■ Rail company fined £5m for timetable chaos
GOVIA Thameslink Railway (GTR) has been fined £5million by the rail regulator over its poor communication with passengers during the chaotic introduction of a new timetable.
The Office of Rail and Road (ORR) said GTR ‘failed to provide appropriate, accurate and timely information’ amid severe disruption on its Thameslink and Great Northern routes for eight weeks following the launch of the May 2018 timetable.
Some trains were permanently removed from the timetable but this was not made clear to passengers for several weeks, according to the ORR. Other trains were removed or cancelled on a daily basis, leading to a ‘severe lack of certainty for passengers up until the point of travel’, the ORR said.
The investigation also found that inadequate internal communication within GTR often left station staff with ‘little or no information’ to help passengers, leaving passengers with ‘very little notice or certainty’ about what trains would run. A separate ORR investigation into Northern, which operates services across northern England, found in many cases passengers were given ‘inadequate information’ in the two weeks that immediately followed the timetable introduction.
Stephanie Tobyn, a deputy director at the regulator, said: ‘The exceptional circumstances that followed the introduction of the timetable meant that providing perfect advance information for passengers was from the outset an impossible task and GTR’s overriding focus was on providing as much capacity as it could to meet customer demand.’
■ Knife crime hits highest level since 2009
THE number of criminals caught with knives or dangerous weapons has hit its highest level in nearly a decade, official figures have revealed.
Last year more than 21,000 offences of possessing or making threats with blades or offensive weapons resulted in a conviction or caution in England and Wales. One in five of the culprits was aged under 18.
The statistics also showed that almost two-thirds of cases did not result in an immediate prison term, with 4,000 offences dealt with by a suspended sentence, while just over 5,000 resulted in a community punishment.
However, a Ministry of Justice report said custodial sentences for knife or offensive weapons crimes are at the highest level since the statistical series started in 2008, with almost 8,000 (37 per cent) of offences resulting in immediate custody, compared with 5,734 (20 per cent) in 2008.
Justice minister Rory Stewart said: ‘Knife crime destroys lives and shatters communities, and this government is doing everything in its power to tackle its devastating consequences. Sentences for those carrying knives are getting tougher — they are more likely to be sent straight to prison, and for longer — than at any time in the last decade.’
■ Catholic priest jailed over historic child sex abuse
A CATHOLIC priest has been jailed for nine years and 11 months after abusing six children in the 1970s, leaving one of his victims ‘in fractured pieces’, despite the offences being reported to the church on two separate occasions.
Francis McDermott, 75, abused six victims, some as young as 10, in London, Norwich, and High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, between 1971 and 1978, Aylesbury Crown Court heard.
One victim said today he had a ‘devastating impact’ on her life, adding: ‘I look in the mirror and see myself in fractured pieces.’ Addressing her abuser, she said: ‘My dad died on Christmas eve. A year later you were putting your hands down my knickers and snogging me. My first experience should not have been with a Roman Catholic priest 17 years older than me.’
A second victim said she did not tell anyone what happened for years because: ‘I felt important to him,’ before saying she had come to realise it was an ‘abusive manipulative relationship’ and that he had ‘used my parents’ trust and religious indoctrination’ to abuse her.
McDermott (pictured above), of Bideford, Devon, was found guilty of 18 counts of historic child sex offences following a trial.
■ ‘Bomb cyclone’ storm brings chaos across US
NATIONAL Guard troops used special vehicles with tank-like treads to rescue stranded drivers in Colorado in the wake of a massive storm that unleashed heavy rain and snow on large parts of the United States.
The blizzard in Colorado caused widespread power outages, forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights and wreaked havoc on roads as drivers became overwhelmed by blinding snow. A wind gust was clocked at 97mph in Colorado Springs, while the window-rattling storm brought blizzards, floods and a tornado across more than 25 states, stretching from the northern Rocky Mountains to Texas and beyond.
The culprit was a sudden and severe drop in ground-level air pressure in Colorado, the most pronounced dive since 1950, caused by a combination of the jet stream and normal conditions in the wind shadow of the Rockies. Air rushed into the low-pressure area and then rose into the atmosphere.
‘It’s like a vacuum cleaner, really,’ said Greg Carbin, chief of forecast operations for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Centre. ‘When that much air rushes higher into the atmosphere, it causes severe weather. Meteorologists call the rapid change in pressure a “bomb cyclone”.’