Daily Archives: October 17, 2017

Reese Witherspoon says she was assaulted at 16

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Oscar-winning actress Reese Witherspoon has said she was assaulted by an unnamed film director when she was 16.

In a speech at an Elle Women in Hollywood event on Monday, the Legally Blonde and Walk the Line star said she felt “true disgust at the director”.

And she felt “anger… at the agents and producers who made me feel silence was a condition of my employment”.

She said she had suffered multiple other “experiences of harassment and sexual assault” during her career.

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She didn’t go into detail about her experiences as a 16-year-old, but added: “I wish I could tell you that that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly, it wasn’t.”

The A-lister, who also stars in TV series Big Little Lies, said she didn’t speak about those experiences “very often”.

But she went on: “After hearing all the stories these past few days… the things that we’re kind of told to sweep under the rug and not talk about, it’s made me want to speak up and speak up loudly because I felt less alone this week than I’ve ever felt in my entire career.

“And I’ve just spoken to so many actresses and writers, and particularly women who’ve had similar experiences, and many of them have bravely gone public with their stories.

“And that truth is very encouraging to me and to everyone out there in the world because you can only heal by telling the truth.”

‘A new normal’

The actress said she didn’t sleep before giving her speech because of “the feelings I’ve been having about anxiety, about being honest, the guilt for not speaking up earlier or taking action”.

She referred to the fact it had “been a hard week for women in Hollywood” following the Harvey Weinstein allegations.

But she said she believed there was a new attitude towards harassment, which would address “the abuse of power in this business and every business”.

She added: “I feel really, really encouraged that there will be a new normal.”


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NHS surgery waits run into years in Northern Ireland

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Patients in Northern Ireland are waiting three years to see a consultant about having surgery following a GP referral.

The BBC has obtained exclusive figures showing long waiting times before a decision to operate.

In Northern Ireland, targets say most patients should be seen within 9 weeks and none should wait over 15 weeks.

Yet some patients are waiting 155 weeks or more to see a specialist for spinal conditions.

A spokesman for the Health and Social Care board said it was ‘unacceptable’ that waiting lists had grown so long.

Longer and longer waits

The health service has not met the targets for several years.

Figures obtained by Freedom of Information requests in April this year and seen by the BBC show that in one of Northern Ireland’s five healthcare trusts, the minimum waiting time for an appointment with an orthopaedic consultant specialising in spinal conditions was 155 weeks.

For upper limb conditions, the minimum wait was 127 weeks.

By June, waits for spinal appointments at the same trust had risen to 159 weeks.

Megan’s story

Megan Fleming, who is 14 years old, needs an urgent operation to correct a curvature, or scoliosis, of her spine.

Her health is deteriorating fast, and she has trouble breathing. Despite her condition, the teenager from Carrickfergus continues to go to dance classes, but says her future is on hold until her operation, which surgeons have told her will be a year away.

Her mother Karen said: “Megan loves dancing. It’s just her life at the minute. She just wants to dance.

“But at the minute she needs the surgery to help her. You could see the consultant was absolutely gutted and you could see it was hurting to say a year, but it’s out of his control.

“I’ve paid taxes, I’ve paid national insurance. So why can’t I get the surgery that she deserves?”

Megan and Karen are now trying to raise the £50,000 that her surgery will cost privately, fearing that the long wait will put Megan’s long-term health at risk.

Dr Ursula Brennan, a GP in Belfast, said that seeking private healthcare was a decision more and more patients were having to make in the current climate.

“You’re going to have to wait, and it may be several months. It may be into 52 weeks, or 80 weeks, or beyond.

“It’s very difficult to turn this conversation to – and these are our elderly folk – that you may have to use your life savings to actually improve your quality of life.”

When asked about the long waits, which are far higher than in other parts of the UK, the deputy chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board, Michael Bloomfield, said: “That is absolutely unacceptable, and that’s why we need to clearly illustrate the need for reform.

“There are about 35,000 more surgical procedures required than the health service currently has capacity for.

“Without the additional funding to see those patients or have them treated in different ways, it is regrettably inevitable that waiting times will increase to the position that they are now in.”

Political vacuum

The political commentator Deirdre Heenan is working on a report with the Nuffield Trust into the emerging healthcare crisis in Northern Ireland.

She said: “In the last nine months we’ve had no government in Northern Ireland. We’re in a political vacuum.

“This system reverts to keeping the show on the road, and any ideas about transformation or change are simply mothballed.”

In a blog co-authored with health economist John Appleby, she writes: “There is a difficult backdrop: austerity, increasing demand, rising expectations, and political uncertainty.

“It is not clear that the public are in a position to call for change. They may not have good information about how well the service meets their needs, and have not necessarily been made part of the long conversations about change, which as a result can sound like it brings bad news.

“But the impact on patients of the current impasse in implementing necessary changes is stark. In June this year, for example, one in six of the entire Northern Ireland population was currently on an outpatient or inpatient waiting list. In England the figure is one in 14.

“And over 64,000 people had been waiting over a year for their first outpatient appointment – a quarter of all those on the waiting list. In England, by contrast, around 1,500 people were still waiting over a year – just 2 per cent of the number in Northern Ireland for a population over 30 times larger.”

On Wednesday, the BBC will be publishing its NHS tracker, which allows users to look at how their local hospitals are performing on waiting times for A&E, cancer and planned operations.

Solo: A Star Wars Story revealed as Han Solo movie title

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The title of the Star Wars spin off-film about the young Han Solo has been revealed as Solo: A Star Wars Story.

The movie will star Alden Ehrenreich as the title character alongside Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson and Emilia Clarke.

Director Ron Howard made the announcement in a video shared on Twitter.

He also said the movie had now wrapped and will go into editing. It’s due to be released on May 25 2018.

The film has already received a lot of attention after Howard took over from Phil Lord and Christopher Miller as director.

They said their departure was down to “creative differences” with producers.

Solo’s title follows the “A Star Wars Story” format set by Rogue One, the first spin-off movie set in the Star Wars universe but occurring outside the main franchise.

These movies focus on the same Star Wars fictional history, but don’t centre around the Skywalker family and the central storylines from the main films.


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Drug therapy ‘restores breathing’ after spinal injury

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A drug-based therapy appears to restore breathing in rats paralysed from the neck down by a spinal injury, according to scientists.

They hope their “exciting but early” findings could ultimately help free patients from ventilators.

The pioneering work, in Cell Reports, suggests the brain may not be needed for respiration if a nerve pathway in the spine can be awakened.

More studies are now needed to better understand and exploit this system.

‘No brain’ breathing

Normally, messages to and from the brain control breathing.

If the spinal cord is damaged high up in the neck, these messages can’t get through and a person will need mechanical assistance or a ventilator to breathe.

Experts have been looking at ways to repair spinal cord damage to reconnect with the brain, but the latest therapeutic approach, being explored at Case Western Reserve University, is entirely different.

Dr Jerry Silver and colleagues believe they have found an alternative nerve pathway for breathing in the spinal cord itself.

The researchers used a drug and a light therapy known as optogenetics to dial up this spinal system.

It appeared to control the body’s main muscle of respiration – the diaphragm, a dome-shaped sheet of muscle that sits underneath the lungs, separating the chest from the abdomen.

The live adult rats that they studied had severed spinal cords, meaning the brain could not be the source of the diaphragm movement or breathing that the researchers saw after they administered the therapy.

They believe the treatment works by stopping other nerve signals that would normally silence the spinal system that they found.

Dr Silver said: “This is a primitive response that has been kept in the spinal cord for emergencies, like gasping and screaming in response to danger.”

Although the researchers say the movements they saw resembled breathing, it’s not clear yet if it would be enough to sustain life. They plan more animal studies to check.

Dr Silver said: “Ultimately, the goal of this research would be to free people with these neck injuries from having to use mechanical ventilators.

“Infections and other complications from mechanical ventilators are a leading cause of death after spinal cord injuries.”

Dr Thomas Becker, an expert in neuroregeneration at Edinburgh Medical School, said: “This is an important discovery on the fundamental working of the spinal cord.

“Understanding the spinal network is the first step toward future therapies.

“This knowledge could be used for future therapies to restore breathing in patients who lost nerve connections from the brain as a consequence of spinal cord injury.”

Bjork elaborates on sexual assault claim

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Pop star Bjork has provided a detailed account of the harassment she claims to have experienced at the hands of a Danish film director.

Writing on Facebook, the star described “constant awkward paralyzing unwanted” offers of sex from the film-maker.

She first revealed the assault in a similar post on Sunday. Although she did not name the director, she has only made one film – 2000’s Dancer in the Dark, directed by Lars Von Trier.

He has rejected her allegations.

The director told Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten newspaper it was “not the case” that he had sexually harassed the singer.

“But that we were definitely not friends, that’s a fact,” he added.

Bjork’s initial accusation came as a statement of solidarity with the women who have accused Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault.

“It was extremely clear to me when I walked into the actress’s profession that my humiliation and role as a lesser, sexually-harassed being was the norm,” she said.

“I became aware… that it is a universal thing that a director can touch and harass his actresses at will. When I turned the director down repeatedly he sulked and punished me.”

Von Trier’s denial was accompanied by a statement from Peter Aalbaek Jensen, the producer of Dancer in the Dark, who told Jyllands-Posten that he and Von Trier “were the victims”.

“That woman was stronger than both Lars von Trier and me and our company put together,” he said. “She dictated everything and was about to close a movie of 100m kroner [$16m].”

‘Clear sexual intention’

Dancer in the Dark went on to win the Palme d’Or at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, where Bjork also picked up the best actress prize.

But rumours about the troubled production circulated in the movie press. Bjork was alleged to have walked off the set for two days, while more outlandish stories suggested she had eaten her costume and taken to living in the woods.

She said she was providing a fuller explanation of her experiences, in part, to combat those stories.

“It feels extremely difficult to come out with something of this nature into the public, especially when immediately ridiculed by offenders,” the star said.

“I fully sympathize with everyone who hesitates, even for years. But I feel it is the right time especially now when it could make a change.”

She went on to claim the director “stroked me, sometimes for minutes, against my wishes” and made “constant awkward paralysing unwanted whispered sexual offers”.

When she demanded that he stop, “he exploded and broke a chair in front of everyone on set”, she said.

When filming in Sweden, she alleged, “he threatened to climb from his room’s balcony over to mine in the middle of the night with a clear sexual intention, while his wife was in the room next door”.

Bjork added that attempting to dismiss her account by accusing her of “being difficult” paralleled the “Weinstein methods” of “bullying” victims who dared to speak up.

“I have never eaten a shirt,” she continued. “Not sure that is even possible.”

Following the singer’s initial accusations, Von Trier’s assistant told the BBC: “Lars declines the accusations Bjork has made, but doesn’t wish to comment any further.”

He has yet to respond to a request for a response to the latest allegations.

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Concern over norovirus increase by Betsi Cadwaladr health board

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The largest health board in Wales is urging people to be alert to the symptoms of norovirus, amid concerns over a rise in cases this year.

Last November, a major outbreak of the winter vomiting bug hit Wrexham Maelor Hospital and two community hospitals run by Betsi Cadwaladr health board.

The outbreak closed nine hospital wards in north Wales alone.

The sickness bug costs the UK economy £15m every year, according to researchers at Bangor University.

More than 130 patients were affected in north Wales last November and the outbreak resulted in 192 “lost bed days” – occasions where beds were unavailable to new patients.

Tracey Cooper, assistant director of nursing for infection prevention at the health board, said there were already reports of norovirus cases at care homes in north Wales.

“Estimates of the number of people affected are difficult to get because most people who have norovirus stay at home,” she said.

‘2.9m cases annually’

“We monitor what’s happening in the southern hemisphere through the summer, because their summer is our winter and vice versa.

“What we’ve seen this summer is they’ve had increasing numbers of norovirus and also increasing numbers of flu and very severe flu.

“Usually what they get in our summer, we then get in winter.

“So we are expecting to see an increased number of people affected by norovirus and an increasing number of people with flu and severe flu.”

Researchers at Bangor University in Gwynedd have estimated there are 2.9m cases of norovirus in the UK annually.

They calculate the cost to the economy is £15m every year, although other estimates place the cost much higher.

Humans do not develop immunity to norovirus, meaning people can catch it repeatedly.

It spreads easily, and can be transferred to different surfaces by touch.

What Sean Hughes wanted to happen after his death

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A poem about death written by comedian Sean Hughes 23 years ago has resurfaced on social media as a poignant tribute.

The poem, published in Sean’s Book in 1994, is titled Death and lays out a list of things he wanted to happen after he passed away.

He said he wanted people at his funeral to “have a laugh, a dance, meet a loved one”. He also said he wanted people to say: “I didn’t know him but cheers”.

The former Never Mind the Buzzcocks captain died on Monday aged 51.

One fan dug out the poem from his book and posted it on Twitter after Hughes’s death.


Death by Sean Hughes

I want to be cremated

I know how boring funerals can be

I want people to gather

meet new people

have a laugh, a dance, meet a loved one.

I want people to have free drink all night.

I want people to patch together, half truths.

I want people to contradict each other

I want them to say ‘I didn’t know him but cheers’

I want my parents there,

adding more pain to their life.

I want the Guardian to mis-sprint three lines about me

or to be mentioned on the news

Just before the ‘parrot who loves Brookside’ story.

I want to have my ashes scattered in a bar,

on the floor, mingle with sawdust,

a bar where beautiful trendy people

Will trample over me… again

Taken from Sean’s Book by Sean Hughes, published by Pavilion Books


The London-born Irish comedian died in hospital in London. He was a team captain on BBC Two’s Never Mind The Buzzcocks between 1996 and 2002.

He became the youngest winner of the Edinburgh Festival’s Perrier Award (now known as the Edinburgh Comedy Award) in 1990 at the age of 24.

Comedians including Jack Dee, Jim Moir (aka Vic Reeves), Sarah Millican, Katy Brand and Richard Herring were among those to pay tribute to him on Monday.


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Amber Rudd calls Brexit without a deal ‘unthinkable’

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The prospect of Brexit happening without any deal being reached between the UK and the EU is “unthinkable”, Home Secretary Amber Rudd has said.

Ms Rudd was responding to a question about the impact on security of nothing being agreed before the UK leaves.

“We will make sure there is something between them and us to maintain our security,” she assured MPs.

Earlier Brexit Secretary David Davis defended keeping the “no deal” option open in the on-going negotiations.

After five rounds of Brexit negotiations, the EU has described the talks as in “deadlock” and there has been an increased debate about the possibility of the UK leaving without a deal in place.

One of the UK’s aims is for a new security treaty with the EU, and Ms Rudd told the Commons Home Affairs Committee contingency plans were being made in case this was not in place by the UK’s departure in March 2019.

Asked whether, if there was “no deal of any form”, Britain would be as safe and secure as it currently is, she replied: “I think it is unthinkable there would be no deal.

“It is so much in their interests as well as ours – in their communities’, families’, tourists’ interests to have something in place.”

Ms Rudd also said it was “unthinkable” EU citizens would be asked to leave the UK after Brexit, but was unable to offer guarantees while negotiations continue.

Mr Davis was asked about a “no deal” scenario as he updated MPs on Monday’s dinner between Theresa May and EU officials.

Reaching agreement with the EU is “by far and away the best option” he said, adding: “The maintenance of the option of no deal is for both negotiating reasons and sensible security – any government doing its job properly will do that.”

International Trade Secretary Liam Fox said there was no reason to fear the impact on the economy of no deal being agreed, saying it “would not be the Armageddon that people project”.

He told the BBC: “I think that we need to concentrate on the realities, get rid of the hyperbole around the debate and focus on the fact that if we can get a good agreement with the EU, both Britain and the EU would be better off for it.”

‘First step’

A UK-EU free trade deal cannot be discussed until the EU deems sufficient progress has been made on other matters and gives the green light.

In his statement to MPs, Mr Davis said the UK was “reaching the limits of what we can achieve” in Brexit talks without moving on to talk about trade.

He urged EU leaders to give counterpart Michel Barnier the green light at this week’s EU summit to begin trade talks.

Mr Barnier said he wanted to speed up talks but “it takes two to accelerate”.

This was a reference to comments made by Mrs May after her dinner with the EU’s chief negotiator, in which she said the two sides had agreed on the need to “accelerate” the process.

Speaking on Tuesday, Mr Barnier said a “constructive dynamic” was needed over the next two months but “there was a lot of work to do” and issues must be tackled in the “right order”.

“At the moment we are still not yet at the first step which is securing citizen rights, guaranteeing the long term success of the good Friday agreement and finalising the accounts,” he said.

The talks – which were held as EU member states prepare to assess progress so far on Thursday – were said to be “constructive and friendly” but the UK’s financial settlement with the EU continues to be a sticking point and the EU will not discuss trade until this has been settled.

Along with the UK’s “divorce bill”, the EU is insisting agreement be reached on citizens’ rights and what happens on the Northern Ireland border before agreeing to open talks on the free trade deal Mrs May’s government wants to strike.

In his Commons statement, Mr Davis urged the EU to give Mr Barnier a mandate to start discussing its future relations with the UK, including trade and defence, telling MPs he was “ready to move the negotiations on”.

He suggested the UK was “reaching the limits of what we can achieve without consideration of the future relationship”.

“Our aim remains to provide as much certainty to business and citizens on both sides. To fully provide that certainty, we must be able to talk about the future.”

‘Right path’

On citizens’ rights, he said key issues such as the rules on family reunion, the right to return, the onward movement of British expats in Europe and the right of EU residents to export benefits had still to be settled.

Announcing that EU citizens who currently have permanent residence in the UK would not have to go through the full process of re-applying before Brexit, he said the UK had consistently “gone further and provided more certainty” on their status than the EU had done.

While the UK had “some way to secure the new partnership with the EU”, he was “confident we are on the right path”.

Speaking in the Commons earlier on Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said he thought a reported bill of £100bn was too high and urged the EU to “get serious” and agree to settle the citizens’ rights question.

For Labour, shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer said EU and UK citizens were still no wiser over their future while it “appeared the deadlock over the financial settlement is such that the two sides are barely talking”.

“Nobody should underestimate the seriousness of the situation we find ourselves in. At the first hurdle, the government has failed to hit a very important target.”

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Man Booker Prize: Winner of £50,000 award to be announced

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The winner of the Man Booker Prize is to be revealed by the Duchess of Cornwall in a ceremony later.

Six authors are in the running for the prestigious £50,000 fiction award.

They include bookies’ favourite Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders – about Abraham Lincoln’s grief after the death of his 11-year-old son.

Scottish novelist Ali Smith is shortlisted for Autumn, the first of a quartet, alongside debut authors Emily Fridlund and Fiona Mozley.

The list is completed by US author Paul Auster and Pakistan-born Mohsin Hamid.

Mozley, a PhD student at the University of York’s Centre for Medieval Studies, is one of three female writers on a shortlist that is evenly divided between the sexes.

She’s nominated for Elmet, which she started writing on her phone while commuting in London – and which she now finds herself selling to customers at the bookshop in York where she works part time.

It’s a family drama exploring the loss of rural community in northern England.

Hamid, who was shortlisted in 2007 in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, is once more in contention thanks to Exit West, while Smith is shortlisted for the fourth time for her book, which is “in part about Brexit”.

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There are three US authors on the shortlist – Fridlund, Saunders and Auster.

Auster’s book 4321 is set against the background of the civil rights movement, while Fridlund’s History of Wolves looks at the effect of “neglectful parenting”.

If Lincoln in the Bardo does win for Saunders, who is best known for his short stories and novellas, he will be only the second American to win the prize.

The award has been open to US writers since 2014 and was awarded to its first American winner, Paul Beatty, last year.

2017 Man Booker Prize contenders

Paul Auster, 4 3 2 1

In a nutshell: A young man growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s and 60s leads four parallel lives.

Judges’ comment: “An ambitious, complex, epic narrative… that is essentially both human and humane.”

Emily Fridlund (above), History of Wolves

In a nutshell: A 14-year-old girl living on a commune in the US Midwest befriends some new arrivals.

Judges’ comment: “A novel of silver prose and disquieting power that asks very difficult questions.”

Mohsin Hamid, Exit West

In a nutshell: A boy and girl fall in love, move in together and consider leaving their unnamed country.

Judges’ comment: “A subtle, compact piece of writing about a relationship, its blossoming and digressions.”

Fiona Mozley, Elmet

In a nutshell: A boy remembers his life in a house his father built with his bare hands in an isolated wood.

Judges’ comment: “Timeless in its epic mixture of violence and love, it is also timely… with no punches pulled.”

George Saunders (above), Lincoln in the Bardo

In a nutshell: President Abraham Lincoln goes to a Georgetown cemetery to grieve following his young son’s death.

Judges’ comment: “Daring and accomplished, this is a novel with a rare capriciousness of mind and heart.”

Ali Smith, Autumn

In a nutshell: A dying 101-year-old man is watched over by his closest and only friend.

Judges’ comment: “An elegy for lost time, squandered beauty but also for the loss of connections.”

Baroness Lola Young, chair of the 2017 judging panel, said the six shortlisted novels “collectively push against the borders of convention”.

Her fellow judges include novelist Sarah Hall, artist Tom Phillips and the travel writer Colin Thubron.

The shortlist was whittled down from a longlist of 15 novels that was announced in July.

Sebastian Barry, Arundhati Roy and Zadie Smith are among the big-name writers whose works were on the longlist but did not make the final cut.

Man Booker Prize – Who’s won it before?

  • 2016: Paul Beatty, The Sellout
  • 2015: Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings
  • 2014: Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  • 2013: Eleanor Catton, The Luminaries
  • 2012: Hilary Mantel, Bring Up the Bodies
  • 2011: Julian Barnes, The Sense of an Ending
  • 2010: Howard Jacobson, The Finkler Question
  • 2009: Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
  • 2008: Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger
  • 2007: Anne Enright, The Gathering

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Sainsbury’s to cut up to 2,000 administrative jobs

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Sainsbury’s has said it will cut up to 2,000 jobs from its human resources staff.

The chain, which is the UK’s second biggest supermarket, says the “difficult decision” is part of a plan to cut £500m from its costs.

The restructuring will affect roles in stores, as well as in the company’s central offices.

It plans to make 1,400 payroll and HR clerks redundant and other changes could see another 600 posts removed.

The majority of the headcount losses will be from within the stores.

The 600 roles on which the group is consulting are predominantly HR roles across the supermarket chain, its newly acquired Argos chain, as well as Sainsbury’s bank.

Sainsbury’s also owns Habitat, and employs nearly 200,000 people in total.

It said it would offer affected staff alternative roles wherever possible, or redundancy packages.