| Coronavirus: Teens' anxiety levels dropped during pandemic, study finds |
Published Date: 2020-08-24
Anxiety levels among young teenagers dropped during the coronavirus pandemic, a study has suggested.
Thirteen to 14-year-olds were less anxious during lockdown than they had been last October, according to the University of Bristol survey.
Researchers surveyed 1,000 secondary school children in south west England.
They said the results were a "big surprise" and it raised questions about the impact of the school environment on teenagers' mental health.
The findings come after Prof Chris Whitty, the UK's chief medical adviser, said children were more likely to be harmed by not returning to school than they were if they caught coronavirus.
The UK's four chief medical officers have sought to allay parents' concerns ahead of schools reopening in England, Wales and Northern Ireland in the coming days. Schools in Scotland have already returned.
And in a bid to encourage parents to send children back to school, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said it is "vitally important" pupils return to the classroom, with the life chances of a generation at stake.
Researchers compared findings from a survey taken in October last year to answers given by teenagers in May this year. Both girls and boys recorded decreased levels of anxiety during that timeframe.
In October, 54% of 13 to 14-year-old girls and 26% of boys of the same age said they felt anxious.
When surveyed in May - several weeks after schools shut to most pupils and nationwide lockdown restrictions came into force - the proportion dropped to 45% of girls and 18% of boys.
Researchers questioned 1,000 year nine students from 17 secondary schools across the south west of England.
"With the whole world in the grip of a devastating pandemic, which has thrown everyone's lives into turmoil, the natural expectation would be to see an increase in anxiety," said lead author Emily Widnall.
"While we saw anxiety levels rise for a few of our participants, it was a big surprise to discover quite the opposite was the case for many of them."
Ms Widnall said pupils who felt least connected to school before lockdown saw a larger decrease in anxiety, raising questions about how the school environment affects some younger teenagers' mental well-being.
Some parents said their experience echoed the survey results. Rebecca from Cardiff, who has a son aged 14 with Asperger's Syndrome and a 12-year-old boy who is also on the autism spectrum, said both children were happy before but the drop in their stress levels has been "unbelievable".
She said they sleep better and have fewer "teenage episodes", such as "shouting, screaming, not wanting to get ready for school, not wanting to get out of bed".
Their grades have also improved because "removing the social side from education has allowed them to focus on the learning", Rebecca said, but added that they were fortunate to have a school which handled online learning well.
Making school 'more supportive'
Caroline Ryder, from Warwickshire, said her sons, aged 13 and 15, missed friends but had been happier and calmer, with less conflict over homework or school behaviour issues.
She said they had kept busy during lockdown learning things from YouTube that were unrelated to the curriculum, such as growing vegetables, bread-making, sewing, home-brewing, carpentry and bicycle maintenance.
"This whole episode has demonstrated to me that school, in its current format, is not a happy experience for many kids," she said.
Others said their children had suffered from the lack of school, however. Hilary Waddington, from Surrey, has a 14-year-old daughter with autism whose isolation and social anxiety increased during lockdown "to the point of not even going into the garden in case a neighbour sees her".
Dr Judi Kidger, from the University of Bristol, said: "Our findings raise questions about the role of the school environment in explaining rises in mental health difficulties among teenagers in recent years.
"As schools reopen, we need to consider ways in which schools can be more supportive of mental health for all students."
There was a 2% decrease in boys at risk of depression and a 3% increase in girls at risk of depression.
The findings have been published in a report for the National Institute for Health Research School for Public Health Research.
Meanwhile, the UK's largest teaching union has accused the government of letting down pupils, teachers and parents by failing to have a "plan B" if infections rise.
The National Education Union, which represents more than 450,000 members, said more staff, extra teaching space and greater clarity on what to do if there is a spike in cases is needed for schools to reopen safely.
It is expected that pupils in Northern Ireland going into years seven, 12 and 14 will return to school full-time on Monday, with the rest going back from 31 August. In England and Wales, pupils will return to school from 1 September.
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| Christchurch shooting: Gunman Tarrant wanted to kill 'as many as possible' |
Published Date: 2020-08-24
Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Maysoon Salama, whose son died in the attack, said Tarrant "terrorised the whole of New Zealand and saddened the world"
The man who killed 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand in 2019 had plans to target a third mosque, his sentencing hearing has heard.
Brenton Tarrant also planned to burn down the mosques, wanting to "inflict as many fatalities as possible".
The Australian has pleaded guilty to 51 counts of murder, 40 attempted murders and one charge of terrorism.
Tarrant, 29, faces life in prison, possibly without parole - a sentence never before imposed in New Zealand.
He was confronted by survivors and relatives of the victims in court on Monday.
"You gave yourself the authority to take the souls of 51 innocent people, their only crime - in your eyes - being Muslims," said Maysoon Salama, whose son Atta Elayyan was killed.
"You transgress beyond comprehension, I cannot forgive you."
Image copyright EPA Image caption Survivors and relatives of victims are attending the court hearing
The attacks, parts of which the gunman streamed live online, saw him open fire at two mosques in Christchurch on 15 March last year.
He first drove to the Al Noor mosque, firing on people taking part in Friday prayers. He then drove about 5km (3 miles) to the Linwood mosque and killed more people.
The attack sent shockwaves around the world and prompted New Zealand to make swift changes to its gun laws.
How did the attack unfold?
The sentencing hearing, which will last four days, began on Monday morning in Christchurch.
Covid-19 restrictions mean the main court room is relatively empty. Hundreds will watch the proceedings on video feeds from other courtrooms in the city to allow for social distancing measures.
Dressed in grey prison clothes and surrounded in the dock by three police officers, the gunman reportedly remained silent, occasionally looking around the room where survivors and relatives of the victims were sitting.
Image copyright EPA Image caption Tarrant was surrounded by police officers as he sat in the dock
Crown prosecutor Barnaby Hawes told the court that the gunman had began formulating a plan years earlier, and his goal was to "inflict as many fatalities as possible".
He gathered information about mosques in New Zealand - studying floor plans, locations and further details - with the aim of targeting them at the time they would be busiest.
In the months before the attack, he travelled to Christchurch and flew a drone over his primary target, the Al Noor mosque.
He also planned to target the Ashburton Mosque in addition to the Al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre, but was detained while on his way to the third mosque.
On the day of the attack, he shot people on the street as they tried to escape the Al Noor mosque, the court heard.
This included one victim, Ansi Alibava, whose body he drove over as he left the mosque.
As he drove towards the Linwood Islamic Centre, he stopped and shot at men of African origin who were able to escape. He briefly pointed his gun at a Caucasian man, the court heard, but then "smiled and then drove off".
He told police after his arrest that his plan was to burn down the mosques after his attack, and that he wished he had done so.
Tarrant is representing himself in court. He had previously denied the charges and was due to face trial in June, but reversed his plea.
He faces a minimum sentence of 17 years, but Justice Cameron Mander, the High Court judge presiding over the case, has the power to sentence him to a full life term with no parole - a sentence never before imposed in New Zealand.
Who were some of the victims?
More than 60 people will give victim impact statements over the course of the next few days.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption People arrive for the sentencing hearing at Christchurch High Court
The imam of Al-Noor Mosque, Gamal Fouda - who was the first to speak - addressed Tarrant, calling him "misguided and misled".
He said he saw the "hate in the eyes of a brainwashed terrorist" as he was standing in the pulpit, telling Tarrant: "Your hatred is unnecessary."
The son of victim Ashraf Ali, said he still suffered trauma, saying: "I have flashbacks, seeing dead bodies all around me. Blood everywhere."
Among the other victims were:
Three-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim, who was shot directly while clinging to his father's leg
Abdukadir Elmi, 70, from Somalia who previously survived a civil war
Naeem Rashid, originally from Pakistan, who was shot while trying to tackle the gunman
Hosne Ara, killed while searching for her husband who uses a wheelchair - he survived.
Some relatives of victims travelled from overseas and had undergone a two-week coronavirus quarantine in order to take part.
Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Hamimah Tuyan lost her husband in the attacks
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said it will be a difficult week for survivors and families of the victims.
"I don't think there's anything I can say that is going to ease how traumatic that period is going to be," she said last week.
She has vowed never to say the gunman's name, saying soon after the attack: "He sought many things from his act of terror - but one was notoriety."
Less than a month after the shootings, New Zealand's parliament voted by 119 to 1 on reforms banning military-style semi-automatic weapons as well as parts that could be used to build prohibited firearms.
The government offered to compensate owners of newly-illegal weapons in a buy-back scheme.
| Parents in England could be fined if they keep children off school |
Published Date: 2020-08-24
Schools minister Nick Gibb says fines would be last resort as PM says risk of children getting Covid-19 is small
Parents in England could be fined if they keep children off school
Parents in England could be fined if they decide to keep their children off school from September, the schools minister, Nick Gibb, has said.
Financial penalties would be a last resort but were still available to local authorities if youngsters were kept away from the classroom, he said.
Boris Johnson spoke of a moral duty to get children back into education after five months of absence due to the coronavirus pandemic and said the risk of picking up the virus in schools was small.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4s Today programme, Gibb said: Fines for non-attendance have always been a last resort for headteachers in schools. What matters is that young people are attending school.
We live in a country where education is compulsory and I think parents can be reassured that the measures that schools are taking to make sure that we minimise the risk of the transmission of the virus are very effective.
He said he had visited schools preparing for the return next week that had devised safety measures such as bubble zones to keep the same group of children together.
Other measures might include installing more hand-basins and hand-sanitiser, different entrances being opened around the school, and pupils having their own designated keyboards.
Headteachers should be able to reassure families that the measures they had taken meant it was safe for children to come back, Gibb suggested, without the need for the local authority to issue penalty notices.
If they have got extra concerns thats a matter between the headteacher and the family, he said.
The fines for unauthorised absences are £60 rising to £120 if there is a delay in paying it. They are often applied to people to who take their children out of school in term time for holidays.
There would be no change to this system in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Gibb suggested.
In a second interview with BBC Breakfast, he said: Fines are available. We havent suspended the law on that issue from September onwards, but, knowing headteachers as I do, they use that measure absolutely as a very last resort and in the current climate they will want to be talking to parents to allay their concerns.
The deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, said in an interview with Sky News on Monday that children were more at risk from seasonal flu than coronavirus.
Death from the illness would be exceptionally rare and when children do get an infection it was very mild and sometimes asymptomatic, she said.
The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, accused the government of going missing in action and being asleep at the wheel. She told ITVs Good Morning Britain: The guidance thats been given to schools is one-size-fits-all. It doesnt take account of the fact that a small school, perhaps in very constrained premises, will have to make different arrangements from a large inner-city school.
There hasnt been information for school leaders, so that they cant plan what they might have to do if there was a sudden spike in the local infection rate and the guidance that has come out I think has been its been contradictory, its been confusing, it came very late, shortly before the summer holidays.
Many pupils in England have not attended classes since March, when schools were closed except to look after vulnerable children and those of keyworkers.
Schools in Scotland reopened earlier this month, while those in Northern Ireland were welcoming pupils again on Monday. English and Welsh schools will follow suit in September.
| Christchurch gunman planned to burn mosques down, New Zealand police say |
Published Date: 2020-08-24
A court in New Zealand has heard for the first time an official account of how a terrorist who murdered 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch planned and executed the attacks and his intentions to burn down both places of worship and attack a third.
The details of the attack were read at the beginning of a high-security hearing to decide whether the Australian man who has admitted committing the mass shootings will ever leave prison.
Those bereaved in New Zealands worst peacetime massacre, and its survivors, are facing the gunman, Brenton Tarrant, in court for the first time. All his previous court appearances since the terrorist attack on 15 March last year have been via video link from jail.
Tarrant, a self-professed white supremacist who broadcast part of the massacre live on Facebook, pleaded guilty in March this year to 51 counts of murder, 40 of attempted murder and a charge of terrorism. His decision to abandon an earlier plea of not guilty averted a lengthy trial that was expected to take months. It also meant there has been no official account of the killings.
On Monday, a prosecutor read the authorities version of events, telling the court of the detail in which Tarrant had planned the attacks, buying multiple firearms, thousands of rounds of ammunition, ballistic armour and military-style vests.
He moved to New Zealand from Australia in 2017 and began planning the attacks, researching various New Zealand mosques, viewing plans of the buildings he intended to attack and making a trip to Christchurch from the southern city of Dunedin, where he lived, two months before the massacre.
While there, he flew a drone over Al Noor mosque, scoping the buildings entrances and exits. On the day of the attacks, the terrorist had petrol cans in his car that, the police said, he intended to use as incendiary devices.
After the official account of events on Monday the first of dozens of victims due to speak during the four-day hearing read emotional statements in front of the gunman, in a subdued courtroom that was sparsely populated due to coronavirus restrictions.
Tarrant was brought into the dock by four police officers with his hands shackled to his waist. Wearing a grey prison sweatshirt and track pants he had a blank expression as he sat behind a glass barrier, occasionally looking around the room.
Early in the hearing, he had twisted his fingers together so tightly that they had turned white. Nothing visibly moved the gunman not a description of his murder of a three-year-old child; not that of a woman whose spinal injury will make her need a wheelchair for life, nor another whom he shot and later ran over as he fled one of the mosques.
Tarrant faces the possibility of being the first offender in New Zealand sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole. After electing to represent himself, he will have the opportunity to speak in court during a hearing that could present questions for the judge, and reporters, about whether any views he promotes should be suppressed or censored.
The crowns summary of facts was read by one of the prosecutors. It was a brutal document. Again and again, the prosecutor described cold-blooded executions, the gunman returning repeatedly to people he had already shot, firing again to ensure that they were dead. Where people were wounded, crying out, or trying to get away the summary of facts read the gunman would shoot again.
As a description of one mans death was read, the victims mother, in court, silently covered her mouth with her hands.
In the corners of Al Noor, worshippers were huddled together and on top of each other in efforts to hide from the gunman, the court heard, as there was nowhere to escape in the open-plan prayer room. He fired 32 shots into the mass of people, before turning his attention to another huddled group trying to escape through a single exit door at one end of the room.
But there he was barred from killing more by an act of heroism: a man named Naeem Rashid threw himself at the gunman before being killed. The police said his actions allowed some of those trying to get through the door to escape.
When the gunman returned to the group huddling in the corner, some who had already been shot were crying out for help or moving slightly; he systemically shot in the head anyone who appeared to be alive.
The prosecutor also described another act of bravery from Adbul Aziz, a man at Linwood mosque who ran screaming at Tarrant, later chasing him and hurling one of the gunmans weapons into a window of his car.
After Tarrant was arrested as he fled by car from the second mosque, according to the police summary, he admitted to the crimes. He told officers that he wished he had killed more people, and stated political and anti-Islamic views as his motivations.
After the lengthy description of events, victims of the attacks were allowed to speak in court, standing just metres from the gunman and sometimes addressing him directly.
Among them was Gamal Fouda, the imam of Al Noor mosque, who was leading prayers when the terrorist stormed in.
You were misguided and misled, said Fouda, making direct eye contact with Tarrant. We are peaceful and a loving community who did not deserve your actions.
He added: Your hatred is unnecessary. If you have done anything, you have brought the world community closer with your evil actions.
Describing Tarrant as a brainwashed terrorist, Fouda added that New Zealands response to the attacks had been the opposite to what the terrorist had wanted.
The world saw New Zealand as what it was and the terrorist was seen as a criminal, Fouda said. New Zealand is seen by the world as a model of compassion, love and harmony.
There is an unprecedented level of security at the Christchurch courthouse, with armed police stationed outside and throughout the building, snipers on the roof, and vehicle barricades blocking off the streets outside. The barricades are attached to large concrete blocks which were lifted into place with cranes at the weekend.
| Children raised in greener areas have higher IQ, study finds |
Published Date: 2020-08-24
Children growing up in greener urban areas have increased intelligence and lower levels of difficult behaviour, a study has found.
The analysis of more than 600 children aged 10-15 showed a 3% increase in the greenness of their neighbourhood raised their IQ score by an average of 2.6 points. The effect was seen in both richer and poorer areas.
There is already significant evidence that green spaces improve various aspects of childrens cognitive development but this is the first research to examine IQ. The cause is uncertain but may be linked to lower stress levels, more play and social contact or a quieter environment.
The increase in IQ points was particularly significant for those children at the lower end of the spectrum, where small increases could make a big difference, the researchers said.
There is more and more evidence that green surroundings are associated with our cognitive function, such as memory skills and attention, said Tim Nawrot, a professor of environmental epidemiology at Hasselt University in Belgium, where the study was conducted.
What this study adds with IQ is a harder, well-established clinical measure. I think city builders or urban planners should prioritise investment in green spaces because it is really of value to create an optimal environment for children to develop their full potential.
The study, published in the journal Plos Medicine, used satellite images to measure the level of greenness in neighbourhoods, including parks, gardens, street trees and all other vegetation.
The average IQ score was 105 but the scientists found 4% of the children with a score below 80 had grown up in areas with low levels of greenery, while none scored below that level in areas with higher amounts of green space.
The benefits of more greenery that were recorded in urban areas were not replicated in suburban or rural areas. Nawrot suggested this may be because those places had enough greenness for all children living there to benefit.
Behavioural difficulties such as poor attention and aggressiveness were also measured in the children using a standard rating scale, and the average score was 46. In this case, a 3% rise in greenery resulted in a two-point reduction in behavioural problems, in line with previous studies.
The researchers took into account the wealth and education levels of the childrens parents, largely ruling out the idea that families who are better placed to support children simply have more access to green space.
Higher levels of air pollution are known to impair intelligence and childhood development but this factor was also ruled out as an explanation.
Instead, the scientists suggested lower noise levels, lower stress as found in other research on green space benefits and greater opportunities for physical and social activities may explain the higher IQ scores.
Dr Mathew White, an environmental psychologist at Exeter University in the UK, who was not part of the study team, praised the quality of the research.
Im always wary of the term intelligence as it has a problematic history and unfortunate associations, he said. But, if anything, this study might help us move away from seeing intelligence as innate it could be influenced by environment, and I think that is much more healthy.
White said it was reasonable to suggest more exercise and less stress as reasons for the higher IQ scores. But Im not sure why general intelligence should be improved by these things, he said. My guess is the intelligence measures are really picking up a childs ability to concentrate and stick at a task, which has been shown in green space studies before.
A study of children living in Barcelona, published in 2015, showed more green space was associated with better working memory and attention.
The researchers in the new study were able to account for many of the factors likely to affect IQ but data on the type of green space was not available. Previous work has shown this can be important, with trees giving more benefit to child development than farmland or scrubland, for example.
The team also did not have information on where the pupils attended school but most Belgian children go to nearby schools.
| Protests in Wisconsin after video appears to show police shooting black man in the back |
Published Date: 2020-08-24
Video on social media appears to show officers shoot at man seven times as he leaned into vehicle
Residents have confronted law enforcement officers at the scene of a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin, that drew a harsh rebuke from the states governor and prompted crowds to take to the streets after a video posted on social media appeared to show officers shoot at a mans back seven times as he leaned into a vehicle.
Kenosha police said one person was left in a serious condition in hospital after a shooting by officers about 5pm on Sunday, as police were responding to a domestic incident.
Police did not provide details about what led to the shooting or the officers involved, but said the person was transported to a hospital in Milwaukee for treatment.
In the video posted on social media that appeared to show the shooting from across a street, three officers could be seen shouting and pointing their weapons at the man, who appeared to be black, as he walked around the front of an SUV parked on the street. As the man opened the drivers side door and leaned inside, one officer appeared to grab his shirt from behind and then fired into the vehicle.
Seven shots could be heard on the video, though it was unclear if more than one officer fired.
Following the shooting, social media posts showed neighbours gathering in the surrounding streets and shouting at police. Some could be heard chanting, No justice, no peace.
Later on Sunday, in a scene that mirrored the months of protests that followed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other black people killed by police, marchers headed to the Kenosha county public safety building, which authorities had mostly blocked off.
Protesters marched along lines of cars sounding their horns on their way to the station and eventually made their way to the rear parking lot. A man could be seen breaking the window of a patrol car parked along the street. Some police officers were positioned on the roof of the station as people continued toward the building.
Outside the police station, protesters faced off with officers dressed in riot gear and held plastic shields and batons that they occasionally used to push people back.
Tony Evers, the governor of Wisconsin, on Sunday night released a statement on Twitter condemning the shooting of a man who was shot in the back multiple times, in broad daylight and whom he identified as Jacob Blake.
While we do not have all of the details yet, what we know for certain is that he is not the first black man or person to have been shot or injured or mercilessly killed at the hands of individuals in law enforcement in our state or our country, Evers said. We stand with all those who have and continue to demand justice, equity, and accountability for black lives in our country
And we stand against excessive use of force and immediate escalation when engaging with black Wisconsinites. I have said all along that although we must offer our empathy, equally important is our action. In the coming days, we will demand just that of elected officials in our state who have failed to recognise the racism in our state and our country for far too long.
Kenosha police referred all questions to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond to messages seeking to confirm details of the shooting video.
The Kenosha sheriffs department and Wisconsin state patrol were called to the scene so another law enforcement agency could take over, police said in the news release.
Meanwhile, Kenosha County late on Sunday night declared a state of emergency curfew, until 7am.
The city of Kenosha is located on Lake Michigan, about 40 miles (64km) south of Milwaukee.
A Kenosha police department dispatcher referred calls by the Associated Press to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the agency that will be investigating the shooting. A message left with DoJ was not immediately returned.
| Kellyanne Conway to leave Trump White House at end of month |
Published Date: 2020-08-24
The White House adviser Kellyanne Conway has announced she will be leaving Donald Trumps administration at the end of August, citing the need to focus on her family.
Conway, Trumps campaign manager during the 2016 presidential race, was the first woman to successfully steer a White House bid, then became a senior counsellor to the US president. She informed Trump of her decision in the Oval Office on Sunday.
I will be transitioning from the White House at the end of this month, she said in a statement posted on social media.
Our four children are teens and tweens starting a new academic year, in middle school and high school, remotely from home for at least a few months, she said.
As millions of parents nationwide know, kids doing school from home requires a level of attention and vigilance that is as unusual as these times.
This is completely my choice and my voice. In time, I will announce future plans. For now, and for my beloved children, it will be less drama, more mama.
Conway described her time in the administration and previously with the 2016 campaign as heady and humbling.
She worked for years as a Republican pollster and operative and originally supported Senator Ted Cruz in the 2016 Republican primary.
She moved over to the Trump campaign and that August became campaign manager as Steve Bannon became campaign chairman; Bannon was indicted last week for fraud.
Conway would regularly defend the administration in media appearances and used the expression alternative facts to defend a contentious view of Trumps inauguration.
More recently, she was instrumental in getting Trump to restart regular, though shorter, White House briefings about the coronavirus outbreak, a practice that officials have viewed as successful in helping to stop a drop in opinion polls the president has suffered largely because of his handling of the pandemic.
Her husband, George Conway, has also announced he is stepping down from his role at the Lincoln Project, which is working to defeat Trump in November.
George Conway has been a vocal critic of the US president. In a public feud last year, Trump called him a wack job and a husband from hell, prompting George Conway to say Trump was mentally unfit for his office.
So Im withdrawing from @ProjectLincoln to devote more time to family matters. And Ill be taking a Twitter hiatus.
Needless to say, I continue to support the Lincoln Project and its mission. Passionately. George Conway (@gtconway3d) August 24, 2020
The decisions by the Conways come a day after their 15-year-old daughter, Claudia, said on Twitter that she was seeking emancipation. Claudia has previously been outspoken on social media against her parents views.
On Sunday, Kellyanne Conway described her time in the administration, and previously with the 2016 campaign, as heady and humbling.
She had survived several rounds of staff turnovers in an often chaotic and drama-ridden White House.
| Campaigners lose legal challenge over Lake District 4x4 vehicles |
Published Date: 2020-08-24
Drivers of 4x4 vehicles can continue to use off-road tracks in the Lake District after a judge dismissed a legal challenge from campaigners who argued the vehicles polluted the national park and endangered cyclists and ramblers.
A coalition of ramblers, cyclists and horse riders had appealed to the high court against a decision by the Lake District national park authority (LDNPA) to allow 4x4s and motorbikes to use two old farm and quarry tracks, known as green lanes, in the Langdale and Coniston valleys.
The case was brought by a group calling itself the Green Lanes Environmental Action Movement (Gleam).
The legal action was crowd-funded with more 2,000 people donating a total of £64,000. Over 374,000 people had signed a petition asking LDNPA to stop off-roading on tracks near Little Langdale once owned by Beatrix Potter and handed over to the National Trust in the 1930s and 1940s for future generations.
Commercial firms charge £175 for two-hour technical adventures driven in small convoys on the rocky tracks, promising to show drivers the Lake Districts hidden gems.
Campaigners claimed the vehicles were noisy, polluting and spoiled the enjoyment of the lakes by other users, like walkers and cyclists.
But the LDNPA argued that most of the walkers and cyclists using the greenways had driven to the start of their ramble or bike ride, and therefore were contributing to air pollution just as much as the 4x4 drivers.
It also claimed that mountain bikers, together with a general increase in the severity and frequency of inclement weather, had contributed to the erosion of Tilberthwaite Road, one of the contested routes. Alfred Wainwright, Britains most famous fell walker, once described the view from High Tilberthwaite as the loveliest in Lakeland, the quarry-marked scenery surely one of the most interesting.
Contrary to claims by the campaigners, the park insisted it had no actual evidence of any accidents, incidents or injuries to any users of either of these roads.
Plus, it said, the use of roads such as this for off-road driving in the Lake District had developed soon after the development of the car. As such, it could be argued that the use of roads was part of the cultural history of the Lake District, albeit that was not in and of itself an indication that it was automatically an appropriate activity to continue into the modern era.
It was using these justifications that the LDNPA rights of way sub-committee refused to ban the vehicles in October last year, prompting a swift legal challenge by the campaigners.
At the court hearing, the campaigners barrister, Katherine Barnes, argued the park had violated what is known as the Sandford principle.
The Sandford principle is named after Lord Sandford, who chaired a 1974 review of the national parks. It says that where there is apparent conflict between a national parks dual functions of conservation and promoting public enjoyment, then greater weight must be given to conservation. The Sandford principle became law when it was incorporated into the 1995 Environment Act.
But Mr Justice Dove ruled that an assessment report compiled by officers to help the committee make its decision was a reliable and accurate interpretation of the law.
Barnes had told the judge Gleam had had hundreds of responses to its survey. Typical responses were: Pushed off road
Noise and fumes
ruins enjoyment of walking in this lovely area and the numbers of 4x4s ruins the enjoyment of walking in otherwise peaceful area.
But in his 38-page ruling distributed to interested parties on Friday, the judge agreed with the park that it was hard to prove the limited, albeit increased, usage of motor vehicles was making the area less attractive to a degree where it was reducing tourism or outdoor activities in the area.
He dismissed Gleams case on all counts.
Gleams chairman, Mike Bartholomew, said the group would not give up: We are very disappointed but the fight will go on.
The group is hoping that a new consultative group set up by LDNPA, but suspended pending the judicial review, would now meet. They want to persuade the park to agree to traffic regulation orders, which may close the routes periodically, sometimes seasonally, as happens in other national parks.
A spokesperson for LDNPA said it was too soon to comment.
In the Lake District national park, there are 2,038 miles (3,280km) of public unsealed minor roads, byways open to all traffic, restricted byways, bridleways and footpaths. There are legally established, or presumed, motor vehicle rights on 75 miles of these.
| Councils scrapping use of algorithms in benefit and welfare decisions |
Published Date: 2020-08-24
Councils are quietly scrapping the use of computer algorithms in helping to make decisions on benefit claims and other welfare issues, the Guardian has found, as critics call for more transparency on how such tools are being used in public services.
It comes as an expert warns the reasons for cancelling programmes among government bodies around the world range from problems in the way the systems work to concerns about bias and other negative effects. Most systems are implemented without consultation with the public, but critics say this must change.
The use of artificial intelligence or automated decision-making has come into sharp focus after an algorithm used by the exam regulator Ofqual downgraded almost 40% of the A-level grades assessed by teachers. It culminated in a humiliating government U-turn and the system being scrapped.
The fiasco has prompted critics to call for more scrutiny and transparency about the algorithms being used to make decisions related to welfare, immigration, and asylum cases.
The Guardian has found that about 20 councils have stopped using an algorithm to flag claims as high risk for potential welfare fraud. The ones they flagged were pulled out by staff to double-check, potentially slowing down peoples claims without them being aware.
Previous research by the Guardian found that one in three councils were using algorithms to help make decisions about benefit claims and other welfare issues.
Research from Cardiff Data Justice Lab (CDJL), working with the Carnegie UK Trust, has been looking at cancelled algorithm programmes.
According to them, Sunderland council has stopped using one which was designed to help it make efficiency savings of £100m.
Their research also found that Hackney council in east London had abandoned using data analytics to help predict which children were at risk of neglect and abuse.
The Data Justice Lab found at least two other councils had stopped using a risk-based verification system which identifies benefit claims that are more likely to be fraudulent and may need to be checked.
One council found it often wrongly identified low-risk claims as high-risk, while another found the system did not make a difference to its work.
Dr Joanna Redden from the Data Justice Lab said: We are finding that the situation experienced here with education is not unique
algorithmic and predictive decision systems are leading to a wide range of harms globally, and also that a number of government bodies across different countries are pausing or cancelling their use of these kinds of systems.
The reasons for cancelling range from problems in the way the systems work to concerns about negative effects and bias. Were in the process of identifying patterns, but one recurring factor tends to be a failure to consult with the public and particularly with those who will be most affected by the use of these automated and predictive systems before implementing them.
The Home Office recently stopped using an algorithm to help decide visa applications after allegations that it contained entrenched racism. The charity the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) and the digital rights group Foxglove launched a legal challenge against the system, which was scrapped before a case went to court.
Foxglove characterised it as speedy boarding for white people but the Home Office said it did not accept that description. We have been reviewing how the visa application streaming tool operates and will be redesigning our processes to make them even more streamlined and secure, the Home Office added.
Martha Dark, the director and co-founder of Foxglove, said: Recently weve seen the government rolling out algorithms as solutions to all kinds of complicated societal problems. It isnt just A-level grades
People are being sorted and graded, denied visas, benefits and more, all because of flawed algorithms.
She said poorly designed systems could lead to discrimination, adding that there had to be democratic debate and consultation with the public on any system that affected their lives before that system was implemented. These systems have to be transparent, so bias can be identified and stopped.
Police forces are increasingly experimenting with the use of artificial intelligence or automated decision-making.
The West Midlands police and crime commissioners strategic adviser, Tom McNeil, said he was concerned businesses were pitching algorithms to police forces knowing their products may not be properly scrutinised.
McNeil said: In the West Midlands, we have an ethics committee that robustly examines and publishes recommendations on artificial intelligence projects. I have reason to believe that the robust and transparent process we have in the West Midlands may have deterred some data science organisations from getting further involved with us.
Research from the Royal Society of Arts published in April found at least two forces were using or trialling artificial intelligence or automated decision-making to help them identify crime hotspots Surrey police and West Yorkshire police.
Others using algorithms in some capacity or other include the Met, Hampshire Constabulary, Kent police, South Wales police, and Thames Valley police.
Asheem Singh, the RSA thinktanks director of economics, said: Very few police consulted with the public. Maybe great work is going on but police forces dont want to talk about it. That is concerning. We are talking about black-box formulae affecting peoples livelihoods. This requires an entire architecture of democracy that we have not seen before.
Without consultation the principle of policing by consent goes out of the window, Singh added.
The National Police Chiefs Council said it was unable to comment.
The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation, an independent advisory body, is reviewing potential bias in algorithms. Our review will make recommendations about how police forces and local authorities using predictive analytics are able to meet the right standards of governance and transparency for the challenges facing these sectors, it said.
| Rise in number of British soldiers being sacked for drug use |
Published Date: 2020-08-24
Hundreds of British army personnel are being dismissed every year after testing positive for drugs in compulsory tests, with the number of sackings rising steadily, the Guardian can reveal.
Ministry of Defence data released under Freedom of Information laws shows that about 660 soldiers and reservists nearly the equivalent of a battalion were discharged last year after testing positive for illicit substances, mostly cocaine, in the mandatory tests (CDTs).
The sackings followed approximately 630 firings after positive CDTs in 2018 and 580 in 2017. Up until mid-July this year, there were 270 discharges after the mandatory tests revealed drug use, the FoI showed.
It was unclear if lockdown affected illicit drug supplies within the army but it is understood the disruption led to a significant reduction in testing.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, there were around 80,000 random tests annually; with some service people tested multiple times per year and others not at all. There are currently 79,620 people in the regular army and 29,980 reserves.
Cocaine, which leaves the body within a couple of days, is overwhelmingly the most detected drug, followed by cannabis and ecstasy. Ketamine, steroids and benzodiazepines have also been detected in scores of tests.
There were 680 positive CDTs in 2017, 820 in 2018, 770 in 2019, and 220 this year, as class A drug use among young adults throughout the UK rises, driven by powder cocaine.
The army said it does not tolerate drug use and that there can be a delay to discharges but it is understood there is a belief within military top brass that British society has a drug problem and the army, like any other organisation, reflects societal issues.
However, a former soldier claimed many soldiers take drugs to manage the particular stresses of life in the army, including attempts to manage PTSD, while others simply enjoyed getting high.
It was mostly weekend cocaine use but people used it on duty too, he said. There was no way you could go a week without a drink or drugs, the stress is so intense. But the worst drug in the forces is alcohol. Its forced on us.
Experts have long suggested that people subject to compulsory tests are more likely to take drugs that leave their system relatively quickly, thus making cocaine which is found in urine for only two to three days after use more attractive than cannabis, for instance, which remains traceable for weeks.
The army only tests soldiers for drugs through their urine. It is not legally permitted to test blood or hair despite the latter containing traces of drug use from months before.
It is known that some troops purposefully take drugs to fail CDTs, which were introduced in the 1990s, in order to be discharged from the army since they would otherwise have to continue service for a year after quitting.
The data also suggested amphetamine, a popular battlefield drug historically, was enjoying a renaissance after around 10 people tested positive this year, the first time it had been detected during 2017-2020.
Niamh Eastwood, from the drug information charity Release, said drug use was commonplace in all walks of life, including the military and even politics, and that it was time for a less punitive approach, which would end criminal sanctions for possession.
These figures are of no surprise, drug use is ubiquitous in society whether in the military, medicine, journalism or even amongst those vying for leadership of the Conservative party, she said.
The high level of discharges for this activity demonstrates how our current drug laws destroy lives. Simply ingesting one substance can destroy your career, whilst other substances, like alcohol, are proactively encouraged as part of the culture.
In November 2018, former defence secretary Gavin Williamson introduced a zero tolerance approach for drug use, saying it was the only way to ensure excellence was maintained as he highlighted that the purchase of illicit substances fuelled organised crime.
However, his successor, Ben Wallace, said he recognised some people are young and irresponsible and that senior officers should be able to decide whether soldiers who have been found to use drugs deserve to be sacked, despite internal army concerns that drug use may erode operational effectiveness, according to a leaked memo.
An army spokesperson said: The army does not tolerate drug abuse within its ranks as it is incompatible with military service and operational effectiveness. Army personnel caught taking drugs can expect to be discharged.