly narrow one. And they spend more time jetting than they do refilling in certain swimming scenarios, gently eking out the fluid they’ve already sipped in.



Man’s accidental photo gives science community early look at supernova

Boom. A star is dead.

On 20 September 2016, Victor Buso, an amateur astronomer in Rosario, Argentina, was checking out the new camera on his telescope by taking pictures of a nearby spiral galaxy, when a star within it went off in a supernova explosion.

Within hours, and prompted by Buso’s good fortune, professional astronomers around the world trained their big telescopes on the galaxy, known as NGC 613, about 80 million light years from here in the constellation Sculptor. It was a rare instance in which astronomers were able to see the beginning of a supernova, in which one of the most massive stars in the universe ends its life; one of the most violent events nature can cook up.

Most supernovas are far away and don’t call attention to themselves until their funeral pyre explosions are well underway. In this case, astronomers were able to record what they call the “breakout”, when a shock wave radiating from a star’s core, which has probably collapsed into a black hole, reaches the surface of the star and brightens it catastrophically.

“It’s like winning the cosmic lottery,” says Alex Filippenko, in a news release from the Keck Observatory in Hawaii, where Filippenko, of the University of California, Berkeley, has been tracking the supernova.

The astronomers, who reported their findings on 21 February in Nature, say the original star had probably been about 20 times as massive as the sun, but had blown most of that mass off into space before the decisive explosion began.



For vampire bats to live on blood, it takes guts

Collecting a vampire bat’s faeces is not easy.

You must go into the jungle, to the cave where the bats live, then lurk at the entrance at dawn or dusk. As the bats come winging in or out, you catch them in net spread across the cave mouth and transfer them to a cloth bag. Then, you wait.

Sometimes, says M Lisandra Zepeda Mendoza, who works in bioinformatics and is an author of a recent paper drawing on this raw material, you don’t get what you need. “They get shy,” she says, and one has to let them go before they release a sample.

Luckily, however, Mendoza’s colleagues at the bat cave mouth were able to collect enough faeces that she and other collaborators could sequence the DNA of the bacteria within it. By combining an understanding of what lives in a vampire bat’s gut with the flying mammal’s genome sequence, they have revealed tantalising insights into how the blood-supping creatures manage to survive on such an unusual food.

Blood, it turns out, is a very difficult thing to live well on. There are almost no carbohydrates – it’s nearly all protein – and few vitamins. Even worse, it’s often laced with viruses. As blood-eating mammals, vampire bats, which live in the forests of Mexico and Central and South America, are particularly intriguing.

For the study, which was published on 19 February in Nature Ecology and Evolution, Mendoza and colleagues compared their vampire bat genome and gut microbiome with those of three other bat species: a bat that eats fruit, one that eats insects and one that eats mice, lizards and other small animals.

Vampire bats had the same general groups of bacteria in their guts as other bats. But when the researchers looked at what the microbes were making and doing, they found big differences. In vampire bats, the microbes looked to be focusing on metabolic tasks such as breaking down proteins and producing vitamins that the bats might otherwise lack. That suggests that only by looking at the microbiome and the genome together is it possible to understand how animals with odd diets have made it work.



A case for wild flamingos calling Florida their home

You see pink flamingos in Florida on T-shirts, hotel signs, lottery tickets and even the opening credits of Miami Vice. But it’s very rare to spot one in the wild. Over the past 70 years or so, as more American flamingos seem to be showing up in the Sunshine State, a debate has emerged about the origin of these birds. Most think they’re escapees from captive populations, introduced to the state starting in the 1920s and 1930s. But others think they could be a returning population from Mexico, Cuba or the Caribbean reclaiming a lost part of their natural territory.

In South Florida, some joke that only two kinds of animals exist – introduced or invasive species you lose, or endangered ones you protect. And resolving whether flamingos were ever native to Florida is important for wildlife management because the state says they’re not.

“You would think for as conspicuous a bird as the pink flamingo, we would know some basics, but we just have a lot of questions,” says Steven Whitfield, a conservation biologist at Zoo Miami studying flamingos.

So he assembled a team of specialists to uncover the historical origins of American flamingos in Florida.

Now their paper, published on 21 February in The Condor: Ornithological Applications, could help make the case for treating flamingos as Florida natives, possibly even endangered ones, which would entitle them to certain protections by the state given to other imperiled birds. The study concludes that flamingos once lived in Florida in flocks of up to 2,500 birds and may have even nested there. But by the early 20th century, the population vanished, hunted to extinction for meat and feathered hats.

Most scientists had assumed that flamingos in Florida were, in most cases, fugitives from the Hialeah Park racetrack north of Miami, where captive-bred birds have been living for decades.

But in 2014, nearly 150 birds showed up at a constructed wetland in the Everglades ecosystem in central Florida. This followed earlier sightings of birds from Mexico in Everglades National Park.

Scientists used these sightings as evidence that not all American flamingos in Florida were escapees from tended flocks.



A 3D look inside the Tasmanian tiger’s pouch, long after extinction

The extinct Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine, bears an uncanny resemblance to today’s canines.

Like dogs, wolves and dingoes, it was a carnivore with a svelte body, long, narrow snout and strong hind legs. But the Tasmanian tiger was a marsupial, meaning it had a pouch like a kangaroo. And despite the similarities, the Tasmanian tiger last shared a common ancestor with the placental pack some 160 million years ago during the Jurassic period.

“One of the things we were interested in was how come they look so much like dogs even though they are distantly related?” says Andrew Pask, a developmental biologist at the University of Melbourne who sequenced the thylacine genome last year.

He says it was one of the most apparent cases of convergent evolution, where two unrelated organisms evolve to look or function alike because of the similar niches they fill in their environments.

The Tasmanian tiger was wiped out by hunters in Tasmania during the early 1900s. Scientists have had to examine rare museum specimens to better understand the characteristics the creatures shared with canines.

Now, by studying baby thylacines preserved in jars, Pask and his colleagues have pinpointed when those similarities began to develop. Using CT scanning, the team revealed, for the first time digitally, the developmental stages of the extinct thylacine.

The findings, which were published on 21 February in the journal Royal Society Open Science, provide insight into when the Tasmanian tigers left their marsupial inheritance to become more dog-like. They also show the three-dimensional growth of the babies’ internal organs and skeletons as they prepared to exit their mother’s pouches and enter the world.

Marsupials don’t have a placenta, so when they give birth their young are born premature. All of these babies, from koalas to wombats, look like pink jelly beans.

“But they’ve got these forearms that have impressive muscles and little claws and paws they use to climb into the pouch,” Pask says.

As thylacines nursed, a change occurred that distinguished them from other marsupial species, the team found. Somewhere from week five to week eight, their hind legs and faces would elongate, giving them a puppy-like appearance.

© New York Times

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