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Four UK forces are piloting a new service to report sexual assault online

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THE NEW online Rape and Sexual Assault reporting service is now live on the websites of British Transport Police, Merseyside Police, Dyfed Powys Police and Leicestershire Police.

It was created by the National Police Chief’s Council’s (NPCC) Digital Public Contact Programme (DPC) and launched on Tuesday 30 November.

The pilot will run for six weeks.

People wishing to report sexual offences have until now been directed to phone police forces, text 61016 in the case of British Transport Police, or dial 999 in an emergency.

If they do not require immediate police assistance, people – regardless of age or if they want to report the crime – will be directed online via their local force website.

They will find advice and details of charities and other organisations that can help. The forces will ask, if the person is willing, for details of what has happened. There is an option to report the offence anonymously. If reported anonymously, the police will only contact that person if there is believed to be an immediate threat to their life.

Det Ch Insp Sarah White from British Transport Police said: “We know from extensive research that there are a number of reasons why survivors and witnesses are not comfortable in reporting sexual offences to the police.

“One of the common factors remains the unwillingness to provide personal details. We understand this and have been working to look at how we can invite greater reporting, which can help us prevent further crimes and bring offenders to justice.

“Every report provides us with valuable information. And if people aren’t comfortable with making that report, then we want them to know how they can get the support and help they need.

“This new service in not only innovative in the way it has been designed – from the ground up in consultation with more than 40 organisations (including Rape Crisis, End Violence Against Women and the Survivors Trust) – but also in the way it is being deployed – online where people, especially younger people, increasingly are.”

When visiting the websites of those forces, options are available to report a sexual offence themselves, on behalf on another person, or as a witness. People can choose to report in English or Welsh.

If the pilot is successful, it will become a permanent reporting feature and will be available for other forces to adopt nationally.

Det Ch Insp White added: “We’re absolutely committed to ensuring our railways are a safe place for people to travel and we hope this is just another tool in our armoury against sexual offending.”

British Transport Police has also been accredited by White Ribbon, committed to ending violence against woman and girls. It recently signed a pledge encouraging all men within the organisation to make a promise to never commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women.

Detective Superintendent Jayne Butler, Dyfed-Powys Police, said: “As a White Ribbon accredited organisation, committed to ending violence against woman and girls, protecting vulnerable people is a priority for Dyfed-Powys Police and we know how traumatic being the victim of a sexual offence is.

“We encourage victims to come forward to report incidents of this nature so we can thoroughly investigate the crimes whilst ensuring that all victims have the opportunity to be referred for specialist support. The ability to report a sexual offence online will provide another avenue for victims to come forward so we can help them and bring offenders to justice.” 

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Appeal to get Pilgrim sculpture back on its feet nearing target

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The forlorn sculpture.

A FUNDRAISING appeal to raise £7,500 to re-erect a sculpture of a pilgrim on the hilltop above the ruins of the famous Strata Florida Abbey in the Cambrian Mountains is within £700 of hitting its target.

The Pilgrim, or Y Pererin in the Welsh language, was created by artist Glenn Morris and erected on Penlan, the hill overlooking Strata Florida Abbey, near Pontrhydfendigaid, in 2012.

Sadly, the sculpture collapsed in high winds in 2019 and now lays forlorn on the hilltop, located between Devil’s Bridge and Tregaron.

This sculpture, created as part of a temporary exhibition, has become a popular and iconic part of the Welsh landscape, with strong connections to Welsh culture, language and identity.

Following its collapse, the sculpture is now missing from the skyline of Strata Florida and the fundraising appeal aims to rebuild a new stronger, permanent Pilgrim to stand the tests of time.

The Pilgrim/ Y Pererin sculpture before it collapsed.

Planning permission for the new sculpture has already been secured and Glenn Morris is eager to begin the project.

The World Monuments Fund has offered to provide match funding if the community raises £7,500 by February 3. Anyone wishing to contribute to the fundraising target can donate online at https://localgiving.org/appeal/pilgrim/ .

An extra fundraising event for the Pilgrim appeal is being held on February 18. A 3.5 mile walk along a mixture of logging roads, farmlands and through ancient forest to reach the 12th century Cistercian abbey ruins of Strata Florida will be followed by a guided exhibition tour and Welsh tea.

This pilgrimage will be led by Guided Pilgrimage, a not-for-profit company providing a range of Celtic pilgrimage experiences in West Wales.

Strata Florida was a thriving community 900 years ago. Today, the conserved ruins of the old abbey church and part of the cloisters are in the care of Cadw, the Welsh Government’s heritage agency, and can be visited by the public from Easter to late autumn.

The remains are only a small fraction of what was once a much larger abbey, stretching over an area of 126 acres where the rest survives below ground as a well-preserved archaeology.

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Denial of Wales-specific Covid inquiry ‘no longer tenable’ say Welsh Conservatives

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THE WELSH CONSERVATIVES have reiterated their call for an inquiry that focuses exclusively on the actions of the Welsh Government in tackling coronavirus in a letter to the First Minister.

It was prompted after it was revealed that the Welsh Government have been aware that NHS Wales was not prepared for an airborne virus as far back as 2004, following the SARS outbreak. Despite committing to an audit and allocation to rectify the lack of isolation facilities, this did not materialise.

The letter from Andrew RT Davies MS, which states “decision made in Wales should be scrutinised in Wales” follows a weekend when Mark Drakeford was keen to highlight that his government had “always taken a different approach in Wales [compared to the British Government], one that does things step-by-step”.

Concerned: Andrew RT Davies

In the letter, the Welsh Conservatives leader questions why, despite him stressing divergences in the approach to coronavirus, the First Minister still feels it “inappropriate to separate” from the British Government “when the time comes for accountability”.

The Labour Government policy is for its actions to be included in the UK-wide inquiry that will chiefly investigate the actions of the Conservative Government. There will be a Scotland-specific inquiry after Nicola Sturgeon commissioned one.

Joining the Welsh Conservatives in their calls for a Wales-specific inquiry are the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice Group, the British Lung Foundation, Medics 4 Mask Up Wales, the Institute for Welsh Affairs, and Plaid Cymru.

Commenting on the letter, Andrew RT Davies MS said: “The position of exercising wide-ranging emergency powers that curtailed the liberty and closed the economy of the Welsh people but avoiding accountability through an inquiry that focusses on how those decisions were made is no longer tenable.

“Under Mark Drakeford, Wales has experienced the highest Covid death-rate of UK nations, seen its children lose more time for learning than anywhere else in the country, and imposed economically cruel and clinically unnecessary restrictions in an overzealous attempt to tackle the Omicron variant.

“We, along with bereaved families and medical groups, believe that the decisions that led to these outcomes need to be put under the spotlight, not hidden in the shadow of an inquiry that will inevitably focus on the British Government.

“Indeed, if Mark Drakeford is so confident in the actions of his government, then why is he against having them examined in a Wales-specific inquiry? That is what people will be asking when British and Scottish leaders have ordered investigations into their own handling of the pandemic.

“As I say to the First Minister in my letter, it is not too late for him to change his mind and take this opportunity to do the right thing and order that inquiry.”

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Ceredigion MP supports calls on UK government to address energy crisis

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BEN LAKE MP, Co-chair of the APPG on Fuel Poverty and Energy Efficiency, has signed a cross-party letter to the UK Government calling for a range of financial support measures to address the current energy crisis. 

Following a record increase in October 2021 to the price cap, energy bills are set to increase again significantly in April across the UK, and could reach as high as £2000 for the average household, an increase of £700 compared to today’s prices.  Experts have also said that these prices are likely to be sustained for two or more years. 

Polling conducted by YouGov has shown that 6 out of 10 British households say they would reduce their heating use by a fair amount/great deal if the cost of heating doubles. 

Ben Lake MP said: “The hike will be a disaster for those who were already struggling to pay their bills and could leave over 6 million households in fuel poverty across the UK. These price increases will impact all households. But for those who were already struggling to pay their bills, it will be catastrophic. Without any additional support, millions will sink further into debt, and many will turn off the heating, leaving them at acute risk of serious ill-health and putting further strain on our stretched health services.” 

The cross-party letter calls on the UK Government to ensure that any support package to address the crisis works in the best interests of fuel poor households, for example, by increasing the support available through existing schemes such as such as the winter fuel support scheme in Wales or an additional targeted rebate which could be delivered this winter.  

The letter also adds “that any effort to reduce energy bills should not include the removal of green levies.”  

Ben Lake MP added: “While there are arguments about whether green levies should remain on energy bills or be added instead to income tax, there is no justification for removing them completely. To do so would be to compound the gas crisis which we face by exacerbating fuel poverty and further delaying the transition away from fossil fuels. 

“I will continue to work alongside colleagues to ensure the most vulnerable households are protected as far as possible from the current threat of significantly increased domestic energy bills.” 

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