The man with (almost) no data trail

No Facebook account. No Twitter. No Instagram.

No smartphone. No tablet. No online banking.

Just an email account accessed at the local library and a chunky Nokia 3210 with a built-in torch.

Felix, not his real name (as you might expect…), lives without the tools and social media accounts that are woven into most of our lives.

For many of us it’s a love-hate relationship – enjoying the regular social contact with friends and family and the efficiencies but lamenting the banality of much of it and the hours it sucks up.

And most recently there’s the matter of the digital trail we leave behind us, the breadcrumbs that social media companies gather up and sell, as we lose track of who knows what about our movements, our needs, our impulses and behaviours.

Felix, a 33-year-old gardener, has been swimming against the tide for years.

In 2018, it may sound like a staunch political statement to veer away from technology and the internet, he says, but, in truth, he just never fancied it.

As new technology emerged and became mainstream, Felix wasn’t drawn to it.

“They weren’t useful to me. I got along without them, like playing the trombone,” he says.

But the world spun several times and a couple of decades later Felix now finds himself something of an anomaly.

People treat him with a sort of low-key admiration and slight bemusement, he says, and when new people see his phone for the first time “they crack up”.

“Most people think if you can live your life that way, good on you. But most wouldn’t want to live like this,” he says.

And don’t write off Felix as someone with little knowledge of the modern world – he is aware of today’s technology used by others his age.

“I would never say you should throw your Alexa in the bin,” he says.

“But it is easier to have a natural human engagement with the world and other people without layers of technology interfering with that.”

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    He does use the internet at the library, going online about twice a week for an hour at a time.

    Typically he’ll work through a list of admin tasks, searching for numbers, addresses, or finding out about a new band – music is his passion. Rarely will he venture onto Facebook or Twitter.

    “When Facebook came out I was interested that it was becoming so popular. So I had a look at a friend’s profile to see the shape of it – that was enough for me. I didn’t touch it for 10 years,” he says.

    Now he might look up a public event advertised on it or scroll through Twitter, albeit without feeling the need to create his own account.

    Asked what he does with all the time he saves by avoiding social media, he laughs and calls it a funny question.

    “Social media is not a fundamental human need. I’m just not sure people were wandering round in 1995 thinking it’s a crying shame I don’t know what Kim Kardashian had for lunch.”

    There are no computers at his family home in Kent, where he lives with his parents, and no tablets or Netflix, just a Freeview box and a TV.

    “I don’t have a hunger for the new thing.

    “If I don’t see Game of Thrones, I assume it will be around for a long time. It diffuses the immediate requirement to gobble things up,” he says.

    But he is on the electoral register and his home number is in the phone book. This type of public data bothers Felix less.

    “It’s older, more firmly established. It was not driven by a thirst for monetising thoughts and personality. It was more expressly an exchange,” he says.

    He also carries an Oyster travelcard, meaning authorities could track his movements around the capital.

    “I don’t love the fact that someone could find out where I’m travelling to in London, but my thinking isn’t fuelled by paranoia.”

    Being traceable is an unpleasant symptom of life today, he says, and if he can avoid his life being publicly available, he will.

    Felix says he expects to see a few more people leave Facebook and chop up their credit cards as a sort of political statement but believes the uptake is so complete and the digital footprint is so deep, most of us are welded to it – it’s how we process our world.

    At times, this interview has been uncomfortable for Felix, who asked us not to share his real name.

    “I am quite far away from having a digital identity,” he says. “It’s quite a big step for me to have something documented for me online.”

    But he says he can understand the interest in his own non-digital stance, given the recent attention around Facebook and what it does with our data.

    News that the social network users’ data is harvested and sold without explicit permission did not come as a surprise to Felix but he does find it distasteful that Facebook packages itself with a friendly face as though it’s more than just a business.

    Does he feel relieved that his own data was never at risk?

    “There is a small part of me that thinks it’s nice I don’t have to have that on my mind,” he replies.

    Felix says he has no intention of changing tack, despite everyone around him, including his older brother, having “normal” attitudes towards technology.

    But, surely, there must be something he feels he is missing out on? Breaking news updates, social gossip, looking through pictures of events he has attended?

    Finally, he cracks… but just a little.

    “I’m indifferent to pictures of that gig, that dinner we went to, but I do have a pang about the wedding pictures I might miss seeing. I don’t get to see them because no hard copies exist of them.”

    But is that enough incentive for Felix to get a Facebook account, to surrender to a world of likes and random friend requests. Still his answer remains an emphatic “no”.

Reality Check: Is UK the drugs capital of Europe?

There have been 52 murders in the capital so far this year – and MP David Lammy says the drugs trade is driving a rise in violence.

“We are the drugs market of Europe,” Mr Lammy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The Tottenham MP added that the UK’s drugs market was worth £11bn, and London was at its centre.

This figure comes from the National Crime Agency, which says that drug trafficking to the UK costs an estimated £10.7 billion per year.

This actually refers to the cost to the public purse of illegal drug use – in treating people in the NHS, the costs to the courts of dealing with offences, thefts by drug users and so on – rather than the worth of the market.

The Home Office has estimated the illegal drugs market to be worth £5.3bn.

Like any illegal activity, finding reliable data can be tricky, but piecing together the evidence certainly suggests the UK does have a significant drugs market.

Almost one in 10 adults said they’d used an illegal drug in the last year, which gives a sense of the scale.

In 2014, the Office for National Statistics said illegal drugs added £4.4bn to the UK economy.

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    In England and Wales, a confidential household survey asks people whether they have used an illegal drug in the last year.

    Respondents fill in the survey themselves – the idea is to reassure people the survey is confidential in order to make the responses more reliable.

    A fictional drug is included in the survey to try to weed out people being untruthful in their responses.

    The latest figures show around 8.5% adults aged 16 to 59 in England and Wales took an illegal drug in the year 2016-17. This is much lower than ten years ago.

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      In Scotland, the latest figures for 2014-15 found 6% of adults said they had used one or more illegal drug in the last year.

      Of 25 European countries that submitted data last year, the UK had the seventh highest proportion of its residents saying they had taken an illegal drug in the last year, according to the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

      It had the highest proportion of cocaine users, however, and the third for ecstasy.

      But we don’t just have to rely on whether people say they are taking drugs or not.

      Analysis of sewage highlights London’s place as one of Europe’s leading users of illegal drugs.

      By measuring traces of drugs in sewage systems, the Sewage Analysis CORe Group Europe (SCORE) has been able to measure drug-taking habits in more than 50 European cities.

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        In 2016, when London last participated, the city came second only to Antwerp in cocaine usage – although it does vary year on year. Barcelona, Zurich and Amsterdam also have relatively high drug use.

        In the three years before, London was number one, and still comes out on top for cocaine use on weekdays.

        However, variations might also be linked to differences in purity as well as quantity of usage.

        For example, drug purity on average in Belgium is 78% compared with 44% in UK, which could partly explain how Antwerp topped the charts for how much cocaine was found in their pipes.

        And not every country has submitted data for every drug each year. In the years when London has participated in measurements of ecstasy, it has appeared in the top five.

        In the EU, the retail market for illegal drugs is estimated to be worth at least 24 billion euros (£18 billion).

        The biggest market is for cannabis, followed by heroin then cocaine.

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Russian spy: What we know so far

The attempted murder of a former Russian double agent and his daughter on British soil has led to accusations of Russian state involvement.

Soon after the attack on Sergei Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, in Salisbury, Prime Minister Theresa May said the chemical used had been identified as being part of a group developed by Russia known as Novichok.

The British government went on to expel 23 Russian diplomats and their families after Moscow refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used in the poisoning.

Twenty-nine countries expelled 145 Russian officials in solidarity with the UK – and Nato ordered 10 Russians out of its mission in Belgium.

Moscow initially responded in kind, expelling 23 British diplomats, 60 US diplomats and several from other countries. It has also closed the British Council in Russia and the British Consulate in St Petersburg.

Spy poisoning: Russia says UK is ‘playing with fire’

Russia has accused the UK of inventing a “fake story” and “playing with fire” over the Salisbury spy poisoning.

At a UN Security Council meeting, Moscow’s UN ambassador Vasily Nebenzia said Britain’s main goal had been “to discredit and even delegitimise” Russia with “unsubstantiated accusations”.

The UK says Russia is behind the attack but Moscow denies responsibility.

Britain’s UN representative Karen Pierce said the UK’s actions “stand up to any scrutiny”.

She likened Moscow’s requests to take part in the investigation to an arsonist investigating his own fire.

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    Russian former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were found unconscious in Salisbury on 4 March.

    Ms Skripal, 33, is recovering in hospital and has released a statement saying her “strength is growing daily”.

    Her father, 66, remains critically ill but stable.

    Meanwhile it has emerged that when police sealed off Mr Skripal’s home at the start of the investigation. there were two guinea pigs and a cat inside. The BBC understands the guinea pigs died of starvation and the cat, distressed from dehydration, was put down.

    ‘Propaganda war’

    Moscow called the special meeting of the Security Council in New York to discuss the attack, saying Britain had “legitimate questions” to answer.

    Mr Nebenzia said the accusations were “horrific and unsubstantiated”, and claimed the UK was waging a “propaganda war” against Russia.

    He said Novichok – the group of nerve agent used in the poisoning – is “not copyrighted by Russia, in spite of the obviously Russian name” and has been developed in many countries.

    “It’s some sort of theatre of the absurd. Couldn’t you come up with a better fake story?” he asked.

    In his statement to the 15-member council, Mr Nebenzia questioned why Russia would eliminate someone using a “dangerous and highly public” method.

    He contrasted the use of a chemical with the “hundreds of clever ways of killing someone” shown in British series Midsomer Murders.

    Responding, the British Ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, accused Russia of seeking to “undermine the international institutions that have kept us safe since the Second World War”.

    She said Russia came under suspicion for several reasons, saying it had “a record of conducting state-sponsored assassinations” and that it “views defectors as suitable targets for assassination”.

    Ms Pierce told delegates that Russia’s request to visit Ms Skripal had been passed on and “we await her response”.

    “Ms Skripal’s own wishes need to be taken into account,” Ms Pierce added.


    On Friday, former foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Russia’s comments were a “classic Russian attempt to obfuscate”.

    He said: “They are in a very serious position because it’s not just the UK that has taken action against them. In an unprecedented way, that did not even happen in the Cold War, 29 countries have withdrawn their diplomats.”

    He also said the UK had shared “highly classified information” with the other countries which was also “unprecedented”.

    Meanwhile, US representative Kelley Currie said Russia was attempting to use the Security Council “for political gains”, adding: “This is not a tactic that is appropriate for this body.”

    It comes amid an escalating diplomatic crisis between Moscow and the West as 60 expelled US envoys left Russia on Thursday.

    More than 20 countries have expelled Russian envoys in solidarity with the UK, following Britain’s initial expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats.

    The UK government has constantly maintained Russia was behind the attack, claiming there is “no other plausible explanation”.

    Chemical weapons expert Hamish De Bretton Gordon said he had seen some of the intelligence in the Skripals’ case and was “100% sure” Russia was responsible.

    He told BBC Radio 5 live “we know almost 100%” that Novichok, which requires a “sophisticated laboratory, a lot of money, resources and expertise to make”, was made at Shikhany, a military facility “the size of Salisbury” in central Russia, and the agent used in the attack on the Skripals was “military grade”.

    He added: “We are talking a tiny amount [of Novichok], a quarter of an egg cup full which would be very easy to smuggle.”

    ‘Against transparency’

    On Wednesday, Russia proposed a joint investigation into the poisoning but the idea was voted down by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

    In a press conference, Russian ambassador to the UK, Alexander Yakovenko, said it marked a vote against “transparency”.

    Meanwhile on Thursday, in a statement issued through UK police, Ms Skripal thanked those who came to her and her father’s aid.

    It came shortly after Russian TV aired a recording of an alleged phone conversation between Ms Skripal and her cousin.

    Doubts were raised over the authenticity of the recording but the cousin, Viktoria, has told Newsnight she is 100% certain it was Yulia.

Heathrow rules out compensation for delayed disabled passengers

Disabled passengers who are stranded on planes at Heathrow airport will not be compensated, its chief executive says.

The BBC’s Frank Gardner criticised the airport after he was left waiting for 100 minutes because his wheelchair had been misplaced by ground staff.

CEO John Holland-Kaye said: “I don’t think it’s reasonable that we should take financial responsibility.”

He said Heathrow would aim to help disabled passengers off the plane within 20 minutes of landing.

On Saturday, the BBC’s security correspondent said that airports would only listen to disabled passengers if there was a financial penalty.

The bereaved parents losing up to £100,000 in benefits

Some 3,500 people with children have qualified for the new bereavement support payment after the death of their partner, new figures show.

Under the system, some are losing as much as £100,000 over time compared to its predecessor.

Children who have lost a parent may not get the emotional support they need because of changes to the bereavement benefits their families receive, a bereavement task force has said.

We meet two mothers worried about what will happen when their benefits run out.

“When we knew Irfon was terminally ill, we didn’t talk about what it would be like at the end,” Becky Williams tells the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

She lives with her two young boys in Bangor. Her husband, Irfon – a children’s mental health nurse, like her – died in May 2017 after years of battling cancer.

“We lived with a lot of stress, knowing that he was terminally ill and that one day he wasn’t going to recover,” she adds.

“You feel like it’s happening to someone else, not you. And just seeing the children was really difficult,” she says, breaking into tears.

Knowing Irfon was going to die meant that Becky had to contemplate life without him by her side.

But one thing that did give her peace of mind, she says, was knowing that she would be supported in bringing up her children by bereavement benefits.

She expected to receive a widowed parent’s allowance – which consisted of £2,000 up front, plus a payment of up to £470 each month for up to 20 years, based on National Insurance contributions.

But last year this was replaced by the bereavement support payment. This meant Becky was given £3,500 up front, but that her monthly payments of £350 would stop after 18 months.

The new system applies only to those who have lost a husband, wife or civil partner.

The government said the old system acted like a trap that prevented bereaved parents adjusting to single life, but it is an idea Becky rejects.

She says in six months’ time, when the support payments stop, her family will still be grieving, but the strain on her finances will mean she won’t be able to give her children the time and support she feels they need.

Vicky Anning, from charity Widowed and Young (Way), says she knows of bereaved parents who – without the financial “cushion” the old benefits system would have provided – will have to do two or three jobs, “when a child should be spending quality time with their remaining parent”.

She adds: “The government always said the changes to the system were not a cost-cutting exercise, but it’s hard to see that it was anything but that.”

The charity is part of the Life Matters task force, a group of charities and experts which were angered by last year’s changes to the bereavement system and have been working together to help those affected.

It claims the new system has made an “already distressing situation even worse”, with many families said to be “incredibly distraught” about their finances.

The Department for Work and Pensions said the new bereavement support payment “restores fairness to the system and focuses support during the 18-month period after a loved-one dies, when someone may need it most”.

“It is also easier to claim, tax-free and does not affect entitlement to other benefits, helping those on the lowest incomes the most.”

Conservative MP Philip Dunne told the Victoria Derbyshire programme it was also a way to encourage the parent to “continue in work wherever possible”.

He doubted that there was “widespread concern”, saying none of his constituents in Ludlow had contacted him.

‘Kind of laughable’

Some 3,500 people with dependent children have qualified for the new bereavement support payment between April 2017 and January 2018, a Freedom of Information request by the programme has found.

One of those is Chloe Leaper, whose partner, Matt, died from bone cancer, aged 39, in May last year.

She lives with her 19-month-old daughter, Thea.

Even while still receiving the benefits, she has been unable to afford to stay in the family home, and has moved into a room in Matt’s parents’ house.

“The impact is kind of unfathomable,” she says, “I don’t think my brain lets me think about it.

“I have lost our life together as we had it. All I have is the pictures on the wall.

“I have gone from being a wife to a wonderful husband to being a mother and living with my in-laws.”

She describes the new benefits system as “kind of laughable”.

“I was so pleased Matt didn’t know [they wouldn’t receive the widowed parent’s allowance] because he had always paid his National Insurance – and he thought that was what we would be on until she was 18.

“It’s not about me, it’s about supporting Thea.”

‘Arbitrary time’

Chloe describes the new system as a “very cynical government decision”, saying it affects “the people who can do the least about it – because we have just lost our partners”.

She adds: “We are trying to rebuild our lives, and I don’t know how Thea is going to react when she realises she has no father. And that will affect her at different points in her life – and how much time I will need to take off work to deal with that.”

She adds, sarcastically: “It’s great to know that in 18 months I will be over my grieving and be able to go back to work full-time.

“It’s such a random, arbitrary time. It sounds long enough for people to go, ‘Oh yes, that’s long enough’.

“But when you are actually in the situation, it’s not.”

Watch the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme on weekdays between 09:00 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News Channel.

Corbyn sorry for ‘pain’ over Labour anti-Semitism

Jeremy Corbyn has said he is “sincerely sorry” for the pain caused by “pockets of anti-Semitism” in the Labour party.

In a statement, the Labour leader said he would be meeting representatives of the Jewish community this week to “rebuild” confidence in his party.

He said Labour was “anti-racist” and he “utterly condemns” anti-Semitism.

The comments came after Mr Corbyn was criticised for sending an apparently supportive message to the creator of an allegedly anti-Semitic mural in 2012.

In a message sent via Facebook, he had appeared to question a decision to remove the artist’s controversial mural. He later called the mural “deeply disturbing” and backed its removal.

Mr Corbyn said: “I sincerely regret that I did not look more closely at the image I was commenting on, the contents of which are deeply disturbing and anti-Semitic.

“I am opposed to the production of anti-Semitic material of any kind, and the defence of free speech cannot be used as a justification for the promotion of anti-Semitism in any form.”

Mear One – whose real name is Kalen Ockerman – has denied being anti-Semitic, saying the mural was about “class and privilege”.

On Sunday, senior Labour figures joined in condemnation of the mural but defended Mr Corbyn.

Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald told Sky News that Mr Corbyn “hasn’t got an anti-Semitic bone in his body” and that the row had “misinterpreted the intentions of a really good and decent man”.

And Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said the mural was “grotesque and disgusting” but that Mr Corbyn had given his explanation for his online comment.

Deputy Labour leader Mr Watson told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show: “I am very, very sorry that people feel hurt by this and that is why I think it is right that Jeremy has expressed regret for it.”

On Friday, Labour MP Angela Smith joined other members in supporting Ms Berger and sent a statement to the Leader’s Office, calling for Mr Corbyn to appear before MPs to explain himself.

Yvette Cooper tweeted that she was “really troubled by the mural” and that “Labour must be better than this”.

George Alagiah: Better screening ‘may have caught cancer’

BBC news presenter George Alagiah says his bowel cancer could have been caught earlier if the screening programme in England was the same as in Scotland.

The 62-year-old was first treated in April 2014 and returned to screen after 18 months, but he confirmed the stage four cancer had come back in 2017.

Screening is automatically offered from the age of 50 in Scotland, but only from 60 in England.

Over 40,000 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer in the UK every year.

Chances of survival for at least five years with stage four bowel cancer are less than 10%, while for stage one it is nearly 100%.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, Alagiah, who lives in London, said the system in Scotland saw screening take place every two years.

“Had I been screened, I could have been picked up,” he said.

“Had they had screening at 50, like they do in Scotland… I would have been screened at least three times and possibly four by the time I was 58 and this would have been caught at the stage of a little polyp: snip, snip.”

The presenter is now supporting a campaign by Bowel Cancer UK and Beating Bowel Cancer to make cancer screening available to everyone in England from the age of 50.

“We know that if you catch bowel cancer early, survival rates are tremendous,” he said.

“I have thought, why have the Scots got it and we don’t?”

What are the symptoms of bowel cancer?

  • Bleeding from the bottom
  • A change in your bowel habits lasting more than three weeks
  • Abdominal pain, especially if severe
  • A lump in your tummy
  • Weight loss and tiredness

    SOURCE: Beating Bowel Cancer

    Alagiah found out he had bowel cancer in 2014 after complaining of blood in his stools.

    He then underwent 17 rounds of chemotherapy and five operations to treat the disease in 2014, which had spread to his liver and lymph nodes.

‘I hope this won’t be news in 10 years’

As the Foreign Office appoints its first black female career diplomat as British high commissioner, NneNne Iwuji-Eme shares her secrets for success in diplomacy – from stocking up on Shreddies to forming your very own “master alliance”.

Ms Iwuji-Eme will travel to Mozambique as British high commissioner in July.

High commissioners lead the diplomatic missions in Commonwealth countries – like an ambassador’s role in non-Commonwealth countries.

Accompanied by her nine-year-old son, it will be the British Nigerian’s first time in the African country that is set to become her home.

“It’s a country that’s always fascinated me. It’s a really exciting time to be going out there,” the civil servant told the BBC.

“Nobody really wakes up in the morning and thinks I’m going to be the first black woman to do this. I just wanted to go as far as I could in this job,” said Ms Iwuji-Eme, who speaks five languages including English, Igbo, Portuguese, Pidgin and French.

“This extra element is an incredible honour and privilege, but I’m hoping that in being the first it inspires others to pursue their dreams and that in 10 years from now, it’s not going to be making news.”

In her 16 years at the Foreign Office, Ms Iwuji-Eme’s roles have included being an economic adviser for Africa, an economist for Defra and, most recently, she was posted to Brazil as head of prosperity.

Born in Truro, Cornwall, she said she always knew she would work in a job where she could “travel or go to new places”.

“I’ve got an international background. Both my parents worked for the UN and from a very young age we were blessed to live in different countries,” she said.

And Ms Iwuji-Eme’s son – who is already trilingual – now joins the “adventure”.

“He’s going to experience things you can’t learn in a textbook. I want him to lap it all up.”

“Wherever my son is, I’m at home,” Ms Iwuji-Eme said, though she also makes sure to “invest time to speak to family and girlfriends”.

Bulk-buying cereal

In a career that can change continents every three to four years, she says “creature comforts” can become even more important.

“I love my cereal and Shreddies are my thing I bulk-buy before leaving. I’ve got to have some in my cupboard. That and salted caramel Green and Blacks chocolate,” the self-described foodie said.

Having spent the last four years in Brazil, when she wasn’t shaping policy, Ms Iwuji-Eme was learning the Afro-Brazilian martial art of Capoeira.

“I love it. When I went to Brazil, that was on my bucket list to do. It was amazing to be in the land of Capoeira doing it,” she said.

Both she and her son plan to continue doing it in Mozambique.

‘Have a network of champions’

Ms Iwuji-Eme was able “to see some of the people shaping policy from a young age” – as international relations professionals were often in her living room due to her parents’ work.

Armed with her “two passions” – history and politics – Ms Iwuji-Eme went to boarding school in Suffolk before studying economics at University in Manchester.

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    Not everyone will have a upbringing that lends itself so well to diplomacy, but her advice for others is to be resilient, adaptable and able not only to listen to others, but to like people too.

    “Make sure you have a really good network of champions, especially for young women,” she added.

    “These can be mentors and coaches – people you can go to who believe in you. I call them my master alliance. I still have them now – they include family and professional mentors too.”

    Being clear about what you want from a job is also key, Ms Iwuji-Eme said.

    As for her own appointment, alongside forging stronger diplomatic bonds, she hopes to inspire young talent, “regardless of race or background”.