Friday, 27 April 2012

Gas canister man storms office

One of the country's busiest shopping streets has been closed as a man wearing gas canisters stormed into an office and threatened to blow himself up, it was reported. Tottenham Court Road in central London was closed after police received emergency calls at midday. Scotland Yard sent a hostage negotiator to the scene amid reports the man had held people hostage inside the building several floors up. Pictures emerged of computer and office equipment being thrown through one of the office windows. A police spokesman said it was "too early to say if the suspect was armed or indeed had taken any hostages" but businesses and nearby buildings were evacuated. Joaqam Ramus, who works at nearby Cafe Fresco, said before being evacuated: "There was talk of a bomb and somebody having a hostage in a building. "All Tottenham Court Road is closed and so are we - the police told us to shut. "We don't know what it is but it seems someone has a hostage."

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Credit card fraud websites shut down on three continents

Three men have been arrested and 36 criminal websites selling credit card information and other personal data shut down as part of a two-year international anti-fraud operation, police have confirmed. The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA), working with the FBI and US Department of Justice, as well as authorities in Germany; the Netherlands; Ukraine; Australia and Romania, swooped after identifying the sites as specialising in selling card and bank details in bulk. The move comes as a blow to what is a growing black market for stolen financial data. Detectives estimated that the card information seized could have been used to extract more than £500m in total by fraudsters. SOCA claimed it has recovered more than two and a half million items of compromised personal and financial information over the past two years. “The authorities have shut down 36 websites but it is difficult to know how many other people had access to that data. They could spring back up somewhere else if a gang is not eradicated completely,” said Graham Cluley of internet security firm Sophos. He added: “This is big business and, just as in any legitimate company there are people who specialise in different things, so there are those who actually get their hands on the personal data and those who sell it on; they are not often the same person.” An investigation by The Independent last summer found that scammers were making a “comfortable living” getting their hands on sensitive information and selling it online. Card details were being offered for sale for between 4p and £60 per card – depending on the quality – according to one source in the business. Some cards would be sold with incomplete or unreliable information; others ready to use. Some of the card details for sale on the websites shut down by SOCA were being sold for as little as £2 each. Investigators said that the alleged fraudsters were using Automated Vending Carts, which allowed them to sell large quantities of stolen data. They are said to be a driver of the growth in banking fraud over the last 18 months because of the speed with which stolen data can be sold. Lee Miles, Head of Cyber Operations for SOCA said: “This operation is an excellent example of the level of international cooperation being focused on tackling online fraud. Our activities have saved business, online retailers and financial institutions potential fraud losses estimated at more than half a billion pounds, and at the same time protected thousands of individuals from the distress caused by being a victim of fraud or identity crime.” An alleged operator in Macedonia was one of those arrested, while two British men accused of buying the information were also detained. Britain’s Dedicated Cheque & Plastic Crime Unit also seized computers suspected of being used to commit fraud.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Reopen Madeleine case, police urge

Scotland Yard has urged Portuguese authorities to reopen the search for Madeleine McCann as detectives said there are 195 potential leads to finding her alive. The detective leading the Metropolitan Police review said the case can still be solved before officers released a picture of what she might now look like as a nine-year-old. Detective Chief Inspector Andy Redwood said he believes her disappearance was a stranger abduction, as he said there are 195 "investigative opportunities". Police refused to say what evidence they had uncovered to suggest Madeleine is alive. Mr Redwood confirmed that his team of more than 30 officers involved in the case had been out to Portugal seven times, including a visit to the family's holiday flat in Praia da Luz. It will be five years ago next week since the three-year-old went missing as her parents, Kate and Gerry McCann, dined with friends nearby. A spokesman for the McCanns said the family was pleased with the image. Mr Redwood said his 37 officers had dealt with 40,000 pieces of information but the "primacy still sits in Portugal" in the attempt to find her. Commander Simon Foy said: "Most significantly, the message we want to bring to you is that, on the evidence, there is a possibility that she is alive and we desperately need your help today to appeal directly to the public for information to support our investigation." Mr Redwood said "evidence that she is alive stems from the forensic view of the timeline" that there was the opportunity for her to be taken. Investigations show "there do appear to be gaps", he added. Detectives in Portugal are also understood to want the case reopened but must gain judicial approval via the courts.

Insecure websites to be named and shamed after checks

Companies that do not do enough to keep their websites secure are to be named and shamed to help improve security. The list of good and bad sites will be published regularly by the non-profit Trustworthy Internet Movement (TIM). A survey carried out to launch the group found that more than 52% of sites tested were using versions of security protocols known to be compromised. The group will test websites to see how well they have implemented basic security software. Security fundamentals The group has been set up by security experts and entrepreneurs frustrated by the slow pace of improvements in online safety. "We want to stimulate some initiatives and get something done," said TIM's founder Philippe Courtot, serial entrepreneur and chief executive of security firm Qualys. He has bankrolled the group with his own money. TIM has initially focused on a widely used technology known as the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL). Experts recruited to help with the initiative include SSL's inventor Dr Taher Elgamal; "white hat" hacker Moxie Marlinspike who has written extensively about attacking the protocol; and Michael Barrett, chief security officer at Paypal. Continue reading the main story “ Start Quote Everyone is now going to be able to see who has a good grade and who has a bad grade” Philippe Courtot Many websites use SSL to encrypt communications between them and their users. It is used to protect credit card numbers and other valuable data as it travels across the web. "SSL is one of the fundamental parts of the internet," said Mr Courtot. "It's what makes it trustworthy and right now it's not as secure as you think." Compromised certificates TIM plans a two-pronged attack on SSL. The first part would be to run automated tools against websites to test how well they had implemented SSL, said Mr Courtot. "We'll be making it public," he added. "Everyone is now going to be able to see who has a good grade and who has a bad grade." Early tests suggest that about 52% of sites checked ran a version of SSL known to be compromised. Companies who have done a bad job will be encouraged to improve and upgrade their implementations so it gets safer to use those sites. The second part of the initiative concerns the running of the bodies, known as certificate authorities, which guarantee that a website is what it claims to be. TIM said it would work with governments, industry bodies and companies to check that CAs are well run and had not been compromised. "It's a much more complex problem," said Mr Courtot. In 2011, two certificate authorities, DigiNotar and GlobalSign were found to have been compromised. In some cases this meant attackers eavesdropped on what should have been a secure communications channel. Steve Durbin, global vice president of the Information Security Forum which represents security specialists working in large corporations, said many of its members took responsibility for making sure sites were secure. "You cannot just say 'buyer beware'," he said. "That's not good enough anymore. They have a real a duty of care." He said corporations were also increasingly conscious of their reputation for providing safe and secure services to customers. Data breaches, hack attacks and poor security were all likely to hit share prices and could mean they lose customers, he noted.

Anti-depressants likely do more harm than good, study suggests

Commonly prescribed anti-depressants appear to be doing patients more harm than good, say researchers who have published a paper examining the impact of the medications on the entire body. See Also: Health & Medicine Pharmacology Birth Defects Mental Health Research Mind & Brain Depression Disorders and Syndromes Psychiatry Reference COX-2 inhibitor Psychoactive drug Seasonal affective disorder Anti-obesity drug "We need to be much more cautious about the widespread use of these drugs," says Paul Andrews, an evolutionary biologist at McMaster University and lead author of the article, published recently in the online journal Frontiers in Psychology. "It's important because millions of people are prescribed anti-depressants each year, and the conventional wisdom about these drugs is that they're safe and effective." Andrews and his colleagues examined previous patient studies into the effects of anti-depressants and determined that the benefits of most anti-depressants, even taken at their best, compare poorly to the risks, which include premature death in elderly patients. Anti-depressants are designed to relieve the symptoms of depression by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, where it regulates mood. The vast majority of serotonin that the body produces, though, is used for other purposes, including digestion, forming blood clots at wound sites, reproduction and development. What the researchers found is that anti-depressants have negative health effects on all processes normally regulated by serotonin. The findings include these elevated risks: developmental problems in infants problems with sexual stimulation and function and sperm development in adults digestive problems such as diarrhea, constipation, indigestion and bloating abnormal bleeding and stroke in the elderly The authors reviewed three recent studies showing that elderly anti-depressant users are more likely to die than non-users, even after taking other important variables into account. The higher death rates indicate that the overall effect of these drugs on the body is more harmful than beneficial. "Serotonin is an ancient chemical. It's intimately regulating many different processes, and when you interfere with these things you can expect, from an evolutionary perspective, that it's going to cause some harm," Andrews says. Millions of people are prescribed anti-depressants every year, and while the conclusions may seem surprising, Andrews says much of the evidence has long been apparent and available. "The thing that's been missing in the debates about anti-depressants is an overall assessment of all these negative effects relative to their potential beneficial effects," he says. "Most of this evidence has been out there for years and nobody has been looking at this basic issue." In previous research, Andrews and his colleagues had questioned the effectiveness of anti-depressants even for their prescribed function, finding that patients were more likely to suffer relapse after going off their medications as their brains worked to re-establish equilibrium. With even the intended function of anti-depressants in question, Andrews says it is important to look critically at their continuing use. "It could change the way we think about such major pharmaceutical drugs," he says. "You've got a minimal benefit, a laundry list of negative effects -- some small, some rare and some not so rare. The issue is: does the list of negative effects outweigh the minimal benefit?"

Madeleine McCann, the British girl who went missing while on holiday in Portugal half a decade ago, could still be alive, Scotland Yard said on Wednesday.

Madeleine McCann as she might look aged 9
Madeleine McCann as she might look aged 9  Photo: Teri Blythe

Detectives released a new “age progression” image of the toddler, which they said showed what she would look like today at the age of nine.

On Wednesday, Britain’s biggest police force said that as a result of evidence uncovered during a review “they now believe there is a possibility Madeleine is still alive”.

Officers have so far identified nearly 200 new items for investigation within historic material and are also “developing what they believe to be genuinely new material”.

Scotland Yard urged Portuguese authorities to reopen the search for her amid the new "investigative opportunities".

Police said the image, created ahead of what would have been her ninth birthday on May 12, had been created in “close collaboration with the family”.

Dengue Fever Asian Mosquito Could Invade UK

Asian Tiger Mosquito

The mosquito can carry dengue and chikungunya viruses

 

A mosquito that spreads tropical diseases including dengue fever may be poised to invade the UK because of climate change.

The Asian tiger mosquito has already been reported in France and Belgium and could be migrating north as winters become warmer and wetter.

Scientists have urged "wide surveillance" for the biting insect across countries of central and northern Europe, including the UK.

The mosquito can carry dengue and chikungunya viruses, both of which cause high fevers. The infections usually occur in tropical regions of Africa, Asia and South America.

Scientists led by Dr Samantha Martin, from the University of Liverpool, used climate models to predict how changing conditions might affect Asian tiger mosquito distribution.

They wrote in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface: "Mosquito climate suitability has significantly increased over the southern UK, northern France, the Benelux, parts of Germany, Italy, Sicily and the Balkan countries."

The research shows that parts of the UK could become hot-spots of Asian tiger mosquito activity between 2030 and 2050.

The mosquito has been introduced into Europe from Asia via goods shipments, mainly used tyres and bamboo.

Climate change is now shifting conditions suitable for the insect from southern Europe to central north-western areas.

The mosquito could survive in water butts and vases, and may find winter protection in greenhouses, said the researchers.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Britons living overseas defrauded 43 million pounds in benefit fraud in 2011


The British Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, has been visiting the Department of Work and Pensions benefits and healthcare team in Madrid. He warned Britons living abroad not to break the strict rules on what benefits they can and cannot claim. People who are pretending to live in the UK so they can collect benefits, but in fact are living overseas cost the British taxpayer 43 million pounds last year. Most of the reports of such benefit fraud came from Spain. Iain Duncan Smith commented, “We are determined to clamp down on benefit fraud abroad, which cost the British taxpayer around £43 million last year. This money should be going to the people who need it most and not lining the pockets of criminals sunning themselves overseas. The vast majority of British people overseas are law abiding, but fraudulently claiming benefits while living abroad is a crime and we are committed to putting a stop to it.” He also encouraged Britons to use the dedicated Spanish hotline to report benefit thieves. 900 554 440 or you report a benefit fraud here. The hotline has resulted in 100 people being sanctioned or prosecuted, and 134 more cases are currently under investigation. 3.1 million pounds in over payments of benefit have been identified and will be reclaimed. Source – UK in Spain - http://ukinspain.fco.gov.uk/en/news/?view=News&id=754530182 Duncan Smith made the most of his visit to Madrid and took the chance to meet with Health Minister, Ana Mato, and the Mayor of Madrid, Ana Botella. They discussed the response to the crisis with Duncan Smith calling for an end to the culture of ‘unemployment and dependency’, increasing the control on public spending and eliminating ‘the subsidies which don’t resolve problems because in some cases ‘they trap the poor’.

Anti-Corruption prosecutors to be strengthened in Málaga

 

The State Attorney General, Eduardo Torres-Dulce, has said that there are plans to designate ‘one or two prosecutors’ more to the specialist Anti-Corruption section in the province of Málaga. He made the comment at an event where Juan Carlos López Caballero took possession as Chief Prosecutor for Málaga, a job which he was sharing with his post as Delegate from the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor, where three prosecutors work. There have been complaints from prosecutors that only 8% of civil servants who work for the administration of justice do so in the prosecutors’ office, a number described as ‘totally insufficient’.

Ryanair threatens surcharge on flights to Spain

 

Millions of its passengers – who have already booked and paid for their flights in full – may now be asked to pay an extra fee upon departure, or be told they are not allowed to board. The airline sent an email to customers this week warning them of the backdated fare. “We may be forced to debit passengers for any government imposed increases in airport charges prior to your travel date,” its message read. “If any such tax, fee or charge is introduced or increased after your reservation has been made you will be obliged to pay it (or any increase) prior to departure”.

Mike Tyson has for the first time revealed his lowest point ever in a searingly candid interview.

Once known as the ‘baddest man on the planet’, his life has taken more than a few dark twists and turns.

But now Mike Tyson has for the first time revealed his lowest point ever in a searingly candid interview.

The former heavyweight champion said that back in 2009 he was in a hotel room with seven prostitutes, a morphine drip in his arm, a pile of cocaine and a bottle of cognac when he began to feel paranoid.

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Candid: The former world champion gave his most honest interview yet - revealing the drug-fuelled night that made him turn his life around and get clean and sober

Convinced the women were trying to steal from him he started beating them up and threw them out - to stop them from 'taking his soul'.

 

 Tyson said: ‘That’s when I realised it wasn’t just demons - it was the devil himself.

‘It was the lowest point of a very low life, but it was my own knockout punch to clean up life, get whole, get well - and I haven’t done anything in three years now. 

‘I’m clean. I’m sober.’

Tyson’s recently swapped the boxing ring for the cabaret stage in a six night comedy show at the MGM Grand Casino in Las Vegas, where some of his biggest fights took place.

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World Champion: Mike Tyson lands the knockout punch to the jaw of challenger Larry Holmes during fourth round of the World Heavyweight Championship in Atlantic City 1988

 

In an interview with Las Vegas Weekly to promote the show, he was asked to talk about the moment he realised he had to turn his life around.

Tyson, 45 said: ‘Laying in bed in a hotel room - I try never to be alone, even if it’s a prostitute, a dog. 

‘This is really dark. I am in my hotel suite, I’ve got seven women there, and I have a morphine drip, and I had my cocaine, and I had my (Viagra like pill) Cialis, I had my marijuana, I had the Hennessy, and I am at my lowest point because I got paranoid and I thought these women were trying to rob me and set me up. 

‘I started beating them. I was in a dark place. There was a purpose, though, because I didn’t want to give them any more of my soul.

‘So this is my devil, this is where I am, I am locked up alone. There is nobody there telling me that I’m doing too much. 

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Troubled: Tyson's first marriage to actress Robin Givens fell apart amid allegations of him being violent - he is now married for the third time

 

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Mug shot: In 1992 Tyson was jailed for raping Desiree Washington - a beauty pageant contestant - he was released from prison after three years

‘That is the devil, he won. I kicked them all out. So that was my lowest point. Oh, man. I am just very grateful to be here - my heart should have blown apart. I was sweating wide awake. No more cocaine. No more. Three years clean.’

In his turbulent life Tyson has been married three times, fathered eight children and became the youngest heavyweight champion the world has ever seen at just 20.

But fame ruined him and his troubled upbringing - his mother was a prostitute and he never knew his pimp father - came back to haunt him.

In the interview he claimed to have earned $300million in winnings but admitted that he was so bad with money he was ‘forced to live paycheck to paycheck’.

In 1992, three years after his first marriage to actress Robin Givens fell apart, he was jailed for six years for raping Desiree Washington, a contestant in the Miss Black America pageant.

Released having served three years, he fought Evander Holyfield in the fight that became one of the most notorious bouts in boxing history when he bit part of his opponent’s ear off.

Reflecting on his life Tyson told Las Vegas Weekly that he was now the happiest he has ever been, and is just trying to be a good husband to his third wife, and a good father to his children.

Tyson said: ‘In order to wear the crown, you have to have a miserable life, and that is the one that inherits the crown. 

‘I don’t know, you have to go from the worst to reach the best. I’m just that extreme type of person. That is who I am, the guy that has no limits.’



EU condemns Repsol state seizure

 The European Parliament has passed a resolution condemning a nationalisation that has strained relations between Spain and Argentina. Argentina has nationalised YPF, wiping out the Spanish firm Repsol's controlling-stake in the oil firm. The resolution asks the European Commission to consider a "partial suspension" of tariffs that benefit Argentine exports into the EU. Shares in Repsol has another decline, falling 2.3% on Friday. Over the week, Repsol stock has lost almost a fifth of its value. MEPs in the European Parliament said the institution "deplores" the decision taken by Argentina and describes it as an "attack on the exercise of free enterprise". Decisions such as that taken by the Argentine authorities "can put a strain on the climate of understanding and friendship needed to reach" a trade agreement between a South American bloc and the EU, it said. The resolution, which is non-binding, received 458 votes in favour, 71 against and 16 abstentions. 'Not valid' It also emerged that Repsol may be obliged to buy a minority shareholder's YPF stake if it ever lost majority control, which Repsol denied. Twenty-five percent of YPF is owned by Argentina's Eskenazi family through its firm, Peterson. Continue reading the main story Nationalising YPF Spain's Repsol has hitherto owned 57.4% of shares with 25.5% belonging to Argentina's Petersen, 0.02% to the Argentine government and 17% traded on stock exchanges The Argentine government proposes to seize 51% of the shares, all of which will be taken from Repsol's stake, leaving the Spanish firm with 6.4% The expropriated shares will in turn be divided between the Argentine government and provincial governors Following the expropriation, Petersen will retain its 25.5% stake and 17% of the shares will continue to be traded Argentina's risky energy seizure According to regulator filings of a 2008 agreement, Repsol must "maintain directly or indirectly through controlled companies an ownership interest greater than or equal to 50.1%". If it does not, Repsol is obliged to buy back the loans used to secure the Eskenazis' shares. But Repsol told the BBC that the expropriation of its stake in YPF had invalidated the agreement. "The agreement is not valid under Spanish law in these conditions," said Kristian Rix, a Repsol spokesman. "The law is unequivocal, there is no debate." Trade war brewing? Spain has threatened retaliation against Argentina over the forced nationalisation of oil firm YPF, raising the prospects of a trade war between the nations. Spanish Trade Secretary Jaime Garcia Legaz said the European Union would intervene over Argentina's seizure of YPF. Argentina is taking over 51% of YPF, wiping out Repsol's 57.4% majority stake. The move has wide support in Argentina but has provoked outrage in Spain. Spain's Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had also offered support. Repsol has said it wants around $10bn (£6.2bn) for its stake in YPF, but Argentina has said it does not accept that valuation. YPF, Argentina's biggest oil company, was privatised in 1993. Last year it announced huge new finds of shale oil and gas.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Hacking scandal: the net tightens on the Murdochs

 Rupert Murdoch's grip on his media empire was dramatically challenged yesterday after his company was labelled a "toxic shadow state" which launched a dirty tricks campaign against MPs and now faces a salvo of phone-hacking claims in the United States. On a tumultuous day for the media mogul, the lawyer who brought the first damages claims against the News of the World in Britain said he had uncovered new allegations of the use of "dark arts" by News Corp in America and was ready to file at least three phone-hacking lawsuits in the company's backyard. The sense of a legal net tightening around Mr Murdoch and News Corp was heightened by the announcement that he and his son James will testify separately next week before the Leveson Inquiry into press standards during three days of what is likely to be uncomfortable scrutiny of alleged widespread criminality in their British tabloid newspapers. In a separate development, the royal editor of The Sun became the latest journalist on the paper to be arrested on suspicion of making corrupt payments to public officials. The arrest coincided with the publication of an incendiary book on the scandal which levelled new accusations that the NOTW set out on an extraordinary campaign of intimidation of MPs to try to blunt their investigations into its alleged law breaking. Last night senior MPs called for News International (NI) to be investigated by the Commons for potential contempt of Parliament over the claims that members of the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee were targeted by attempts to dig dirt on their private lives. Dial M for Murdoch, written by the Labour MP Tom Watson and The Independent's Martin Hickman, also alleges that: l Rebekah Brooks, the former chief executive of NI, was bugged in her own office shortly before she resigned last summer over the phone hacking of Milly Dowler, the murdered schoolgirl. l On his release from prison, Glenn Mulcaire, the convicted NOTW hacker, allegedly was contracted to give security advice to a private security company, Quest, whose chairman is Lord Stevens, a former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. l NI intermediaries approached Mr Watson with a "deal" to "give him" former NOTW editor and Downing Street press chief Andy Coulson but that Ms Brooks was "sacred". NI, which runs Mr Murdoch's British newspapers, said it had no comment to make on the book. At a packed Westminster press conference, Mr Watson, who is a member of the Culture, Media and Sport committee, said the claim that the NOTW set out in 2009 to undermine the MPs investigating it came from Neville Thurlbeck, the NOTW's former chief reporter. In the book, Mr Thurlbeck, who has been arrested in connection with phone hacking, says: "An edict came down... and it was find out every single thing you can about every single member: who was gay, who had affairs, anything we can use." Mr Thurlbeck told The Independent last night that the order to target the MPs, which involved assigning two politicians each to a group of six reporters, had not originated from inside the paper but instead came from "elsewhere inside News International". He insisted that NOTW staff had been reluctant and there was a "degree of procrastination" before the plan was "suddenly and unexpectedly halted about 10 days later". Mr Watson, who has received an apology from NI after he was placed under surveillance, said he believed the campaign was nonetheless successful and had contributed to a decision by the media committee not to demand that Ms Brooks give evidence to it in 2010. He added: "Parliament was, in effect, intimidated. News International thought they could do this, that they could get away with it, that no one could touch them; and they actually did it, and it worked." Labelling News Corp a "toxic institution", he added: "We conclude that the web of influence which News Corporation spun in Britain, which effectively bent politicians, police and many others in public life to its will, amounted to a shadow state." Former Plaid Cymru MP Adam Price, who is gay and was a member of the DCMS committee, is described in the book as having been warned by a Conservative colleague that their private lives would be raked over if they called Ms Brooks to give evidence – "effectively they would delve into our personal lives in order to punish us". Hours after publication of the book, Mark Lewis, the lawyer who has doggedly pursued hacking claims, told a press conference in New York that he was investigating allegations of impropriety at Mr Murdoch's US media companies, including Fox News. He said a high-profile trip to America to prepare claims on behalf of victims whose phones were allegedly hacked on US soil had generated a slew of new allegations about wider use of "dark arts" to obtain private information. He said: "The investigation in the UK began with one claim by one client and look where it is now. While it starts in America with three cases, it seems likely it might end up with more." The allegations will provide an awkward backdrop for the Murdochs to their appearances before the Leveson Inquiry. Rupert Murdoch, who is the first witness before the inquiry to be scheduled for two days of testimony, will be questioned about practices in his British newspapers and whether he had knowledge of those activities. Chris Bryant last night confirmed that he would be asking Parliament to investigate the claims that NI carried out targeted intimidation. Royal editor of The Sun arrested The royal editor of The Sun was arrested yesterday after News Corp handed over information to detectives investigating alleged illegal payments to public officials. Duncan Larcombe, 36, who had previously worked as the newspaper's defence editor, was arrested during an early morning raid at his home in Kent on suspicion of conspiracy to corrupt and conspiracy to cause misconduct in a public office. Officers from Scotland Yard's Operation Elveden also arrested a 42-year-old former member of the armed forces and a woman, 38, at their home in Lancashire. All three were later released on bail. Mr Larcombe was the paper's royal correspondent from 2005 to 2009 before being appointed defence editor for 14 months. He returned to the royal beat last year and led the newspaper's coverage of the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William. He was the second Sun defence editor to be arrested during the police inquiry.

France and Germany want to suspend the Shengen Agreement

They say they want a temporary suspension while the crisis continues. Spain will being introducing border restrictions during the European Central Bank meeting in Barcelona at the start of May.Angela Merkel and Nicolás Sarkozy - The Interior Ministers of France and Germany have written a joint letter in which they call for the reform of, and ‘temporary suspension’ of the Schengen agreement which allows for the free movement between most member states of the EU. They say the change is necessary ‘to control the massive flow of immigrants’. The call comes just ahead of the 25th anniversary of the treaty this coming Monday, although many countries signed up in March 1995. France and Germany consider that a ‘temporary suspension’ is needed during the crisis, and Paris and Berlin speak of ‘provisional’ closure of frontiers, and only when a country in the Schengen space cannot control the flow of immigrants. They say they will give the details to their European partners at the next conference. Meanwhile Spain has announced the suspension of the Schengen Treaty and the re-establishing of frontier controls with France ahead of the European Central Bank meeting which is to be held in Barcelona on May 3. It has not yet been decided how long the border restriction will remain in place, but say it will allow the authorities to act if there is ‘a serious threat to public order or interior security’. The measure will only affect the frontiers between Spain and France from the Basque Country to Cataluña. Reports indicate that it was the Catalan Government to step up the controls in the face of possible disturbances and the arrival of anti-system protestors from other countries in Europe.

British police arrested three people, including the royal editor of Rupert Murdoch's Sun tabloid

British police arrested three people, including the royal editor of Rupert Murdoch's Sun tabloid, a source familiar with the situation said, in an escalation of a long-running phone hacking scandal which reaches into Britain's political establishment.

Thursday's arrests and the fact they stemmed from information given to the police by Murdoch's company itself is likely to reignite tensions within the media group, just days before parliament gives its verdict on how the culture of illegality came about.

Next week Rupert Murdoch and son James will also appear before a judicial inquiry to answer questions over the conduct of the press, which will focus on the close ties between Murdoch, his executives and the political establishment.

James Murdoch will appear in court room 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday while lawyers at the inquiry have cleared a day and a half to grill the 81-year-old Rupert on Wednesday and Thursday.

"This was always going to be an important six weeks in this affair, with the Murdochs and politicians going before the Leveson judicial inquiry, but it will be exacerbated by the arrests and the imminent committee report," said Steven Barnett, communications professor at the University of Westminster.

Police made the arrests one day after prosecutors confirmed they had started to examine the police case against four journalists and seven others to establish whether they should be charged with a range of offences including perverting the course of justice.

Press reports have speculated that one of those named in the files is Rebekah Brooks, a former editor of the News of the World and Sun tabloids and a close friend of both Murdochs and Prime Minister David Cameron.

Brooks has been arrested twice, once for corruption and intercepting communications, and more recently for perverting the course of justice, along with her husband, Charlie Brooks.

The three arrested on Thursday were detained at dawn and questioned over inappropriate payments made to police and public officials.

The source familiar with the situation said one of those was Duncan Larcombe, royal editor and a former defence correspondent at the Sun, Britain's biggest selling daily newspaper.

A spokeswoman for Murdoch's British newspaper arm News International confirmed that one of those arrested was a Sun journalist but declined to give further details.

Larcombe was previously a defence correspondent at the Sun and another person arrested on Thursday was described by police as a 42-year-old former member of the armed forces. A woman aged 38 has also been arrested on suspicion of aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office.

ROUTINE HACKING

Murdoch's British newspaper arm has been rocked in the last year by allegations that journalists at the Sun's sister title, the News of the World, had routinely hacked into phones to generate salacious front-page stories.

The police investigation, which forced the closure of the 168-year-old News of the World, has since moved on to the Sun newspaper and whether its journalists paid police and public officials for stories.

While damaging the reputation of Murdoch, the intense spotlight has also revealed the extremely close links he and his executives have with politicians and senior police officers, embarrassing many with tales of horse rides and Christmas drinks between the upper echelons of Murdoch executives and politicians.

Police said the latest arrests were prompted by information provided by the Management and Standards Committee, a small team set up by Murdoch's News Corp to co-operate closely with the police in a move that has infuriated newspaper staff.

The 81-year-old Murdoch was forced to travel to London in February to reassure journalists of his commitment to the Sun after a string of earlier arrests caused a showdown at the paper by staff who felt they had been abandoned by their management.

Since then, the Sun has launched a Sunday version and both the Sun and Murdoch's Times newspaper have noticeably hardened their position towards the government, which turned on Murdoch at the height of the hacking scandal last year.

That antagonism is likely to be exacerbated in the coming weeks when the parliamentary select committee, which summoned James and Rupert Murdoch at the height of the scandal last year, publishes its findings.

The committee investigated allegations of phone hacking after they first surfaced in 2006 and it has since looked at whether it was misled in its initial inquiry by a host of News International executives who pleaded innocence.

Paul Farrelly, a leading member of the committee, told Reuters they hoped to publish the long-awaited report by May 1.

Tom Watson, a member of the committee who has campaigned against Murdoch, told reporters he thought News Corp had become a toxic institution which operated like a shadow state

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

10 things not to say to someone when they're ill

Get well soon card
'People really did feel the need to reassure me that my hideousness was plain to see.' Illustration: David McCoy for the Guardian

What no one ever tells you about serious illness is that it places you at the centre of a maelstrom of concerned attention from family and friends. Of course it does. That's one of the nice things. It's actually the only nice thing. But it's also a rather tricky challenge, at a time when you may feel – just slightly – that you have enough on your plate. Suddenly, on top of everything else, you are required to manage the emotional requirements of all those who are dear to you, and also, weirdly, one or two people who you don't see from one year to the next, but who suddenly decide that they really have to be at your bedside, doling out homilies, 24 hours a day. It's lovely to hear from people when you're ill. But it's also lovely when they add: "No need to reply." The biggest shock, when I was diagnosed with cancer the summer before last, was quickly observing that people can be quite competitive in their determination to "be there for you", and occasionally unable to hide their chagrin when some other chum has been awarded a particularly sensitive role at a particularly sensitive medical consultation. Nobody means to be intrusive or irritating. It's all done with the finest intentions. But, God, it's a pain. Yet by not saying 10 simple things, you too, can be the friend in need that you want to be.

1 "I feel so sorry for you"

It's amazing, the number of people who imagine that it feels just great to be the object of pity. Don't even say "I feel so sorry for you" with your eyes. One of my friends was just brilliant at mimicking the doleful-puppy-poor-you gaze, and when I had been subjected to a sustained bout of it, I used to crawl over to the local pub for lunch with him, just so that he could make me laugh by doing it. Don't say "I feel so sorry for you" with your hand either. When someone patted my thigh, or silently rested their paw on it, often employing the exasperating form of cranial communication known as "sidehead" at the same time, I actually wanted to deck them. Do say: "I so wish you didn't have to go through this ghastly time." That acknowledges that you are still a sentient being, an active participant in your own drama, not just, all of a sudden, A Helpless Victim.

2 "If anyone can beat this, it's you"

Funnily enough, it's not comforting to be told that you have to go into battle with your disease, like some kind of medieval knight on a romantic quest. Submitting to medical science, in the hope of a cure, is just that – a submission. The idea that illness is a character test, with recovery as a reward for the valiant, is glib to the point of insult. Do say: "My mum had this 20 years ago, and she's in Bengal now, travelling with an acrobatic circus." (Though not if that isn't true.)

3 "You're looking well"

One doesn't want to be told that one's privations are invisible to the naked eye. Anyway, one is never too ill to look in a mirror, and see a great big moon-face, bloated with steroids and sporting the bright red panda eyes that are triggered by that most aggressive and efficient of breast-cancer drugs, Docetaxel. I knew I looked like death warmed up, not least because I felt like death warmed up. Nobody wants to be patronised with ridiculous lies. They are embarrassing for both speaker and listener. If your sick pal wants to discuss her appearance, she'll ask you what you reckon. It'll be a leading question, so take your cue from her.

4 "You're looking terrible"

 

I know it sounds improbable. But people really did feel the need to reassure me that my hideousness was plain to see. One person told me that while I'd put on a lot of weight, I'd of course be able to go on a diet as soon as I was better. I wouldn't have minded quite so much, if she hadn't arrived bearing a giant mound of snacks and cakes, a great, indiscriminate pile of stuff that suggested she'd been awarded four minutes in Whole Foods by Dale Winton, in a nightmarish haute-bourgeois version of Supermarket Sweep. And, in fact, I haven't gone on a diet. Somehow, being a size 10 doesn't seem tremendously importantany longer. On the other hand, when I said: "Don't I look monstrous?" I was asking people to help me to laugh at myself – which many did – and to tell me that this too would pass. One of my friends took photographs of me, behind a curtain in the hospital, looking comically interfered with by surgeons, and festooned with tubes and drains full of bloody fluid. We laughed so much that I probably came nearer to death right then than at any other point.

5 "Let me know the results"

 

Oddly, one doesn't particularly want to feel obliged to hit the social networks the moment one returns from long, complicated, stressful and invasive tests, which ultimately delivered news you simply didn't want to hear. Of course, this request is made because people are worried. But, a bit of worry is easier to bear than the process of coming to terms with news that confirms another round of debilitating, soul-crushing treatment. If people do want to talk about such matters, they really need to be allowed some control over when, how and to whom. Contacting their very nearest and dearest instead is fine, as is volunteering to spread the bad tidings to others who are also anxious.

6 "Whatever I can do to help"

Apart from anything else, it's boring. Everybody says it, even though your assumption tends to be that people do want to help, of course. That doesn't mean that help should not be offered. But "Can I pick the children up from school on Tuesdays?" or "Can I come round with a fish pie and a Mad Men box set?" is greatly preferable to: "Can I saddle you with the further responsibility of thinking up a task for me?" If you do happen to be on the receiving end of "whatever I can do to help", be shameless. Delegate with steely and ruthless intent.

7 "Oh, no, your worries are unfounded"

Especially when those worries are extremely founded indeed. Like a lot of women, when I was first diagnosed, I was disproportionately focused on the prospect of losing my hair. One friend, every time I tried to discuss this with her, would assert – baselessly – that this wasn't as likely to happen as it used to be. Actually, it's still very likely, and indeed it came to pass. But the crucial thing was this: I didn't want to talk about how pointless it was to be fearful. I wanted to talk about how sorely I dreaded the day when I was bald. When people want to talk about their fears, they want to talk about their fears, not to be told, quite blatantly, that their fears are imaginary. Even when they are imaginary, there are more subtle ways of offering assurance than blank rebuttal. Usually, an ill person brings something up because they feel a need to discuss it. Denying them that need is a bit brutal.

8 "What does chemotherapy [for example] feel like?"

 

It is staggering, the number of people who find it impossible to restrain their curiosity. Swaths of folk appear to imagine that exactly what you need, in your vulnerability, is a long and technical Q&A during which you furnish them with exhaustive detail pertaining to the most shit thing that's ever happened to your body in your life. If someone wants to talk about their procedures or their symptoms, they will. If you have to ask questions, that's prima facie evidence that this is not what they'd discuss, if only they could be gifted with just a smidgeon of control over the conversational initiative. Again, the golden rule is: take your lead from the person undergoing the experience. I tended to want my mind taken off all that stuff, and have a nice chat about nice things. One of my friends, asked by another what she had been up to lately, found herself saying she'd had a great time visiting Deborah in hospital after her mastectomy. It had indeed been a lively visit. Eight lovely people had turned up all at once, and it had been quite the rambunctious gathering. When she told me that it had been an absurd social highlight for her, I felt fantastically proud.

9 "I really must see you"

Don't say it, particularly, if you are then going to indulge in some long and complicated series of exchanges about your own busy life and the tremendous difficulty you have in finding an actual window, even though this appointment is so awfully important to you. At one point, I was sitting in a chemotherapy suite, large and painful cannula in the back of my hand, pecking out texts to somebody who had to sort something out this week, and wouldn't take "Let's do this later" for an answer. When I reluctantly picked a particular time from the list she had bossily pinged over, she replied that she'd have to bring her toddler son with her if itreally had to be then. I knew I couldn't handle a tiny visitor (and wasn't sure about the ability of the tiny visitor to handle it either), so we then arranged something else. A few days later, at the very time of predicted childcare crisis, I saw a tweet from her, declaring that she was wearing a new cocktail dress and held up in traffic on her way to a long-anticipated and very glamorous do. She had clearly just buggered up her dates and didn't want to say: "Whoops. Actually, I'll be at a PA-A-ARDEEEEE." Fair enough. Sweet, really. Nevertheless, the planning thing is an arse. I liked it when people just said, "Can I come by after work this evening?" or, even better, "I've got tickets to the theatre on the 25th. Tell me on the day if you can face it."

10 "I'm so terribly upset about your condition"

One friend, when I told her the initial news, blurted out: "I can't cope without you!" and unleashed a flood of tears. (I hadn't sobbed myself at that point. I never did.) Ages later, when she emerged from the loo at the pub I had designated as Telling People HQ, she explained that she'd been caterwauling unrestrainedly when a kind lady asked her what was wrong. Having sketched out her troubles, she got this reply, or something like it: "What? You're weeping in the lavatory, while your friend is in the bar having breast cancer? Pull yourself together, and get out there." This had inspired another torrent of waterworks. And that is the most important thing to remember, when your friend is facing a frightening and possibly fatal illness: it's not, not, not about you. If you're too upset to be in a position to comfort your friend, send cards, send flowers, send presents. But don't send your ailing chum a passionate storm of your own wild grief, personally delivered. It's a little too needy, under the circs.

If you recognise things that you have said or done yourself within this list, don't feel bad about it, at all. I most certainly have, and I've said and done much, much worse too; it took being on the receiving end before I realised what it could feel like. The thing is this: giant illness is a time of great intensity, and even the most cack-handed expressions of support or love are better than a smack in the face with a wet tea-towel. People feel helpless when they see that their friend is suffering. Sometimes – often – they say the wrong thing. But they are there, doing the best that they can, at a terrible, abject time. That's the most important thing of all. I look back on those grisly moments of ineptitude and clumsiness with exasperated amusement and tender, despairing, deep, deep fondness. The great lesson I learned from having cancer, was how splendid my friends were, whatever their odd little longueurs. They all, in their different ways, let me know that they loved me, and that is the most helpful thing of all. I'm so lucky to have them.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Energy-rich Qatar seeks la dolce vita with purchase of luxury resorts on Italy’s Sardinia isle


Qatar signed a deal Monday to buy the operator of four luxury resorts and other properties on the island of Sardinia as the wealthy Gulf emirate looks to bolster ties with Italy. The purchase coincided with a visit to Rome by the country’s emir. It is the latest deal in a European shopping spree that has given the natural-gas rich state a stake in European banks, energy companies and some of the continent’s best known brands. 0 Comments Weigh InCorrections? Personal Post State-owned Qatar Holding, an arm of the country’s sovereign wealth fund, said it will acquire resort operator Smeralda Holding from Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm Colony Capital. The deal includes the Cala di Volpe, Pitrizza, Romazzino and Cervo hotels, a marina and shipyard, a golf club and a 51 percent interest in 2,290 hectares (5,660 acres) of undeveloped land nearby. Qatar Holding plans to keep Smeralda’s existing management, and said Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. will continue to run the hotels. Financial terms were not disclosed. The deal must still be approved by Italian regulators. The deal was announced as Italian Premier Mario Monti held talks with Qatar’s emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani at a government villa in Rome. Monti hailed the visit as way for the countries to strengthen their friendship. “I am very happy for this meeting because it was (an) occasion to consolidate a strategic relationship between the two countries,” Monti told a news conference after the talks. The emir told reporters that Qatar’s sovereign fund is looking for ways to invest in Italy. When asked what factors discouraged investment in Italy, the emir said “corruption, first of all,” according to Monti. Among the accords signed Monday was one aimed at boosting efforts to fight graft and crime. Another raises the number of passenger flights between the countries from 14 to 35 weekly, and cargo flights from two to seven, Monti said. Monti promised Italian help to Qatar as it prepares to host soccer’s 2022 World Cup. “Italy has unique know-how and can contribute to the success” of the sporting event, the Italian leader said. Over the past several years, Qatar has used its vast energy wealth to amass a diverse portfolio of European properties. Its holdings on the continent include stakes in Barclays PLC, Credit Suisse Group, Volkswagen AG, and the London Stock Exchange. It acquired stakes in Spanish power utility Iberdrola SA and electric company Energias de Portugal last year. Qatari investors control French soccer team Paris Saint-Germain and Spanish club Malaga, while the logo of state-sponsored nonprofit Qatar Foundation graces the jerseys of another Spanish team, Barcelona.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Laser attacks on planes are surging, warn aviation officials

 

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is warning of a global surge in laser attacks on planes after almost 2,000 incidents were reported in the UK last year. There were 153 incidents at Heathrow in 2011 involving lasers being shone towards aircraft. The second most affected airport was Manchester with 148 incidents, while Birmingham had 143 and Glasgow 107. Liverpool's John Lennon airport had 90 incidents. Throughout the UK last year, the CAA said there were a total of 1,909 incidents, whereas in 2005 there were just 20. At John Lennon airport, a crew member was temporarily blinded as the plane landed following a laser being shone into the aircraft. In October last year, a jumbo jet whose pilot was trying to correct an error after dropping to 300 metres (1,000ft) had a laser shone at it. Incidents in Liverpool peaked during a five-week period last summer, when there were 30 separate laser reports made by pilots who were passing over residential areas as they prepared to land. A CAA spokesman said: "We are currently seeing a global surge in incidents of lasers being deliberately shone at aircraft on final approach to airports. "The aviation industry and the police are doing everything possible to combat the problem and we strongly urge anyone who sees a laser being shone in the night sky near an airport to contact the police immediately." He added: "It's a serious problem and has been getting worse over the last three years. Largely due to the availability of lasers on the internet and the relatively cheap price." Since 2010, shining a laser or light at an aircraft in flight has been a specific criminal offence. The CAA said it needed the public's help to stop the potentially dangerous attacks and urged anyone to contact the police if they witnessed lasers being pointed at planes. The CAA said UK aviation enjoyed an "excellent" safety record because of an open culture of reporting incidents. A spokesman for John Lennon airport said incidents involving flights were few and far between. He said: "JLA is extremely proud of its safety record, which for the period 2007-2011 includes almost 400,000 aircraft movements, accommodating in excess of 25 million fare-paying passengers. "The report from the CAA relating to Liverpool John Lennon airport needs to be put into context as it will include all manner of incidents, many far less serious than others, as well as including incidents occurring away from the airport, but relating to aircraft that originated from here or heading to Liverpool." Ryanair and easyJet flights were targeted as they came in to land at Liverpool at altitudes as low as 150 metres (500ft). One pilot described how the laser "lit up the cockpit" and had a "significant impact" on the flight crew's night vision. An Airbus jet was targeted twice with the first officer's vision "impaired" by the strength of the beam. The captain of another flight needed a medical checkup after "a direct strike to the right eye". In February 2010, a 16-year-old was fined £250 after admitting to shining a laser pen, purchased on eBay for £8, into the cockpit of an easyJet flight from Belfast to Liverpool.

Crisis-hit Greece rents police for €30 per hour


Greece is offering a ‘cop-for-hire’ service, renting out policemen for €30 per hour, plus €10 if you want a police car too. It triggered fears that security of people who cannot afford a policeman for hire may be affected in favor of those who can. This new way for the cash-strapped Greek state to raise money will "pay for the cost of using police materials and infrastructure, and allow to modernize them", the Ministry of Citizen Protection said in a statement. The Police services on offer were previously used in "exceptional cases" – escorting the transportation of dangerous material or art works and were free of charge. Now, Police services have a price-tag. If you need something special the hourly fee for patrol boats is €200, and €1500 for helicopters, according to the Proto Thema newspaper. Even though the ministry said it would only accept such hires if they do not affect the security forces' operational capacity, only those with the cash will benefit from the initiative. The newspaper says the less wealthy will be left to deal with crime by themselves. The financial crisis left Greece with rising unemployment, a fast-growing crime rate and a surge in illegal immigration. Security has substantially deteriorated in the Greek capital in recent years, with previously safe and calm neighborhoods of the city becoming literally off limits after nightfall.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Pensioner shoots himself at Greek Parliament, refuses to 'search for food in garbage'


77-year-old Greek man has committed suicide in central Athens by the nation’s parliament, shooting himself with a handgun in apparent financial desperation. Eyewitness reports say that the man shouted “So I won’t leave debts for my children” before turning the gun on himself. Others claimed he said nothing. Greek state media reports the man left a suicide note saying “The Tsolakoglou government has annihilated all traces for my survival. And since I cannot find justice, I cannot find another means to react besides putting a decent end [to my life], before I start searching the garbage for food." Georgios Tsolakoglou headed the Greek collaborationist government during the German occupation of Greece in the Second World War. The note has been widely regarded as drawing a parallel between Lucas Papademos’ current collaborationist government and Tsolakoglou’s regime because of the economic crisis in the country. The incident occurred around 9 am (local time) in Syntagma Square, just outside a metro station, when the area was filled with people and commuters. The man took his life behind a big tree, which concealed him from most eyes. Two people sitting on a bench some 10 meters away have been questioned by the police. An investigation into a motive has been opened. The pensioner, whose name is not yet released, appears to have been a pharmacist who owned a drugstore in Athens, which he later had to sell, Lourantos Costas, the head of the Attica Pharmacist’s Association told the Greek daily The City Press. The shocked Greek community is issuing calls for a "Syntagma afternoon" later on Wednesday. Motorcyclists are planning a protest ride around the capital starting at 17:30 local time (14:30 GMT). ‘Who’s next?’ People are bringing flowers to the tree under which the desperate old man took his own life. They also leave messages on the tree: "Austerity kills," "Not a suicide; a murder” or “Who’s gonna be next?” The number of suicides has dramatically increased in the country since the beginning of the economic crisis, shows data released by the Greek Health Ministry. Prior to the economic downturn Greece had the lowest suicide rate in Europe at 2.8 for every 100,000 inhabitants. Now, this figure has almost doubled, with police reporting over 600 suicide cases in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Attempted suicides are also on the up. Just on Tuesday, a 38-year-old Albanian man killed himself on the island of Crete. He had been unemployed for some time. The financial hardship made him jump off his second-floor balcony, reported local news. The private sector is proving to be no safe haven either, as in the last few months several businessmen have fatally shot themselves. To secure loan payments to foreign investors, Greece has been forced to drastically cut state spending by slashing public salaries and pensions by almost 40 per cent, while the unemployment rate has hit 21 per cent. But so far the Greek government has failed to pull the country out of its three-year economic downturn and continues to rack up austerity measures to qualify for EU bailout packages.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

New info about statin safety affects millions


U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued new safety information about these cholesterol-lowering drugs that are prescribed to millions of Americans to lower the risk of heart disease. If you're among them, you should understand what the FDA's new guidance means for your health. "Before anyone gets too concerned, you should know that statins are so widely used because they have a long track record of safety and effectiveness," says Dr. Mark Taber, a cardiologist with SSM Heart Institute at St. Joseph Health Center. "All in all, statins have a very high benefit to risk ratio. The widespread use of the drugs, when indicated, probably accounts to a significant degree for the improvement in life expectancy in this country." The FDA called attention to the threat of liver damage as a rare side effect of statins and advised that regular liver enzyme testing is no longer considered useful in predicting or preventing liver injury. "Actually, in general they liberalized the follow up needed for liver function tests on patients taking statins, due to the very low incidence of true liver issues," Taber says. The main warnings related to a slightly higher incidence of developing diabetes while on statins, and a poorly substantiated claim that statins could result in cognitive impairment. Taber points out that cognitive problems, such as confusion or memory problems, were not documented in clinical studies, only by patient reports to the FDA website. "By stating these concerns, the FDA is raising awareness about the potential side effects of statins, but cardiologists already know that there are inherent risks, and we monitor patients appropriately to help ensure that side effects do not occur or are dealt with quickly," Taber notes. "If there is any evidence of a side effect that could be problematic, we can change the medication. But the fact remains that it's important to decrease risk of heart disease, and for many people statins are needed when diet and exercise alone don't result in acceptable cholesterol levels." Whenever a new prescription medication is started, you should look over the package insert to learn about potential side effects. Signs of liver damage, for instance, include fatigue, loss of appetite, right upper abdominal pain, dark urine and jaundice. Any of these symptoms should be reported to your doctor for evaluation. It is important to remember that you should not stop taking a medication without consulting your doctor first. Discontinuing use of a prescribed drug can be far more dangerous than the side effect you're worried about. "All the side effects listed by the FDA are rare, and the risk of heart attack is far more concerning," Taber says. "Some patients may need extra monitoring or may need to try more than one statin before we find the optimal choice, but in general statins are very well tolerated and don't cause problems for the people who take them." The advice above is universal when it comes to your health. Concerns should be discussed with your doctor, and decisions should always be made as part of a team approach to creating a healthy life.

Why don't GPS warn you that statins can harm your memory?


John Holliday had been on a higher 40mg dose of cholesterol pills for only a few weeks when he started to lose his concentration. ‘I’d be watching TV and suddenly find myself unable to follow the plot of a drama,’ says John, 52, a telecoms project manager who lives in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, with his wife Jill, 51, and their two children Adam, 20, and Emma, 16. ‘I’d have to read the same page of a book over and over because I couldn’t take any information in. ‘I’d always been known for my amazing memory — I was great on trivia and had total recall of events that happened 20 years ago, but suddenly I couldn’t remember things and my brain felt fuzzy.’ Just like up to seven million other people in Britain, John had been prescribed a statin to lower his blood cholesterol levels. The drugs are credited by the British Heart Foundation as contributing towards the dramatic 50 per cent fall in deaths from heart attacks in the past ten years. But while there is consensus that statins are lifesavers for people who have previously had a heart attack, concern is growing over their debilitating side-effects. They include muscle weakness, depression, sleep disturbance, sexual dysfunction, muscle pain and damage, gastro-intestinal problems, headaches, joint pains and nausea. Now, official bodies here and in the U.S. have ordered that the drugs must carry warnings for cognitive problems, too. Worryingly, it’s claimed GPs are failing to warn patients of the effect statins can have on the mind — meaning they may mistake them for signs of ageing or Alzheimer’s. ‘When I went back to my doctor after six weeks for a blood test, I told him how dreadful I was feeling,’ says John. ‘But he just said all drugs had side-effects and didn’t mention reducing the dose.’ It's claimed GPs are failing to warn patients of the effect statins can have on the mind - meaning they may mistake them for signs of ageing or Alzheimer's Things came to a head when a friend showed John an electrical circuit he’d built for his car. ‘I’d worked with circuits since I was 16 but it made no sense,’ he says. So John insisted on seeing his doctor again and repeated his concerns about his rapidly declining memory. This time the GP told him he could start on another type of statin when he felt well enough, and so John stopped taking the drugs immediately. ‘It took a few months, but gradually my memory returned and I’ve got my concentration back. I can’t say for sure statins caused these problems, but it seems like too much of a coincidence.’ Earlier this year, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. ordered statins must carry warnings that some users have reported cognitive problems including memory loss, forgetfulness and confusion. This followed a decision by the UK’s Medicines Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to add memory problems to the list of  possible statin side-effects in late 2009. The FDA said reports about the symptoms were from across all statin products and age groups. Those affected reported feeling fuzzy or unfocused in their thought process — though these were found to be rare and reversible. The FDA also warned, following U.S. research, that patients on statins had a small excess risk of developing Type 2 diabetes — but stressed that the benefits of taking a statin still outweigh this. The MHRA had 2,675 reports for adverse drug reactions connected with statins between 2007 and 2011. Officially, side-effects are rare —affecting only 1 per cent of people on the pills — but some doctors say they are under-reported. Dr Malcolm Kendrick, a GP and author of The Great Cholesterol Con, says he frequently sees patients suffering from mental confusion in his job in hospital intermediary care for the elderly. ‘Many of the patients I see will have been admitted to hospital after a fall or similar crisis,’ he says. ‘If they appear confused I’ll often advise taking them off statins to see if it has any effect — in my experience, about 10 to 15 per cent of people who appeared to have memory problems experienced an improvement in their memory symptoms after being taken off the drug. ‘I had one dramatic case where a lady was admitted to hospital on 40mg a day of simvastatin with such poor memory function her family asked me about power of attorney. 'I suggested taking her off statins and within a week her memory had returned to normal. She went home a fit and independent 83-year-old.’ Dr Kendrick says cholesterol is the main constituent of synapses (structures that allow signals to pass between brain cells and to create new memories) and is essential for brain function. ‘It is still not proven that statins have a significant effect on mortality — it has been calculated that a man who has had a heart attack who took a statin for five years would extend his life by only 14 days. 'Too many statins are being given to people at low risk. ‘Even in the highest risk group you need to treat 200 people a year with statins to delay just one death. 'One day the harm these drugs are doing is going to be obvious — the benefits are being over-hyped and the risks swept under the carpet.’ While Dr Kendrick’s controversial view is in the minority, one large review of 14 studies by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published by the highly respected Cochrane Library last year, concluded there was ‘little evidence’ cholesterol-lowering drugs protect people who are not at risk of heart disease. This review has been criticised by other doctors who say side-effects are rare and that there are still benefits even for people at lower risk who do not have established heart disease. These defenders of statins include Professor Colin Baigent of the Clinical Trial Service at Oxford University, who published research in 2010 showing statins reduced deaths from all causes by 10 per cent over five years. ‘There is relatively little evidence of cognitive impairment — what evidence there is all comes from observational studies.  ‘People read about side-effects and then put two and two together and blame the statins for their muscle pain or other health problems — it’s just not reliable evidence. ‘If you look at the best-quality randomised controlled trial where patients don’t know if they are taking a statin or placebo, there is no evidence of memory problems. 'Even the FDA says the risks of cognitive problems are very small and go away when statins are discontinued. ‘We’re in danger of forgetting just how effective these drugs are.’ Dr Dermot Neely of the charity Heart UK, and lead consultant at the Lipid and Metabolic Clinic at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle, agrees side-effects with statins are rare. ‘I’ve been dealing with patients on statins since 1987 and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number whose memory symptoms turned out to be caused by statins.’ However, he said he often saw patients who had not been told about side-effects. ‘It’s important GPs are clear about the drugs statins can interact with, such as certain antibiotics, as this can get overlooked. ‘If a patient notices an adverse effect after starting statins, they should discuss this with their GP —but not stop their drugs suddenly because this can be dangerous.’ Sonya Porter, 73, decided to stop taking statins after her memory problems became so bad that she walked away from a cashpoint leaving her money behind. ‘I was permanently fuzzy-headed and just couldn’t seem to concentrate,’ says Sonya, a retired PA from Woking, Surrey. Then I started to get scared I might have Alzheimer’s. After reading about memory problems associated with statins, I thought it was at least a possibility. I decided to come off the pills to see if it made any difference. ‘I didn’t ask my GP, I just did it — I’d rather die of a heart attack than Alzheimer’s disease. Within a month I felt normal again and didn’t have any problems with memory. ‘I’m terrified that I could have been misdiagnosed with Alzheimer’s.’ John Holliday is also reluctant to go back on statins. ‘I wouldn’t rule it out completely — my latest test showed my cholesterol levels have gone up,’ he says. ‘But on balance, I’d rather take my chances with heart disease than feel as confused as that again. It’s all very well living slightly longer — but it’s about quality of life, too.’

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