Expats in Spain feeling the squeeze

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Pensioners currently don’t pay for prescriptions but new measures that have been announced to save €3,700 million in the health care market include a plan for elderly expats to pay 10 per cent of the cost of the medicine. This is capped at up to €20 a month, but joins a range of other increased living costs that have left many expats with less in their pocket. Molly Sears-Piccavey, an expat from Nottingham based in Barcelona and Andalucia, said matters have changed hugely since she arrived in Spain 14 years ago. Pay cuts or freezes or reduction in hours of employment are being discussed by disgruntled Spaniards and expats on the streets every day. “There have been poll tax rises of 10 per cent in my area and even more in other towns in Spain,” she said. She added that there also are many unfinished houses or empty properties without buyers, especially seaside homes, which used to be second homes for many Spaniards. A lot of her friends in the construction industry have now changed jobs or accept lower pay. VAT was increased from 16 per cent to 18 per cent in 2010 and Ms Sears-Piccavey’s particular region has also seen the prices of groceries rise 0.7 per cent in March alone. “Tomatoes have gone sky-high in price over the years,” she said. “It’s basic food in a Mediterranean country." Recent gossip sweeping financial markets speculates that Spain will be next in line to formally request a bail-out from Europe, joining the likes of Portugal, Ireland and Greece. Expats in Spain warned of faulty hip replacements 13 Mar 2012 William Poole of FX Exchange said: “Concern over Spain’s public finances has prompted fear. With yields in and around six per cent, we are perilously close to the seven per cent level where international governments can no longer afford to raise money on the international bond markets. Simply put, the higher the yield, the more expensive it becomes to raise money.” Spain’s economy is more than five times larger than Greece and the country that once created one in three eurozone jobs now has the highest unemployment. But Mr Poole says that a bail-out is unlikely – at the moment – as there is still room to turn the situation around. “In reality, Spain is in much better shape than rising yields imply, and with the current account shrinking, and falling labour costs boosting exports, it is clear that Spain’s new government have shown great political will in implementing deficit cutting measures,” he said.


Reopen Madeleine case, police urge

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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

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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

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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.

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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

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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.


exploding the common myths about which foods are good for us

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Myth: Salt in your diet causes high blood pressure

In the 1940s, Walter Kempner, a researcher at Duke University, North Carolina, became famous for using salt restriction to treat people with high blood pressure. Later, studies confirmed that reducing salt could help reduce hypertension. But you don't have to avoid salt entirely, says Sara Stanner, of the Nutrition Society. "Adults need a small amount of sodium in their diet to maintain the body's fluid balance."

Average salt intakes have come down in recent years, mainly due to product reformulation. But it's still the case that many of us consume too much salt – around 9g a day instead of the maximum recommended dose of 6g per day – around 75 per cent of which is in processed foods such as soups, sauces, sandwiches and processed meat.

"People often think it's really bad to add salt into cooking or on to your plate, but that forms no more than 10 per cent of your total intake," says Stanner. "So you can get people who never have salt at their table, but have a very high salt intake, while others put salt on most meals, but have a lower intake."

Myth: Carbohydrates are bad for you

"Carbohydrate-rich foods are an ideal source of energy. They can also provide a lot of fibre and nutrients," says Sara Stanner. "Potatoes, for instance, are one of the best sources of vitamin C, yet potato consumption in the UK has fallen considerably."

One of the main reasons carbohydrates have fallen out of favour is that they are perceived to be fattening. "Foods high in carbohydrates have had a rough time in the past few years, thanks to the success of low-carb diets, such as the Atkins diet," explains Juliette Kellow.

"But there's no proof that carb-rich foods are more likely to make us gain weight than any other food. Ultimately, it's an excess of calories that makes us pile on the pounds – and it really doesn't matter where those extra calories come from. More often than not, it's the fat we add to carbs that boosts the calorie content, such as butter on toast, creamy sauces with pasta and frying potatoes to make chips."

Myth: Dairy products are fattening and unhealthy

In a study by the Curtin University of Technology in Perth, Australia, slimmers on low- calorie diets which included cheese, yoghurt and milk lost more weight than those on low-dairy diets. Those on the diet including dairy also had the least stomach fat, lower blood pressure and a significantly better chance of avoiding heart disease and diabetes.

Dairy products are packed with essential nutrients that help keep us healthy, says Juliette Kellow. "As well as being good sources of protein, zinc and some B vitamins, dairy products are packed with calcium, a mineral that helps to build strong, healthy bones – and the stronger the bones are, the less likely you'll be to suffer from osteoporosis in later life."

There are loads of low-fat versions of dairy, such as skimmed or semi-skimmed milk, low-fat yoghurts and reduced-fat cheeses, she says – and low-fat versions don't mean less calcium. "Skimmed and semi-skimmed milk actually contain slightly more calcium than full-fat milk."

Myth: Red meat is bad for you

Publishing what it called "the most authoritative ever report of bowel cancer risk" last year, the World Cancer Research Fund recommended that people limit their intake of red meat to 500g a week, or just over a pound in weight. The net result of such studies is always the same – people panic.

But 500g is roughly the equivalent of five or six medium portions of roast beef, lamb or pork. "Red meat is a valuable source of minerals and vitamins, particularly iron, and we know that large numbers of women have such low intakes of this nutrient that they're at risk of anaemia. There's no need for people to think, 'I should be eating fish' when they have a steak,' provided they eat it in moderation," says Sarah Schenker.

Another myth about red meat is that it's high in fat, says Juliette Kellow, dietitian and advisor to Weight Loss Resources. "Thanks to modern breeding programmes and new trimming techniques, red meat is now leaner than ever.

Processed meat of all kinds, however, should be avoided.

Myth: Fresh is always better than frozen

Frozen fruit and vegetables can be more healthy than fresh. "Research shows that freezing vegetables such as peas as soon as they're picked – when they are at their nutritional peak – means they retain higher levels of vitamins, particularly vitamin C," says Sarah Schenker. "Once frozen, the deterioration process stops, locking in goodness. The fresh variety often travel long distances and sit on grocery shelves and along the way, heat, air, water and time can lead to a significant loss of nutrients."

Frozen or canned fruits and vegetables can also be as nutritious as fresh ones, if not more so. Again, they are often packaged within hours of being picked, retaining their nutritional value. "Always check salt and sugar levels though by comparing labels," says Sarah Schenker, of the British Dietitic Association. Even dried fruit can be healthier than fresh. "When you eat dried fruit you usually eat more than the fresh equivalent – for instance six dried apricots instead of three fresh ones. This is more calorific but you get a bigger amount of nutrients," says Schenker.

Myth: Soy eases menopausal problems

For years, the fact that Asian women have fewer menopausal symptoms has been attributed to high levels of soy in their diet. Soy products such as tofu contain natural plant oestrogens and there have been increasing claims that these might help women going through the menopause whose own oestrogen levels are dwindling.

But a University of Miami study has found that soy does nothing to abate hot flushes and bone-density loss. In fact, the women given soy appeared to experience more hot flushes than those given a placebo.

Experts including Dr Malcolm Whitehead, a menopause expert at King's College Hospital in London, aren't surprised. "In my clinical experience, women say this doesn't work for them," he says, adding that HRT is a safe and effective treatment for most women.

Others point to previous studies showing that soy can work, but the British Dietetic Association's Sarah Schenker, says, "This research has always been weak. People got excited about those early small studies, but the more research that was done, the more doubts appeared."

Myth: Brown bread is better for you than white

A darker loaf of bread does not necessarily mean it's made with whole grains – it could simply contain caramel colouring or such a small amount of whole wheat that its nutritional benefits are no different to white bread. "The real health benefits come from eating wholemeal bread instead of white," says Sarah Schenker.

Wholemeal is made from flour containing all the goodness of wheat grains. The outer husk has not been removed, so the resulting bread is much richer in fibre, protein and vitamins B1, B2, niacin, B6, folic acid and biotin. Brown bread, in contrast, is made from finely milled wheat, from which the bran has been extracted.

Look for the words "whole grain" or "100% whole wheat" on packaging and ensure the first ingredient listed is whole wheat, oats, whole rye, whole grain corn, barley, quinoa, buckwheat or brown rice. Seeded bread is even better, since it contains even more vitamins, minerals and healthy fats.

Myth: Everyone needs a lot of protein

Protein is essential for growth and development, but experts agree that most people eat far too much of it. "The Department of Health recommends that protein should make up around 10-15 per cent of your daily diet – that's around 55g for men and 45g for women," dietitian Azmina Govindji says. "Yet, according to the British Nutrition Foundation, men are probably munching their way through an average of 88g and women around 64g."

So what's fuelling this notion that we need so much? "Some diets, such as the Atkins diet, advocate speedy weight loss on cutting the carbs and piling on the proteins", Govindji says.

Another contributory factor is that in the past, it was believed nobody could eat too much protein. In the early 1900s, people were told to eat well over 100g a day and in the 1950s, health-conscious people were encouraged to boost their protein intake. But high protein can put a strain on liver and kidneys and other bodily systems.


police hunt for Michael Brown's missing millions

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British police are still trying to trace £18m allegedly stolen by the Liberal Democrats' fugitive donor Michael Brown, who is expected to be extradited to Britain within the next 10 days. Brown, 46, was in a holding cell near Madrid airport on Sunday, having been deported from the Dominican Republic, where he had been on the run from UK authorities for three years. Brown, who gave £2.4m to the Liberal Democrats before the 2005 general election, is not expected to challenge a formal move to extradite him to London which has already been set in motion. He was convicted of theft and false accounting in his absence in Britain in 2008 and sentenced to seven years in jail. Detectives are still trying to trace around £18m of Brown's stolen money, which had been moved between his accounts in the US, Britain and Switzerland, the Guardian understands. Brown was estimated to have stolen more than £60m in a number of frauds. Most of his assets have been accounted for in property deals, a Bentley, a yacht and the private jet once used to fly senior Lib Dems across the UK. However, more than £18m has not yet been accounted for. "The file at Interpol on Brown and his associates remains open," a source told the Guardian. Brown's return will be another embarrassing development in the long-running saga over the Lib Dems' biggest single donation. The party has refused to compensate any of Brown's victims, claiming it received the money in good faith and spent it on the 2005 election campaign. Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg welcomed Brown's return to Britain but said on Sunday that the party would not be returning his donation because the Electoral Commission had concluded the money had been received in good faith. The deputy prime minister, who pointed out that the donation was made before he was elected to Westminster, told BBC1's Sunday Politics: "I'm very pleased he's coming back to serve his sentence. This is a convicted fraudster. "I should stress that this is something which happened as far as the Liberal Democrats are concerned before I was even an MP, yet alone leader of the Liberal Democrats. What I've been told is that the Electoral Commission in 2009 looked at this exhaustively – as far as the receipt of that money by the Liberal Democrats from one of his companies. They categorically concluded that the money was received in good faith and all the controls, all the checks that should have been made were reasonably made by the Liberal Democrats at the time. If we'd been shown wanting on those accounts then of course we should pay the money back." But Brown's return will increase focus on the Electoral Commission inquiry into Brown's donations. The inquiry failed to call the Lib Dems' former treasurer, Reg Clark, who resigned over Brown in 2005 and warned advisers to the former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy that Brown should be treated with extreme caution. One of Brown's victims said the Lib Dems should return the money. Tony Brown, managing partner at law firm Bivonas which represents US attorney Robert Mann who lost more than $5m (£3m), said Brown may be asked to give evidence as part of his client's claim against the Lib Dems. "The Lib Dems have refused to repay this money to our client even though they know that this is the proceeds of crime. The Electoral Commission has failed to investigate this properly in our view. So now that Brown is returning to the jurisdiction, we can investigate again and establish the basis on which the Lib Dems received this money." Brown is expected to appear before a Spanish court to confirm his name and will then appear before an extradition hearing within 10 days. City of London police, who first uncovered Brown's fraud, confirmed his deportation. Detective Superintendent Bob Wishart said: "We hope that him facing justice will bring some closure to the victims who suffered as a result of his frauds." A close friend of Brown's told the Guardian on Sunday that he had arrived in Spain on Saturday after "volunteering" for deportation from the Dominican Republic, where he has been hiding for three years under the name of Darren Nally. "He asked to return to Britain. He is going home to face the music," the friend said. Brown appeared to come from nowhere when the party was paid £2.4m in the runup to the 2005 election from his company 5th Avenue Partners. A fast-talking and brash Glaswegian, he had walked into the party's then headquarters in Cowley Street and offered it money. He was not registered to vote, had no interest in politics and had never been a party member, but said he was giving the money to create an even playing field. Brown wined and dined with Charles Kennedy and other party grandees, and used his private jet to fly Kennedy across the country during the election campaign. Former Lib Dem insiders say he dazzled them with stories of Gordonstoun public school, St Andrews University and his connections with royalty and the US government. The truth was that he had attended his local school and completed a City and Guilds in catering at Glasgow College of Food Technology. He had no US government links – although he was wanted in Florida for cheque fraud. He was arrested in late 2005 after four former clients said he had duped them out of more than £40m in a high-yield fraud. His victims included Martin Edwards, the former Manchester United chairman, who had invested £8m with 5th Avenue Partners. The court would later be told that 5th Avenue Partners was wholly fraudulent and Brown had given money to the Lib Dems to give himself an air of respectability while duping his victims. The party had been used as part of his cover story, a judge said. In June 2008, while awaiting trial, Brown fled and a warrant was issued for his arrest. In the weeks before he disappeared, from his Hampstead bail address in north London, he changed his name on the electoral roll to Campbell-Brown and allowed his hair to turn grey. He travelled to the Dominican Republic where he enjoyed a millionaire's lifestyle while on the run. He lived in gated communities yards from some of the most pristine beaches in the Caribbean, drove a series of 4x4 vehicles and was a regular at exclusive golf courses. In Punta Cana, an exclusive resort on the eastern tip of the island, he could often be seen walking his dog – named Charles, after the former Lib Dem leader. He was arrested in Punta Cana in January on unrelated fraud allegations.


Donaldson enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in Marbella and Tenerife, trafficking accused found hiding in loft with £70k in cash

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 A SUSPECTED drug trafficker was found by police hiding in a farmhouse loft in Scotland with a bag stuffed with £70,000, a Spanish court was told last week. Ian Donaldson, 32, is accused of helping fund an international drugs ring smuggling cocaine and speed from Spain to Scotland The former amateur racing driver – who drove a Lamborghini with the distinctive Lambo 88 plate – was tracked down to the farm by officers from the Scottish Crime and Drugs Enforcement Agency. Donaldson – who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle in Marbella and Tenerife– is one of six Brits facing court in Madrid accused of making millions from the drugs trade. Detective Inspector James Wallace of the SCDEA told the court: “I arrested him on February 27, 2009. He was hiding in a loft area in a farm building. We also found £70,000 hidden in a bag.” Eight SCDEA detectives gave evidence to the National Court in the Spanish capital last week via a video link from Edinburgh. The court heard Scottish police mounted a surveillance operation after Donaldson, from Renton, Dunbartonshire, was released on bail. Detectives watched him in a series of meetings in Glasgow and Hamilton in April 2009, as he tried to hide the origins of his fortune, prosecutors allege. Donaldson met with fellow accused Mary Hendry and Joseph Campbell and was observed discussing large sums of money and swapping paperwork for a nightclub in Gran Canaria. It was alleged they were secretly plotting to make it look like Donaldson had made some of his wealth from the club. Meetings took place at supermarkets in Glasgow and Hamilton and the Mitchell Library in Glasgow. DI Wallace told the court: “We saw he (Donaldson) was creating a defence for the Spanish charges. “I believe they (Hendry and Campbell) were both subservient to Donaldson, who instructed them on what to do.” The detective said Donaldson and his company IRD Services were also investigated for money- laundering in Scotland. He added: “There is evidence he purchased seven vehicles in Scotland, worth up to £900,000, between 2006 and 2008.” Mary Hendry told the court she only met Donaldson twice for legitimate business meetings. She said: “Joseph Campbell introduced me to Ian Donaldson because I was trying to sell my restaurant. “I met him the next day and he said he was not interested. I never saw him again.” It is alleged Donaldson was the money man for a gang of drug smugglers based in Tenerife and Marbella, led by Glaswegian Ronald O’Dea, 45. The gang are alleged to have spent millions on luxury villas, fast cars and yachts. In October 2008, police seized a a haul of amphetamines worth £660,000 heading to Scotland after stopping a lorry in Oxfordshire. Donaldson, Hendry and O’Dea share the dock in Madrid with fellow Scot James MacDonald, 62, and Londoners Steve Brown, 45, and Deborah Learmouth, 49. The gang face charges ranging from drug-trafficking to money-laundering. They deny all charges. Two other defendants – Brian Rawlings and Joseph Campbell – failed to show up at the trial. The judges will give their verdict at a later date.


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

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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

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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’.


Health Minister announces crackdown on foreigners using the Spanish Health Service

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The cabinet on Friday decided to crack down on foreigners using the Spanish Health Service as part of an additional 7 billion € of cuts. They intend to toughen the conditions for inclusion on the Padrón census. Minister for Health, Ana Mato, said ‘We are going to end the abuses committed by some foreigners’. She is going to change the Ley de Extranjería which intends to put a limit to the so-called ‘health tourism’, which has seen family members of foreign residents to come to Spain ‘exclusively’ to receive health attention. Ana Mato insisted that from now it will not be so easy to come to Spain, sign the Padrón census, and obtain a health card, as it has been. ‘Just getting on the Padrón they all had the right to the health card’, said the Minister. ‘Now there will be a series of additional requirements when the Padrón is issued’. She said to guarantee the universality of the Health Service ‘for all the Spaniards’ it was necessary to stop the illegal and undue use which some foreigners have been making of this service. On Thursday the Minister met with the regions and they agreed on a new article which will ‘explicitly prohibit a person moving regions in search of health attention'. The Minister considers these measures will do away with health tourism and save 1 billion €. Ana Mato also said that she was going to revise some international conventions on the matter, given that ‘many’ countries do not repay the money they owe Spain for the health attention given here to their citizens. Among the other measures approved, the end of paying for some medicaments ‘with little therapeutic value’. A list of included medicines accepted nationally is to be prepared. The Minister said ‘We all have to collaborate with those who having a worse time’.


Ryanair threatens surcharge on flights to Spain

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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”.


Phone data shows romance 'driven by women'

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A study of mobile phone calls suggests that women call their spouse more than any other person. That changes as their daughters become old enough to have children, after which they become the most important person in their lives. The study has been published in the journal Scientific Reports. It also shows that men call their spouse most often for the first seven years of their relationship. They then shift their focus to other friends. The results come from an analysis of the texts of mobile phone calls of three million people. According to the study's co-author, Professor Robin Dunbar of Oxford University, UK, the investigation shows that pair-bonding is much more important to women than men. "It's the first really strong evidence that romantic relationships are driven by women," he told BBC News. "It's they who make the decision and once they have made their mind up, they just go for the poor bloke until he keels over and gives in!" But the data shows that women start to switch the preference of their best friend from about the mid-30s, and by the age of 45 a woman of a generation younger becomes the "new best friend", according to Professor Dunbar. Continue reading the main story “ Start Quote Human societies are moving back to a matriarchy” Prof Robin Dunbar Oxford University "What seems to happen is that women push the 'old man' out to become their second best friend, and he gets called much less often and all her attention is focussed on her daughters just at the point at which you are likely to see grandchildren arriving," he says. Prof Dunbar also claims that the findings suggest that human societies are moving away from a patriarchy back to a matriarchy. The aim of the project was to find out how close, intimate relationships vary over a lifetime. This kind of anthropological study is normally very difficult to do because it is hard for researchers to get such a big picture of people's lives. But by looking at an at an extremely large mobile phone database, they were able to track these changes extremely accurately. They had access to the age and sex of the callers, who between them made three billion calls and half a billion texts over a period of seven months. Intensely focussed The team wanted to find out how the gender preference of best friends, as defined by the frequency of the calling, changed over the course of a lifetime and differed between men and women. They found that men tend to choose a woman the same age as themselves - which the researchers presumed to be their girlfriend or wife - as a best friend much later in life than women do, and for a much shorter time. This occurs when they are in their early-30s, possibly during courtship, and stops after seven years or so. Women, however, choose a man of a similar age to be their best friend from the age of 20. He remains for about 15 years, after which time he's replaced by a daughter. The pendulum between the two sexes is swinging back towards women, says Prof Dunbar The researchers say that a woman's social world is intensely focussed a on one individual and will shift as a result of reproductive interests from being the mate to children and grandchildren. According to Prof Dunbar, the data suggests that "at root the important relationships are those between women and not those between men". "Men's relationships are too casual. They often function at a high level in a political sense, of course; but at the end of the day, the structure of society is driven by women, which is exactly what we see in primates," he explains. Many anthropologists argue that most human societies are patriarchal on the basis that in most communities men stay where they are born whereas the wives move. But Professor Dunbar and his colleagues are arguing that this only occurs in agriculturally based societies. "If you look at hunter-gatherers and you look at modern humans in modern post-industrial societies, we are much more matriarchal. It's almost as if the pendulum between the two sexes, power-wise, is swinging (back) as we move away from agriculture toward a knowledge-based economy," he says.


Secret Service scandal sheds light on sex tourism in Latin America

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Type in "sex tourism" and "Brazil" in Google, and the first site that comes up is not a news report or academic study, but advice on going rates and how to hire prostitutes. But ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, officials are starting to clamp down on the country's image as a haven for sex tourism. Brazil's Tourism Ministry recently said it identified more than 2,000 sites advertising the South American giant's sex industry, many of them hosted in the US. To counter the reputation, the tourism ministry has stepped up efforts to advertise Brazil's natural beauties like beaches and the Amazon, instead of bodies for sale. And they have circulated information reminding visitors that sexual exploitation of minors is a crime.  Brazil's preventive efforts seem more crucial than ever after the scandal in Cartagena, Colombia, during the Sixth Summit of the Americas last weekend. Some 11 US Secret Service agents were sent home for allegedly hiring prostitutes in the steamy colonial city, also a major destination for sex tourism.  “Large events create an obvious clientele and traffickers recognize an opportunity to make money,” says Heather Smith-Cannoy, who teaches international relations at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. “I think that in many places around the world there is a 'boys will be boys' attitude about the patronizing of prostitutes," Ms. Smith-Cannoy says. But when considering the combination of large profits for traffickers, and pimps or hustlers, and a relaxed cultural attitude about visiting prostitutes "we can begin to understand both the supply and the demand side of this industry,” says Smith-Cannoy. The trafficking–tourism link Sex “tourism" is nothing new. By some accounts it dates back to the 15th century, with Columbus's arrival to the Americas. As the middle class grew in industrialized nations, and the opportunities to travel with it, the formal industry was developed.  Prostitution is tolerated to varying degrees in Latin America, but it is the human trafficking associated with sex tourism, especially that of minors, that alarms officials most. (The case of Cartagena did not involve minors.) According to the Coalition Against Trafficking of Women and Girls in Latin America and the Caribbean (CATW-LAC), 500,000 women and girls from Latin America and the Caribbean are sexually exploited each year. Not all prostitution involves sex trafficking, a multibillion dollar industry, but the nongovernmental organization World Vision estimates that up to a quarter of women in prostitution have been trafficked.  At the same time, the majority of human trafficking victims — 79 percent — are brought into the sex trade, according to the United Nations. Countries in Asia, notably Thailand, have long been at the center of the problem, but Latin America is starting to play a larger role. “While most trafficking victims still appear to originate from South and Southeast Asia or the former Soviet Union, human trafficking is also a growing problem in Latin America,” writes Clare Ribando Seelke in a 2012 Congressional Research Service report. Poverty, displacement from rural areas, and increased demand for prostitution all play a role in the growth of sexual exploitation, says Humberto Rodriguez, the communication officer of Fundacion Renacer, a Colombia-based group that combats the sexual exploitation of youths in the country. Anywhere the tourism industry grows, he says, so does the opportunity for sexual tourism. 'Not enough is being done' Within sex tourism, the exploitation of children is the biggest concern.  According to the US State Department 2011 report on the trafficking of persons, Brazil, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, and Nicaragua all have significant child sex tourist industries. Colombia, it says, is also “a destination for foreign child sex tourists from the United States and Europe, particularly to coastal cities such as Cartagena and Barranquilla.” Countries around the globe have addressed the problem of human trafficking in general since the UN Protocol to Prevent, Suppress, and Punish Trafficking in Persons, Especially Women and Children, was adopted in 2000, but many say not enough is being done. The US State Department assesses efforts around the globe to combat human trafficking. In 2010, 80 percent of countries in South America were placed on the Tier 2 list, which means they were not fully complying with the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act, while 60 percent of countries in Central America and the Caribbean were on the Tier 2 Watch List. Cuba fell to the lowest level of cooperation, Tier 3. The State Department says that prostitution of children over 16 is legal in Cuba, leaving those over the legal age vulnerable to commercial sexual exploitation. Venezuela fell to Tier 3 in the 2011 report. Colombia sits on the Tier 1 list, and while the case of the US Secret Service agents does not fall into Fundacion Renacer's work — as it did not involve children — Mr. Rodriguez says the case may not have generated so much attention in the past. “People are paying attention to it now,” says Rodriguez. Through their work and an international certification program called The Code, which brings tourism operators into the fight to prevent the use of children in sex tourism, society in general is more aware of prostitution, he says. Efforts like these are particularly important as countries become hosts to big events like the Summit of the Americas, or as crises occur.  An increased demand for prostitution increases human sex trafficking rings, says Cannoy-Smith. She and a co-author have researched the impact of UN peacekeeping forces in Kosovo, Haiti, and Sierra Leone on trafficking. “When the UN intervenes in civil conflicts, the peacekeepers themselves have often been linked to running and patronizing trafficking rings,” Smith-Cannoy says. “Again, I think that poverty, desperation, the specter of large profits, and relaxed cultural attitudes make these dynamics possible.”


Sex Robots Will Revolutionize Sex Tourism,

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They don't spread disease and they can't be sold into sex slavery. Those are just two of the advantages of robot prostitutes, which will be edging out their human competition in the sex tourism market by the year 2050, according to an article published in the journal Futures. The Dominion Post, which found the study, writes that sex tourists will shell out about $10,000 Euros for services ranging from massages and lap dances to intercourse, according to the article. The researchers lay out why this scenario will be the future of sex tourism: Human trafficking, sexual transmitted diseases, beauty and physical perfection, pleasure for sex toys, emotional connection to robots and the importance of sex in Amsterdam are all driving forces. But some are not so sure that robots will be replacing female sex workers any time soon. CBS Las Vegas spoke to Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch in Carson City, Nev. “Those Australian researchers ought to come to the Bunny Ranch to see what real American sex is like – there’s no way to duplicate it,” Hof told CBS Las Vegas. “At the Bunny Ranch, we say ‘it’s not just the sex, it’s an adventure’ – and often times it’s more about the adventure than it is the sex.”


Spain's Surging Bad Loans Cast Doubts on Bank Cleanup Plan

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Spain's surging bad loans are spurring doubt on whether the government can persuade investors that it can clean up the country's banks without further damaging public finances. Non-performing loans as a proportion of total lending jumped to 8.16 percent in February, the highest level since 1994, from less than 1 percent in 2007, according to Bank of Spain data published today. The ratio rose from 7.91 percent in January as 3.8 billion euros of loans soured in February, a 110 percent increase from the same month a year ago. That takes the total credit in the economy that the regulator lists as "doubtful" to 143.8 billion euros. Defaults are rising and credit is shrinking at a record pace as 24 percent unemployment corrodes the quality of loans built up in the country's credit boom and saps the appetite of banks to make new ones. Doubts about the extent of Spain's non- performing loans problem is hurting bank stocks and driving up the government's borrowing costs on investor concern that the expense of propping up ailing lenders may add to the debt burden. "One of our concerns in Spain is to what extent contingent liabilities could pass to the central government," said Andrew Bosomworth, Pacific Investment Management Co.'s Munich-based head of portfolio management. Non-performing loans "will have to rise when you take into account the unemployment rate and what's happening with the economy," he said.


Marbella Police Commissioner moved to Madrid

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The Police Commissioner in Marbella, Agapito Hermés de Dios, is to be disciplined for spying on the Vice President of the Madrid region, Ignacio González, in what is now considered to have been an ‘illegal’ investigation according to the Minister of the Interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz. Agapito Hermés has presented his resignation from the Marbella Police Station and will now be destined to a district of Madrid. He was subjected to an internal investigation regarding how he dealt with an enquiry into an attic which Ignacio Gonzalez enjoyed in Marbella. The Interior Minister announced publically in the Senate that the investigation was ‘illegal’ and ‘irregular’ as it was carried out without judicial authorisation and without complying with the protocols on intervention established by the Police.


Talks on fishing break down between Spain and Gibraltar

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Fishermen in Algeciras and La Línea have broken off talks with Gibraltar. The Rock has prohibited the use of fishing nets in water which they claim is theirs. The fishermen got up from the table on Monday after technicians from the Gibraltar Government Environment Department insisted on the prohibition of net fishing in waters of the Rock which they described as their own. President of the Federation of Fishing Associations in Andalucía, Pedro Maza, claimed the Gibraltar Government ‘had made a veiled threat’ to the fishermen in the Algeciras Bay, which he described as ‘unacceptable’. The Gibraltarians are insisting in following their 1991 environment law which stopped fishing with nets unless a licence was issued. The Gibraltar First Minister, Fabian Picardo, released a statement on Monday afternoon in which he said the Rock ‘continued to be willing to reach an agreement with the Spanish fishermen which would guarantee the meeting of the laws of Gibraltar’ and avert ‘dangerous and counterproductive’ confrontations at sea. He went on however that any infraction of the law and of the territorial jurisdiction of Gibraltar is unacceptable and the Royal Gibraltar Police would be alerted.


British woman injured in Quad bike accident in Arona

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A 42 year old British woman, named with the initials P.S.S. has suffered a serious accident when using a quad bike last Saturday in Altavista, Arona. It happened at 2,15pm when she was taking part in a guided excursion with several other people on quads. When she was going right on a curve, downhill in Calle Real, she left the road and fell into an area of vegetation. An ambulance took her the emergency department at the Playa de las Americas Hospital. She suffered wounds to several parts of her body and the hospital gave a reserved prognosis on her condition. When she was admitted she showed mobility problems in the extremities. She was on holiday and staying in apartments in Costa Adeje.


The Madeleine McCann mystery took a new twist today as it emerged that Spanish police are looking for the missing girl in a Costa del Sol holiday resort

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Detectives are making inquiries in Nerja after a tip-off from colleagues in Portugal.

Portuguese police are understood to have received information from an informant about a Madeleine McCann lookalike spotted in the town near Malaga.

Officers from a specialist unit are said to have been mobilised after being sent details of the sighting.

The development is thought to be connected to a new review of Madeleine McCann's disappearance.

A new squad of officers has been brought in to re-examine the case.

The team, from the northern city of Porto, has been instructed to go over the thousands of pages of case files and search for new clues.


2007 - May 3: Madeleine vanishes from holiday apartment in Praia da Luz.

August 21: Madeleine allegedly spotted with a man in Cartagena, Spain.

November 16: Jane Tanner says she saw a man carrying a sleeping child away 45 minutes before McCanns discovered Madeleine missing

February 13, 2008: Portuguese authorities say search for Madeleine is winding down

May 7, 2009: Channel 4 film shows artist’s impression of man seen at the apartment

November 2010: Businessman reports seeing girl matching Maddie's description with a man and two women outside shopping mall in Dubai.

February 2011: Italian ­nightclub bouncer claims Madeleine was snatched and taken to the US by a paedophile gang responsible for a dozen similar child kidnappings

May 9, 2011: Two British paedophiles quizzed by police ­investigating investigating disappearance

July 29, 2011: DNA test taken from girl in India after British woman believes it's Maddie

March 2012: Maddie 'lookalike' is spotted in Costa del Sol, Spain

The officers are working with a Scotland Yard team set up in May last year to review the investigation into Madeleine's May 2007 disappearance from the Algarve resort of Praia da Luz.

 Respected Malaga-based daily Diario Sur said the fresh inquiries in Spain were being carried out by officers from the Judicial Police's Central Specialised and Violent Crime Unit.

Officers from the specialist police division are currently searching for two siblings who disappeared in a park in Cordoba, southern Spain on October 8.

The youngsters' dad Jose Breton was arrested over their disappearance and is being held in prison.

Police have failed to find any trace of Ruth, six, and Jose, two, despite several searches of a family home with radar equipment.

The McCanns' Portuguese lawyer Rogerio Alves has described the Portuguese police case review as a 'very postive sign'.

He said when news emerged of the creation of the new team: 'Obviously the most plausible explanation for what's happening is that information passed to or acquired by the Judicial Police in Porto has put them on the trail of something specific.'

Search spreads: Spanish police have begun searching for Madeleine McCann in the Costa del Sol after a tip off by an informant to Portuguese police

Search spreads: Spanish police have begun searching for Madeleine McCann in the Costa del Sol after a tip off by an informant to Portuguese police


Surf Air: Can an all-you-can-fly airline possibly work?

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SURF AIR, a Californian start-up, has a novel business model: for a monthly fee you can fly with the airline as much as you want. Is buffet-style air travel the wave of the future? JetBlue and Sun Country Airlines have both already tried offering all-you-can-fly passes, but so far no carrier has built its business model exclusively on a buffet plan. The idea isn't bad, but some scepticism is warranted. At $790 a month, Surf Air's flying plan will probably only appeal to business travellers who often go to the same places and rich Californians in long-distance relationships. Will that customer base allow Surf Air to make a profit? Maybe: 20m frequent flyers jetted between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 2011, according to the company's numbers. The airline plans to launch with service between Palo Alto, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, but it still needs to secure regulatory approval, according to a company press release. Frequent flyers make up a huge portion of the business-traveller population, and almost every airline relies on business travellers to get (and stay) in the black. There is surely some group of private-jet-sharing business travellers who might be attracted to an all-you-can-jet airline as a cheaper alternative. A lot will depend on how many flights and how much convenience Surf Air can offer, and how quickly it can expand service. The company's promises certainly seem attractive: [Surf Air will offer] its members 30-second booking and cancellations, travel to and from uncongested regional airports, and an easy arrive-and-fly process with no hassle, no lines and no extra fees. It's easy to make promises, though. It's much harder to run a profitable airline. As Gulliver often notes, the American airline sector overall has never really made any money—in fact, total earnings over the entire history of the industry are minus $33 billion. That, of course, suggests that existing airlines might be doing it wrong. Maybe all-you-can-fly really is the way to go. It's at least worth a shot. I'll be eager to see what people think of the final product—assuming regulators give the go-ahead.


Worrying is good for you and reflects higher IQ

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It evolved in humans along with intelligence to make them more adept at avoiding danger. A study of 42 people found the worst sufferers of a common anxiety disorder had a higher IQ than those whose symptoms were less severe. Scientists say their findings published in Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, suggest worrying has developed as a beneficial trait. Psychiatrist Professor Jeremy Coplan, of SUNY Downstate Medical Centre in New York, and colleagues found high intelligence and worry are linked with brain activity measured by the depletion of the nutrient choline in the white matter of the brain. He said: "While excessive worry is generally seen as a negative trait and high intelligence as a positive one, worry may cause our species to avoid dangerous situations, regardless of how remote a possibility they may be. "In essence, worry may make people 'take no chances,' and such people may have higher survival rates. Thus, like intelligence, worry may confer a benefit upon the species." The researchers made the discovery by monitoring activity in the brains of twenty six patients with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and eighteen healthy volunteers to assess the relationship between IQ, worry and the metabolism of choline. In the control group high IQ was associated with a lower degree of worry, but in those diagnosed with GAD it was linked with more. The correlation between IQ and worry was significant in both the GAD group and the healthy control group. But in the former it was positive and in the latter negative. Previous studies have indicated excessive worry tends to exist both in people with higher and lower intelligence, and less so in people of moderate intelligence. It has been suggested people with lower intelligence suffer more anxiety because they achieve less success in life. Worrying has also been shown to lessen the effect of depression by countering brain activity that heightens the condition.


Eating nuts can help stave off obesity, says study

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Dieters often dismiss them because of their high fat content, but research suggests that snacking on nuts can help keep you slim. A study found that those who consumed varieties such as almonds, cashews and pistachios demonstrated a lower body weight, body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference compared to non-consumers. They were also at lower risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. Experts are now recommending a daily intake of 1.5 ounces, or three tablespoons of nuts as part of a healthy diet. Lead researcher Carol O'Neil, from Louisiana State University, said: 'One of the more interesting findings was the fact that tree nut consumers had lower body weight, as well as lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference compared to non-consumers. 'The mean weight, BMI, and waist circumference were 4.19 pounds, 0.9kg/m2 and 0.83 inches lower in consumers than non-consumers, respectively.' In the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, researchers compared risk factors for heart disease, type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome of nut consumers versus those who did not consume nuts.


US marines killed as hybrid aircraft crashes in Morocco

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The Osprey crashed in a military training area southwest of Agadir, Morocco, after taking off from aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima, said Capt. Kevin Schultz, a Marine spokesman at the Pentagon in Washington. Schultz said the Osprey, which takes off and lands like a helicopter and flies like an aeroplane, was participating in a US-Moroccan military exercise known as "African Lion." The 10-day exercise was set to end April 17 and involves 1,000 US Marines and 200 soldiers, sailors and airmen. They were working with some 900 Moroccan soldiers. According to the U.S. Marine website, the exercise involved "everything from combined arms fire and manoeuvre ranges, aerial refuelling and deliveries of supplies, to command post and non-lethal weapons training." The main unit involved in the exercise is the 14th Marines, a reserve artillery regiment based in Fort Worth, Texas, but also includes members of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Camp Lejeune, North Caroline.


Laser attacks on planes are surging, warn aviation officials

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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.


Thousands of British expats are on the brink of losing everything after being duped by unscrupulous financial advisers.

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The cowboys have persuaded thousands of  our vulnerable pensioners — many in their 80s and 90s — to give up huge stakes of their property in exchange for investments that will never make a penny. 

The schemes are often sold by rogue financial advisers who exploit weak consumer laws on  the Continent by falsely claiming to be bona  fide accountants.

Most of the victims are Britons who retired to Spain or France and wanted to use the cash in their homes to help with soaring living costs. 

John Parsons, founder of the Costa del Sol Action Group that is helping some of the victims in Spain, says: ‘The effect of all this worry is enormous. The stress has brought on a lot of serious health issues and they are extremely worried about their futures.

‘These people were not greedy or stupid. They were on fixed pensions and being financially squeezed, so jumped at the possibility of solving that situation.’

The latest crisis follows a Money Mail  investigation in 2008, which exposed how hundreds of British pensioners living on the Costa del Sol had gambled their homes in a risky equity-release scheme run by failed Icelandic bank Landsbanki.

Now we can reveal how thousands more pensioners have fallen for other risky equity-release schemes on the Continent and are being hounded by banks demanding hundreds of thousands of pounds.



During the property boom at the start of this century, around 100,000 pensioners left Britain to live out their days in southern France and Spain — attracted by a warmer climate and cheaper way of life.

Many had a small pension, but hundreds of thousands of pounds from the sale of their UK home, which had soared in value over their lifetime.

This money was used to supplement their incomes and buy a new home abroad. But soon after they moved, the cost of living in some areas soared as hundreds of thousands of Britons and Germans bought second homes.

Many pensioners found they needed extra cash, and became easy prey for unregulated financial advisers who had left Britain to tap into the new wealth in these regions. 

Local rules meant they were able to act unchecked, selling investments from banks based anywhere in the world.

Sometimes they claimed to be chartered accountants, but were not — many had never even registered with local authorities. 

In Spain in particular, these advisers could largely sell whatever they wanted — including types of investments and equity-release schemes outlawed in the UK. These paid handsome commissions that could net advisers a £50,000 payday.

Banks offering equity-release loans included Icelandic bank Landsbanki, Scandinavian banks Nordea and Sydbank, and UK private bank Rothschild. However, Money Mail understands they are not the only banks involved.

The majority of victims were told they could borrow the entire value of their property. The loan would incur interest, typically of up to 6.5 per cent. It meant that after ten years, a €500,000 (£412,667) loan would balloon to €681,240 (£562,251). To offset this, a large chunk — usually around 75 per cent of the loan — would be invested in a fund sold by the adviser. 

Pensioners were told returns would be so good that not only would they cover the interest on the equity release, but give the borrowers a little extra to spend.


But the promises made turned out to be very different to the theory. This meant returns did not cover the cost of the interest repayments on the equity release. 

As the fund fell in value, it ate into the capital that borrowers needed to repay the debt. Charges for fund managers and commission also reduced the returns further. 

Worse was to follow when house prices in Spain fell. They had risen by 44 per cent between 2004 and 2008, when many of the victims had bought their homes. They have since plummeted by around 20 per cent.

Those who had borrowed almost all of their property value were soon in negative equity — where the value of the property value was less than the money owed on it — leaving them unable to sell to clear their debt. 

In theory the borrowers were expected to pay off their loan at the end of four years. But because the value of the investments plunged so low, it triggered small print in the equity-release contract that allowed banks to demand repayment early.

In the case of those expats with Landsbanki, the bank collapsed and the investment fund was snatched by company liquidators. Then a further problem struck — the value of the pound plunged against the euro. 

Many of the victims were paid pensions in pounds and relied on converting the money into euros every month. The drop meant the value of their pensions fell by a third.


Campaigners estimate thousands of British pensioners have lost money through these schemes. Former actress Julia Hilling, 88, fears her home will be swallowed up in repayments to her mortgage from Rothschild Bank.

She was sold the mortgage in 2005 by a Malaga-based British financial adviser. Today, this company is classed as unauthorised by the Spanish authorities. Her property was valued at €300,000 (£249,966) and she took out a loan for €262,000 (£217,827). Around €17,000 (£14,138) was used for living expenses and she put €245,000 (£203,693) in an investment fund. 

Tempted: Julia Hilling, pictured was an actress in the 1940s, says she went for a scheme because she needed to pay bills

Tempted: Julia Hilling, pictured was an actress in the 1940s, says she went for a scheme because she needed to pay bills

Mrs Hilling, who starred in musicals in the Forties and in revues with Sir Bruce Forsyth at the Windmill Theatre, London, had never invested or even had a mortgage before. 

Since 2005, the fund has plunged by around a third and will no longer cover her mortgage. She owes €330,000 (£274,362) and the debt continues to grow. Mrs Hilling says she is unable to cover these costs and fears the bank will take her property when she dies.

‘I needed the money desperately to pay everyday bills while I was out here, as I didn’t want to rely on my family,’ she says. 

Rothschild told Money Mail it would not repossess Mrs Hilling’s home. It stressed it had not sold the investment to her and was not demanding repayment nor had it paid commission. It urged her to contact the bank. 

Another victim is Eric Mould, 64, who after a career in sales moved to a seaside villa in Puerto Banus, near Malaga, in 2007. He and his wife Mary, 60, sold their four-bedroom detached house in the UK to buy a three-bedroom villa with a swimming pool for €1,188,000 (£990,000).

But five years later they are living in a friend’s flat in the town and battling to pay €2,100 (£1,745) a month in mortgage repayments to Danish bank Nykredit.

Shortly after arriving in Spain, the couple borrowed €1 million against their villa with the bank. They say the British financial adviser who sold them the equity-release mortgage told them it would be a ‘win-win’ situation.

They were told they could free up hundreds of thousands of pounds from the mortgage, and the fund would pay off the loan. They believed the investment they were sold separately through Danish bank Sydbank would leave a little extra to boost their pensions.

To cover the mortgage, the Moulds have rented out their dream home. Their friend is letting them live rent-free in the apartment. The couple fear it is only a matter of time before their home is repossessed. And because property values have dropped, they could lose up to €300,000 (£249,966)

‘This has totally devastated us. It is heart-breaking — we face losing the home we worked for a lifetime to buy,’  says Mr Mould. 

Sydbank would not comment on  the case.

Others who took out equity-release schemes with collapsed Icelandic bank Landsbanki have been told it will settle — as long as they pay part of the money owed, in some cases hundreds of thousands of pounds.

One couple, Linda and Frances Barlow, aged 63 and 75, who live in Nice in the south of France, believe the bank’s liquidators will repossess their home by May unless they stump up €1.3 million (£1.08 million).

The liquidators proposed a compromise deal, but it would have required the couple to find €500,000, which they do not have.

The Barlows took only a small proportion of the loan as cash. The rest was invested by the bank, and lost when it collapsed in 2008.

‘We wanted some cash to renovate,’ says Mrs Barlow, a musician from London. ‘We didn’t want to take out a big loan, but the financial adviser told us we were foolish to be sitting on an asset and that we should get an equity release to have an income. Now we are going to lose everything.’

Pensioners fight to keep their homes

Scores of pensioners have launched legal action against the banks and financial advisers who sold them the loans. Solicitor Antonio Flores, of Spanish law firm Law Bird, who is representing some of them, says: ‘Many people are left with huge bills and in fear of losing their homes.’

In February, the European Commission announced plans for an independent ombudsman to deal with mis-selling cases against financial advisers working in the Costa del Sol.

Meanwhile, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has issued official warnings about mortgage schemes advertised as a way of cutting tax bills.

Any expats thinking of signing up to an equity-release scheme in Spain should check the company is registered with the agency in charge of the Spanish stock market, the Comision Nacional del Mercado de Valores (CNMV).

It will also provide a list of companies that are not authorised to operate in Spain and those that have warnings issued against them. 

Remember to seek independent legal advice before signing a contract.

If you believe you have been a victim of a fraud involving an equity-release scheme, then register a statement with the police.

Seek independent legal advice about taking action through the courts.

If you wish to complain about the performance of your investments, you should first complain to the equity-release company.

After two months, if you are not happy with the response, take your complaint to the Spanish Investors’ Complaints Office: Oficina de Atención al Inversor, Miguel Ángel 11, 28010 Madrid. 

There is also an office at Paseo de Gràcia, 19, 4ª Planta, 08007 Barcelona.



Crisis-hit Greece rents police for €30 per hour

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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.


Iceland volcano: and you thought the last eruption was bad.

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This month marks the second anniversary of the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull that left millions stranded across Europe, and cost airlines an estimated €150 million a day for six days. But alarmingly, there are signs of high activity beneath the much larger, neighbouring Katla caldera in Iceland – a possible sign of an impending eruption. This should prompt extensive high-level contingency planning across Europe, as Katla has the potential to be much more damaging than Eyjafjallajökull. Since Iceland was settled in the ninth century, Katla has erupted on average every 60 years, but has not had a significant eruption since 1918. Ominously, eruptions of Eyjafjallajökull in 1821-23 and 1612 were followed within months by eruptions of Katla. Judged by the historical calendar, an eruption is overdue. Last July, a flood of water burst from beneath the ice cap on top of Katla, washing away a bridge. This indicates that an extra pulse of heat reached the base of the ice. Since then, there have been erratic movements of the surface of the volcano, measured by precise GPS instruments, and bursts of high earthquake activity beneath Katla’s caldera. These observations imply that magma has risen to shallower depths. Katla’s eruption in 1918 produced five times as much ash as the 2010 Eyjafjallajökull one. A major eruption could result in large parts of Iceland being flooded as snow and ice melted; significant poisoning of Icelandic agriculture; destruction of property; and, of course, the grounding of aircraft across Europe. If enough material is ejected it could even have a cooling effect on the global climate for a few years. A precedent for that would be the 1783-84 eruption from the fissure of Laki, which is part of the same volcanic system, Grímsvötn, that erupted last year. This was a very large eruption of 15 cubic kilometres (3.6 cubic miles), compared to the fraction of a cubic kilometre ejected in 2010, and had a huge impact on the northern hemisphere, reducing temperatures by up to 3 C. This had catastrophic effects far beyond the shores of Iceland (where at least a fifth of the population died), with thousands of recorded deaths in Britain due to poisoning and extreme cold, and record low rainfall in North Africa.


Vinnie Jones heads to Marbella

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Vinnie Jones is heading to Marbella for a role as a twisted garrotte killer. The British actor and ex-footballer – who was once given a yellow card after just three seconds on the pitch – will play a lead in gangster movie Shill, to be filmed entirely on the ‘Costa del Crime’. “Jones plays Branch, a guitar-playing nutter who chokes his victims with his strings,” said Shill writer and producer Paul Grimshaw, who based the film on his own experiences. The Shill actors will meet investors at Marbella Film Festival in October this year, with filming set for spring 2013. “We’ll be filming over a six-week period which will be a chance for some real star-spotting in Marbella,” said Grimshaw, who has worked as an estate agent in Marbella for 20 years. The film – also likely to star Tom Hardy – focuses on ‘shill bidding’, online fraud which involves falsely inflating prices of goods sold on auction sites such as eBay. Having made ten million pounds in cash, the team embark on a spending spree to Marbella to hide the money from the law. But after Shill makes a deal with crime baron Drake, a bloody and brutal mutiny is unleashed


Man in court on murder bid charge

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A man will appear in court charged with attempted murder following a bottle attack at a celebrity-packed party thrown by smartphone company BlackBerry. A 37-year-old man remains in a critical condition in hospital following the incident at Pulse nightclub in Southwark, central London. Ashley Charles, 25, of Nevanthon Road, Leicester, will appear at Camberwell Green Magistrates' Court in connection with the incident. The party on Tuesday night was attended by journalists, celebrities including rapper Wretch 32 and stars of The Only Way Is Essex and BlackBerry competition winners. Brit award-winning singer Jessie J had been performing at the party before the bloody brawl and spoke of her shock on Twitter.


Emails sent to the Big Pictures agency in 2010 and 2011 contained the flight details of dozens of celebrities, including Madonna, Princess Beatrice and Sienna Miller.

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Richard Branson's airline Virgin Atlantic is under mounting pressure to explain how an insider was apparently able to pass the confidential flight details of as many as 70 celebrities to a major paparazzi agency. Emails sent to the Big Pictures agency in 2010 and 2011 contained the flight details of dozens of celebrities, including Madonna, Princess Beatrice and Sienna Miller. Some of the figures alleged to be affected are friends of Sir Richard and his family and the allegations could prove hugely embarrassing for the tycoon, who is known for his close ties to the world of show business. A senior employee is understood to have resigned on Thursday after initial allegations that she passed on the flight details of eight celebrities including the singer Cheryl Cole and her former husband, the Chelsea footballer Ashley Cole, singer Robbie Williams and actress Scarlett Johansson. The airline launched an internal investigation and insisted it had "robust processes in place to ensure that passenger information is protected". But yesterday another cache of emails came to light that suggested that dozens more famous passengers may have been subject to the privacy breach. Emails seen by the Press Gazette contained the flight details of dozens of celebrities ranging from film stars Charlize Theron and Kate Winslet to Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson and James May. The emails, sent over several months, suggest a degree of familiarity between the two correspondents. In one, Big Pictures allegedly wrote to the Virgin insider, understood to be a supervisor of Upper-Class passengers, saying it was "trying to sort you out some money with accounts". One email, reportedly containing details of a return flight from Heathrow to Newark taken by Borat actor Sacha Baron Cohen and his actress wife Isla Fisher, included the comment: "They're in economy!!!!!!" Big Pictures also appears to have been given an anonymous tip-off about a flight taken by people referred to as "Madonna's kids". In a statement issued on Thursday, Virgin Atlantic called the allegations "extremely serious" and said it had launched an immediate investigation. Virgin Atlantic's spokeswoman could not confirm whether Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson would be personally apologising to the celebrities affected and refused to comment any further pending the outcome of an investigation. The allegations are hugely embarrassing for an airline that markets itself as a glamorous alternative to other long-haul carriers and is known to be popular with the rich and famous. Branson is yet to comment publicly. Others who appear to have been affected include Rihanna, Russell Brand, Rob Brydon and Jonathan Ross. Legal experts said that such disclosures may not be a criminal offence. However, solicitors for Ashley Cole and Sienna Miller said they were taking legal instructions over the allegations. No representative of Big Pictures, owned by the former Celebrity Big Brother contestant Darryn Lyons, was available to comment.


Virgin Atlantic employee has resigned following allegations she routinely fed information about the airline's celebrity clientele

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Virgin Atlantic employee has resigned following allegations she routinely fed information about the airline's celebrity clientele — from Madonna to Sienna Miller — to a paparazzi agency. The employee was a junior member of the team that looks after high-profile clients, Virgin said Friday. She quit Thursday before reports published in the Guardian and the Press Gazette alleged that she had passed the booking information of more than 60 celebrities on to the Big Pictures photo agency. Among those allegedly targeted: Britain's Princess Beatrice; singers Madonna and Rihanna; actors Charlize Theron, Kate Winslet, Daniel Radcliffe and Miller; comedians Sacha Baron Cohen and Russell Brand; and a slew of U.K. celebrities and sports figures. The Guardian and the Press Gazette cited messages allegedly sent by the employee to someone at Big Pictures Ltd. as the basis for their stories. The Associated Press had no immediate way of verifying the authenticity of the messages, but the Guardian said it had carried out checks confirming that at least some of the celebrities had traveled to the destinations mentioned in the emails. Calls and emails to representatives of around a dozen of the celebrities mentioned went unreturned Friday, a public holiday in Britain. A representative for Princess Beatrice declined comment, while Kate Winslet's publicist, Heidi Slan, said the star wasn't reachable. In a statement, Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd. called the allegations "extremely serious" and said it had launched an investigation. The airline, which is majority-owned by billionaire adventurer Richard Branson, confirmed that high-profile clients were involved but declined to comment on the British newspapers' figures. A man who answered the phone at London-based Big Pictures hung up when an Associated Press reporter identified himself as a member of the media. Emails sent to company founder Darryn Lyons' personal assistant weren't immediately returned, and no one answered the door at Big Pictures' central London office. The Press Gazette said Big Pictures was first approached for comment more than 48 hours ago but has yet to respond. Neither Virgin nor the newspapers identified the employee in question. The Guardian said it had contacted her on Wednesday and that she had declined comment. It was not clear Friday if authorities had become involved. Virgin refused to say whether it had called in the police and a Scotland Yard spokesman said he wasn't aware of the leak. The Information Commissioner's office — which investigates data breaches in Britain — said in a statement that the agency will need to make further inquiries "to establish the precise nature of the alleged incident before deciding what action, if any, needs to be taken." The past year has seen the sometimes underhanded methods of Britain's media thrust into the spotlight by a scandal over phone hacking at the now-defunct News of the World. Paparazzi have come under particular scrutiny, with public figures including Miller alleging aggressive, intimidating or illegal behavior on the part of celebrity-obsessed snappers. Miller, who testified before a judge-led inquiry into media ethics set up in the wake of the scandal, said she had been terrorized by photographers stalking her every move. "I would often find myself — I was 21 — at midnight running down a dark street on my own with ten big men chasing me and the fact that they had cameras in their hands meant that that was legal," she told the inquiry. "But if you take away the cameras, what have you got? You've got a pack of men chasing a woman and obviously that's a very intimidating situation to be in." Lyons, the founder of Big Pictures, told the same inquiry he had "no reason" to believe his photographers broke rules in pursuit of pictures, batting away suggestions that paparazzi victimize their targets. "The fact of the matter is that celebrities court publicity when they want to court publicity and then all of a sudden they want to switch it off very, very soon after," he told the inquiry. "If you are in the public eye, you are looked up to," he added. "We live in a world of voyeurism."


Protest group organises rally on Thursday to stop British family from being evicted

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The Davies family, who are British and have six under-age children, the smallest twin 3 year olds, arrived in Barx, La Safor, in Valencia six years ago. The father Adrian works in construction and when there was no work in the UK they decided to move to La Safor and set up a business here. However this was the time that the crisis was starting in Spain, and the construction business failed to take off. Adrian went back on trips to odd contracts he still obtained in the UK, sending the money to his family in Spain. Things got worse and since 2008 the family have not been able to pay the mortgage. Now the bank wants to evict them from the property. The protest group, ‘Afectats per la Hipteca’ has been campaigning to ensure the family are still in the property tomorrow, Thursday, otherwise the children will lose their school places. The protest group say they will do all they can and have arranged a rally outside the property tomorrow to stop the eviction. One of the platform members observed that leaving children with no school is illegal. Adrian and his wife Donna say that have visited the bank more than 5 times and made dozens of calls, asking that the property be accepted to clear the debt, a practice which was been uncommon in Spain until recently. Often banks were would still try to collect a sum of money even with the keys of the property handed back. When the family came to Spain they sold their property in the UK and now the Davies find themselves with nothing left. The oldest two of the children are now living back in England, but the rest are here in Spain.


Civil Guard refuses to hand over winning lottery tickets to two colleagues

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A member of the Guardia Civil has been found guilty of making use of the prize-winning lottery tickets of his fellow agents. He refused to hand over the tickets to his colleagues and now faces six months in prison and a 900 € fine. Named as sixty year old Virginio C.P., he was in a bar in Pamplona with two other agents when they purchased three tickets from an ONCE seller who walked in for the ‘Cuponazo de los Viernes’ draw. He initially gave tickets to the two colleagues, but then they realise that the series number could make one of the tickets worth far more, and so they decided to share if that was the case. Virginio said he would look after the tickets, which the following day were each worth 35,000 €. That’s when Virginio decided he would keep the three tickets for himself.