Kristen Stewart transforms into Princess Diana on-set at 'Sandringham'

We've got our second good look at Kristen Stewart's upcoming role as Princess Diana as she sported the instantly recognisable voluminous hair and cream blouse
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Tiger Woods moved by ‘touching’ tribute as fellow golf stars wear red at the WGC-Workday Championship
Tiger Woods says he is deeply touched by the tribute paid to him by fellow golfers during the WGC-Workday Championship on Sunday.
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Merkel and von der Leyen blasted for vaccine fiasco by EU journalist - 'Abject failure'
ANGELA Merkel and Ursula von der Leyen have been accused of putting "ideology over good politics" and undermining the "European idea" through their vaccine procurement plan, by a leading German commentator.
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Monday briefing: 'We cannot accept this' – Myanmar's bloody Sunday
Junta forces kill at least 18 protesters … Trump takes election act back to the stage … British agriculture faces stink bug threat Hello, welcome to the Guardian morning briefing with Warren Murray on Monday 1 March – the first day of spring, at least. Continue reading...
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Man Utd have better title chance under Solskjaer than Mourinho's 'strange lads'
Gary Neville says Jose Mourinho's team 'didn't appeal to me as a fan' and reckons Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a much better chance of winning the Premier League than his predecessor
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Kaley Cuoco takes Golden Globes loss like a trooper as she pigs out on cake and pizza and that’s why we love her
Girl after our own hearts.
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Oprah says Meghan and Harry 'nothing off limits' chat is 'best I've ever done'
Gayle King has told CBS This Morning that Oprah Winfrey's highly anticipated interview with Meghan and Harry was her best ever as the royals tell all
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FTSE 100 set to jump as Rishi Sunak turns optimistic on Covid in this week’s Budget
Global markets start week on a high amid calming of interest rate hike fears
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Thick fog warning with driving treacherous as temperatures prepare to plummet
We'll be bringing you the very latest updates, pictures and video on this breaking news story
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Netanyahu accuses Iran of attacking Israeli-owned cargo ship
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused Iran of attacking an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman last week
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Trump lists GOP politicians he wants voted out for criticising him – minutes after condemning ‘cancel culture’
Trump also used first major speech since leaving White House to hint at a 2024 run and attack the Democrats for trying to expand voting rights
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Brits win big at Golden Globes as Emma Corrin, Daniel Kaluuya and Sacha Baron Cohen bag major prizes
Swept the board.
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More than 75% of Syrian refugees may have PTSD, says charity
‘There is a huge amount of damage you can’t see – the mental trauma’, says Syria Relief report authorMore than three-quarters of Syrian refugees may be suffering serious mental health symptoms, 10 years after the start of the civil war.A UK charity is calling for more investment in mental health services for refugees in several countries after it found symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) were widespread in a survey of displaced Syrians. Continue reading...
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Unilluminated: Blackpool in lockdown – in pictures
Despite its empty promenade and quiet beaches, Blackpool charms our photographer Christopher Thomond once again Continue reading...
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The Great British Art Tour: a different perspective on a net browser
With public art collections closed we are bringing the art to you, exploring highlights from across the country in partnership with Art UK. Today’s pick: Guildhall Art Gallery’s The Net Mender by Marianne StokesA woman sits in a simple, sparse room, mending a fishing net. The simplicity of the scene is reflected in the painting’s clarity and restraint; the translucence of the net showcases the artist’s skill and delicacy of her approach. The intimate and inconspicuous picture from the beginning of the 20th century stands out among the vividly coloured and impressionistic style of many contemporaneous paintings. It is understated and unassuming in both subject and style – and yet it says so much.Marianne Stokes (née Preindlsberger) was one of the leading female artists in Victorian England. Born in Austria, she married the English painter Adrian Scott Stokes in 1884 and the couple travelled widely throughout Europe. This picture was probably painted after a visit to the Netherlands in 1900, when Marianne made studies of villagers and their daily lives. Continue reading...
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Fossil fuel cars make 'hundreds of times' more waste than electric cars
Analysis by transport group says battery electric vehicles are superior to their petrol and diesel counterpartsFossil fuel cars waste hundreds of times more raw material than their battery electric equivalents, according to a study that adds to evidence that the move away from petrol and diesel cars will bring large net environmental benefits.Only about 30kg of raw material will be lost over the lifecycle of a lithium ion battery used in electric cars once recycling is taken into account, compared with 17,000 litres of oil, according to analysis by Transport & Environment (T&E) seen by the Guardian. A calculation of the resources used to make cars relative to their weight shows it is at least 300 times greater for oil-fuelled cars. Continue reading...
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Judge Judy: 'Are my feelings PC and kumbaya? No. They are realistic'
Her TV show has been No 1 in the US since 1998, but many have criticised her approach to justice. As she hangs up her gavel after 25 years, she discusses wealth, success and repentanceOrder, order. Court is in session, Judge Judith Sheindlin presiding, and while you are here you will follow her rules.Don’t throw paper on the floor. Hang on to your gum wrapper until you get to a bin. Don’t befoul your community. Try not to scratch other people’s cars and, if you do, leave your details on the windscreen. Don’t tell lies. Confront your problems and try to solve them. Continue reading...
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Gilbert and George on their epic Covid artworks: 'This is an enormously sad time'
The artists have responded to the pandemic with comic, haunting works showing themselves being buffeted around a chaotic London. They talk about lines of coffins, illegal raves and ‘shameful’ statue-topplingAs they call themselves living sculptures, I can’t resist asking Gilbert and George what they think of all the statue-toppling that took place last year. When I ask for their verdict on the removal of public works that have been accused of celebrating slavery and colonialism, they are sceptical.“We would call that shameful behaviour,” says George. “And it’s very odd – because normally those statues are totally invisible. Nobody ever looks at them. I remember, very near my home town, there’s a statue of Redvers Buller, the hero of the Boer war, surrounded by dying Zulus and things. And if you asked people in Exeter, ‘Where’s Buller’s statue?’, none of them knew. It’s a bit silly. Rewriting history is very silly.” Continue reading...
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My kids don’t believe they are going back to school – or a thing Boris Johnson says
I’m trying to prepare them for the great reopening on 8 March, but whenever I mention it they look at me as if I have joined QAnonThe reopening of English schools on 8 March brings all the conflicting feelings of which a sentient, mature adult should simultaneously be capable: a strong sense that teachers should be vaccinated first; a near-certain knowledge that they won’t be; a resigned hunch that this is because they are perceived as lefties and so fall into priority group 1,000; and untrammelled happiness for the children.They were not designed to stay at home all day. It has been like keeping three dolphins in a provincial water park. The pool is not big enough. The weather is too grim. No amount of fish can make up for the lack of open sea. As the regional manager, I know this is not my fault, but it feels like it is. Continue reading...
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Starwatch: Mars closes in on Pleiades star cluster
Sky-watchers will be rewarded with contrasting celestial colours as red planet approaches blue-white starsMars, the new home of Nasa’s Perseverance rover, closes in on the Pleiades star cluster this week to give sky-watchers a beautiful view of contrasting celestial colours. Continue reading...
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UK scientists confirm arrival of brown marmorated stink bugs
Invasive bug that creates marks on fruit and vegetables probably hitched ride into Britain on packaging cratesIt is brown, stinky and will strike fear into the hearts of apple and other fruit growers.Scientists have now confirmed that the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), a small flying insect that emits an unpleasant almond-like odour, has arrived in Britain, after most probably hitching a ride on packaging crates. Continue reading...
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Coutts, the bank to rely on in a Covid crisis – if you're seriously wealthy
The Queen’s bank pulled out all the stops to rescue clients stranded abroad, while moving its elite services online Coronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverageWorkers at Coutts, the private banking division of NatWest, are used to booking lavish parties and vacations for their millionaire clients.But once Covid struck, the Queen’s bank quickly became an upmarket emergency service, with staff in its concierge arm helping to repatriate clients’ children stuck abroad on gap years and arranging emergency evacuations for customers stranded overseas. Continue reading...
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Becontree centenary: residents mark century of London estate
Residents take part in Becontree Forever project which promises to ‘celebrate estate’s radical past and reimagine future’When it was built after the first world war, Becontree in Dagenham was billed as the world’s largest ever housing estate – a modern utopia where more than 100,000 war veterans and workers from Dagenham in east London would have an inside toilet, a proper bathroom and gardens front and back.A hundred years after the first “home for heroes” was completed in 1921, Becontree’s centenary is being marked by a series of events and public realm investments, including two fantastical playgrounds and a range of street furniture produced from upcycled rubble. Continue reading...
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Why is the government trying to undermine its anti-terror programme? | Sadakat Kadri
Appointing a man with notorious hard-right views to head its Prevent review will alienate those it’s meant to supportTerrorism ain’t what it used to be. Not precisely, anyway. Instead of suicidal jihadists, it’s white supremacists and neo-Nazis who are making the running. Over the last three years, Europol, the FBI and MI5 have all said that far-right terror plots are multiplying faster than Islamist ones.The shift complicates an already challenging set of riddles. Government efforts to combat terrorism have focused for two decades on people who act in Islam’s name. And though politicians and police regularly speak of winning hearts and minds, suspicion of surveillance and entrapment operations has become entrenched in Muslim communities. Tracking the far right’s surge is essential, but reshaping counter-terror while maintaining public confidence and safeguarding civil liberties isn’t going to be easy. Continue reading...
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You've Had The Vaccine, So Can You Hug Your Grandkids Now?
Every Monday, we’ll answer your questions on Covid-19 and health in a feature published online. You can submit a question here.HuffPost UK reader Evelyn asked: “I have had the vaccine, is it now ok to hug my grandchildren after three weeks?”After having the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine – and for some, the second – many want to know if it’s now safe to hug their grandchildren.England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries recently said children should not hug their grandparents “too much”, even if they’ve been vaccinated. The worry is children are more likely to be asymptomatic – meaning they don’t show symptoms – so they could unknowingly pass the virus on through a hug. We don’t fully know how much the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccines ease transmission between people. Initial studies suggest they do have some effect on the virus’ spread, but it’s still early days. And while the vaccine should offer protection against the worst effects of the virus, Dr Harries cautiously warned that the full impact of them is still not fully known. “I would encourage children... even if grandparents have had their vaccinations, not to go hugging them too much until we are absolutely sure what the impact of that vaccination rollout has been,” she said. “I’m sure it’s going to be positive but we just need to take a steady course out through the road map.” Submit a coronavirus health question to HuffPost UK.So, does that mean no hugs at all? “This is a difficult one,” says Professor Paul Hunter, of the Norwich School of Medicine at University of East Anglia, “as it depends on a number of issues.”Hugging between members of different households still remains largely against the rules, unless you’re in a childcare or support bubble. If you’re a grandparent who’s in a different household to your grandchild, but not bubbled up, “you shouldn’t be hugging for at least a couple more months,” Prof Hunter advises.If you’re in a bubble and considering hugging, it’s worth bearing in mind a couple of things first. Are either you or the child extremely clinically vulnerable? If the answer is yes, Prof Hunter suggests it’s best not to hug just yet.It’s also worth noting how old your grandchild is. “There’s evidence that secondary school children are more of a risk than younger children,” he says. All of these are important to weigh up before swooping in for a squeeze.Parents and children of all ages in England are preparing for the reopening of English schools on March 8, meanwhile the youngest pupils have returned to school in Scotland and Wales. In Northern Ireland, the youngest primary school students will return on March 8.This will impact transmission – although by how much, we don’t know, especially as children are less likely to display symptoms.“My personal view is that if you’re caring for a child under 11 within a childcare or support bubble – or you live together and you are not extremely clinically vulnerable – then hugging would not be against the rules,” says Prof Hunter.“If you are more than three weeks post first vaccination, then any risk would be tolerable for both you and the child. But nothing is zero risk,” he adds.“Nevertheless, in my view you cannot properly care for a young child without being able to hug them.” Dr Peter English, a consultant in communicable disease control and past chair of the BMA Public Health Medicine Committee, believes people should follow the rules – this means not hugging grandchildren unless you’re bubbled up.“The vaccines appear to prevent severe illness from about three weeks after they are given,” he wrote in a blog post on the topic. “So, if your granny – or any older person at higher risk (excluding those who are immune-suppressed) – was vaccinated at least three weeks ago, they’ll be about 90% less likely to be seriously ill if infected – and after the second dose, even less likely.”While the risks of having a cuddle will be reduced, he added, it could still lead to them becoming infectious and infecting others. As a result, he’d urge caution when going in for that hug.Experts are still learning about Covid-19. The information in this story is what was known or available at the time of publication, but guidance could change as scientists discover more about the virus. To keep up to date with health advice and cases in your area, visit gov.uk/coronavirus and nhs.uk.Related...Children Should Not Hug Their Grandparents 'Too Much' YetNasal Sprays Are Part Of The Fight Against Covid-19. Here's HowYes, Covid Affects People Differently, Even In The Same HouseholdPfizer Covid Vaccine Reduces Transmission After One Dose, Study FindsHere's What The Coronavirus R Rate Is Near You
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I Tried An At-Home Fertility Test. Here's How It Went
Drip, drip. Drip, drip. Small droplets of blood fall from my finger into the tiny test tube. Pricking myself with the needle was less painful than I’d expected, but gathering the sample is a slow process. The pamphlet tells me it can take 10 to 30 minutes, depending on blood flow, and some women need to prick twice. As I stand alone in my bathroom, afraid to look away in case I spill a drop, the thing that’s keeping me going is the idea this might help answer a big question: when should I have a baby?The hormone test is part of Grip, a new at-home ‘fertility MOT’ launching in the UK on March 1, and it’s designed to rule out the four main risk factors that make it harder for women to get pregnant: ovulation issues (often linked to polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS), blocked fallopian tubes, thyroid issues, and low ovarian reserve – ie. the remaining number of eggs in your ovaries.The test won’t tell you if you will or won’t get pregnant, but it might influence some life choices. “Think of your Grip test as a risk profile, rather than a yes or no answer,” the website tells me. “If you know your risks when you’re still young, then you still have all the options to do something about them.”If you’re not on hormonal birth control, you can send your blood to the Grip lab and be tested for all four conditions for £139. If you’re on the pill, have an IUD or an implant, this skews the first three results, but you can still have your AMH levels checked for £99.AMH is a key indicator of ovarian reserve and for me, it’s the big one: do I have a decent amount of eggs for my age? Should I hurry up with this motherhood malarkey, or can I get away with a delay?I massage my finger to squeeze out another few drops, in a technique the bright orange packaging names “milking”. My face looks pale grey in the bathroom mirror. I secure the test tube lid pronto, then sway to the kitchen for a Jammie Dodger. “How do you feel?!” Grip’s energetic co-founder Anne Marie Droste asks me over the phone later that day. The test had to be carried out first thing in the morning on an empty stomach, then wrapped in protective packaging before being popped in the postbox. It’ll take at least five days until my results are in. “I am a little nervous,” I reply. “It’s one of those things, isn’t it – do I want to know, or is ignorance bliss?”Droste reassures me that’s exactly how she felt before her first hormone test. Two years ago, at the age of 30, she quit her job and was about to embark on an extended round-the-world trip with her boyfriend. Family raised the topic of babies – and whether she planned to “pop home” to pop one out – and for the first time, she felt confronted by her fertility.Unsure if she even wanted kids, Droste who’s originally from the Netherlands, visited her GP. She was told about fertility hormone testing, but advised these tests are usually only given to women who’ve been trying to conceive for a year. The situation is similar here in the UK, where tests are at the discretion of local NHS clinical commissioning groups (and the enthusiasm of your GP).NICE guidelines say a women who’ve “not conceived after one year of unprotected vaginal sexual intercourse... should be offered further clinical assessment and investigation.” The guidelines do not cater for single women who may also want answers, or women in same-sex relationships who’d like to plan future IVF. For these women, the only guaranteed free option is to turn to Google, says Droste, where you’ll find age-based averages on fertility – and not much else.“I think it’s really harmful for women to have to decide things based on national averages,” she says. “There’s nothing that has a bigger impact on our lives and careers and happiness than whether or not we decide to have kids, so it seems really archaic to me that we have to make those decisions in the dark, on our own, without any information.”Wanting answers, Droste paid £600 for tests at a private clinic, which revealed she had a slightly low egg reserve for her age and was considered above average risk for early menopause. She’s since decided to freeze her eggs. “I’m still really not sure if I want kids, but it highlighted that I definitely wanted to have the option of kids,” she says. “Even though it wasn’t the answer I wanted per se, I now know what I’m in for. I understand the risks I’m taking by waiting, rather than being in the dark and pretending everything is probably going to be fine.”When Droste shared her experience with two trusted friends, Noor Teulings (a fertility doctor) and Ling Lin (a product manager, who was single at the time and considering egg freezing), they conceived a bigger idea. “It sounds really lame, but we had lunch that day and decided maybe we should be building a company that allows people like us to have this information,” Droste explains. The trio co-founded Grip in March 2020 and launched in the Netherlands in May, where they’ve already sold 3,000 kits. They expected their core market to be women in their 30s, already trying to conceive but frustrated by the one-year waiting time. Instead, their average user is 28 and curious about her future. She wants to be proactive about her fertility, rather than wait until something is wrong. At 29, I’m a textbook client. “She [the average customer] doesn’t want to have kids for the next few years and is really aware that the last time she learned anything about her hormonal cycle or her body is when she was 16 and in sex ed,” says Droste“It feels like we’re living in this era of hormonal awareness, in which we’re demanding better answers about what’s happening in our bodies. And what’s happening in my body, what’s happening to me personally. We don’t want the average woman’s story.”The packaging has certainly been designed with millennials in mind: bright colours and feminist slogans are accompanied with fun instructions – “Do the Macarena to get your blood flowing to your fingertips!”The message is clear: this is an empowering test, made for empowered women, by empowered women. The test – which you can access after answering a few quick questions online – is the first step in the Grip process. After sending off your blood, you’ll receive your fertility report. You’re then offered a video call with a fertility doctor to discuss what your results mean – and what they don’t. “We can tell you, for example, what your ovarian reserve looks like and if you’re likely to enter early menopause, but we can’t say, for instance, anything about the quality of your eggs, or how long it might take for you to conceive,” explains Droste. You also have the option to be added to a closed forum on the Grip app, with women who’ve had a similar diagnosis to you. Each forum has around 10 members, plus a doctor, who’s there to give general information to the group about next steps, such as diet changes to lower your PCOS risk or egg freezing in the case of low ovarian reserve. “It’s really hard to go through something this emotional on your own, so we’ve really tried to foster this idea of togetherness,” says Droste. “But it’s still overseen by clinical professionals.”It’s advised you discuss any unexpected results with your regular GP, as they’re the ones who’ll need to refer you for future treatment, if it’s required.  Around 40% of tests flag “something that could be worked on” according to Droste. The Grip team call customers three months after their test results to see how they’re getting on. The majority (78%) of customers say they’ve decided to move their baby plans forward. It’s easy to get swept up in Droste’s enthusiasm, but the next day I call Dr Marta Jansa Perez, director of embryology at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), for an independent opinion. She tells me she is not convinced women are fully supported by the service.  “If I’m honest, I’m a bit ambivalent about the whole thing,” she says. “I think in principle it’s good to empower people to asses their fertility so they can plan their lives better. But I’m a bit sceptical about how much people read into the results and how much support they’re really given to interpret those results.”Dr Perez’s biggest concern, is that women are not offered counselling before undergoing tests and the follow-up consultation with a doctor is optional, not  compulsory. The guidelines set out by NICE for fertility services stipulate that counselling should be offered “before, during and after investigation and treatment, irrespective of the outcome of these procedures”. “The worry for me is that people will get the report and not take it any further,” she says. “Interpreting these results... it’s so nuanced and so tricky and delicate and it has such huge implications for people’s major life decisions, that I think a kit like this can be a bit misleading, really.” Conditions such as PCOS can’t be properly diagnosed without a scan, says Dr Perez. You could also be told you have a good ovarian reserve, only for it to rapidly drop later. The tests have the potential to give both false cause for concern, and false complacency. “This has the potential to have long-term consequences for people, have mental health effects, or effects fertility health wise,” she says. “There’s no certainty behind any of these tests. Ongoing support is very important – not just one chat over the phone. People need to have a chance to discuss things on a long-term basis.” The British Fertility Society also urges caution around AMH testing packaged as ‘fertility MOTs’ – pointing out that these tests were originally developed to inform decisions around IVF treatment, not assess your natural fertility. “Many women with low ovarian reserve will conceive without any problems whilst others with a good ovarian reserve may take time and need fertility treatment,” it says. Dr Perez further points out that in heterosexual couples, struggles to conceive come from the man around 30% of the time – but this isn’t emphasised on Grip’s site. “It’s a bit like those genetic profiling tests that people are doing,” she says. “You see a snapshot of your genetic background, but essentially they have no further implications. I think it’s a bit two dimensional, it’s not holistic enough.”Some medical professionals raised these concerns when Grip launched in the Netherlands, says Droste, but she stands by her system. “In healthcare in general, there’s this historical tendency of needing to coddle women. And this idea of us needing to protect women from information – even though I think it’s really well intended – it’s actually really harmful,” she says. “For some reason, I’m assumed to be smart and have a career and I’m allowed to take my entire income to a casino or the stock market. Yet when it comes to medically validated data about my body, suddenly people think I’m going to turn really erratic and won’t be able to make any reasonable choices based on that data.“I think it’s time the medical community recognises women for being rational about their bodies.”Droste concedes the test isn’t for everyone and believes women who are on the fence about testing should feel able to talk it through with an independent counsellor or GP. “I’m not trying to diminish the fact that yes, we should create spaces where it’s emotionally safe to think about this and it isn’t for everyone,” she says. “For some people, it will cause them to be scared and they definitely shouldn’t test.”........................Five days later, my phone lights up. “Hi Rachel, it’s Anne Marie from Grip...” My thumb hovers over the screen before I open the message. It turns out to be pretty anticlimactic. There’s been a mix up with my test and they don’t have enough blood to give me an accurate result. The instructions incorrectly told me to fill the tube until my blood reached the line – as is the case with the tubes in the Netherlands. But the British tubes are smaller and need filling to the top. These things happen, when you’re using a preview prototype, and the instructions will be reprinted before the launch.My first reaction? Relief. It takes me by surprise.Droste offers to send me a new kit with the amended instructions, but I decline the offer – for now. The voices of the two women have been whirring around my head all week. I need more time to process everything they’ve said. And that’s my biggest issue with Grip: you don’t talk to another human being about the implications of taking this test until you’ve already sent them a vial of your blood. When you finally get to the company’s doctor, they’re hardly impartial. Would the results have felt empowering for me? Or more confusing? I’m unsure – and I want to feel certain about that if and when I decide to take the test again. I completely agree with Droste’s feminist rationale in theory, but theory is not enough for something so undeniably and emotionally charged. One thing is clear, though: I’ve learned no test can tell you when to have a baby.   READ MORE:More Single Women Are Having Fertility Treatment Alone – Here's WhyNot-For-Profit Fertility Clinic Set To Launch For Those Denied NHS IVFWhat I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Decided To Freeze My EggsHow It Feels To Have Your IVF Paused For A YearBaby Boom – Or Bust? How Covid Will Impact Birth Rates In 2021
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Explained: What 'County Lines' Is And How It Works
This is part of a series by HuffPost UK about county lines drug dealing in Britain.For decades, children and young people have been used and exploited through a drug distribution model known as “county lines” – and it has evolved under lockdown.County lines are drug networks engineered by gangs and organised criminal networks that export illegal substances – typically heroin and crack cocaine – between the growing market in suburban areas and larger cities.The “lines” are both the dedicated mobile phone lines and the physical geographical and transport routes that connect dealers and users.Gangs exploit children and vulnerable adults to transport and store the drugs and sometimes money, often using coercion and intimidation tactics – as well as violence and sexual abuse – to keep them in line.How big a problem is it?The phenomenon has existed since the 1990s, at least, and was once simply referred to as “going to country”.A recent assessment suggests there are more than 1,000 lines in operation nationally while investigators say a typical “line” will generate in the region of £2,000 to £3,000 per day.How do young people get caught up in it?Young people exploited in this way are usually trafficked to areas a long way from home as part of a gang’s narcotics network. Children as young as nine are being coaxed into this illicit web. The methods vary from chicken shop grooming to being approached outside school gates. It is not uncommon for some to be initially approached by peers, who have themselves been groomed and exploited, which can make it even harder for them or indeed anyone observing to identify the risks without knowing the signs.The first concrete sign that something is wrong is when they go missing – for hours and days at first, then for weeks and months at a time, and sometimes forever.But by then they may have been caught up for more than a year.Sadia Ali and Aisha Ahmed at north London charity Minority Matters – with whom HuffPost UK has produced this series – say young people will have been told by their groomers to act out at school, which eventually results in their expulsion. This removes a safety net and distracts parents and teachers from what is really being done by groomers.Baffled authorities and worried families have no idea where to find them, while police turn mothers away for help if their child is over 18, HuffPost UK has been told. Then what?Children and young people will spend increasing amounts of time away from home, travelling up and down the “line” on the train or – increasingly – using minicabs to avoid detection. One mother we spoke to found train tickets in her son’s pockets for places she had no idea he had been.They may be enticed into the activity with the promise of a lucrative lifestyle, then set up by the line leaders in staged “robberies” of drugs, and told to work for free indefinitely to pay off this “debt”. This, along with the threat of violence to them or their family, make it hard or impossible to escape the cycle, even if they are physically brought home.In some cases, the adult “line” leaders or child drug dealers will take up residence in a property at one end of the line, often belonging to a vulnerable person, and use it to operate their criminal activity – a move called “cuckooing”. Children ferry contraband to and from these properties.In the final instalment of this series, to be published on Tuesday, we spoke exclusively to the mother of Abdi Ali, who was found dead at one of these houses after eight months missing.HuffPost UK has teamed up with grassroots charity Minority Matters to lay bare the harsh realities of county lines, how it tears families apart, and how authorities have proved powerless or unwilling to pursue the real solutions that could end it.Who does it affect?Campaigners have warned that any child can be groomed for criminal exploitation. It affects boys and girls, children from families that experience a range of issues as well those from stable and economically better off families.In London, Black boys are disproportionately impacted by this crisis and some campaigners argue that this is a direct result of the authorities’ failure to protect them combined with institutional racism.Cheryl Phoenix, founder of the Black Child Agenda, speaks of what she calls the “schools-to-prison pipeline”.“County lines are the after-effect of what’s going on with the education system and the discrimination against Black families in particular. Black children are 168 times more likely to be excluded from school – so with that exclusion that means you have children on the streets. If they’re on the streets that means they’re easily accessible by these gangs. The majority of these young people on the road have been permanently excluded from schools.”The leaders of county lines deliberately deploy white youth to transport drugs to certain areas because of a decreased likelihood of them being stopped and searched by police, HuffPost UK has heard.But for Black children, the flip side is that when they are caught police and authorities are “less likely to see them as victims” and “do not do enough to look for the groomers, the people at the top of the illegal enterprise”. One mother whose son is being exploited through county lines told us vulnerable youth are being criminalised instead of supported.“The police are not arresting the masterminds behind the county lines – just our kids who are stuck in this vicious cycle after being groomed by these gangs. They see no way out because their lives are threatened, and their families’, if they leave,” she said.“So they get caught by the police, serve time, are released then forced to go back to the gang because they feel they have no choice. They are released to the streets, the same place and the environment overrun with the same people that exploit them.”Another parent added: “The children going through this, seeing the desperation in their eyes means they’re either going to die somebody on the streets or kill somebody on the streets. What can a parent do?”How has Covid changed things?Even as the Covid-19 outbreak has brought the world to a standstill, campaigners warn the pandemic is pushing county lines violence from the UK’s large cities to smaller towns.In November, charity representatives told a committee of MPs that the grooming tactics of gangs had evolved in response to enhanced policing in large cities over lockdown.Speaking at a virtual All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Knife Crime meeting, former Islington Council education chief Joe Caluori – who now works at crime and justice consultancy Crest Advisory – said the “pattern of exploitation” was becoming more focused in “seaside and market towns”.Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan told the APPG vulnerable children targeted by county lines were feeling a “poverty of hope” because they “don’t dare believe in a positive future” and that “Covid-19 has made it much much worse”.He said: “There are even more vulnerable young people now who are easy prey for exploitative gangs. Child criminal exploitation hasn’t stopped during Covid-19 – it’s adapted.”Lockdown has meant under-18s no longer have the relative cover of going to schools, says Aisha Ahmed, development manager for Minority Matters.“Parents struggling with children missing or on remand have nowhere to go, as there are no face-to-face services provided by statutory and voluntary agencies,” she said.“More children and young people are being caught hundreds of miles from home, distressed and with mental health problems. Although police are seeing evidence of abuse, via producing drugs plugged in their body whilst in custody, they’re keen to process them as criminals and prosecute them."More than 30,000 young people had been referred to the See, Hear, Respond programme led by Barnardo’s and funded by the Department for Education to help children and parents who were experiencing increased adversity during coronavirus.The APPG heard anonymous audio clips of young people recorded by the Barnardo’s Routes service which helps children at risk of serious violence, saying they wanted “a new life away from bad people” and they were “terrified” of gangs.Safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins told the committee the Home Office had invested a “£25m package” in responding to county lines issues.What drives it?In short, money and narcotics.Ahmed told us: “The root cause of knife crime and children being groomed and exploited is for profits from hard core drugs – heroin and cocaine. Children and young people neither bring in the drugs into the country, nor are the beneficiaries of what police call the ‘Night Economy’ – however, they are paying with their lives.“As long as there is a growing demand for these drugs, there’ll be a supply. Thus, children will be used and abused unless they’re protected by the government, by having a national strategy to address the illegal demand and supply of drugs. No child is safe unless this is addressed at the national level.”So what needs to be done?The question of how the drugs are getting onto the streets remains. Neither the children who are being turned into mules nor the on-the-ground line leaders control the borders. Just weeks ago, a £21m haul of heroin that was hidden inside bags of rice was seized from a container ship at a UK port.The National Crime Agency said the seizure is one of the largest ever of heroin in the UK. Even though the container ship was destined for the Netherlands, it is highly likely its cargo could have ultimately ended up on UK streets as well as mainland Europe.Ahmed said: “The Conservative government has lost the war on drugs, and consequently, on crime. They have been in government long enough to do something about the issues.“It is easy to target young people, often groomed and criminally exploited from a young age, and use them to bolster the statistics to show that people are getting apprehended.“The simple truth is, the billions of pounds from drugs trade aren’t going to these young children. They are often, as recognised by the government itself, slaves in the trade. It is hard to believe that the government is unable to trace the money, or even the drugs coming into the UK.“With all the security focused statutory bodies in this country, we know that the know-how and resources are there. It is high time they were put to good use. The government has the power to pull levers, and create a specialised, policy driven response to this issue. Setting up funding schemes and leaving it to charities isn’t the answer.”
UK News and Opinion - The Huffington Post...
‘Your Dealer Is Nearby’ – How Drugs Are Delivered To Your Doorstep
This is part of a series by HuffPost UK about county lines drug dealing in Britain.Drugs are at the heart of county lines activity. The narcotics market is worth an estimated £9.4bn a year in the UK. About three million people took drugs in England and Wales in 2019, with around 300,000 in England taking the most harmful: opiates and/or crack cocaine.In the first three months of lockdown alone, drug offences rose by 27% across England and Wales despite total recorded crime dropping by a quarter.Sadia Ali is the founder of grassroots north London charity Minority Matters, supporting families whose children are trafficked by county lines gangs.Through Minority Matters, HuffPost UK is telling the stories of families torn apart by county lines and the charity’s campaign for stronger, more targeted action by the authorities.“It’s been a tough nine months,” Ali told HuffPost UK. “The number of young people who are being imprisoned as a result of the drugs market – it is unprecedented.”So what are the drugs that drive county lines, and how are they moved around the country? Here’s what you need to know.The customers are mainly rich or middle-class white people“Young people are caught with heroin and cocaine which they’re selling to middle-class users who consume it just as they would have a glass of wine on a Friday night,” said Ali.“I wonder whether they know how it got to them – how much the young person delivering has been abused to provide their fix. Is there any consciousness?”London mayor Sadiq Khan has blasted people who take cocaine at “middle-class parties” believing it to be a victimless crime. MP David Lammy and Met Police chief Cressida Dick have expressed similar views.London-based substance misuse worker Adam Johnson* told HuffPost UK the county lines’ target market is “older white guys”. He said: “These days crack and heroin isn’t taken by young people because they don’t want to become a ‘nitty’ – that’s why at the moment we have an epidemic of deaths within the drug-taking population.” The drug of choice for young dealers, he said, is often weed. It seems to be a myth that dealers don’t touch drugs themselves: many of the mothers we spoke to for this series spoke of their sons smoking weed, for instance.“The Class A population are these guys in their 30s and 40s who started in the 1980s and ’90s and never stopped,” Johnson added. “They get to the age of 40 or 50 and can’t take this any more, then just die off.”One young drug dealer who Johnson works with told of how a county line near Essex is known as “Treasure Island” because the typically white, rich, male buyers pay cash and there’s “no hassle”.How do they get the drugs in the first place?In the UK, getting high is as easy as ordering a takeaway.In fact, evidence suggests this is exactly how customers have been accessing drugs during lockdown – through dealers posing as Deliveroo staff, as well as couriers and nurses, to carry out illegal activity undetected by authorities. Similar stories have been told by police chiefs across the UK including Scotland Yard commissioner Cressida Dick.“Larger drug organisations are weathering the Covid-19 storm,” said Niko Vorobyov – the author of the book Dopeworld on the global war on drugs, and a former drug dealer. “Massive coke shipments are still coming through the major European ports from South America, hidden in boxes of fruit; after all, you can still buy bananas.”What’s the impact?Drug deaths have reached an all-time high and the market has become much more violent. Taking the health harms, costs of crime and wider impacts on society together, the government estimates the total cost of drugs to society are over £19bn, which is more than twice the value of the market itself.But there’s an enormous human impact for those caught up in the trade, too, as our reports of broken families and missing children make all too clear.Nick Titchener, director at leading London criminal defence solicitors Lawtons, said young people thrust onto the front line of drug dealing operations often become addicted to drugs themselves or end up in court facing prosecution for a conviction.For those at the head of organised crime groups, it is not uncommon that sentences can be in the region of nine or 10 years in prison, he added, while the “runners” who are responsible for moving the drugs over and within the county lines, depending on their seniority and circumstances, often face sentencing ranging from two to five years’ imprisonment. “Where the ‘runner’ is particularly vulnerable or young, the court is obliged to consider that level of exploitation as a factor that can properly reduce the sentence, and there are occasions when there is evidence of human trafficking,” Titchener told Huffpost UK.“There has been a noted historical imbalance in the justice system for those caught up in such activity – research from the Sentencing Council on cases between 2012 and 2015 found that Black and ethnic minority people are more likely to be imprisoned for drug offences than white defendants who had committed similar crimes. “Our key aim with these cases is to work with the young people who are often ultimately the victims in these operations to provide a fair outcome for each case, regardless of their ethnicity.” What drugs are sold and what do they cost?Drugs usually come in one of three forms: raw plants (such as cannabis), refined plants (like heroin or cocaine) and synthetic substances (like ecstasy).Heroin, also known as brownThis imported substance is typically sold as a white or brownish powder from around £20 per bag. It’s made from morphine which is taken from the seed pod of the opium poppy plants grown in Asia, Mexico, and Colombia. It is grown in around 50 countries and usually reaches the UK from places including Turkey and Iran.MDMA, also known as molly or ecstasyThis man-made substance is usually imported too from countries such as Belgium and the Netherlands. Widely regarded as a “party drug”, it often comes in the form of powder and pills, sold for as little as £10 per capsule.Cocaine (crack and powder), also known as whitePeople often buy powder cocaine alongside other recreational drugs such as ecstasy and amphetamines. It comes in the form of powder or “rocks”, which are processed with ammonia or baking soda plus water, then heated. It is imported from countries such as Colombia and Peru. On the UK streets, a rock of crack cocaine is priced from upwards of £10, and a gram of powder cocaine for upwards of £30.Amphetamines or speedThis normally comes in the form of a white powder and sells for upwards of £5 a gram. It is imported from countries such as Morocco and Spain.CannabisThousands of Vietnamese children are trafficked into the UK and forced to work for criminal gangs running cannabis factories on our doorsteps. These drugs are then distributed and sold. This fuels a black market in cannabis that is worth £2.6bn, according to a report from the Institute of Economic Affairs. It is sold from £20 per quarter ounce upwards.A specific strain of weed, known as “skunk”, is most prevalent in the UK. This is a strong form of cannabis specifically grown to have high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) – the chemical that provides the high.“In natural cannabis, THC is about 4%. In street cannabis – skunk – it’s about 30%. So it’s the difference between a bottle of vodka and a bottle of beer,” Johnson said.  SpiceSpice is a plant-based mix laced with synthetic chemicals. It is usually produced in the UK. The prices for this vary depending on what city you’re in, from £20 for 3.5g in Manchester to £30 to £60 for the same amount in London.Are dealers loaded, then?Despite the multi-million-pound industry of illegal drug sales, it’s not as though all the young people selling the substances and getting arrested actually make lots of money. They’re enticed into the activity with the promise of a lucrative lifestyle, then often set up by the line leaders in staged “robberies” of drugs, and told to work for free indefinitely to pay off this “debt”. It is not uncommon for line leaders to force vulnerable trafficked dealers into performing sex acts, video them, and use the footage to blackmail them into continuing to sell illegal substances.When did the industry start?Johnson said: “Drugs have always been there – it’s just that the different types of drugs change and the laws change. Queen Victoria used to take bloody cocaine and cannabis but in those days because it was in the rich population it wasn’t an issue. It’s only when the poor population starts getting involved, or taking the same drugs, that becomes an issue.”David Thompson*, a 50-year-old white man from Northamptonshire, told HuffPost UK of his drug dealing exploits in the 1990s when ecstasy pills and speed – or “whizz” – was consumed “like M&Ms”.  “I was around 20 years old at the time,” he said. “I started dealing in the illegal rave scene like so many others then after five years I gave up, then dabbled again for a while then gave up again and so it went on.“Coke was too expensive back then so it didn’t get sold much; I only sold to mates to make a few quid.”What’s the solution?Referring to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 as “a shit piece of legislation”, Johnson is calling for the legalisation of all drugs.“If you look at it in an intelligent way like Portugal – if you legalise personal use of drugs you can then treat addiction as a medical issue rather than locking people away; if you lock someone away with a cannabis problem then they come out with a crack problem. If you prohibit use of cannabis, the only thing you get on road is the really strong stuff which creates mental health issues and physical dependencies.”Vorobyov, who’s also a former drug dealer, echoes this call.He said: “When someone like me says drugs should be legal, we don’t mean all drugs, all the time. I don’t think scoring crystal meth from your local corner shop is a good idea.“First of all, all drugs should be decriminalised. When police say they’re trying to help you, in most cases that means they’re trying to help you to a cell. Ultimately, that helps no one.“The police waste time they could be solving rapes and robberies. Young people get profiled and picked on and then we’re surprised when the riots kick off. And hardcore addicts – well, why do you think a pair of handcuffs will stop them if they face life-threatening overdoses every day?“Add to that, prohibition provides a motive for addicts to shoplift, and Mexican narco kingpins to dissolve their enemies in tubs of acid. People get poisoned with poor-quality product. The whole thing’s just a fucking mess. If the war on drugs wasn’t meant to keep us safe but make it wildly more dangerous, it’s succeeded admirably.“Cannabis should be sold in special shops or dispensaries like Amsterdam or California. Heroin should be given on prescription, like it is in Switzerland and other European countries. Something like cocaine is a bit more tricky because it really is toxic, but you know, back when Sigmund Freud was sniffing it, it was legal, and society didn’t collapse, even if he did say some weird things about his mum.”
UK News and Opinion - The Huffington Post...
Revealed: Drug Gangs Are Stealing Children From Loving Families – Even In Lockdown
A ruthless child-grooming gang flew a boy back to Britain so he could continue dealing drugs after his desperate parents sent him to Kenya for his own safety, HuffPost UK can reveal.Another grooming victim had to be held down by his mother and siblings as he tried to knife his innocent step-father, unrecognisable from the star pupil and keen footballer he had been a few years earlier.These are among dozens of horrifying stories from desperate families whose children have been threatened, attacked and ultimately trapped by county lines gangs with little hope of escape HuffPost UK has spent a year working with families through grassroots charity Minority Matters in north London to shed light on the devastating impact of these drug trafficking operations. We heard how the British gangs who have driven the trade in vulnerable young people for decades have devised even more sophisticated ways to continue their illegal activities during the pandemic.“Covid has made things worse for groomed and criminally exploited young people and children. More children have gone missing, been caught dealing drugs, not listening to their parents, getting hurt. Drug dealing has increased rather than decreased during this pandemic,” said Sadia Ali, co-founder of Minority Matters.Ali and her colleagues at the youth organisation told us councils and law enforcement across the UK are largely powerless to decondition young people who have been groomed.Children are taught how to get excluded from school and what to say to police, and many refuse help for fear their families will be attacked.Ali’s colleague Aisha Ahmed told HuffPost UK: “Exclusions and antisocial behaviour are signs of grooming. Children are told to act out as the first step towards eventually being sent to run county lines.”The goal is to “destroy any safety net that might prevent them from being criminally exploited”.“When children start showing negative behaviours, the system is set up to look into the home and parents as possible causes,” Ahmed said. “Groomers know that they’ll have free rein while schools and social services are investigating the parents.”Some end up doing jail time rather than expose their loved ones to harm, and others fall prey to knife crime – either as victims or perpetrators.The jaw-dropping tactics, witnessed again and again by the grassroots anti-gangs workers we spoke to, are used to recruit children to sell and transport drugs up and down the UK.While drug gangs running county lines operations are not new, they say police and social workers haven’t got to grips with the sophistication of the networks and the way they insulate themselves against intervention, a problem made worse by lockdown as the gangs adapt faster than the authorities can keep up.“School closures have had a huge impact,” said Ali. “For just a few hours children would be in a relatively safe environment but with the lockdown many parents have found out their children were getting calls then making excuses to break lockdown rules by going out to deliver drugs. It then became clear that these children are engaged in criminal activities.” I was pinning my own son down to the floor. He had a knife in his handGiselle Samuels*Often parents don’t have proof that their child has been entrapped in county lines activity until they are deeply caught up. There’s never any grand admission from their child about dealing drugs; clues could include seeing them picked up by unknown vehicles such as minicabs, disappearances, discovering train tickets to county areas in their room, and overhearing phone calls detailing drop-offs.Ali told us about the case of one boy whose parents sent him to Mombasa, where she thought he would be safe from the gang that had been exploiting him in London – only for the gang to wire him cash to return to the UK.The boy’s own family were too afraid for their own safety to speak to us directly, even on the condition of anonymity.“Money was sent to him to make his way back to the UK, with the embassy there issuing him a passport to return with. This was despite the parents’ objections,” Ali said.“Like many, he went from the airport to being missing.”Devastated mother Giselle Samuels* told HuffPost UK how her own son Patrick* was lured away from her – and how the nightmare came to a head when he launched a frenzied knife attack on her partner in the family home.“I was pinning my own son down to the floor,” she said. “He had a knife in his hand and, if I let go, I would’ve been stabbed. I still can’t get over the fact that this is how our lives have ended up.”Had Samuels not managed to overpower Patrick with the help of her two younger children, she believes her partner Andy would be dead. But she insists Patrick is a victim in this case too. He had been groomed by a county lines gang years earlier, changing the family forever.Young and vulnerable people are exploited as a direct result of drug prohibition, and exposed to high levels of exploitation, intimidation and violence, through the “county lines” drug supply phenomenon.How to run a county lines operation“County lines” works like this. Gangs from urban areas – often but not always London – set up a mobile number in a new area to sell drugs directly at street level. Potential customers ring the number and local runners are then dispatched to make deliveries. The “runners” are often children, typically boys aged 14 to 17, who are groomed with the promise of money, gifts and status, then deployed or coerced to carry out the illicit deals on a daily basis.Children and young people go missing, or “run away”, when their groomers send them to run the county lines. They are frequently used by gangs to expand inner city drugs operations into rural towns and are forced to work 24 hours, in a “trap house”, for weeks on end.These vulnerable youth are not allowed to leave, have to be on call, are discouraged from sleeping and, in some instances, don’t even get food. The missing episodes aren’t a choice – they have to go or they will get in trouble with their groomers.Children as young as 11 have been reported as being recruited by these highly organised networks.Nearly one in six children notified to the National Referral Mechanism – the system used to identify victims of modern slavery and human trafficking – as suspected victims of child criminal exploitation are girls. According to the Children’s Commissioner, some 46,000 children are involved in gang activity in England, and 4,000 teenagers in London alone are being exploited by county lines networks each year. However, Minority Matters thinks this number is much higher. Aisha Ahmed, the charity’s development manager, told HuffPost UK: “The way criminal exploitation of children is identified puts these children into the same statistics as modern day slavery victims from Eastern Europe and Vietnam who have been forced into prostitution, fruit picking, car-washing and drug farming. “It’s only recently that they’ve become a sub-category in the wider category of modern slaves. Even so, the numbers are hiding how widespread this issue is. Think of all of the youth drug offences which have been tried at court but were never linked to county line activities. Or knife crime, where perpetrators and victims’ activities point to the wider picture, but no one bothers to put together the pieces.”Patrick is just one example of a child who was groomed and exploited by a county lines gang.He was repeatedly arrested on drugs-related charges, sent to prison, and released after serving his sentence. Each time her son returned home from jail, his mother recognised him less and less.She said he didn’t seem to know what was or wasn’t reality any more. “On one occasion, my son basically said to me there’s only two options for him: to either be in prison or to kill himself – because he can’t see having the standard, normal life. The person I’m describing isn’t my son. I know him to be a loving caring person,” Samuels added.Patrick was 17 when his family started to notice changes in his behaviour. Patrick and his mother, especially, had always enjoyed a close relationship.But when his parents got divorced, Patrick became increasingly detached, erratic and rebellious. His mother assumed the marriage breakdown had hit him hard. With hindsight, however, she realises that he was being groomed by a county lines gang. No one in her family had ever been involved with drug dealing or breaking the law.At first, things weren’t too bad. Patrick and his siblings accepted their mother’s new partner warmly, while their own father continued to play an instrumental role in their lives.Then Patrick, who had been academically gifted and talented at sports, began refusing to attend college and skipping football practice. Worse still, he began to go missing – for long periods of time.“There’s a misconception [about] single parents, broken homes – that probably family members naturally engage in criminal activity which causes their children to face a heightened risk of being groomed. But we weren’t a broken family. My husband and I both worked, were homeowners, were educated and so were my kids. This is happening to kids from all different backgrounds.”A Children’s Society report entitled Counting Lives: Responding To Children Who Are Criminally Exploited highlights that young people affected by family breakdown and living in poverty may be deliberately targeted by grooming gangs. However, it also concludes that any child can be at risk of exploitation, and that anyone who wants to fit in, feel less alone or make money can be at risk.“There are definitely cases around young people from minority ethnic backgrounds being targeted more, particularly in areas like London, but there’s not one type,” added Patrick’s mother.“Though there’s a consensus that young Black men that are exclusively being groomed by county lines gangs, when you look at the issue more broadly, it’s not just Black kids. Young people who go missing and get caught up in county lines could be any child.”The leaders of county lines deliberately deploy white youth to transport drugs to certain areas because of a decreased likelihood of them being stopped and searched by police, HuffPost UK has heard.“It’s the ‘clear skin’ phenomenon,” explained London-based substance misuse worker Adam Johnson.“Remember: the most successful drug dealers just blend in, drive a brown Fiesta and live with their mum. A Black kid goes to certain areas, they’ll stand out and be targeted by the police. Hiding in plain sight is what you have to do and the line leaders know this so they’ll target white kids who are in care, white kids who are not known to the authorities and flagged as missing to the police for example, children who are displaced, people who can slip by undetected.”A similar phrase, “clean skin”, is at least two decades old, referring to drug dealers who are able to elude police attention. Both phrases more than hint at the racial disparity in the criminal justice system – something campaigners have been urging authorities to address for even longer still.But despite the fact grooming gangs target children of all ethnicities, Black young people are far more likely to be charged for possession rather than cautioned, to be taken to court, to be fined or imprisoned, and to get a criminal record than their white counterparts.  Three times as many Black people aged 21 and under are convicted of Class A drug supply than white people of the same age.Ahmed, from Minority Matters, said: “Our stance is that the only vulnerability that children have is the fact that they are children. However, in terms of Black and ethnic minority children, they come from communities usually disregarded by statutory bodies. They can be used as cannon fodder. “Even when they’re caught drug dealing at a young age, the police and government are less likely to see them as victims, do not do enough to look for the groomers, the people at the top of the illegal enterprise. “This links with the statistics of Black boys being more likely to be convicted than their white counterparts.”She added: “The system doesn’t take their abuse seriously.”Minicabs and mobile phonesLike many industries, drug trafficking relies on outsourcing.Just as drug chiefs need vulnerable children to do the dirty work of moving illegal substances around the country, they rely on workers from other sectors to provide services such as mobile phones and transport, without which they wouldn’t be able to run their business.Cheap “burner” phones can be bought from local corner shops and supermarkets without paperwork being exchanged and then discarded, making calls harder for authorities to track. Minicab firms that accept bookings over the phone make it easy to chauffeur drugs and their young carriers around the country without the attention that might be attracted by using public transport.Children as young as 12 have been known to embark on these journeys alone, for long distances and during school hours. These journeys are either paid for in cash or through rider accounts authenticated through stolen credit cards.In 2018, this prompted the government – in a collaboration with Crimestoppers – to produce posters advising private vehicle hire company managers to spot the signs of vulnerable young drug runners being forced to utilise their services. But even in lockdown, helpless parents tell HuffPost UK, it has made little difference. My son does not need to be on the street. He’s only on the street because he’s not safe where he was supposed to be “During lockdown some families have caught their children calling minicabs, getting inside and disappearing for hours and days at a time,” Minority Matters managing director Sadia Ali said.“Families would then call 101 to report their children missing and be on hold for up to an hour only to be told that there’s nothing the police can do. Day and night, parents hovered on the streets looking for their loved ones while there was no help in sight.”Larry Simpson*, a south London minicab office manager, told HuffPost UK how he had once flagged details of a suspected child drug trafficking incident with the police after a worrying message from one of his drivers.When the driver arrived to pick up a customer in Clapham one afternoon, he was shocked to see a 15-year-old girl jump in the vehicle and ask to be taken to Brighton and back. The youngster paid him £150 and the journey lasted an hour and a half each way.The incident happened in 2016 – before the Home Office got wind of the problem and rolled out its awareness campaign.“When my driver described how young the girl looked, that is when my suspicions were raised,” he said. “I contacted the police and handed over a record of the details of the drop-off address.“The gang groomers are very clever now. They realise that if the child is missing for a long time, the parents or somebody else will alert the police, therefore what they do is use them to sell drugs in the county areas and tell them to go home in the evening. This is also a new trend which the police are aware of.”He added: “Nowadays, drivers work for Uber and all of these other app-based cab companies, which makes this harder to detect.”Home Office minister Victoria Atkins has been in talks with groups such as Uber and the Licensed Private Hire Car Association to help drivers spot trafficked youngsters.An Uber spokesperson said: “We take a zero-tolerance approach to any illegal activity on our app. If we are made aware of any allegations of this nature we reserve the right to immediately terminate access to the app and we work closely with police authorities across the UK. We’re doing everything we can to help tackle dangerous county lines, and encourage drivers to call the police if they have any suspicions of assault or spot unexplained injuries.”Rural drug dealing networks use phone lines to set up deals. When a customer calls a number and requests drugs from a line leader, a runner is called on another number and dispatched to make the sale.As part of a national crackdown on county lines, senior police officers in June initiated talks with telecoms companies to shut down phones used for illegal drug sales automatically.The grassroots campaigners fighting for justiceMinority Matters is a grassroots charity run from a small office on the Andover Estate – a complex of high- and medium-rise council flats off the Seven Sisters Road in north London built in the 1970s.In the 10 years since it was founded, a stream of desperate parents of missing children – most of them women – have been through its doors near Finsbury Park station asking for help. Hundreds of concerned families have also taken part in the charity’s safeguarding events, fearing their children could be next.The charity was established to address the disconnect between ethnic minority communities and the statutory service providers, managing director Sadia Ali told HuffPost UK. It provides support for families of children who have been groomed by county lines, occasionally collaborating with local authorities, the police and the legal system.The estate and surrounding neighbourhoods have seen an increase in drug dealing and serious youth violence as a result of grooming. According to recent statistics drug offences were the only crime type that increased year-on-year in the borough of Islington between September 2019 to October 2020. These offences saw a 22% increase during this period. Ali and Ahmed now estimate that up to 70% of Islington’s Somali community have extended family affected directly or indirectly by county lines and drug dealing.The local council led a group of local authorities lobbying central government and the Home Office to take action at a national level in 2017. Its integrated gangs team (IGT) includes police, health workers and charities, and was praised for helping bring down knife crime at a time when it was rising everywhere else in London.But Minority Matters contacted HuffPost UK in early 2020 because Ali and Ahmed didn’t feel the authorities – chiefly the criminal justice system, but also local social and children’s services – were doing enough. And it’s clear from the heartbreaking experiences of the women we spoke to that children in Islington and beyond still aren’t safe from groomers.Ali told us: “We provide vital support to parents from ethnic minorities whose children are being criminally exploited and groomed for county lines. We bridge the gap between the families and local authorities in accessing the help they need.“In doing this, we also try to encourage statutory bodies to tailor their services to match the needs on the ground.”It is a myth that poor parenting is to blame for kids being groomed, says Ali. She adds there is little people can do to keep their kids safe until police smash the drug gangs themselves.At first, children like Samuels’ son Patrick may misbehave at school and start coming home later and later. Eventually they go missing for longer periods of time and get kicked out of school.They may get caught committing petty crime. Later, they become either the victim or the perpetrator of knife crime, and end up behind bars or released into inadequate rehabilitation programmes, where they meet more experienced criminals.In either case, they are told to continue trafficking drugs once they are released – and they know their families could be at risk if they try to break free. His father is a shopkeeper and offered him £200 a week to work for him. My son replied that he doesn’t need that as he’s making more money More mothers from the area told HuffPost UK how their sons fell prey to the gangs. One typical case went like this: a 15-year-old boy went missing for four days, and his mother embarked on a frantic search to track him down. It was completely out of character – he’d never done this before. The woman printed his photograph on missing posters and plastered them all over their north London neighbourhood.While speaking to his friends, she learned that he had been groomed in his school playground by a local gang, had a street name, and was selling drugs after school while claiming he had gone to play football.“My son was one of a few of the young people to be recruited, I found out. By that time he was in it for almost a year and a half,” the woman explained. Her son was picked up by Metropolitan Police officers multiple times in Norfolk – almost 100 miles away from the family home.Another woman, Carol Smith*, described how her son was targeted by a grooming gang at the age of 16 and eventually imprisoned for drug dealing charges.“My son is now 21 years old, on remand, and It’s now reached a point where he doesn’t want to go to university or work,” she told HuffPost UK. “He’s been to prison twice, served his sentences and was released. All this time the disappearances were consistent. I have two older daughters – a teacher and optician. This was never an issue with them.“His father, my husband, is a shopkeeper and offered him £200 a week to work for him. My son replied that he doesn’t need that as he’s making more money. When we asked to see the money, my son said: ‘Someone is keeping it for me.’ Which sensible drug dealer who hasn’t been groomed and knows exactly what they’re doing would give his profit to someone to keep?”Grooming gangs employ a wide range of grooming techniques to entrap vulnerable children ranging from plying them with free food in chicken shops to lingering outside school gates and instructing young recruits to engage their own peers in the same activities.Numerous official reports and campaigners detail how gang leaders target excluded truants and students who have been left to languish in pupil referral units. It is a known tactic for gangs to target young people in places where they are supposed to be safe.So-called chicken shop grooming was described in written evidence submitted to the youth select committee, which is investigating the UK’s knife crime crisis, last year. They tell us concerned parents that the problem is complex but it’s their job to gather intelligence and take action. Why do we still see drug dealers in our communities on every corner?Patricia*But inner city community members and youth workers had long been aware of this grooming tactic. A month before the youth select committee heard this evidence, London Grid For Learning – a community of schools and local authorities in the capital – rolled out its “there’s no such thing as free chicken” poster campaign to highlight the dangers of chicken-shop grooming.The youth justice board of England and Wales also reported that some young people said their peers had been targeted by gangs hanging around outside pupil referral units (PRUs) and outside sports centres – claims echoed by many of the parents Ali has supported.Labour’s shadow youth justice secretary Peter Kyle told HuffPost UK: “For all the talk of national crackdowns, the Conservatives have failed to protect child victims and to stop them being exploited by criminal gangs. We need tough, strategic and urgent action to help the victims of child criminal exploitation.”One mother, Patricia*, told HuffPost UK how her son Adam* – who attended a private school – was groomed at the age of 13. As is commonplace, he would go missing for long spells and was once away for a month and 10 days before being discovered in Whitechapel. No social services or police visited Patricia’s in that time despite her reports, she said. Adam was stabbed in 2017 over a drugs dispute but refused to tell anyone who was responsible. It is not uncommon for physical violence and knife attacks to be carried out on the orders of groomers as  a form of punishment, and warning to other children within their networks. It is not always perpetrated by competitors or other gangs.Having physically recovered from his injuries, Adam remained mentally scarred and fearful for his life. One day he left home armed with a machete for protection and was arrested by the police following a stop-and-search. Adam spent six weeks in Belmarsh Prison.The 20-year-old is now too afraid to go outside in case he’s stabbed again and unable to protect himself. “The police will launch an entire operation, sometimes shut down areas, to apprehend a young drug dealer, but have difficulties rooting out the leaders of the county line gangs,” Patricia said. “They tell us concerned parents that the problem is complex but it’s their job to gather intelligence and take action. Why do we still see drug dealers in our communities on every corner?”It isn’t uncommon for many children involved in gangs to commit crimes themselves – but sometimes they aren’t seen as victims by adults and professionals, despite the harm they have experienced, the NSPCC said.“The children going through this, seeing the desperation in their eyes means they’re either going to die on the streets or kill somebody on the streets,” added Ali.One mother added: “My son does not need to be on the street. He’s only on the street because he’s not safe where he was supposed to be.“Let’s not beat around the bush: the root cause is the drugs. Something needs to be done about the drugs – and also to get rehabilitation for them.” Substance misuse worker Adam Johnson believes police are reluctant to arrest gang leaders because it can unleash a “wave of violence” in the lower ranks.“The cops know what’s going on and where the dealers are – but don’t want to take them out,” he said.“If they take them the top out, all of his lieutenants stab and shoot each other to fill that vacancy. It creates a wave of violence and you’d rather live with equilibrium because at least you know what’s going on.”But this has dire consequences, Johnson said. “The thing is the kids get pulled into the gangs and once that happens they get written off.  Boris Johnson and co don’t create a system to do social mobility. No, they want people on the estate to stay on the estate. And once you have a drug conviction then getting a job is a nightmare. So what else do you have left?”* Names have been changed to protect sources
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How exciting!Praising the first responders in the audience (sort of) Tina Fey: Normally this room is full of celebrities but tonight our audience is made up of smoking hot first responders and essential workers. We are so grateful for the work that you do and that you’re here… so that the celebrities can stay safely at home.Amy Poehler: This front table right here usually houses the biggest stars in the world… Brad Pitt’s always waving at me like ‘Amy! Amy!’ and I’m like, ‘dude, I’m working, not now’... Quentin Tarantino crawling under the tables just touching people’s feet… the point is, do whatever you want. Because they do.And of course, they couldn’t not mention the recent controversy that followed reports that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association – who decide the winners of the Golden Globes – doesn’t have a single Black memberTina Fey: The Hollywood Foreign Press Association is made up of around 90 international no-Black journalists who attend movie junkets each year in search of a better life. We say around 90 because a couple of them might be ghosts, and it’s rumoured that the German member is just a sausage that somebody drew a little face on.Tina Fey: Soul is a beautiful Pixar animated movie where a middle-aged Black man’s soul accidentally gets knocked out of his body and into a cat. The HFPA really responded to this movie, because they do have five cat members.Amy Poehler: Everybody is understandably upset at the HFPA and their choices. Look, a lot of flashy garbage got nominated, but that happens. That’s their thing. But a number of Black actors and Black-led projects were overlooked…  Tina Fey: … the point is, even with stupid things, inclusivity is important, and there are no Black members of the HFPA. I realise maybe you guys didn’t get the memo, because your workplace is the back booth of a French McDonald’s. But you gotta change that. So here’s to changing it.Getting into the key differences between the TV and film categories Tina Fey: I think the rule is, if their fake teeth look real, that’s a movie. And if their real teeth look fake, that’s TV.Amy Poehler: If the British actors are playing British people, it’s TV. If they’re playing Americans, it’s a movie. And then they got onto some of the nominees like The Prom... Tina Fey: The Queen’s Gambit is whatever James Corden was up to in The Prom, I guess. The Prom came out at the perfect time, because this year so many teenagers didn’t get to go to their proms. So they could watch James Corden and Meryl Streep go to it instead. That’s still fun, right, guys?...The Undoing…Amy Poehler: The Undoing was a sexy and dramatic mystery where Nicole Kidman’s coat is suspected of murdering her wig....Music… Tina Fey: Sia’s controversial film Music is nominated for Best International Flop-er-oonie. I don’t want to get into it, guys, but it’s real problematic. And Twitter is saying it’s the most offensive casting since Kate Hudson was the Weight Watchers spokesperson....and, of course, Emily In Paris Tina Fey: Emily In Paris is nominated for Best TV Series – Musical Or Comedy, and I for one can’t wait to find out which it is. French Exit is what I did after watching the first episode of Emily In Paris.And finally, introducing the first guest presenter of the night Tina Fey: Could this whole night have been an email? Yes! But then we wouldn’t get the chance to see our beautiful first presenter. 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