Tragedy and hidden meaning behind Britain’s makeshift memorials

Symon Squire’s weekly journey to his parents’ house always comes with a tragic reminder.

The drive takes him past the spot where his teenage son, Daniel, was killed while cycling near Ringwould, a village in Kent.

The busy roadside location is marked by a bicycle, painted white, which is surrounded by flowers.

“As his dad, it’s tricky going past,” says Symon, a warehouse manager, who set up the memorial shortly after 18-year-old Daniel’s death in 2013.

“When you drive through, you sort of say hello to him. And it tells people, there was an incident here – slow down. It is quite striking.”

He is one of many people who maintain makeshift memorials across Britain.

But what forms do they take – and are they helpful as a way to cope with grief?

Signs of sadness

Bouquets, crosses, balloons, pictures and other personal items – these memorials are typically left where someone has died in tragic or unexpected circumstances.

Some can divide communities.

Locals tore down flowers left near the south-east London home where Henry Vincent, a suspected burglar, was stabbed and killed last week.

Last year, an impromptu pavement memorial to a teenager killed while riding a stolen motorbike was set up in Henbury, Bristol.

Flowers and candles were left for 18-year-old Adam Nolan, who was a passenger on the bike being driven by a 14-year-old boy.

But after it went up, it was vandalised.

‘Ghost’ bicycles

Symon’s “ghost bicycle” tribute to Daniel – who was hit by a van on a busy main road – could be pulled down at any point.

“I had to be a bit careful about it,” says Symon, whose bicycle is on land owned by the Environment Agency.

“I was going to put a plaque there to say what happened but didn’t want it to be too personalised.”

Dedicated memorials typically require the permission of the local authority or landowner.

A ghost bicycle in Hackney, east London, for 28-year-old Shivon Watson, was removed by the council in 2013 after it said it received complaints.

And last year, Bath & North East Somerset Council removed a ghost bike for Jake Gilmore, 19, who was killed in 2013.

Some ghost bikes, though, are given official status.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson allowed a permanent white bicycle in Notting Hill as a tribute to Eilidh Cairns, set up by her sister Kate Cairns.

Coping with grief

Five years on, Symon paints the bicycle twice a year and pays a gardener to tend flowers.

The visits are painful, he says, adding that he and wife Tracy moved to “get away” from the site, which was 400 metres from the family home.

“I still feel a connection to the last place he ever was, the last place he was alive,” he adds.

Bereavement counsellors say going back to the scene of a tragedy can be a healthy part of the grieving process.

“Leaving flowers or items of meaning at the site of a sudden death is a powerful way to actualise a loss,” says therapist Michelle Brown.

She says there is no “right way” to grieve, but that visiting the site can help overcome the disbelief that goes with a tragic loss.

Paul Finnegan, from the bereavement counselling charity Cruse, says: “Everybody is different, but I would never say ‘do not leave flowers’ or whatever else that individual feels is special.”

He says there is a “certain poignancy” to public memorials.

“We wouldn’t necessarily leave flowers outside a hospital ward where someone died,” he says.

“Public memorials act as a sign to other people to say: ‘This is someone who’s died who’s really important to me.”

Memorial, or political point?

Memorials can even be left spontaneously, by those who never met the person who died.

Princess Diana was remembered in an unprecedented show of grief from the public, when people left flowers at her former home in Kensington Palace in London in 1997. Twenty years on, many still do.

And some may even go against the wishes of family and friends.

A caretaker was recently met with death threats when he removed parts of a memorial to murdered soldier Lee Rigby, near where he was killed in Woolwich, south-east London.

Greenwich Council said far-right groups were using the memorial “for their own causes” – and in January had threatened council workers for “going about their job”.

The council said it would leave flowers on the railings near to where Fusilier Rigby was killed, but that flags had been put up against the family’s wishes.

A very British memorial

The practice of making small street shrines became commonplace during the First World War, with the first set up in Hackney in 1916.

The movement spread throughout the country after Queen Mary visited the East End shrines.

But Britons are still relatively restrained compared with the rest of Europe, says roadside memorial expert Geraldine Excell, of Reading University.

In Mediterranean countries, family and friends may leave a miniature church where someone has died in a tragic accident – known in Greek as “Kandilakia”.

“I’ve met a family in Crete who travel over 15 miles every night to light a candle at their son’s roadside memorial,” she says.

But she says the practice seems to be growing in the UK.

“There isn’t any sign of it diminishing,” she says. “Sadly there seem to be more and more on our streets.”

PM has chosen which way to jump on Syria

Prime ministers don’t choose the decisions that face them. But they have to judge which way to jump.

In 2013, Theresa May’s predecessor tried and failed to get approval for military action against President Assad. There was international alarm, then as now, about his suspected use of chemical weapons.

But MPs rejected David Cameron’s plan and he didn’t try again to persuade Parliament it was necessary.

This time, she has avoided that particular obstacle by taking action alongside the US and France while MPs are away.

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    The prime minister will give a statement to MPs on Monday, and she’ll have to be prepared for irritation from many different sides.

    But part of the government’s likely attempt to limit the political fallout will be emphasising time and again that the overnight attacks were limited, both in scale and in purpose. Government sources are stressing this morning that the attacks were strictly intended to target President Assad’s ability to create and use chemical weapons.

    The government has not made a decision and has no desire to become embroiled more widely in the messy and complex Syrian civil war. Ministers clearly would rather that the Syrian leader was ousted, this military action is not part of a plan to do that.

    This is direct response to the attacks on civilians in Douma, a military reprimand for the suspected use of chemical weapons that break the international rules.

    But for all that the government hopes the attacks will be no more, and no less than that, conflict is messy, not politically clinical. If the strikes fail to take out Assad’s chemical weapons systems, do the three allies try again? That doesn’t seem to be the current plan.

    But if the logic of the strikes is to prevent more chemical attacks taking place it can’t be completely ruled out. And if chemical weapons are used again in Syria, would the UK take part in a similar punishment?

    If the government believes the principle must be upheld, then again, the logic suggests the same kind of punishment would be meted out another time. What happens if, as warned, there is some form of retaliation from Russia?

    By the government’s admission these strikes are not part of a broader effort to change the dynamic in the Syrian war, but without a wider strategy what will really change? Just because Theresa May does not want to be dragged into longer term involvement in Syria it doesn’t mean that it won’t happen.

    The decision to act was in her control. What happens next is not within her grasp.

Supermarket pesto contains ‘substitute’ ingredients

Italian pesto sold by UK supermarkets contains substitute and often cheaper ingredients, an investigation by consumer group Which? has found.

The sauce is traditionally based on four key ingredients of basil, pine nuts, parmesan and olive oil.

A test of 12 own-brand standard and premium prestos at seven supermarkets found carrot and bamboo fibres among extra ingredients.

Which? urged consumers to check the labelling.

The watchdog’s investigation reviewed the ingredients of 190g pesto jars from Asda, Co-op, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose.

It found all of the standard pestos were made with between 42% and 49% basil, but also contained cheaper alternatives to the traditional ingredients. They included:

  • Cashew nuts instead of pine nuts, or a mix of both, with olive oil also substituted with sunflower oil.
  • Parmesan cheese was replaced with cheaper Grana Padano and Pecorino Romano cheeses by Sainsbury’s, Morrison’s and Tesco (all £1), the Co-op (£1.19) and Marks and Spencer (£2.10).
  • All the standard pestos, aside from Waitrose’s £1.35 version, used thickeners such as potato flakes, nut flour, vegetable oil and bamboo fibres.
  • Standard pesto from Sainsbury’s, Tesco and the Co-op also contained sugar.

    Which? said its investigation also showed that a higher price did not guarantee authentic ingredients.

    Marks and Spencer’s standard jar, the most expensive at £2.10, contained carrot fibres.

    In response, a spokesman for the supermarket said the carrot fibre “ensures that the oil and basil does not separate, naturally improving its shelf life for customers”.

    ‘Surprising’ additional ingredients

    All of the supermarkets’ premium pestos – labelled ‘alla Genovese’ in reference to the sauce’s origins in Genoa – used traditional recipes, but also contained an unusual range of extra ingredients.

    Morrisons (£1.95), Sainsbury’s (1.50) and Tesco (£2) all added vegetable or bamboo fibres as thickeners, as well as sugar.

    The products with the most authentic and traditional ingredients were Asda Extra Special Genovese Basil Pesto (£1.39) and Waitrose 1 Pesto alla Genovese (£2.70).

    Asda said it was “pleased” at the result and that its ingredients were “clearly labelled” on the pack.

    A Co-op spokesperson said the company aims for “top quality products” and that its pesto is “very low in sugar containing just 1% of your daily intake”.

    Which? director of research Nikki Stopford said customers should “not assume” the ingredients of pesto.

    “Check the ingredients list if authenticity is important, or if you are trying to avoid certain contents, such as added sugar,” she said.

    What’s in a traditional pesto sauce?

    • Genoese basil
    • Ligurian extra virgin olive oil
    • Garlic (preferably from Vessalico)
    • Italian pine nuts
    • Parmesan cheese
    • Pecorino cheese
    • Coarse salt

Syria air strikes: Theresa May statement in full

Last night British, French and American armed forces conducted co-ordinated and targeted strikes to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter their use.

For the UK’s part, four RAF Tornado GR4s launched Storm Shadow missiles at a military facility some 15 miles west of Homs, where the regime is assessed to keep chemical weapons in breach of Syria’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

While the full assessment of the strike is ongoing, we are confident of its success.

Let me set out why we have taken this action.

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  • Syria ‘chemical attack’: What we know

    Last Saturday, up to 75 people, including young children, were killed in a despicable and barbaric attack in Douma, with as many as 500 further casualties.

    We have worked with our allies to establish what happened. And all the indications are that this was a chemical weapons attack.

    We have seen the harrowing images of men, women and children lying dead with foam in their mouths.

    These were innocent families who, at the time this chemical weapon was unleashed, were seeking shelter underground in basements.

    First-hand accounts from NGOs and aid workers have detailed the most horrific suffering, including burns to the eyes, suffocation and skin discolouration, with a chlorine-like odour surrounding the victims.

    And the World Health Organisation has received reports that hundreds of patients arrived at Syrian heath facilities on Saturday night with “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals”.

    We are also clear about who was responsible for this atrocity.

    A significant body of information, including intelligence, indicates the Syrian regime is responsible for this latest attack. I cannot tell you everything. But let me give an example of some of the evidence that leads us to this conclusion.

    Open source accounts allege that a barrel bomb was used to deliver the chemicals.

    Multiple open source reports claim that a regime helicopter was observed above the city of Douma on the evening of 7th April.

    The opposition does not operate helicopters or use barrel bombs.

    And reliable intelligence indicates that Syrian military officials co-ordinated what appears to be the use of chlorine in Douma on 7th April.

    No other group could have carried out this attack. Indeed, Daesh for example does not even have a presence in Douma.

    And the fact of this attack should surprise no-one.

    We know that the Syrian regime has an utterly abhorrent record of using chemical weapons against its own people.

    On 21st August 2013, over 800 people were killed and thousands more injured in a chemical attack also in Ghouta.

    There were 14 further smaller scale chemical attacks prior to that summer.

    At Khan Shaykhun on 4th April last year, the Syrian regime used Sarin against its people, killing around 100 with a further 500 casualties.

    And based on the regime’s persistent pattern of behaviour and the cumulative analysis of specific incidents, we judge it highly likely both that the Syrian regime has continued to use chemical weapons since then, and will continue to do so.

    This must be stopped.

    We have sought to do so using every possible diplomatic channel.

    But our efforts have been repeatedly thwarted both on the ground and in the United Nations.

    Following the Sarin attack in eastern Damascus back in August 2013, the Syrian regime committed to dismantle its chemical weapon programme – and Russia promised to ensure that Syria did this, overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

    But these commitments have not been met.

    A recent report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has said that Syria’s declaration of its former chemical weapons programme is incomplete.

    This indicates that it continues to retain undeclared stocks of nerve agent or precursor chemicals – and is likely to be continuing with some chemical weapons production.

    The OPCW inspectors have investigated previous attacks and on four occasions decided that the regime was indeed responsible.

    And on each occasion when we have seen every sign of chemical weapons being used, any attempt to hold the perpetrators to account has been blocked by Russia at the UN Security Council, with six such vetoes since the start of 2017.

    Just this week, the Russians vetoed a draft resolution that would have established an independent investigation into this latest attack – even making the grotesque and absurd claim that it was “staged” by Britain.

    So we have no choice but to conclude that diplomatic action on its own will not be any more effective in the future than it has been in the past.

    Over the last week, the UK government has been working intensively with our international partners to build the evidence picture, and to consider what action we need to take to prevent and deter future humanitarian catastrophes caused by chemical weapons attacks.

    When the cabinet met on Thursday we considered the advice of the attorney general, the national security adviser and the chief of the defence staff – and we were updated on the latest assessment and intelligence picture.

    And based on this advice we agreed that it was both right and legal to take military action, together with our closest allies, to alleviate further humanitarian suffering by degrading the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deterring their use.

    This was not about interfering in a civil war.

    And it was not about regime change.

    As I discussed with (US) President Trump and (French) President Macron, it was a limited, targeted and effective strike with clear boundaries that expressly sought to avoid escalation and did everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.

    Together we have hit a specific and limited set of targets. They were a chemical weapons storage and production facility, a key chemical weapons research centre and a military bunker involved in chemical weapons attacks.

    Hitting these targets with the force that we have deployed will significantly degrade the Syrian regime’s ability to research, develop and deploy chemical weapons.

    A year ago, after the atrocity at Khan Shaykhun, the US conducted a strike on the airfield from which the attack took place. But Assad and his regime haven’t stopped their use of chemical weapons.

    So last night’s strikes by the US, UK and France were significantly larger than the US action a year ago, and specifically designed to have a greater impact on the regime’s capability and willingness to use chemical weapons.

    And this collective action sends a clear message that the international community will not stand by and tolerate the use of chemical weapons.

    I also want to be clear that this military action to deter the use of chemical weapons does not stand alone.

    We must remain committed to resolving the conflict at large.

    The best hope for the Syrian people remains a political solution.

    We need all partners – especially the regime and its backers – to enable humanitarian access to those in desperate need.

    And the UK will continue to strive for both.

    But these strikes are about deterring the barbaric use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond.

    And so to achieve this there must also be a wider diplomatic effort – including the full range of political and economic levers – to strengthen the global norms prohibiting the use of chemical weapons which have stood for nearly a century.

    Although of a much lower order of magnitude, the use of a nerve agent on the streets of the UK in recent weeks is part of a pattern of disregard for these norms.

    So while this action is specifically about deterring the Syrian regime, it will also send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity.

    There is no graver decision for a Prime Minister than to commit our forces to combat – and this is the first time that I have had to do so.

    As always, they have served our country with the greatest professionalism and bravery – and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

    We would have preferred an alternative path.

    But on this occasion there is none.

    We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere.

    We must reinstate the global consensus that chemical weapons cannot be used.

    This action is absolutely in Britain’s national interest.

    The lesson of history is that when the global rules and standards that keep us safe come under threat, we must take a stand and defend them.

    That is what our country has always done.

    And that is what we will continue to do.

Syria air strikes: UK confident of successful mission, says PM

The UK is “confident” that air strikes carried out by Britain, the US and France on suspected chemical weapons facilities in Syria have been successful, the PM has said.

Theresa May also said it had been “right and legal” to take action.

Military bases near the capital Damascus and the city of Homs were targeted, after an alleged chemical attack on the Syrian town of Douma.

Jeremy Corbyn called it “legally questionable” in a letter to Mrs May.

Syrian state media said there had been a “violation of international law”.

  • US and allies launch strikes on Syria
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  • Theresa May: Syria statement in full
  • Syria air strikes: Were they legal?

    Speaking in Downing Street, Mrs May said the “limited and targeted strikes” had degraded Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons.

    “This collective action sends a clear message that the international community will not stand by and tolerate the use of chemical weapons,” she said.

    Drawing a link with the recent nerve agent attack in Salisbury, Mrs May added: “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalised – either within Syria, on the streets of the UK or elsewhere.”

    She also said she would make a statement to Parliament on Monday and give MPs a chance to ask questions.

    Mr Corbyn said MPs should have been consulted before the strike and called on Mrs May to “publish in full the legal justification and basis for” the action.

    The Labour leader added that weapons inspectors were on their way to verify the use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.


    By Frank Gardner, BBC security correspondent

    Whitehall officials say the aim of launching strikes against Syria has been to deal a big enough blow to the Assad regime that it deters it from using chemical weapons again – but not so big as to alter the course of the Syrian conflict or draw retaliation from Russia.

    Planners took the view that the limited US missile strike on Shayrat airbase a year ago had failed to dissuade the Assad regime from using poison gas.

    Before the green light was given by the prime minister for RAF participation in today’s attack, the defence secretary spent time with the attorney general going over the legality of the targeting in precise detail.

    I am told that the lessons of the Chilcot Report – into the mistakes made over the Iraq invasion of 2003 – have been uppermost in people’s minds. Decisions, phone calls and sign-offs made over the last few days may one day have to be scrutinised by lawyers.

    Russia too has been a major factor in choosing which targets to attack. Planners believe that the best way to mitigate against any Russian retaliation was to warn them in advance and avoid hitting any Russian positions in Syria.

    The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said eight Storm Shadow missiles had been launched by four RAF Tornados at a former missile base, 15 miles west of Homs – where it is thought President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has been stockpiling items used to make chemical weapons.

    A spokesperson said the facility was “located some distance from any known concentrations of civilian habitation”, and scientific analysis was used to “minimise any risks of contamination to the surrounding area”.

    A Nato meeting will be held on Saturday where Britain, France and the US will brief allies on the action taken in Syria.

    PM has chosen which way to jump on Syria

    By Laura Kuenssberg, BBC political editor

    Prime ministers don’t choose the decisions that face them. But they have to judge which way to jump.

    In 2013, Theresa May’s predecessor tried and failed to get approval for military action against President Assad. There was international alarm, then as now, about his suspected use of chemical weapons.

    Read the full blog here.

    Addressing a press conference on Saturday, Mrs May said she believed the strike action had been “the right thing to do” and was “absolutely in Britain’s national interest”.

    “This is not about intervening in a civil war. It is not about regime change,” she said.

    “It is about a limited and targeted strike that does not further escalate tensions in the region and that does everything possible to prevent civilian casualties.”

    She said the UK government “judged it highly likely” that Syria had been using chemical weapons, and it was “clear” the Assad regime was responsible for the “despicable and barbaric” attack on civilians on 7 April.

    Evidence suggested a barrel bomb and a regime helicopter had been used, she added. “No other group could have carried out this attack.”

    • President Trump statement in full
    • Nicola Sturgeon: Air strikes risk dangerous escalation
    • Syria ‘chemical attack’: What we know

      Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said Britain, the US and France had played an important role in “degrading the ability of the Syrian regime to use chemical weapons”.

      Reporting from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus, the BBC’s Jonathan Beale said the Tornados left the airbase in the early hours of Saturday.

      He added the cruise missiles had been fired “well away from Syrian airspace” and were out of the range of the regime’s air defences.

      It was assessed that the Syrian regime had been using the military base near Homs to “keep chemical weapon precursors, stockpiled in breach of Syria’s obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention,” the MoD said in a statement.

      Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin of Russia – Syria’s key ally – said he “condemns the attack in the most serious way”.

      And Syria’s official Sana news agency called the Western action “a flagrant violation of international law”.

      “The American, French and British aggression against Syria will fail,” it said.

      ‘Erratic president’

      In the UK, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Mrs May had not answered how the action, “taken without parliamentary approval, will halt their [Syria’s] use” of chemical weapons, “or bring long term peace”.

      Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable also said MPs should have had a vote on the action, adding: “Riding the coat-tails of an erratic US president is no substitute for a mandate from the House of Commons.”

      But Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party said Mrs May had “the full authority” to order the air strikes and it rejected “any suggestion that she was not entitled to do so”.

      What did the UK use?

      The RAF sent four Tornado GR4 aircraft from Cyprus each armed with two Storm Shadow Cruise Missiles.

      The Tornado has been one of the mainstays of the RAF since first entering service in 1980 and the aircraft were used to enforce no-fly zones in Iraq.

      Weighing in at 2,866lb (1,300kg), measuring 16.7ft (5.1m) in length and with a range in excess of 150 miles (240km), the “bunker busting” Storm Shadow has been described by the air force as “arguably the most advanced weapon of its kind in the world”.

      The range means that none of the GR4s would have been required to cross into Syrian airspace to launch the assault.

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.

  • Reality Check: Could legalising cannabis raise £1bn?

    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.

      • ‘McMafia gangs’ behind London crime wave
      • The names and faces of those killed in London

        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 tensions with West ‘worse than Cold War’

    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.