Northern Ireland

What the papers say

Newspapers

Journalist Mike Philpott takes a look at Wednesday's newspapers.

The Hazel Stewart murder trial again attracts some of the biggest local headlines.

It makes the lead in the News Letter, the Belfast Telegraph and the Mirror and appears on many other inside pages.

The Telegraph reports that Colin Howell, the former dentist who is serving a prison term for killing his wife and Hazel Stewart's husband, stunned the court with his evidence on day five of the trial.

The paper says he spent several hours "attempting to outwit the defence barrister".

He admitted that he had been the mastermind behind the murders, but claimed Hazel Stewart had been a willing participant. She denies the charges.

The Irish News opts instead for a report that the republican dissident group Oglaigh na hEireann has acquired a political wing.

It describes the organisation as "the most active and dangerous of the dissident paramilitary groups".

The Telegraph also calls for an end to the bickering at Stormont.

It says strong political leadership is needed as we grapple with rising unemployment, falling house prices, a stagnating private sector and deep cuts in the public sector.

The News Letter welcomes the fact that local councils have shown restraint in setting the rates, and points out that even the biggest increase was less than the rate of inflation.

It says councils have taken some tough decisions and ratepayers will be pleased that they are tackling their budgets in a serious and responsible manner.

Underwhelming debate

The Irish News is underwhelmed by Monday night's televised debate between the party leaders in the Republic's election.

More importantly, it says there was little sense throughout that Ireland's long-serving politicians have the answers to take the country out of the worst recession in living memory.

There are two opinion polls in the papers.

One, in the Irish Times, indicates that support for Fianna Fail has plummeted to just 10%, and one of its leading figures, Minister of State Martin Mansergh, looks likely to lose his seat in Tipperary.

Meanwhile, it says, a dispute between Fine Gael and Labour over their respective economic plans has become "increasingly hostile".

But according to the other opinion poll, in the Irish Independent, that bitterness may not matter because it's beginning to look as if Fine Gael won't need Labour to form a government.

The paper says support for Enda Kenny's party has soared, while Labour's has slid further and Fianna Fail - according to the story - is heading for "meltdown".

The Daily Express leads with the prospect of more expensive mortgages as the Bank of England tries to tackle rising inflation.

Curveball lie

An Iraq story makes the lead in the Guardian.

It reports that a defector who convinced the White House that Saddam Hussein had biological weapons has now admitted that he lied.

The informant - who was code-named Curveball - tells the paper that he had the opportunity to fabricate something that would topple the regime, and he doesn't regret what he did.

The Mail says the Health Service is to use trespassing laws to evict older people who are blocking hospital beds because they are reluctant to go home.

It claims many of those who are too frail or confused to cope on their own will be given 48 hours to leave hospital or face a court order for possession of their beds.

The Daily Telegraph, meanwhile, reports that a government adviser has said the post-war baby boom generation should use its own wealth to fund personal care in old age.

Lord Warner tells the paper that it would be wrong for the working population to foot the bill when many people had built up assets including property.

Cash bag

The Times has the story of John James, who was carrying a bag containing cash and family jewels in New York.

After leaving a cab to go into his apartment, he discovered that he had forgotten the bag.

But the driver had already begun trying to track him down to return his property.

The Times says the driver - who earns $300 a week - has restored the faith of New Yorkers in human nature.

He's been given a $1,000 reward and a dinner at Mr James's club, but turned down the meal because he's a strict Muslim and the club serves alcohol.

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