In the wake of accusations that Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are cashing in on generous European expenditure allowances, West Midlands MEP Nikki Sinclaire has called for more openness on the use of funds.Written by Sabrina Dougall on 22nd April 2014
Redbrick on the week
Hurricane Isaac hits USA Hurricane Isaac made landfall in the US state of Louisiana
Hurricane Isaac hits USA
Hurricane Isaac made landfall in the US state of Louisiana. Winds of up to 80mph (130km/h) hit the shore, and the storm headed in the direction of New Orleans, exactly seven years after Hurricane Katrina. President Obama warned residents in the hurricane's path not to ‘tempt fate’ and to heed evacuation warnings. Fortified levees and an elaborate flood containment plan appeared to have spared New Orleans from disaster. Isaac, which was downgraded from hurricane status on Wednesday night, weaken further throughout the day, to become a tropical depression as it headed west towards Arkansas and Missouri.
West Coast mainline feud continues
Richard Branson’s Virgin Trains launched court proceedings this week in a final attempt to stop the government handing its West Coast mainline franchise over to FirstGroup. Virgin lost the contract in a bidding war and Labour have urged the government to delay signing the contract so that MPs can examine it. Over 100,000 people have signed a petition online, which should be enough to provoke a debate on the issue in parliament. Richard Branson said his company had ‘not taken the decision lightly’ but court was ‘the only course now available to try and unravel this sorry process.’ FirstGroup said that it had ‘every confidence in the [Department for Transport’s] process, which is rigorous, detailed and fair.’
Ofqual refuses English regrades
England's exams regulator, Ofqual, has refused to order exam boards to regrade this summer's English GCSE in a row over this year's results. It acknowledged grade boundaries had changed part way through the year, but stood by the new June grading system. Instead of regrading, pupils would be offered early resits in November, Ofqual said. Head teachers urged Ofqual to investigate when it was revealed that grade boundaries for the exams changed between January and June. Heads claim those who sat the exam in June were put at an unfair disadvantage over those who sat them earlier in the year. Many pupils who had been expecting a crucial C grade were given a D as a result of the grade boundary changes. This means many will be denied college places.
Spanish wildfires brought under control
The worst wildfires in memory in the Malaga region of southern Spain have now been brought under control after killing one man. An estimated 4,000 holidaymakers and villagers had to be evacuated as racing walls of flames 100 feet high came dangerously near their villas and houses. Officials warned at the height of the crisis that Ojen, one of Spain’s favourite holiday towns, was at risk of going up in smoke, and evacuated its entire population. A 78-year old man died in his villa, and several people were treated for serious burns including a couple in their fifties. Four hundred firefighters and soldiers battled throughout Friday night, and groups of evacuated tourists watched eight helicopters and airplanes swooping onto hillsides as they ‘bombed’ the fires with water.
Paralympics begin in London
A peak audience of 11.2 million watched the Paralympic Games opening ceremony in the UK on Wednesday evening. The four-hour show, which featured appearances from Sir Ian McKellen and Professor Stephen Hawking, begun a fortnight of Paralympic sport. Team GB is aiming to win a total of 103 medals and got off to a winning start this week. Track cyclist Sarah Storey cruised to the first gold medal for team GB in the women's C5 individual pursuit, after breaking her own world record in Thursday's heats. Ellie Simmonds won gold in the final of the Women's 400m Freestyle - S6, beating Victoria Arlen of the United States in a world record time of 5:19.17 minutes. British sprinter Richard Whitehead, a double above-the-knee amputee, crossed the finish line in 24.38 seconds to break his own world record and win Paralympic gold in the T42 200m.
Abramovich wins legal battle
The owner of Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich, won his legal battle against Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian oligarch, ending a court case thought to have run up legal bills of £100m. Berezovsky accused his former business partner of a breach of trust and contract. He claimed he was intimidated into selling shares in the Russian oil company Sibneft for ‘a fraction of their true worth’. He was seeking more than £3bn in damages. Mrs Justice Gloster said Berezovsky had shown himself to be an ‘unimpressive and inherently unreliable witness, who regarded truth as a transitory, flexible concept, which could be moulded to suit his current purposes’.
Thalidomide apology ‘insulting’
The company which invented thalidomide has ‘insulted’ those affected by the drug by issuing an ‘insincere’ apology, campaigners have said. The drug, sold in the 1950s as a cure for morning sickness, was linked to birth defects and withdrawn in 1961. German-based Gruenenthal has issued its first apology in 50 years, but said the drug's possible side-effects ‘could not be detected’ before it was marketed. But the UK's Thalidomide Trust said any apology should also admit wrongdoing. By the time the drug was pulled from the market, more than 10,000 babies worldwide had been born with a range of disabilities caused by the drug. This included shortened arms and legs, blindness, deafness, heart problems and brain damage.
Birmingham tower block demolished
Homes in Birmingham have been evacuated for safety reasons in order for a derelict tower block described as an ‘eyesore’ to be demolished. The 18-storey Normansell Tower on Waterworks Street, Aston, was blown up using explosives on Sunday. More than 80 homes within 160m of the site were evacuated as a precautionary measure. Earlier Birmingham City Council said the building had been derelict for five years and had become an eyesore. Dave Samrai, from the council, said: ‘There are no firm proposals for the 21,527 sq ft site at present, but it will become part of a wider development of the area.’