Did Blue Arrow make bank fraud untriable?

From 1992: BBC News report on Blue Arrow convictions being overturned

The City has been no stranger to financial scandals over the past two decades - but some think there have been too few prosecutions. Can the reason be traced back to one trial in 1992?

The Blue Arrow case went down in history as Britain's most expensive criminal trial, costing an estimated £40m (roughly £70m adjusting for inflation).

Blue Arrow timeline

  • 4 August 1987: Blue Arrow Ltd. unveils its bid to take over Manpower
  • September 1987: County Natwest and UBS Phillips and Drew begin selling shares in Blue Arrow to raise funds for the takeover
  • 29 September 1987: Rights issue finishes. County and Phillips and Drew announce the placing has been successful.
  • 18 October 1987: Stock markets crash around the world in what is later called "Black Monday". In London shares fall by £50bn. County later admit to losing £69m in the collapse, of which £49m came from the Blue Arrow holding.
  • November 1989: Ten merchant bankers and a lawyer arrested and charged by the Serious Fraud Office with conspiring to defraud by misleading the markets.
  • 11 February 1991: The Blue Arrow trial begins in a purpose-built court off Chancery Lane after waiting 14 months for the matter to come to the head of court lists.
  • 14 February 1992: Jonathan Cohen, David Reed, Nicholas Wells and Martin Gibbs are convicted of conspiracy to defraud and given suspended jail sentences.
  • 29 July 1992: The Appeal Court overturns the convictions ruling that the length of the trial and the complexity of the subject matter meant the jury could not have reached a fair verdict.

A year-long trial, which began in February 1991 at a purpose-built court off Chancery Lane, resulted in the conviction of four high profile bankers - but the prosecution's joy turned out to be short-lived.

The convictions were overturned a few months later when the Appeal Court ruled that due to the length of the trial and the complexity of the subject matter the jury could not have reached a fair verdict.

It was labelled a "costly disaster" that must never be repeated, by Appeal Court judge Lord Justice Mann.

Some believe this ruling led to the Serious Fraud Office deciding to never again pursue a similar prosecution of a big City institution or its senior executives - that it views some cases as being so complex that they are simply "untriable".

"The truth of the matter is [the SFO] are frightened to take these cases on," says Rowan Bosworth-Davies, a financial crime consultant and former Scotland Yard detective.

"If Blue Arrow had any impact it was that the SFO knew they were never going to get close to the City establishment ever again."

Lord Phillips of Sudbury, a legal expert and Liberal Democrat peer, says the Blue Arrow affair has remained in the "institutional memory of the prosecutorial authorities and regulators".

David Green, the current director of the Serious Fraud Office, admits the watchdog may have held back from pursuing convictions over fears the trials might collapse.

But he adds: "That might have been the case on occasions in the past, but it isn't now."

In the mid-1980s a roaring bull-market was being fuelled by a boom in mergers and acquisitions. Banks were earning large profits from aiding companies take each other over in a bid to build larger and more profitable organisations.

London Stock Exchange in the 1980s London Stock Exchange boomed in the mid-1980s, with huge deals being done

Deals were being closed, using the concept of 'leverage' - buying assets with borrowed funds - and it seemed that virtually anything was possible.

At the height of this boom an upwardly mobile employment company, Blue Arrow Ltd, made a bid to take over the world's largest recruitment agency Manpower.

To finance this, Blue Arrow launched a record-breaking £837m rights issue, offering existing shareholders the right to buy additional shares in the company.

Few of the new shares were wanted by Blue Arrow's shareholders so County NatWest, the now defunct investment banking arm of NatWest, and stockbrokers UBS Philips and Drew were tasked with finding buyers for the left over shares - roughly 51% of the new issue worth around £472m.

They were only able to find buyers for roughly half of this and hid a remaining 19% stake in Blue Arrow in subsidiary companies in order to allow the takeover of Manpower and protect their reputations.

Spreading their stake throughout the subsidiaries meant the banks avoided Section 209 of the Companies Act which requires all holdings over 5% to be disclosed to the Stock Exchange.

The plan was to dribble the excess stock back on to the market over a period of months and had it not been for the stock market crash of October 19, 1987, the plan may have worked.

Man reads Evening Standard A man reads about the stock market fall in London in 1987

In hiding the stocks County had become hopelessly exposed and incurred huge losses during the crash. County NatWest, which was left with a £157m stake in Blue Arrow's shares, was to see £87m wiped off its holding.

Eleven executives in total from County and UBS Philips and Drew were arrested and charged by the Serious Fraud Office for their part in the scandal. The 11 were whittled down to five, four of whom were convicted after a 13-month trial.

Jonathan Cohen, David Reed, and Nicholas Wells, all senior executives of County NatWest, were given 18-month suspended prison sentences after being convicted of misleading financial markets.

A fourth, Martin Gibbs, a stockbroker and former director of UBS Phillips and Drew, was given a 12-month suspended sentence for his part in the conspiracy. All the convictions were overturned on appeal.

The Blue Arrow case was one of a group of corporate bank fraud cases that were being heard at the time. Two years earlier the Guinness share trading fraud trial saw four men jailed for trying to artificially raise the share price of the brewing giant during the 1986 takeover of Distillers.

Ernest Saunders Former Guinness chief executive Ernest Saunders was convicted in 1990 with three others in 1990 for his part in a conspiracy to drive up the price of Guinness shares during the takeover of drinks giant Distillers

Since then individuals such as Abbas Gokal - a shipping magnate sentenced to 14 years in prison in 1997 - have been given jail terms for their roles in bank frauds but no wide scale bank frauds have resulted in bankers being jailed.

It is a situation Lord Phillips believes is "deeply damaging" the country: "It's a scandal that not one director from the board of a mainstream bank has gone to jail."

Other Serious Fraud Office directors may have taken a more "civil" approach to prosecuting bank fraud, doling out fines rather than securing convictions, but Mr Green maintains he is committed to using his position to pursue criminal charges against "the very top most level, of really serious fraud, bribery and corruption".

The Serious Fraud Office is currently investigating Barclays, Rolls-Royce and the Libor rate fixing scandal - an example, says Mr Green, that it is not scared to take on big City institutions.

"I've got well over 60 people working on [the Libor investigation] using additional 'blockbuster funding' from the Treasury to help cover costs and we've charged a number of people.

David Green, director of the Serious Fraud Office David Green says the court system has improved since 1992

"Are we willing to take tough cases on anymore? The answer is very much so, yes," Mr Green says, adding: "We have 14 trials of 44 defendants awaiting trial."

The ability of lay juries to understand serious fraud trials has been a subject for debate since a 1986 report, by Lord Roskill, advocated abolishing juries in complex fraud trials to make the process more "expeditious".

Key SFO investigations

  • Libor: The SFO has brought criminal proceedings against six UK bankers in relation to the manipulation of the London inter-bank lending rate Libor - seen as the most important interest rate in finance. Three have pleaded not guilty; three have yet to respond to the charges. The investigation continues
  • Barclays in Qatar: The SFO is probing an allegation that Barclays loaned £322m to Qatar investors to buy shares in the bank which enabled the bank to avoid a UK government bailout in 2008. The bank is currently contesting a £50m fine after the Financial Conduct Authority deemed its failure to disclose the loans constituted a breach of regulations. The investigation continues.
  • Rolls Royce: The SFO are investigating the plane engine-maker over concerns about bribery and corruption in China and Indonesia. In February, Lib Dem donor Sudhir Choudhrie and son Bhanu were arrested as part of the investigation. Both men deny the allegations. The investigation continues.
  • G4s and Serco: The SFO is investigating government contracts with G4S and Serco after it emerged the firms had been charging for tagging criminals who were either dead, in jail or never tagged in the first place. G4S has agreed to pay back £108.9m to the Ministry of Justice over the "charging errors", while Serco has agreed to pay back £68.5m. The investigation continues.

But for the time being this view has fallen out of favour.

"This idea that ordinary juries can't understand, is the first mistake that all these clever people make. But actually the truth is [they] understand only too well " says Mr Bosworth Davies.

"That's why juries are so good are dealing with dishonesty cases, because they get it."

A view both Lord Phillips and Mr Green agree with.

"The facts might be quite complicated, that tends not to bother a jury normally," says Mr Green.

"Very often these cases will come down to a very simple question - whether or not certain conduct was dishonest, and you know what dishonesty is, and so do I."

Institutional problems still remain though, according to some.

The SFO is trying to repair the damage done to its reputation following the collapse of many of its key cases due to mismanagement and the revelation that it had lost thousands of documents relating to its investigation into BAE systems.

In March this year the SFO was blamed for the collapse of a bribery trial against Victor Dahdaleh, businessman and Labour party donor, after the SFO's key witness changed evidence and it was revealed that one of the SFO's lawyers had delegated parts of its investigations to a US law firm.

While in 2012 investigations into the flamboyant property developing Tchenguiz brothers, who are currently in the process of suing the SFO, were dropped after being labelled "sheer incompetence" by a senior High Court judge.

"There is an utter failure of our prosecutorial authorities to implement the laws that lie on the statute book," says Lord Phillips, a problem he attributes to the SFO being "criminally understaffed".

"The SFO and HM Revenues and Customs are good people but can't get near the big boys. It's David without his sling against Goliath."

Pool of jurors

Mr Bosworth-Davies, who was previously head of enforcement at the Financial Intermediaries, Managers and Brokers Regulatory Association (FIMBRA) - now part of the Financial Conduct Authority - believes there is a wider problem.

"It's all to do with class. The people who you're going up against are the people from the upper socio economic echelon."

Invoking the spirit of Edwin Sutherland, the American sociologist that coined the term "White Collar crime", he says: "Society has a difficulty in treating these people as criminals and there is a consistent bias in applying criminal justice under laws that apply to business and the professions."

Mr Green admits that all of the SFO's cases are high risk as "the other side is always very well lawyered up and very well supplied".

He is, however, optimistic about the prospect of securing convictions, pointing to improvements in the court system since the days of Blue Arrow.

Judges now take a more active role on the management of trials - and the pool of potential jurors has been widened.

Despite the many difficulties posed by complex fraud cases, Mr Green argues that changes in the legal process would at least "allow us to manage a trial of the Blue Arrow scale these days".

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    17:30: Munt on fracking resignation BBC Radio 4
    Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt

    Tessa Munt, the Liberal Democrat MP who quit her government job as an aide to business secretary Vince Cable over fracking, has been explaining why she opposes her colleagues' views. She says her mind was made up when she found out a major insurer in her constituency will not insure farmers and others against the impact of fracking. "If farmers have no choice about the fact this is going to happen under their land," she told BBC Radio 4's PM programme, "I think it's utterly unfair they're then not able to insure themselves against the impact of something somebody else is doing under their land without their say so."

     
  53.  
    17:25: TV debates BBC News Channel
    Various

    BBC chief political correspondent Vicki Young sums up the current feeling on potential TV election debates by saying that the broadcasters' latest offer has left "all sorts of parties unhappy about where we are".

    While the Greens are happy to be in the debates, the Liberal Democrats are upset they have been seemingly relegated to minor party status, and Labour is worried about the presence of the SNP. Today, the DUP learned from BBC Director-General Tony Hall that it will not be invited to take part. Many parties, she adds, are unhappy the broadcasters appear to have "bent over backward" to accommodate David Cameron's conditions.

     
  54.  
    17:24: Health outcomes BBC News Channel

    More from Frank Field. He says the growth in health spending under the last Labour government was not rewarded with much better treatment. Although he praised individual members of the NHS for their work, Mr Field said that "collectively they've not delivered on the new money with increased outcomes, with more of us being treated".

     
  55.  
    17:19: NHS funding BBC News Channel
    Frank Field

    Frank Field, the Labour MP for Birkenhead, tells the BBC's Gavin Esler that the NHS is in serious need of more money for health and social care, and says electoral debates over the NHS must focus on providing answers to two difficult questions: "How do we get the new money? And how do we spend the new money in driving through reforms?"

     
  56.  
    17:18: 'Politics down the pub'
    Chloe Smith's surgery flyer

    Chloe Smith, the Tory MP who won her Norwich North seat in a 2009 by-election, has taken to Twitter to advertise a 'politics in the pub' surgery where constituents can seek her help. The move echoes Nigel Farage's pub-based politics, but - unless there's a typo on her flyer - it seems she's planning on an all-nighter to win over voters...

     
  57.  
    17:09: Archive treat No 98: Robin Day v Enoch Powell Alex Hunt Politics editor, BBC News Online
    Robin Day interviewing Enoch Powell

    Robin Day crosses swords with Enoch Powell with counting under way ahead of the Conservative victory in the general election of 1970, questioning him on his links with the political left and his relationship with his party leader and new Prime Minister Edward Heath.

    Each day from now until 7 May we'll be bringing you a classic election clip from the BBC archives. We've already selected a fair few but do feel free to suggest some via email at alex.hunt@bbc.co.uk or via Twitter @bbcpolitics

     
  58.  
    17:08: NHS row Chris Mason Political correspondent, BBC News

    BBC political correspondent Chris Mason reports on the NHS row that has dominated the political news today.

     
  59.  
    17:07: TV debates: What the bookies think
    David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Gordon Brown in the 2010 leaders' debates

    Today's fresh question-marks over the proposed TV debates aren't bothering William Hill, which has cut the odds it's offering on David Cameron not participating from 11/4 to 12/5. Spokesman Graham Sharpe says: "There is a widespread feeling that Mr Cameron would really like to find a way of avoiding taking part in the tv debates as he has the most to lose if he does so, but the humiliation of potentially being represented by an empty chair is likely to result in him ultimately taking part."

     
  60.  
    16:57: Care spending down BBC Radio 5 live

    The BBC'S Nick Triggle tells 5Live that despite government funding cuts councils on average are spending proportionally more and more of their budgets on care. However, they are struggling to keep up with an ageing population. According to BBC analysis of official figures, the average spend per person in England dropped from 12-hundred pounds in 2003 - down to around 950 pounds ten years later- that's a fall of 20 per cent.

     
  61.  
    @BBCNormanS Norman Smith, BBC assistant political editor

    tweets: Scottish Govt announce halt to fracking in Scotland pending consultation and public health assessment

     
  62.  
    16:56: Lessons from Greece
    Alexis Tsipras

    Carl Packman at the blog Left Foot Forward is the latest commentator to discuss "what the British left can learn from Greece", after the election victory of Syriza this week.

     
  63.  
    16:51: Afternoon lobby briefing Ben Wright Political correspondent, BBC News

    The Prime Minister's spokesman updated journalists in parliament earlier this afternoon:

    • He made clear that, to the best of his knowledge, no minister is looking at plans to move Trident from Scotland to Wales, as had been reported earlier
    • He said Britain would not be changing its position on negotiating with terrorists, after Jordan suggested it would be prepared to consider swapping an Islamic State-held hostage with a terrorist
    • And on Sinn Fein, which is reportedly being courted by Labour to help prop up a potential Ed Miliband government, he said David Cameron had not changed his view on whether Sinn Fein should take its Commons seats.
     
  64.  
    @AndrewCooper__ Conservative peer and pollster Andrew Cooper

    tweets: There is no credible rationale for including Plaid Cymru in TV debates and not DUP: 3 MPs vs 8 MPs & 168,216 votes in 2010 vs. 165,394 votes

     
  65.  
    16:50: Minimum wage
    Stuart Broad

    Yesterday England cricketer Stuart Broad faced criticism for an allegedly offensive tweet he posted about the minimum wage. The sportsman's tweet read: "I've heard if you earn minimum wage in England you're in the top 10% earners in the World. #stay #humble".

    Today, Ryan Bourne from free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs argues "that the reason why so many people are so annoyed is that this factual claim simply undermines the egalitarian arguments that the rich are the cause of our woes".

    But Zoe Williams, writing in The Guardian, says it shows "Broad has just swallowed the vindictive rhetoric on the feckless poor."

     
  66.  
    16:45: Welfare cuts

    The Institute for Fiscal Studies think-tank has delivered its verdict on the coalition's welfare reforms. Despite all the fuss over universal credit, Andrew Hood and David Phillips argue, delayed implementation means the changes have been "an evolution of the system rather than a revolution". Real terms benefit spending in 2015 is exactly the same as in 2010, at £220 billion, and is only seven per cent lower than it otherwise would have been. What's to blame for this? "An ageing population, but also weak wage growth and rising private rents," they say.

     
  67.  
    16:33: TV debates BBC News Channel

    An update from Norman Smith on the TV debates saga - BBC director general Lord Hall has written to the Democratic Unionist Party rejecting their request to be included. DUP sources have reacted with anger to the decision. They say they believe it is "very difficult to justify" the BBC's decision and are considering taking legal action over the debates. A judicial review could snarl up any deal being reached, Norman Smith warns.

     
  68.  
    16:27: Election winners
    Pound coins

    May2015.com has a guide to betting on the general election, with some advice, cautionary tales, and a few striking statistics: "The two biggest bookmakers, William Hill and Ladbrokes, both had a turnover of more than £3m in the Scottish referendum."

     
  69.  
    16:27: PMQs reaction Guido Fawkes

    Simon Carr at the Guido Fawkes blog gives his verdict on today's Prime Minister's Questions - with harsh words for David Cameron, but harsher ones for Ed Miliband.

     
  70.  
    16:26: NHS funding House of Commons Parliament

    MPs have voted against Labour's opposition amendment criticising the government's funding of the NHS. The government wins with 298 votes - a majority of 70 over the opposition's 228 MPs. The Commons swiftly moves on to its next debate - on sustainable development goals.

     
  71.  
    16:24: PMQs reaction
    PMQs

    Ed Miliband's attempt to "weaponise" the NHS, as David Cameron puts it, prompts a tongue-in-cheek analysis from Politics.co.uk's Adam Bienkov of the Labour leader's performance in wielding the weapon. "Miliband was visibly angry, aggressive and yet somehow totally unintimidating as he waved his new-found weapon around," he writes. "Perhaps he'd left the safety on, perhaps it was just a replica, but either way Cameron never seemed in the slightest danger of actually being hit."

     
  72.  
    @ChrisMasonBBC Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Bus workers in London are to stage three fresh 24-hour strikes next month in a dispute over pay, said the Unite union.

     
  73.  
    16:23: NHS funding House of Commons Parliament
    Health minister Jane Ellison

    The debate over the NHS didn't finish when Ed Miliband sat down in PMQs - in fact in the Commons it was only just starting, as MPs have spent the afternoon debating the government's health spending. Shadow minister Liz Kendall, summing up, says the coalition has been busy "wasting three years and £3bn of taxpayers' money". Jane Ellison, the Conservative health minister, says NHS funding has risen every year since 2010. She tells the Commons: "Tough decisions were taken at the beginning of this parliament to protect the NHS budget, against the advice of the Labour Party."

     
  74.  
    16:22: Shapps on the homeless LBC

    Conservative chairman Grant Shapps was also criticised by a caller, the chairman of a homeless charity, over plans to remove jobseeker's allowance from 18 to 21-year-olds. Mr Shapps, a former housing minister, says the reason people end up on the streets is "never as black and white" as people assume. He also says he would not give cash to a homeless person because he would not know how it would be spent, saying it is better to "bring them help".

     
  75.  
    16:21: Labour health policy ITN

    ITV political editor Tom Bradby tweets, alongside a video of Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham on BBC Newsnight last night: "I usually think of Andy Burnham as a smart guy, but after listening to this I have no idea what Labour policy is."

     
  76.  
    16:19: New Tory poster
    Conservative election poster showing Miliband, Salmond and Adams

    The Conservatives have released their latest campaign poster, which will be appearing on billboards shortly. It's a variation on a theme: having warned of the possibility of a Labour-SNP coalition, the Tories have now picked up on a Sinn Fein MP's claim that his party is being pursued by Labour. The Conservative poster adds Gerry Adams' face and the Sun's headline - but Labour insists their story is untrue. "We are working towards a Labour majority government and only towards a Labour majority government," a spokesman said.

     
  77.  
    16:10: Bomb threat BBC News UK
    Daithí McKay

    The BBC has learned that police in Northern Ireland are investigating reports that a bomb has been left at the home of Sinn Féin's North Antrim MLA Daithí McKay.

    An anonymous caller contacted the MLA's Dunloy office claiming a device had been left at the family home.

     
  78.  
    16:00: Defending PMQs LBC
    Grant Shapps

    Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps has been defending Prime Minister's Questions during a phone-in on LBC radio. Host Shelagh Fogarty said the exchanges on the NHS were the worst she could remember. "I'm not going to pretend it's the pinnacle of political debate," Mr Shapps replied. But he pointed to the viewing figures it attracts and added that he had a five-year waiting list of constituents wanting to come and watch. "It keeps the prime minister on his or her toes," he added.

     
  79.  
    15:52: What is a major incident?
    ambulance

    David Cameron and Ed Miliband have clashed in the Commons over the NHS, amid a row about guidance to hospitals over when they can call a "major incident". So what exactly is a major incident?

    • An internal major incident is activated when a trust is under significant pressure that is internal to the organisation - and is not the result of an external event.
    • It is a business continuity arrangement, where a decision is taken to reduce some services to support higher priority ones.
    • A major incident is a significant incident or emergency that cannot be managed within routine service arrangements.
    • It requires the implementation of special procedures and involves one or more of the emergency services, the NHS or a local authority.

    Source: NHS England - London region

     
  80.  
    15:42: 'Weaponising' policy
    George Osborne

    Amid continuing Conservative criticism of Ed Miliband for his suggestion he would "weaponise" the NHS, Paul Waugh at PoliticsHome reports that Chancellor George Osborne apparently previously used the word "weaponise" in a political context.

     
  81.  
    15:36: The SNP halts fracking

    Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing announces a moratorium on planning consent for all fracking north of the border. He's targeting the Tories rather than Labour, calling the Conservatives' plan to remove landowners' right to object to shale gas extraction "a disgrace". By contrast, he says, the Scottish government is taking a "responsible, cautious and evidence-based approach".

    Fracking in Balcombe, southern England
     
  82.  
    @ChrisMasonBBC Chris Mason, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Scotland's First Minister says she'd find it "strange" if Labour refused to deal with the SNP following the election, rpts @TimReidBBC

    and

    tweets: It follows the shadow Chancellor Ed Balls remarks yesterday in which he appeared to rule out a coalition with the Scottish nationalists.

     
  83.  
    @robindbrant Robin Brant, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: .@UKIP give a taster of what's to come in #ge2015 manifesto with list of 100 things they'd do - link

     
  84.  
    15:09: Afghanistan service Peter Hunt Royal correspondent, BBC News
    The Queen at the Cenotaph memorial service

    The BBC's Peter Hunt tweets that Prince Charles - and not the Queen - will attend a service in March commemorating the end of combat operations in Afghanistan. The Queen, in 2009, attended a service marking the end of combat operations in Iraq.

    Earlier today in the House of Commons, David Cameron announced the service would take place on 13 March.

     
  85.  
    15:01: Consensus collapsing? The Guardian

    George Monbiot writes in The Guardian that the rise of more left-wing parties across Europe - such as Syriza and the Scottish National Party - heralds the "sudden death of the neoliberal consensus". He claims: "If people voted for what they wanted, the Greens would be the party of government."

    Natalie Bennett and Green Party supporters
     
  86.  
    14:51: Tim Reid Political correspondent, BBC News

    Scottish Secretary Alistair Carmichael, speaking before the apology, described Lord Wigley's remarks - comparing the Trident base on the Clyde to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz - as "offensive". Mr Carmichael said the Welsh nationalist peer's comments were offensive to those who died and to those who worked at the Faslane naval base.

     
  87.  
    14:43: PMQs reaction The Spectator

    The Spectator's political editor James Forsyth says that, with little of substance said between the party leaders, "at the end of PMQs, politics was in the same place as it was at the start" - and this suits David Cameron and the Conservatives, who are "now convinced that events are moving their way".

     
  88.  
    14:35: If I were PM... The Independent
    10 Downing Street

    The Independent is counting down the days to the general election by inviting one contributor every day to describe what he or she would do as prime minister. Political commentator John Rentoul was first up yesterday, saying he'd be like "a free-market version of Natalie Bennett".

    Today it's the turn of Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform.

     
  89.  
    14:31: House of Commons Parliament

    Over in the House of Commons, the debate on government spending on the NHS is - quite predictably - proving to be a tetchy session. Health minister Dr Daniel Poulter is batting for the government, but there are lots of shouts being directed at him from sedentary positions on the Labour benches.

    House of Commons wide shot
     
  90.  
    14:25: Election battlegrounds The Daily Telegraph
    David Cameron and Ed Miliband

    Over at The Telegraph, James Kirkup provides a brief summary of the issues set to dominate the election - from the NHS and the economy to housing and "Dave vs Ed".

     
  91.  
    14:22: Auschwitz comments

    Comments made by Ex-Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley (pictured) comparing the Trident base in Scotland to Auschwitz concentration camp are branded "crass" and "offensive" by Conservative former Wales Secretary, David Jones. Mr Jones, Clwyd West MP, says it is right the peer apologised, albeit in a "mealy-mouthed" way. He says it was "not appropriate at any time" to use Auschwitz to make political points, "but to say it at Holocaust memorial time is even worse".

    Ex-Plaid Cymru leader Lord Wigley
     
  92.  
    @TimReidBBC Tim Reid, BBC political correspondent

    tweets: Nicola Sturgeon says Europe at heart of SNP election campaign - party will seek future vote that EU exit only poss if all 4 nations agree

     
  93.  
    14:14: PMQs reaction The Mirror

    At the Mirror online, Sunday People political editor Nigel Nelson sketches a frustrating bout between David Cameron and Ed Miliband: "The PM has adopted a curious habit for these sessions of late. Whatever the Labour leader asks, Mr Cameron answers an entirely different question."

     
  94.  
    14:08: NHS major incidents BBC News Channel

    Commenting on the new guidelines given in the West Midlands, former NHS Trust chairman Roy Lilley says they are "sensible but... very tough". He says it is clear the timing is to do with the forthcoming general election "because the more hospitals that go in to declaring a major emergency the more embarrassing it gets for the government". But he says it puts hospitals in a "very difficult place" as the harder it becomes to declare a major incident, the greater the "risk" in delivering services.

     
  95.  
    13:58: PMQs reaction

    Something about today's PMQs seems to have got a lot of commentators rather frustrated. Mark Ferguson of the LabourList blog tweets: "I hate having to watch PMQs. Worst part of the job. Writing about this turgid nonsense is like drowning in nonsense." Mehdi Hasan, the Huffington Post UK's political director, is just as desperate in his tweet: "Completely pointless and childish #pmqs today. Seems to get worse each week. British politics at its most dire and unappealing."

     
  96.  
    13:56: Lord Wigley's statement Ross Hawkins Political correspondent, BBC News

    Lord Wigley has apologised for his remarks about Auschwitz. He said he was sorry if his remarks were open to misinterpretation. In a statement he said: "I am certainly sorry if my remarks were open to any misinterpretation and I apologise for any offence that has been caused. The point I was trying to make was that you can't have jobs at any cost and I reiterate that."

     
  97.  
    13:55: Apology for Auschwitz comments

    Plaid Cymru peer Lord Wigley has apologised for "any offence caused" after he compared the effects of a Trident submarine base to a Nazi death camp. Here's our story about his original comments which came on BBC Radio 4's World at One.

     
  98.  
    13:53: NHS strike in N Ireland

    A strike by NHS workers in Northern Ireland, including ambulance staff, is to go ahead tomorrow after the "failure" to match a pay offer in England, the GMB union has said.

     
  99.  
    13:48: TV debates The World at One BBC Radio 4

    Turning to the TV election debates, Lib Dem minister Simon Hughes predicts that they probably won't go ahead - but tells the World at One that the Lib Dems want them to. He says the situation has shifted from the initial proposition - which didn't allow the Lib Dems to put their case "equally" as a party of government - to a position where there are so many prospective players "it becomes a very difficult place". He adds that the Tories and Labour are now saying they're not happy unless the Northern Ireland parties are involved - but questions whether including a further three or four parties is realistic. "Honest judgement, money on it, I think probably they won't but we would like them to as long as there is fair treatment for us and others."

     
  100.  
    13:40: PMQs verdict New Statesman

    Over at the New Statesman, George Eaton judges David Cameron's "chutzpah" to have carried him over the line in this week's PMQs. "The session descended into one of the ugliest encounters yet between the two men," he writes, before notching up yet another defeat for Ed Miliband: "Most voters will notice Miliband's equivocation and the rhetorical exaggerations that Cameron provokes... the PM's ruthless form was testimony to his increasing confidence."

     

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