ROBERT HARDMAN on the Corona Home Guard

ROBERT HARDMAN on the Corona Home Guard: Selfless, supportive and utterly inspiring… as the Government calls up a people’s army of volunteers, how villages are uniting to go to war on coronavirus

  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

We are now almost numb to the pace of daily developments. The graph lines of infection and mortality grow steeper as the global situation verges on the Biblical; many of our most prominent public figures are going down like nine pins; our economy lurches from one epochal blow to the next. 

As we all know, of course, the worst is still to come. All of which makes the flipside of this week’s cataclysmic news all the more important and reassuring. For what we have also witnessed in recent days is a public spirit that defies superlatives. These, too, have been scenes previously unimaginable in peacetime Britain. 

On Tuesday, not long before contracting the first symptoms of coronavirus, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock issued his urgent appeal for 250,000 volunteers. Inspired by the Daily Mail’s hugely successful campaign for NHS volunteers in 2018-19, ministers were confident they would reach their target by the end of the week.

No one imagined that they would get double that number within 24 hours. By yesterday, the number stood at more than 650,000 while the Government expects to hit 750,000 this weekend. That is ten times the size of the British Army — recruited in just four days. 

Next came that tearful but exuberant outpouring on Thursday night as millions emerged from their homes to applaud the staff of the NHS. There was nothing contrived about it; it was as though everybody’s favourite football club had won the FA Cup at the same time. 

From families bashing saucepans on the streets to solitary souls on tower-block balconies (and even a convalescent Prince Charles up at Birkhall), here was a heartfelt vote of thanks to those who will be in the frontline of the battle ahead. Yet none of this will have come as a surprise to the very considerable numbers who, unprompted, have already got stuck in. 

For a week or more now, countless bands of volunteers have been tracking down the vulnerable and pounding the streets with medication, loaves, milk, teabags, newspapers and cat food. It will be a few days yet before the Government can process, register and deploy its vast new legions of the willing. 

However, up and down the country — especially in rural areas, where people are perhaps more used to resolving community problems unaided — thousands of local groups are already up and running under their own steam. 

I have come to Wiltshire where the council has identified more than 200 volunteer groups currently acting as a delivery service-cum-helplinecum-agony aunt. Some are tiny village operations, like the one I meet in Rowde. This weekend, they should have been finalising their plans for the big VE Day village fete in May. 

‘We were going to have bunting, trestle tables, cream teas, the lot,’ says Wayne Cherry, an old soldier and fundraiser for the local Royal British Legion. 

Instead, Wayne and his antiviral comrades now spend their days planning who is going to pick up the next batch of prescriptions, who will do the next bit of shopping, who will distribute it all to those in need, who will put in a call to the most vulnerable… Rowde has two pubs, one church, a village school and 1,300 residents — but no shop, since the community store shut last year. 

Now, up to a third of the village are housebound. When the parish council held its monthly meeting at the beginning of March, it transpired Rowde is also home to a trained epidemiologist. 

Robert Hardman visits Devizes in Wiltshire to witness the Covid-19 support workers

‘She turned up at the meeting to tell us what was coming and that we really did need to start getting organised. So we did,’ says Wayne. ‘We’ve been lucky to have that headstart.’ 

A core group came together including parish clerk Rebekah Jeffries, nursery worker Lisa Wills and Wayne. Having spent his military career in the Royal Logistic Corps, rising to Warrant Officer Class 1, he was on familiar turf. 

‘The most important thing with logistics is to get a line of good quality information,’ he says. 

Within a week, the group had printed up a leaflet with details of the new Rowde Coronavirus Volunteer Group and put one through every letterbox in the village. They also recruited another 15 volunteers, from housewives to Colonel Mike, late of the Royal Artillery (who now cheerfully takes orders from Warrant Officer Cherry).

So, before Matt Hancock had even issued his call to arms, Rowde was already fully operational. I arrive to find Lisa, 43, fresh from sorting out an 83-yearold woman who had run out of blood-pressure pills — as had her chemist. 

‘We sorted it out in 48 hours,’ says Lisa, ‘but it was very stressful for her.’ 

Mrs Dorothy Hague with her groceries delivered by volunteer Cathy Stockwell 

That is why this national stampede to volunteer is so vital. It is not just about easing the pressure on NHS staff and keeping the most fragile off the streets and out of the shops. It is about removing an extra layer of worry from a cohort of society who are quite worried enough as it is. 

As a result, the mood is as positive as it can be here in Rowde. The elderly residents of Coach House Mews, for example, have taken to standing in front of their houses at 5.30 each evening for a glass of wine and a few (unshared) nibbles to boost morale (except for this Thursday when the muckspreader was out and about in an adjacent field).

I drive on through neighbouring Bromham where 100 volunteers are supporting those who can’t get out (there’s a weekly newsletter, including plenty of jokes). Nearby, in the pretty market town of Devizes, it is a similar story on a bigger scale. Here, again, the locals did not wait for the Government to get the ball rolling. For days they have had their own network of volunteers. 

‘I just felt I couldn’t sit and watch this on television. I had to do something,’ says Cathy Stockwell, 55, whom I find coming down the street staring at her mobile phone. 

Volunteer Cathy Stockwell on her way to deliver Mrs Dorothy Hague’s, 84, groceries

She has received her orders from HQ and is trying to locate Dorothy, 87, in a cul-de-sac of sheltered housing on the edge of town. Dorothy has lived alone since being widowed several years ago. 

She has requested a modest delivery of essentials — bread, butter, cheese and apples — and has left money in a bag outside her door. Cathy picks it up, walks round to Sainsbury’s and, 20 minutes later, leaves the bag on the doorstep, rings the bell and retreats. 

The smile on Dorothy’s face amply illustrates her gratitude as we chat from a very safe distance (I am not going beyond her garden gate, let alone within the regulation two metres). I ask if she has family in the area. 

‘I’ve outlived them all!’ she laughs, adding that she has a niece in London whom she talks to on the phone. Her thoughts on volunteers like Cathy? ‘They’re brilliant!’ 

One resident of the village covers his mouth with his scarf as a precaution

It’s easy to spot the volunteers here. They are the ones with shopping bags walking around purposefully rather than furtively with council-endorsed lanyards flapping around their necks. I bump in to Trish, 63, a retired school librarian, weighed down with two bags and a rucksack full of prescription drugs. 

She is taking them to headquarters where another team will arrange onward delivery across town. HQ is the handsome, Georgian town hall wherein a team of seven are manning a call centre in the grand old council chamber and sorting out distribution from the equally grand old Cheese Hall. 

It all kicked off two weeks ago after Joe Brindle, the 17-year-old son of the local vicar, decided something should be done. He rounded up a group of fellow sixthformers to start dropping leaflets around town. A core team of regulars at St James’s Church then set up a network which has reached 344 and which, for the moment, needs no further recruits. 

One of the co-ordinators, Jonathan Hunter, 52, kindly invites me in to view the scenes inside the town hall but I decline. Thus far, Devizes has had no cases of Covid-19 and, as a visitor from germ-infested London, I keep my distance from everyone inside. 

Emma Lang delivers food to elderly Poole residents, Tina Wootton, 72, and Tina’s husband Barrie, 77. She is one of the army of volunteers across the country who has helped out 

Travelling around the country this week (the media qualifies as a ‘key’ profession, though I would be the first to concede we may be towards the back of the queue), I have found an increasing wariness towards anyone from the capital. It is as well to accept it. I ask Jonathan to take a picture on his phone and send me that instead. 

I arrange to meet some of the team in the churchyard where we can all talk safely in the open air. The system is being fine-tuned all the time and now seems to operate like a sort of community Uber. Every call for help from an isolated person is taken down and despatched to the whole group via WhatsApp, citing a reference number and the relevant area of the town. 

The first available volunteer sends a private message accepting the call, goes round to get cash or a contactless card and then confirms the job is done. All have to be registered in advance. There is no time for full police checks so every volunteer has to have some sort of reference — many belong to the same church, for example. 

The volunteers span a range of skills — bankers, builders, lawyers and students — which have quickly been brought to bear. Jonathan, for example, works in retail management. Another member of the team, Eliott Wallace, 49, was looking for a new job in the health insurance sector when the balloon went up. 

A volunteer arrives with food donated to the project at the Queen’s Crescent Community Association on March 24, 2020 in Kentish Town, North London

‘Looking back, I’m rather glad I was jobless so I could get involved right away,’ he says. 

One of the early refinements to the scheme, he explains, was to contact all the local pharmacies to arrange block bookings of prescription drugs. 

‘To begin with, we had some volunteers waiting three hours at the chemist to get a prescription for an elderly person. Then they’d have to go back again with another one,’ he says. 

Now the volunteers drop off a batch of requests and turn up at the back door later to pick up all the medicines. It not only speeds things up but reduces volunteers’ exposure to the virus. Local councillor Laura Mayes was also one of the original core team in Devizes. 

Formerly an advertising executive in London — working on everything from Maltesers to Fairy liquid — she has been on the council for 13 years and is the Cabinet member in charge of public health for Wiltshire’s 470,000-strong population. She explains that voluntary operations like this are removing a huge burden from local government so that staff can keep the usual services going. 

NHS nurses and staff carry food deliveries inside St George Hospital as Coronavirus spreads

‘People will carry on having strokes and heart attacks. They are still going to be falling over inside their homes,’ she says. ‘Our care workers need to be able to focus on that.’ 

Philip Whitehead, leader of Toryrun Wiltshire Council, says there is now at least one community volunteer group for each of the county’s 215 parishes. As well planning for the rise in cases of Covid-19, he has also set up a separate ‘recovery cell’ to ensure that normality can resume as swiftly as possible. 

‘For example, I’ve asked our planning department to work through all noncontroversial planning applications right now,’ he tells me. ‘They amount to 95 per cent of the total. If we get them through now, then the building trade can get straight to work the moment restrictions are lifted. The last thing you want is a six-week time lag waiting for the paperwork.’ 

At every level here — county, town, village — we are seeing a potent blend of common sense and compassion driving the largest civic movement this country has known in peacetime. 

And it has all come about in little more than a week. This may be ‘lockdown’. But it has also unlocked something phenomenal. Back in Rowde — and everywhere else — that is surely worth a toast the next time we get to wine o’clock. 

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Four in ten couples will be able to divorce faster under new law

No more ‘splitting’ headaches! Four in ten separating couples will be able to divorce faster thanks to new law

  • More than 40 per cent of divorcing couples will benefit from change in rules 
  • The wait for divorce will be abolished and it can be completed in just six months
  • Study shows 43 per cent of couples divorce via rules meaning they wait years

More than four in ten separated couples will divorce years earlier under reforms being pushed through Parliament, according to research. 

The study showed that 43 per cent of divorcing couples – around 40,000 a year – end their marriages under separation rules that mean they wait years before their breakup is legally complete. 

But under the Government’s divorce-on-demand regime, the wait for divorce will be abolished and the process can be completed in only six months. 

Under the current law, which dates from 1969, if there is no allegation of adultery or unreasonable behaviour, a couple can be divorced after two years of separation if both agree, and after five years if only one wants to end the marriage [File photo]

The effect of the reforms was revealed in research by the Hall Brown Family Law firm. It renewed concerns that ‘the fastest divorce system in the world’ will see numbers increase.

Backers of the reforms said many couples will benefit both in terms of a less conflicted breakup and more financial security. 

The changes will take the principle of fault from marriage law, so that adultery or unreasonable behaviour will no longer be causes for divorce. 

Instead, anyone who wants a divorce will make a statement that their marriage has irretrievably broken down, and their spouse will not be able contest the claim. 

Alongside the principle of fault, the new law will abolish waiting periods.

In 1998, some 22 per cent of couples who divorced ended their marriages after two years of separation, but in 2018 it was 27 per cent. In the same period, the number of couples who waited five years rose from seven to 16 per cent [File photo] [File photo]

Under the current law, which dates from 1969, if there is no allegation of adultery or unreasonable behaviour, a couple can be divorced after two years of separation if both agree, and after five years if only one wants to end the marriage. 

In 1998, some 22 per cent of couples who divorced ended their marriages after two years of separation, but in 2018 it was 27 per cent. 

In the same period, the number of couples who waited five years rose from seven to 16 per cent. 

The study showed that 43 per cent of divorcing couples – around 40,000 a year – end their marriages under separation rules that mean they wait years before their breakup is legally complete. A stock image is used above [File photo]

The figures mean that 43 per cent of couples waited two years or more for their divorce. 

The speed-up in divorce will come as numbers of couples who end their marriages in England and Wales is at a 50-year low. 

There were fewer than 92,000 divorces in 2018, the first time numbers were below 100,000 since 1972. Divorce rates boomed in the early 1970s following the liberal reforms of 1969.

James Brown, of Hall Brown, said the figures showed ‘couples are avoiding fault-based divorce. ‘When there is a delay, there is also a gap between leaving a marriage and re-establishing financial security. 

Colin Hart, of the Coalition for Marriage group, said: ‘These figures indicate that more than four in every 10 divorces could be hastened by years leading to a dramatic increase in number of and speed of divorces. 

‘Official statistics show 10,000 divorces a year are abandoned. The Government should seek to save saveable marriages rather than grease the tracks to divorce.’ 

There were fewer than 92,000 divorces in 2018, the first time numbers were below 100,000 since 1972. Divorce rates boomed in the early 1970s following the liberal reforms of 1969 [File photo]

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Moving clocks forward may be dangerous for people with heart problems

Moving clocks forward an hour may be dangerous for millions of people with heart problems due to the loss of sleep

  • More in hospital with heart rhythm condition when clocks go forward, says study
  • Clocks go forward one hour to British Summer Time (BST) tomorrow night at 1am
  • Scientists fear the hour’s loss of sleep means some need emergency treatment

For most of us it signals the end of the bleak winter months and the promise of longer days to come. 

But moving the clocks forward an hour tonight could be bad for the health of more than a million people in Britain with a lifethreatening heart problem. 

A major study shows losing an hour’s sleep due to daylight saving increases hospital admissions for a serious heart rhythm condition known as atrial fibrillation. 

Symptoms include chest pain, dizziness and fatigue, but a significant number of sufferers have no idea they are ill until they have a stroke [File photo]

It causes an estimated 16,000 strokes a year. Now scientists fear that the one-hour loss of sleep is enough to leave some sufferers needing emergency treatment because the effect on their circadian rhythm – or body clock – makes their heart rate go haywire. 

The study, by experts at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, backs up previous research suggesting heart attacks spike in the days after the clocks going forward. 

But moving them back an hour in the autumn does not appear to have the same effect, the scientists reported.

Moving the clocks forward an hour tonight could be bad for the health of more than a million people in Britain with a lifethreatening heart problem [File photo]

Atrial fibrillation develops when electrical activity in the heart goes haywire, causing it to beat irregularly. 

Symptoms include chest pain, dizziness and fatigue, but a significant number of sufferers have no idea they are ill until they have a stroke. 

Blood that should be pumped around the body begins to pool and thicken in the left ventricle. 

If a clot breaks away and travels up arrow blood vessels that feed the brain, it can block the supply of oxygen-rich blood, causing a stroke. 

The US team tracked 6,000 patients in their 60s over a sevenyear period. All the volunteers had atrial fibrillation that was treated with prescription medicines. 

The results, published in the journal Sleep Medicine, found hospital admissions with heart rhythm complications jumped around 25 per cent in the days following the clocks changing. 

Women were more affected than men. 

In a report on the findings, scientists said: ‘Daylight saving results in changes in circadian rhythms and disturbances in sleep duration that may last for weeks. This can affect heart rate and blood pressure.’ 

Last year the European Parliament voted to abandon daylight saving time – introduced during the First World War to save energy by prolonging daylight in summer.

The ruling is due to take effect next year but Britain has so far rejected the idea.  

The study, by experts at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, backs up previous research suggesting heart attacks spike in the days after the clocks going forward [File photo]

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Cops hunting Madeleine McCann 'to be given more money' in £11m search

Met Police detectives hunting Madeleine McCann ‘are set to be given more money’ in £11m search for missing girl

  • Funds for Operation Grange will expire in days but more resources are imminent
  • Police chiefs said to reject claims the coronavirus crisis will affect investigation
  • Maddie disappeared aged three while on holiday in Portugal back in May 2007 
  • Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?

More than £11 million has been spent on the search for Madeleine McCann, pictured

The operation to find Madeleine McCann is set to receive another cash boost, on top of the £11 million already pledged in the hunt for the missing girl.

Detectives have requested extra money to continue their investigation into the disappearance of the toddler in Portugal back in 2007, according to The Sun.

Funds for Operation Grange will expire at the end of the month but it’s suggested more resources to ensure the search continues should not be an issue.

A Met Police source told the site: ‘There has been some recent speculation that the investigation into Madeleine’s disappearance could be put on hold or discontinued because of the coronavirus epidemic and a shortage of officers working. 

‘This isn’t the case and we can’t see the outbreak causing a problem for this ongoing inquiry. Neither can the Home Office.

She disappeared from apartment 5A in Praia Da Luz in Portugal, pictured, in 2007, while her parents were dining in a nearby tapas restaurant

‘We’ve been told there will hopefully be no problem with new funding.’

The news has been welcomed by Maddie’s parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, according to their spokesman Clarence Mitchell.

‘While an active investigation is ongoing, it gives them hope that one day they will find out what happened to Madeleine after all these years,’ he said.

‘The Met has an iron will determination to find the answers Kate and Gerry so desperately want.’ 

Three-year-old Madeleine vanished after she had been left sleeping alone with her younger twin siblings while her parents were dining in a nearby tapas restaurant at their holiday apartment in Praia da Luz.

The couple, from Rothley, Leicestershire, who insist they made regular checks on the children throughout that evening, have never given up hope of finding their daughter.

Parents Kate and Gerry McCann, pictured, welcomed the news of more resources through their spokesman

However, ex-detective Mark Williams-Thomas recently claimed the case will never be solved because a crucial CCTV camera was switched off when Maddie, who would now be 17, disappeared.

The Met took over the hunt in 2011 after the parents made a personal plea to then-Prime Minister David Cameron, and has received more than £11m in funding, despite some police chiefs calling for the search to end.

There were fears the demands of the Covid-19 pandemic on policing would mean further funding could be shelved, but it appears detectives will continue to be backed in the coming days.   

Officials from the force told The Sun: ‘The Met has previously said that the team leading the investigation into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann is small in number.

‘The team continue to lead that investigation, but can flex if it is required.’  

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Nancy Pelosi cites coronavirus death of NYC hospital worker

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged lawmakers to do more for nurses and doctors fighting the coronavirus crisis, citing a Post exposé on the tragic death of a Mount Sinai nurse manager.

“Our workers are risking their lives on the front line of this fight and need stronger protections to keep them safe,” Pelosi said on the House floor Friday afternoon during a vote approving the $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill.

“This week we learned of the tragic death of Kious Kelly, a nurse manager at Mount Sinai West who died in the line of duty from coronavirus,” she said, referring to The Post’s Wednesday “Treated Like Trash” front page.

The report revealed the death of Kelly, 48, who tragically passed away from COVID-19 on Tuesday night.

Nurses at Mount Sinai West tied his death to a lack of personal protective equipment and said shortages were so dire, desperate front-line responders had resorted to wearing trash bags.

“Nurses were forced to resort to tying bandannas over their faces in place of proper equipment and still others even began tying plastic garbage bags around disposable scrubs that they were given in place of proper scrubs for extra protection,” Pelosi said.

“As Mr. Kelly’s sister said, ‘His death could have been prevented. He was healthy. I’m angry,’” she added.

A spokeswoman for Mount Sinai on Wednesday said they were “deeply saddened” by Kelly’s death but denied reports that staff did not have access to protective gear.

Pelosi said a fourth round of federal funding was imminent for hospitals in dire need of funding and equipment.

“We must do more for our health care workers. This has been a current theme on both sides of the aisle: our gratitude for our health care workers,” she said.

“They are heroes. We are thankful and grateful to them. We pray for them. But we need to do more for them than just to say those words,” she added to applause from fellow lawmakers.

In New York, the hardest-hit state in the nation, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has urgently requested 30,000 ventilators from the Trump administration.

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Would-be kidnapper, 40, hunted by police after picking up young girl

Would-be kidnapper, 40, is hunted by police after he picked up terrified young girl and carried her away before dumping the child and fleeing into woods

  • The attempted kidnap took place at around 1pm on March 21 in Chesham, Bucks
  • Two children, both under the age of 11, had been playing on the grass in the area
  • A 5’7″ white male carried one of the youngsters for approximately 20 feet

Police are on the hunt for a would-be kidnapper who picked up a terrified young girl before dumping her and fleeing into the woods.

The attempted kidnap took place between 12.30pm and 1pm on March 21 in The Bury in Chesham, Buckinghamshire. 

Two children, both under the age of 11, had been playing on the grass in the area.

But one of the children temporarily wandered off which is when the offender approached the second child and picked her up.

The attempted kidnap took place between 12.30pm and 1pm on March 21 in The Bury in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, when two children, both under the age of 11, had been playing on the grass in the area (pictured)

He carried her for approximately 20 feet before the other youngster returned.

The offender dropped the little girl back to the floor and fled into a woodland area.

Neither child received any injuries during the incident.

The offender is described as a white man, aged approximately 40, around 5’7″ and of an average build. 

He was dressed in a coat, believed to be blue or black, a brown t-shirt and was carrying a rucksack.

He also had a distinctive tattoo on his arm of a lion and was drinking from a green bottle.

Thames Valley Police have now launched an investigation and are appealing for witnesses to come forward. Pictured: Chesham town centre

Investigating officer, Detective Constable Chris Gould, of Aylesbury police station, said: ‘I am appealing for witnesses to this incident, which was a frightening experience for a young child.

‘Thankfully, both children were completely unharmed during this incident, but we are appealing for witnesses in order to fully establish the circumstances.

‘I understand that an incident of this nature would cause concern within the community, but I would like to reassure the public that it is being thoroughly investigated and the victims are being supported fully.

‘If anyone was in the area at this time, and believes they saw something, I would ask them to make contact with police.

‘Alternatively, if someone recognises the description of the offender, or believes they saw him at a time before or after this incident took place, then please speak to us.

‘Please contact Thames Valley Police on 101, quoting 43200094264 if you can help. You can also make a report online here, or call Crimestoppers for 100 per cent anonymity on 0800 555 111.’  

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House approves $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid package, rushes bill to Trump

The House rushed President Donald Trump a $2.2 trillion rescue package Friday, tossing a life preserver to a U.S. economy and health care system left flailing by the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump said he would sign the measure immediately.

“The American people deserve a government wide, visionary, evidence-based response to address these threats to their lives and their livelihood. And they need it now,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“We are going to help Americans through this. We are going to do this together,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Members of the House of Representatives shouted down Rep. Thomas Massie as they passed the coronavirus stimulus bill — with one lawmaker bellowing “f–k you!” at the Kentucky Republican.

Massie forced hundreds of lawmakers to return to the House chamber for the vote after indicating he would raise a point of order that fewer than 50 percent of lawmakers were present as required.

But when the libertarian engineer stood to protest that the chamber was not full, a furious colleague shouted “look around!”

Surrounding Massie were hundreds of Republicans and Democrats who packed into the chamber and also the public viewing gallery one floor above to maintain enough distance to avoid spread of COVID-19.

“F–k you!” a man sitting on the Democratic side of the aisle shouted at Massie, prompting heads to snap toward the voice responsible for the rare lack of decorum. The speaker was not immediately known.

Massie explained on Twitter just before noon that the Constitution requires a quorum, and that he opposes the bill on substance too.

“This stimulus should go straight to the people rather than being funneled through banks and corporations like this bill is doing,” Massie wrote. “2 trillion divided by 150 million workers is about $13,333.00 per person. That’s much more than the $1,200 per person check authorized by this bill.”

President Trump fumed against Massie on Friday morning, calling him a “third rate Grandstander” and adding: “throw Massie out of Republican Party!”

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Coronavirus in New York: Letitia James leads fight to stop Texas abortion ban

New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading a coalition to stop Texas from blocking abortions during the coronavirus pandemic, her office announced Friday.

Earlier this week, Texas issued a directive banning all non-emergency surgeries and procedures, including abortions, to free up resources.

“Texas and other states are using the coronavirus as an excuse to deny women their constitutional right to an abortion,” James said in a statement. “This is a full-on assault on women’s reproductive rights not only in Texas, but across the country, and I will not allow any state to usurp the rights of women enshrined in the Constitution.”

The AG said she’d be leading a coalition of attorneys general across the U.S. to prevent Texas and other states who “use the coronavirus as a veiled assault on women’s reproductive freedoms.”

The Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood and other organizations sued the state of Texas in federal court, calling for an immediate restraining order to halt the ban.

James’s coalition intends to file court papers, known as an amicus brief, to bolster the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas. An amicus brief allows non-parties to join a lawsuit if they have an interest in the outcome. 

“According to news reports, women in Texas have already been turned away when seeking an abortion because of the directive,” according to the AG’s statement.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued the executive order backed by the state’s Attorney General Ken Paxton last Saturday.

Paxton said in a press release that the directive is intended to free up health care resources, including medical staff, hospital beds and surgical masks, to fight the pandemic.

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Virgin Media faces £4.5BILLION compensation payout after data breach

Virgin Media faces £4.5BILLION compensation payout after data breach left personal details of 900,000 customers online for 10 months, lawyers say

  • Virgin Media could pay £4.5billion to 900,000 customers affected by breach 
  • Company said personal details were left online for 10 months from last April
  • Law firm Your Lawyers have offered to take a class action against Virgin Media 
  • An incorrectly configured database contained personal data from consumers
  • Names, emails and phone numbers were exposed, but no financial details

Virgin Media could be forced to pay up to £4.5billion to customers whose personal data was published online – including details of porn sites accessed, a law firm says.

Your Lawyers, a firm based in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, has offered to help people who had their full names and contact details released get up to £5,000 each. 

Earlier this month Virgin Media said the breach occurred because its database was incorrectly configured, allowing unauthorised access to one third-party. 

The information was accessible from April 2019 until February 28, 2020. 

The law firm says a Group Compensation Action could force the company to cough up thousands of pounds per customer for undue financial and emotional distress. 

Your Lawyers, a firm based in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, has offered to help people who had their full names and contact details released get up to £5,000 each from Virgin Media (file)

The information in the database did not include passwords or financial details but did contain names, email addresses, phone numbers and details of customers’ contracts with the service.

However, the independent IT company that alerted Virgin to the breach found details that linked some customers to ‘explicit websites’, it told MailOnline.  

Virgin Media blamed the error on the negligence of a staff member who did not follow correct procedures.  

Aman Johal, Director at Your Lawyers, revealed the firm had formally notified Virgin Media it was taking action.

He said: ‘Virgin Media failed to take the steps required to keep customer data safe. It is vital for the company to understand the severity of this breach.

‘When data is left exposed online it is open season for fraudsters to scam and attack vulnerable people.

‘Our claimant base is growing daily. We urge anyone affected by the breach to make a claim as soon as possible.’

Virgin Media blamed the error on a staff member not following correct procedures. The information was accessible from April 2019 until February 28, 2020

Mr Johal described the release of the information as a ‘serious breach of consumer rights’ for which there ‘is simply no excuse’.  

‘Even though the breach occurred due to “human error”, we must hold Virgin Media to account,’ he added. 

MailOnline has approached Virgin Media for comment. 

Virgin Media CEO Lutz Schuler said the company recently became aware of the issue and immediately shut down access to the affected database.  

Speaking at a media conference in London, Schuler said: ‘There is no evidence that the data taken has been used in the wrong way.

‘We want to avoid any panic. 

‘We all have enough on our plate with coronavirus at the moment but we have to be open about it,’ said Schuler, who added that he would apologise to customers for the breach. 

The company, which is conducting an ongoing investigation, said it believes the database was accessed at least once but does not know to what extent or if any information was used. 

‘Protecting our customers’ data is a top priority and we sincerely apologise,’ it said.  

‘We are now contacting those affected to inform them of what happened.’ 

Virgin is now urging its customers to remain cautious before ‘clicking on an unknown link or giving any details to an unverified or unknown party’.   

Was your data released during the breach? 

If you’d like to join the action go to Your Lawyers here to claim. 

The Financial Times reported that this breach affects about 15 percent of Virgin Media’s paying customers, including some with Virgin Mobile.

However, data from non-customers could have also been included that came from ‘refer a friend’ promotions.   

Virgin Media is Britain’s second-largest broadband company and owned by billionaire John Malone’s Liberty Global, according to The Financial Times.

The vulnerability of the customer data was first discovered by information security provider TurgenSec, as reported by the FT and confirmed to MailOnline by the company. 

‘The breach was discovered by TurgenSec as part of a routine sweep of databases,’ a spokesperson at TurgenSec told MailOnline.

‘Despite reassurance issued that ‘protecting our customers’ data is a top priority’ we found no indication that this was the case. 

‘This wasn’t only due to a simple error made by a member of staff “incorrectly configuring” a database, as has been stated. 

TurgenSec added that information was in plaintext and unencrypted – which means anyone with a web-browser could clearly view and potentially download all the data without needing any specialised equipment or hacking techniques. 

‘It is regrettable that the company is shifting blame to a member of their staff, when they should have had a mature DevSecOps methodology that routinely looks for, identifies and mitigates these errors before a customer’s data is exposed.’ 

With almost one million customers affected, the breach is deemed one of the largest by a UK firm in recent years.

‘This data breach has exposed the data of almost a million Virgin Media customers and whilst no financial details or passwords were included, those customers are likely to be worried,’ said Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert.

‘It is vital that Virgin Media continues to provide clear information on what has happened. 

‘For anyone concerned they could be affected, it’s good practice to update your password after a data breach. 

‘Also, be wary of emails regarding the breach, as scammers may try and take advantage of it.’

Virgin said that online security advice and help on a range of topics is available to customers on its website.  

It says it has contacted all the affected individuals with advice on what to do next.    

VIRGIN MEDIA’S STATEMENT ON THE DATA BREACH 

‘We recently became aware that some personal information, stored on one of our databases has been accessed without permission. Our investigation is ongoing and we have contacted affected customers and the Information Commissioner’s Office.

The database was used to manage information about our existing and potential customers in relation to some of our marketing activities. This included: contact details (such as name, home and email address and phone numbers), technical and product information, including any requests you may have made to us using forms on our website. In a very small number of cases, it included date of birth. Please note that this is all of the types of information in the database, but not all of this information may have related to every customer.

To reassure you, the database did NOT include any passwords or financial details, such as bank account number or credit card information.

We take our responsibility to protect personal information seriously. We know what happened, why it happened and as soon as we became aware we immediately shut down access to the database and launched a full independent forensic investigation.’   

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Church that could be turned into heavenly home is on sale for £750,000

A real religious conversion! Church that could be turned into heavenly home with galleried landing and vaulted ceiling is up for sale for £750,000

  • St Martin’s Church in Ibsley, Hampshire, stopped operating as a place of worship more than 60 years ago
  • Grade II listed property has since been used as an art gallery as well as a flower studio by its current owner 
  • Planning permission was previously granted in 2014 to convert the 2,640 sq ft building for residential use

A converted church that could make a heavenly home has gone on the market for £750,000.

St Martin’s Church in Ibsley, Hampshire, stopped operating as a place of worship more than 60 years ago.

The Grade II listed property has since been used as an art gallery as well as a flower studio by its current owner who is now selling up.

St Martin’s Church in Ibsley, Hampshire, (pictured) stopped operating as a place of worship more than 60 years ago and has now been put on the market for £750,000

The Grade II listed property has since been used as an art gallery as well as a flower studio by its current owner who is now selling up

Planning permission was previously granted in 2014 to convert the 2,640 sq ft building for residential use but this has now lapsed.

The new occupants would also have to apply to the bishop for permission to remove the grave headstones that surround the building. 

There has been a church on the site in the village of Ibsley since 1654 but the current building dates predominantly from around 1832 when it was rebuilt after a fire. 

Planning permission was previously granted in 2014 to convert the 2,640 sq ft building for residential use but this has now lapsed 

There has been a church on the site in the village of Ibsley since 1654 but the current building dates predominantly from around 1832 when it was rebuilt after a fire

The church still boasts many of its original features including the 16th-century font, an organ given to the church in 1832 and a monument to the Yorkshire dignitary Sir John Constable – all of which would have to remain regardless of any conversions.  

The village of Ibsley is close to the River Avon and there is a thatched roof pub just a one minute walk from the property.

Toby Gullick, from estate agents Knight Frank, said: ‘The current owner has had it a while and has run an art gallery and flower shop from it. It’s all open plan with a vaulted ceiling.

The new occupants would also have to apply to the bishop for permission to remove the grave headstones that surround the building

The church still boasts many of its original features including the 16th-century font (pictured), an organ given to the church in 1832 and a monument to the Yorkshire dignitary Sir John Constable – all of which would have to remain regardless of any conversions

Toby Gullick, from estate agents Knight Frank, said: ‘It is in need of complete modernising but it is a listed building so you are limited in what you can do.’ Pictured: Spiral staircase on the galleried landing

‘It is in need of complete modernising but it is a listed building so you are limited in what you can do.

‘The owner got planning permission to turn it into a 2-3 bedroom house but the permission has lapsed now so the new buyer would just have to reapply.

‘It has still got some features from when it was a church. There’s an organ that is built into the building, that can’t be touched, and there’s a font and quite a large plaque on the wall.

The village of Ibsley is close to the River Avon and there is a thatched roof pub just a one minute walk from the property. Pictured: Exterior of the church

The church stopped operating as a place of worship more than 60 years ago. Pictured: The current kitchen in the building

Mr Knight added: ‘It’s an interesting property and there’s a lot you could do with it. It’s attracted lots of interest from a range of different people.’ Pictured: Outdoor space at the property 

‘The main concern is the garden where all the headstones are. People would want to create a garden there but you’d need to get permission from the bishop to remove them.

‘A lot of them you can’t read the writing on anymore.

‘It’s an interesting property and there’s a lot you could do with it.

‘It’s attracted lots of interest from a range of different people. One lady wanted it as a yoga studio, somebody else wanted to turn it into a house and a couple of people looked at it for a business.’

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