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‘Vast majority’ of households to receive £350 to help with rising energy bills, Rishi Sunak announces

JUST IN: The chancellor addressed The Commons this morning

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The ‘vast majority’ of households across the UK will receive £350 from the government to help with the rising cost of energy bills, the chancellor has announced.

Rishi Sunak told The Commons today that those eligible will get a £150 discount on their council tax bill in April and a further rebate of £200 in October off their energy bills.

Around fifteen million households in bands A, B, C and D will be able to apply for these rebates funded by government grants.

The overall £350 payment will then have to be repaid in £40 instalments over a period of five years, starting from next April, Sunak added.

This means around 80% of council tax payers in England will save money.

Local authorities across England will also receive £150m to help households on a lower income.

Read More: Energy bills could rise by 50% unless government intervenes, industry warns

Regulator Ofgem confirmed on Thursday that there will be a 54% rise in the price cap from April 1st due to soaring wholesale gas prices, resulting in energy prices rising by an average £693 a year for millions of households.

Sunak said: “Without government action, this could be incredibly tough for millions of hardworking families… So the government is going to step in to directly help people manage those extra costs.”

Also on Thursday, the Bank of England is expected to raise interest rates from 0.25% to 0.5%, the first back-to-back increase since 2004.

Martin Lewis has previously urged the government to ‘act now’ as the energy crisis looms, saying many households will have to choose between ‘freezing or starving’. 

The Money Saving Expert founder said he felt ‘choked up’ with a ‘wave of nausea’ after listening to people’s stories of how they are already struggling to pay their fuel bills, adding that has donated £100,000 of his own money to the fuel poverty charity, National Energy Action to fund a free chat advice service for vulnerable customers.

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Constance Marten told to say baby died of cot death as tragic details revealed in court

The couple deny all charges

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Greater Manchester Police

Constance Marten’s partner, Mark Gordon, told her to say the baby was a victim of cot death, the Old Bailey has heard.

On Monday (February 19th) jurors were played more of a police interview with Ms Marten, recorded on March 1st last year, just hours after her baby’s body was found in a shed in Brighton.

Marten, 36, and Gordon, 49, went on the run with their newborn daughter Victoria after their car caught flames and was abandoned by the motorway in Bolton in January 2023.

Fire crews recovering the vehicle discovered evidence of a birth in the back seat of the car.

Greater Manchester Police

As reported by the BBC, the court heard how the couple slept in a tent as they evaded authorities, in a bid to keep the baby after Marten’s four other children had been taken into care.

The jury heard Marten tell officers in the interview that she had considered handing herself in to police a couple of weeks after Victoria had died.

The couple are accused of her manslaughter by gross negligence – both deny the charge.

Marten told Gordon to say he was not present when their baby died because she wanted to protect him, ‘because obviously he’s my husband,’ she said.

Greater Manchester Police

She also told detectives that he advised her to say Victoria was a victim of cot death. She said: “Mark advised me to say that it was cot death… and that I wasn’t holding her.

“He advised me to say that I lay her down and then when we woke up she was on her front and she’d passed away.”

She went on to explain that what happened was not a cot death and that Mr Gordon might try to tell them it was ‘in order to protect’ her and her ‘interests’.

In the interview, Marten explained how Victoria died.

Metropolitan Police

Warning: some readers may find the following information distressing.

She said she was feeling ‘extremely tired’ and had fallen asleep hugging Victoria, who was in her jacket. But she said the baby ‘wasn’t moving when I woke up’.

Marten wept as she told police how she came to realise their baby was not breathing. She said they had both tried to resuscitate Victoria but that there was no response to their attempts to revive her.

She said: “I tried to breathe in her mouth and pump her chest. So I wrapped her in a scarf and cradled her for a few minutes. I didn’t know what to do.”

Asked by a detective whether they called for help, Marten replied: “No because she was definitely not alive. I mean she wasn’t alive, so who’s going to help?”

Metropolitan Police

In another police interview conducted on March 2nd, 2023, Marten said that they wrapped Victoria’s body in a black scarf and put her inside a supermarket bag. She explained: “It’s not particularly graceful but that’s all we had.”

She also said her and Gordon would take Victoria’s body out with them, saying: “We always carried Victoria with us… just because I didn’t want to leave her in a tent… a bit strange.”

She told detectives the bag became too heavy to carry and so they sometimes left it inside the tent they were sleeping in.

Marten said she and Gordon were both ‘distraught’ when Victoria died.

Metropolitan Police

Asked how she was feeling after the birth of their daughter, she said: “I was feeling fine. I was elated to be with her actually. To be with one of my children. With Mark, together and parenting.

“It was a really nice Christmas period. I was very happy actually. Until all the media attention – that’s my experience.”

The court heard how the couple married in Peru seven years before Victoria’s death but that the marriage was ‘not recognised over here’.

As well as manslaughter, Marten and Gordon, of no fixed address, are also accused of four other offences: cruelty to their baby; concealment of the baby’s birth; causing or allowing her death; and perverting the course of justice by concealing the body. They deny all charges.

The trial, taking place at the Old Bailey, continues.

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Survey finds hedgehog sightings in UK on rise after years of decline

Have you taken steps to make your garden hedgehog friendly?

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Pexels / stock photo & HibaHaba / Flickr

Hedgehog numbers may finally be on the rise after a survey found sightings of the tiny, spiky creatures in gardens had increased.

Readers of the magazine Gardeners’ World were asked to record the wildlife in their gardens and reported that sightings of hedgehogs had gone up by 2%.

Great news for the little spiny animals after the magazine’s previous annual survey had found them to be in decline.

According to last year’s reports, the hedgehog population had fallen by 30%-75% across the UK countryside since 2000, reports the Guardian.

Pexels / stock photo

Their decline in numbers in British gardens is thought to be caused by habitat loss and fragmentation – as hedgehogs like to travel around but walls and fences stop them from doing so.

There are also concerns that pesticides could be killing off the insects they eat as well as hedgehogs ingesting poisonous pellets left out for slugs and snails.

The survey, which is conducted annually by the magazine, asked respondents whether they had seen a hedgehog in their garden in 2023.

Last year, 33% of respondents reported they had seen a hedgehog in their garden compared to 31% the previous year.

Никол Стоянова / Pexels

When the respondents were asked how their sightings had changed from 2022, 21% said they had either seen them for the first time since they had then, or more often.

Recent campaigns have called for residents living in urban areas to leave their gardens ‘messy’ with longer grass, plants and logs for hedgehogs to nest and hunt for insects to eat.

British wildlife lovers have even been creating ‘hedgehog highways’ by making holes in the bottom of fences for the little creatures to be able to wander around.

Of those who took the survey, 77% said they had taken steps to make their gardens more wildlife friendly, including strimming less, avoiding the use of slug pellets and maintaining ‘messier’ more natural gardens.

HibaHaba / Flickr

In urban areas, 18% of respondents said they had seen hedgehogs in the last year, up 2.7% from 2022. While in rural areas, 43% of respondents had seen hedgehogs in their gardens – up 1% form the previous year.

Fay Vass, the CEO of the British Hedgehog Preservation Society, said: “Valuable as the Gardeners’ World survey is, we need to remember that these figures are only a snapshot.

“Populations change year to year, and these findings might not necessarily represent the underlying trend.”

But, she said data in the State of Britain’s hedgehogs 2022 report – which BHPS published with the People’s Trust for Endangered Species – suggested that urban populations were just about stable and may even be beginning to recover in some areas.

Professor Hog / Wikimedia

Ms Vass continued: “Our ‘State of’ report is the most comprehensive overview of the UK’s hedgehog population and although the results give us cause for cautious optimism, urban populations are still much lower than they should be.

“Therefore it’s essential that we continue to gather more data to understand how these populations, and rural hedgehogs, are changing year on year and that community action – like making gardens havens for hedgehogs – continues.

“To help, become a Hedgehog Champion and make your garden as hedgehog-friendly as possible.”

PickPik / stock photo

Kevin Smith, editor of BBC Gardeners’ World, said: “It’s wonderful to witness an increase in sightings.

“Our ongoing efforts to educate people about wildlife-friendly gardening, such as creating openings in fences and providing secluded spaces for nesting and hibernation, are helping turn our gardens into the havens that hedgehogs have long enjoyed.”

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16-year-old dangerous driver arrested after police dog catches him hiding in children’s play area

Well done PD Hully!

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Greater Manchester Police

Police Dog Hully has been praised after tracking down an underage driver who made off up a motorway embankment.

At around 2.15am on Monday, February 19th, Roads Policing Unit officers out on patrol spotted a suspicious Peugeot Expert van on Mount Road in Gorton.

The van drove off away from police and made its way down Hyde Road, before turning onto the M60 in the wrong direction and into oncoming traffic.

Greater Manchester Police

As police pursued, the vehicle pulled onto the hard shoulder between junctions and the suspect abandoned the van and ran off up the embankment.

GMP’s Tactical Aid Unit were called in to find the offender.

PD Hully tracked along the embankment and all the way to a children’s play area where the suspect was then found, still holding the keys to the van.

The 16-year-old male, was arrested on suspicion of dangerous driving, failing to stop and taking without owner’s consent. He remains in police custody for questioning.

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Sergeant Paul Holt from GMP’s Tactical Dog Unit said: “This job was another great example of the cross-collaboration between several departments in GMP’s Specialist Operations.

“PD Hully and I turned out to this incident knowing that we had to find the suspect after showing total disregard for other people’s safety by travelling down the motorway in the wrong direction.

“On this occasion, I am happy to report that no one was injured during this incident, and we are delighted that we can get another dangerous driver off the roads in Greater Manchester.”

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