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Theatre companies show COVID resilience

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Over four decades ago, rural west Wales was at the centre of the greatest drugs bust in history. The police investigation, Operation Julie, resulted in dozens of arrests and the discovery of LSD worth £100 million. A brand-new musical play from Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre explores the story from both sides of the drugs divide – the police, and the hippies who settled in Ceredigion hoping to spread their ideals in a changing world.

This summer, Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre were due to launch an ambitious co-production for audiences in Aberystwyth. Operation Julie was to be a stage play packed with music, drama and comedy, telling the extraordinary story of what happened in and around west Wales in the mid-1970s when hippies settled in the area seeking a new way of living fuelled by acid and an alternative attitude. When a chance clue is discovered following a car accident, the local constabulary works with detectives from across Britain to uncover what turns out to be the biggest stash of acid ever found, taking out up to 60% of the world’s LSD market at that time.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck it became clear it would be impossible to open Operation Julie to live audiences at Aberystwyth Arts Centre in August and na nÓg and the arts centre made the decision to postpone its premiere until next spring.

Although a huge disappointment for both companies, they quickly decided to make the best of a bad situation, as Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s director Dafydd Rhys explains: “Though we’d prefer to be going into production now, that is no longer an option due to Covid – but it does allow the wonderful cast and team of creatives to get together to do some invaluable research and development work on the script, the characters and the music.”

Due to the continuing lockdown restrictions, writer-director Geinor Styles explains how they went about the R&D activity whilst being unable to physically rehearse together.

“I’m not a director that sits and pours over the script,” Styles says. “I like to get people up on their feet and moving. I believe I can solve things editorially whilst directing. This is probably the most frustrating thing and a real challenge for me because that is not possible over zoom. However there are advantages, the creatives, designers, sound, AV and lighting have been able to drop into rehearsal or listen in without having to physically be in the room. A real treat for us and them. It feels truly collaborative. Having them exclusively while still developing the script is very rare but such a real bonus.”

Geinor Styles, who has been developing the production since 2014 and believes that, due to COVID that the story has become even more relevant: “I feel as we move through this pandemic, that the story behind Kemp’s acid production and 8000 word micro doctrine, becomes more and more relevant to a planet that is being destroyed by consumerism and capitalism.”

She also feels the Operation Julie story is too important to be delayed. “I was astonished how relevant this story was to us living in a time where the climate was changing at an alarming rate,” she says. “That as a species, we needed to change our ways like the hippies of the ’60s and ’70s – their philosophy of wanting to ‘get back to the garden’. This philosophy was emphasised by our protagonist Richard Kemp, a talented scientist, who moved to Tregaron in the early 70s and created the purest form of LSD. He is the source of the whole story – without Kemp, you do not have Operation Julie.”

Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre’s version of events tells the story from both sides of the law, with Geinor Styles meeting and interviewing a variety of people from the area and of that time, one of the main acid dealers – Alston ‘Smiles’ Hughes, who was a key part of the LSD chain from his modest home in Llanddewi Brefi – and Lydia Jones, the daughter of the late Detective Sergeant Richie Parry, in the Zoom meetings with cast and crew.

Operation Julie is a musical play, a format favoured by the resilient and forward thinking theatre company, Greg Palmer is Operation Julie’s composer and musical director, working with actor-musicians over video call to create the score: “I’ve never rehearsed a show in this way before. My usual method is to be in the thick of things in the rehearsal room working with the actor-musicians in an organic way. This makes the cast feel part of the creative process. That immediacy is impossible to replicate via Zoom so the whole process becomes slower and more laboured.” This alterantive approach, though, has allowed Palmer to discuss LSD dealer Smiles’ psychedelic musical tastes and the records that influenced him during the period of the play. “I grew up as a teenager in the ’70s and listened to a lot of the music that Smiles et al would have been listening to. Smiles has

referenced a number of bands from that era – Caravan, Bob Dylan, Steely Dan. I’ve been very keen from the beginning of the process to have the sound world of the play reflect those musical trends.”

Theatr na nÓg and Aberystwyth Arts Centre are confident that this extended development time, will result in a truly memorable production when Operation Julie finally reaches the stage next year.

“Operation Julie will be a popular and important theatre production,” says Dafydd Rhys. “We remain totally committed to this uniquely Welsh tale that had an impact throughout the world. It also has the added bonus that the music will be fantastic! We know the audience will be in for a treat – a really good night of quality, thought provoking and popular theatre.”

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Our responsibility to follow the new Wales coronavirus measures in order to Keep Ceredigion Safe

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The Welsh Government is bringing in new coronavirus measures to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus.

To help further prevent the spread of coronavirus, new measures were announced by the First Minister which will come into force at 6pm on Thursday, September 24, 2020:

· Hospitality businesses in Wales will have to close at 10pm and provide table service only.

· All off-licences, including supermarkets, will have to stop selling alcohol at 10pm.

We are also being asked to think carefully about making journeys: only travel where it is essential to do so. The fewer people we meet and the fewer journeys we make, the safer we all are.

The Welsh Government have also introduced the following measures:

· A new £500 payment to support people on low incomes who are asked to self-isolate if they have coronavirus;

· Strengthened regulations to ensure employers support people who need to self-isolate.

The new measures are part of a package of co-ordinated actions to control the spread of coronavirus and it is essential that we all play our part in order to keep Ceredigion safe.

These new measures are to be introduced alongside those that are already in place:

· Keep a 2m social distance from each other when out and about.

· Wash your hands regularly.

· Wear a mask in indoor public places, shops and on public transport

· Only meet 6 people indoors from your extended household (not including children 11 and under).

· Do not meet with more than 30 people outdoors.

· Work from home, wherever possible.

· Think carefully about making journeys: only travel where you need to do so. The fewer people we meet and the fewer journeys we make, the safer we all are.

We need everyone to follow the rules and guidance and to take the steps to protect them and their loved ones.

Together, we can keep Ceredigion safe.

All the latest information and advice regarding the coronavirus can be found on Ceredigion County Council’s website: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/Coronavirus. The Council’s Corporate Contact Centre number is 01545 570881.

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NHS COVID-19 app launches across Wales

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People are being urged to download the NHS COVID-19 app to help stop the spread of coronavirus and protect themselves and their loved ones as case numbers rise.

The app launches today [Thursday 24] after positive trials and will be a useful tool when used alongside Wales’ successful manual contact tracing system.

It will be available to those aged 16 and over, and forms a central part of the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect programme identifying contacts of those who have tested positive for coronavirus.

The roll-out of the app in Wales coincides with a national campaign around how people in Wales can best support the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect programme, including only getting a test if they are showing symptoms; self-isolating when required; and working with local contact tracers if they are contacted.

Wales’ contact tracing system – which is a publicly-run service and locally delivered – is working well and has seen a very high contract and trace rate. Latest stats show 94% of cases are being successfully contacted.

The app works by logging the amount of time you spend near other app users, and the distance between you, so it can alert you if someone you have been close to later tests positive for COVID-19 – even if you don’t know each other.

The app will advise you to self-isolate if you have been in close contact with a confirmed case. It will also enable you to check symptoms, book a test if needed and get your test results.

Wales’ Health Minister Vaughan Gething said:

“The launch of the NHS COVID-19 app is an important part of Wales’ coronavirus response, supporting the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect programme. The more people who download and use this app, the more it will help us to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“We have worked closely with the app development team to ensure it works seamlessly across Wales and England, providing people with the right advice based on where they live. In Wales, the app will complement our existing contact tracing and testing services and will further support our co-ordinated response to COVID-19 at both a local and national level.

“I strongly encourage everyone in Wales to download and use the app to keep Wales safe.”

The app has been designed with user privacy in mind, so it tracks the virus, not people and uses the latest in data security technology to protect privacy. The system generates a random ID for an individual’s device, which can be exchanged between devices via Bluetooth. These unique random IDs regenerate frequently to add an extra layer of security and preserve anonymity.

The app does not hold personal information such as your name, address or date of birth, and only requires the first half of your postcode to ensure local outbreaks can be managed.

Today the UK’s major mobile network operators, including Vodafone, Three, EE and O2, Sky and Virgin, have confirmed that all in-app activity will not come out of customers’ data allowance.

In a joint statement Apple and Google said:

“We built the exposure notifications system to enable public health authorities in their efforts to develop apps to help reduce the spread of the virus while ensuring people can trust in the privacy-preserving design. We are committed to supporting the government’s effort to launch an app based on this technology.”

Whilst the app will be a major support for the contact tracing system, Welsh residents are being reminded to continue to keep Wales safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19 by:

• Always keeping a distance
• Washing hands regularly
• Working from home wherever possible
• Following local restrictions
• Following the rules about meeting people
• Staying at home if you or anyone in your extended household has symptoms.

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Man jailed for revenge porn against teenage ex-girlfriend

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A ‘PREDATORY OFFENDER’ who targeted young girls online and shared indecent images of them on pornographic websites has been jailed for more than two years.

Robin Edwards Jones, formerly of Lampeter, came to police attention after tracking down his former girlfriend – a teenager 26 years his junior – and sending a threatening email containing indecent images of her to her boss a year after their relationship ended.

The 48-year-old then uploaded hundreds of images of the then 17-year-old to pornographic websites, creating a personal bio for each site that allowed her to be identified through her Facebook account.

Jones has been jailed following a two-year investigation by Dyfed-Powys Police, which saw the force’s digital crime unit prove he had supplied the websites with these images.

Officer in case Detective Sergeant Steve Barry said: “This was a thorough investigation into what has become known as revenge porn.

“Two other police forces were initially involved in the investigation before passing it to Dyfed Powys Police, and our investigation spanned two years, with the safeguarding of the teenage victim at its heart.

“What we were faced with initially was a suspect who was alleged to have circulated indecent images of a teenage girl with the intent of causing her distress following the break-up of a six month relationship.

“As the investigation progressed, it transpired that Jones was a predatory offender, targeting young children online to obtain indecent images of them for his sexual gratification and desire to control them.”

The offender and victim met online in November 2015, when Jones claimed he was 28 years old in an attempt to instigate a relationship with a teenage girl.

Over the following six months, the victim sent a number of indecent images of herself to the offender on his request. He also created his own images from intimate video chats, increasing the library of images for his use.

The relationship ended in April 2016 when the teenager’s father became aware of the situation and notified the police.

There was no contact between the pair for 12 months after they separated.

DS Barry said: “It wasn’t until the following April when the victim started a new job, that Jones tracked her down and began his campaign against her.

“He set up an email account under a false name and sent the victim’s employer eight indecent images that she had taken during their relationship in a bid to get her fired from her job.

“Around the same time, the victim received a message asking if she was aware that these photos had been uploaded to a pornographic website – for a young girl, this was extremely traumatic.”

Enquiries linked the email account to Jones’s home address, and a warrant was carried out with the support of Dyfed-Powys Police’s Digital Communications and Cybercrime Unit.

A number of digital devices were seized and the suspect was interviewed in relation to the offences, strongly denying any wrongdoing – a position he maintained throughout the investigation.

“In the meantime, the victim received two messages on Facebook asking if images on another website were of her,” DS Barry said.

“She believed it was Jones further taunting her, but enquires revealed it was a man who had identified her through a false profile and hoped to start a sexual relationship.

“Applications were made to the sites to ensure these images were removed swiftly, to prevent further distress to the victim.”

As digital investigators analysed a computer belonging to Jones, they discovered he was also in contact with a 14-year-old American girl, with sexual messages exchanged between the pair.

“Evidence from the computers seized showed that Jones began his relationship with a girl in the US when she was just 12 years old,” DS Barry said.

“Contact was made through Interpol, but she and her family were unwilling to support our investigation.”

As the investigation was completed, officers found that Jones had more than 500 indecent images of the victims – 52 of which were the most serious classification – and that he had shared 162 private photos without consent of the victims.

He was charged with two counts of disclosing private sexual photographs and films with intent to cause distress; two counts of possessing indecent photographs of a child; and three counts of distributing indecent images of a child – with images spanning classes A, B and C.

Even with the weight of evidence against him, Jones maintained his innocence and opted for trial, however he admitted the offences on the day the trial began at Swansea Crown Court.

On September 17, he was sentenced to 27 months in prison. He must also register as a sex offender for 10 years, and was given a restraining order against contacting the victim.

DS Barry said: “This conviction was as a result of a team effort between forces and departments, but the effort and dedication from the digital cybercrime unit was outstanding and should be particularly commended.”

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