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Tributes paid to Thalidomide campaigner

Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Louise Medus-Mansell died in her sleep, her family said

Tributes have been paid to the Thalidomide campaigner Louise Medus-Mansell, who has died at the age of 56.

Louise Medus-Mansell was born without arms and legs after her mother was prescribed the drug Thalidomide during pregnancy.

In the 1960s, her father fought a high-profile campaign for compensation and she became the face of the campaign.

Her family said she died in her sleep on 7 November following complications after a transplant operation.

In a statement, they said Mrs Medus-Mansell, who leaves behind two children, will be “greatly missed”.

“Throughout her life she inspired many, through disability rights campaigning and her work with the young group The Woodcraft Folk,” they added.

“She was well known in her hometown for her positivity, enthusiasm for life and many locals will remember her for whizzing round town in her chair, with children and dogs in tow.”

Image copyright Ben Gilbert
Image caption Louise, pictured with Olivia Newton-John, was one of the last babies born with the effects of the drug

Originally marketed as a sedative, Thalidomide was prescribed to pregnant women in the 1950s as a cure for morning sickness.

By 1961 it was clear that it was causing serious birth defects and by later that year it was withdrawn in the UK.

Mrs Medus-Mansell, from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, was one of the last babies born with the effects of the drug in 1962.

Ruth Blue, from the Thalidomide Society where Mrs Medus-Mansell was a chair and trustee, said she was “always an enthusiastic and vibrant personality” despite her “many health issues”.

“Louise once described herself to me as using her wheelchair as a battering ram, which I think really sums her up,” she said.

“When she was on a mission, nothing would stop her.

“She will be sorely missed by her family, her many friends in the thalidomide community and all those who had the chance to work with her over the years.”

Image copyright Ben Gilbert
Image caption Louise Medus-Mansell with her daughter Emma

In an interview with BBC Radio Gloucestershire in 2009, Mrs Medus-Mansell said a “single tablet” had stopped her arms and legs from growing but it was “no good crying over spilt milk”.

“We were told when we were born we would die at one week, one month and then that we’d be dead by teenagers and now most of us are in our late 40s,” she said.

“The majority of my life, I just get up and get on with it. There’s always somebody worse off than myself.”

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TK Maxx and Amazon selling real fur as faux

Image caption A handbag from TK Maxx was made from fox fur, while shoes bought from the store online contained raccoon dog fur

Shops including Amazon and TK Maxx have been selling faux fur clothes and bags which are actually made from rabbit, fox and raccoon dog fur, a BBC Watchdog Live investigation has found.

Widespread concern over animal cruelty has led to real fur very nearly disappearing from most UK high streets.

Both TK Maxx and Amazon said the products were no longer available.

TK Maxx said it does not knowingly buy real fur and an error was made. It has offered refunds to anyone affected.

Watchdog Live presenter Steph McGovern visited a branch of TK Maxx – which has had a no-fur policy for 15 years – and bought a handbag made from fox fur.

And a pair of shoes purchased on the store’s website featured fluffy bobbles which were made from raccoon dog fur.

Meanwhile, two bobble hats sold by Amazon and described as “faux fur” were made with raccoon dog fur.

Rabbit fur was also found in a jumper purchased at an AX Paris outlet store and in fluffy bobbles on a pair of shoes bought from fashion label Missy Empire.

Image caption Fur farming is banned in the UK, but it is not illegal to import fur from abroad
Image caption The “fake fur” on this grey jumper’s star, bought from an AX Paris outlet shop, was made from rabbit

The tests were carried out by textile analysis expert Dr Phil Greaves. He told the programme: “All animal fibres have particular structural features.

“And it’s the actual nature and characteristic of these which determines the species of origin.

“These fibres are very distinctive once under the microscope.”

The tests came after shopper Chloe Salvi, from Edinburgh, said she was concerned about a bobble hat that she had bought on eBay. It had been described as fake fur.

“As soon as I touched it I felt something wasn’t right,” she said.

“I’ve got a cat, and it reminds me of when I cuddle her. It wasn’t the way a faux fur pom-pom should feel.”

Image caption Watchdog presenter Steph McGovern with Chloe and her real fur hat
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Raccoon dogs are wild animals native to southern and eastern Asia

Tests later revealed it had been made from raccoon dog.

“I can’t help thinking about what animal this has been taken off, just for me to have a pom-pom on a hat,” she said.

eBay does not have a no-fur policy, but the website says it expects sellers to describe products accurately.

The online auction website has asked the seller to amend or remove the listing and apologised for any distress caused to Chloe.

Consumer confidence

Though fur farming is banned in the UK, it is not illegal to import fur from other countries.

Earlier this year, a committee of MPs recommended a consultation on banning sales of real fur. It said the current labelling of fur products was “not fit for purpose”.

Claire Bass, the executive director of Humane Society International in the UK, said she would like to see a change in the law over imports, because of the conditions in which many animals are kept.

She said: “Retailers need to be do more to give consumers the confidence they need to buy fake fur and not be worrying that it might actually be fox, rabbit or mink.”

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionCritics and supporters of the fur trade speak out

TK Maxx told Watchdog Live: “Our buyers understand that we do not knowingly purchase items containing real fur.

“Despite our robust processes, an error can occasionally occur. As soon as this is brought to our attention we remove the item from sale and review the journey of that product.

“Any customer who has purchased such an item can return it to any TK Maxx store for a full refund with our most sincere apologies.”

In response to the investigation, Amazon told Watchdog Live: “All Marketplace sellers must follow our selling guidelines, and those who don’t will be subject to action including potential removal of their account.

“The products in question are no longer available.”

AX Paris, which has a fur-free policy, said the jumper was in an isolated product line and not branded with AX Paris. It said investigations are ongoing.

Missy Empire, which is also anti-fur, said it was “dismayed” to find its product contained fur and it was no longer available. It apologised to customers and said it is running further checks on other faux fur items.

Watchdog Live is on BBC One on Wednesday 14 November at 20:00 GMT.

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Show staff ‘isolate’ disabled teen and dog

Image copyright Abby Cappleman
Image caption Abby blogs about her experiences trying to access services with an assistance dog

Concert staff refused to let a disabled teenager and her assistance dog sit in seats she booked to see TV’s Supervet in case people had allergies.

Abby Cappleman, 18, and her mother Julie, who is also disabled, had to sit in isolation at the back of Birmingham Arena to watch Noel Fitzpatrick’s show.

Abby, who blogs about her difficulties accessing services, said: “We were treated like we had a disease.”

A spokeswoman told the BBC the venue “apologised unreservedly”.

In a video posted on her Facebook page Chloe the Assistance Dog, a security guard can be heard telling Abby she cannot sit in her booked seats for “health and safety reasons” because people might have “allergies”.

“Even Noel had his dog on stage at the end of the show,” said Abby.

The Shropshire teenager has Asperger’s syndrome and is supported by Chloe the shih tzu, who helps her to lead an independent life outside of home.

She had booked tickets for Fitzpatrick’s Welcome To My World tour several months ago and travelled 35 miles from her home in Telford to the event on Saturday.

Image caption Abby said it was “ironic” she and her dog were discriminated against while at Supervet Noel Fitzpatrick’s show

“I’d checked what the advice was for assistance dogs on the Arena’s website,” said Abby. “If it had said I needed to book tickets for a specific area, then I would have done.

“But it said assistance dogs were welcome, with no mention of having to book special seats.”

Abby and her mother got through security at the door but were apprehended by a member of staff who told them they could not sit in the seats they had booked.

When Abby protested, citing legislation from the Health and Safety Executive, she says they were shown to a disabled area but that the floor was “sticky and filthy”.

They were then directed to a section at the back of the room, moving two women on first to make sure they were completely alone.

Image copyright Abby Cappleman
Image caption A photo Abby took showing where she and her mother were forced to sit

“There was nobody near us at all, except for a security guard, and at one point there was four of them by us,” said Abby.

“It was really intimidating, we were trying to enjoy ourselves while four big burly security guards were hanging around us.”

Abby said at the end of the show they left as quickly as they could.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had anything that serious happen or been made to feel that way before,” she said.

“The irony is that everyone there was a dog or a pet lover.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission states that service providers should accommodate all people with assistance dogs and that failing to do so could lead to a claim of disability discrimination.

A spokesperson for Arena Birmingham said assistance dogs were welcome, adding: “We do ask customers to advise us of their requirements at the time of booking.

“Assistance dogs are only allowed within certain seating areas within the arena bowl for the welfare of the dogs, other customers and to maintain safe venue evacuation routes, should they be required.

“We understand this wasn’t properly explained on the venue’s website, and we apologise unreservedly to Ms Cappleman.

“We have been in touch with her direct and are making adjustments to our information pages to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

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Biden family adopts new pup named Major, Delaware Humane Association says

This photo provided by Delaware Humane Association shows former Vice President Joe Biden with his new dog at the Delaware Humane Association in Wilmington. The association said Saturday that Biden and his wife, Jill, have adopted a 10-month-old German shepherd named Major. Director of Animal Care Kerry Bruni said the Bidens had been providing foster care for the dog in their home for several months and were ready to make the adoption official. (Stephanie Gomez/Delaware Humane Association via AP)

The Bidens have welcomed a furry new addition to their family, an adopted pup named Major, an animal organization said.

The Delaware Humane Association (DHA) announced via Facebook Saturday that Major had found “his forever home” with the former vice president’s family.

“The Bidens have gotten to know Major while fostering him and are now ready to make the adoption official,” the organization said. “Best of luck and thank you for being one of our Friends for life!”


Major, a German shepherd, found his way to the DHA after he and five other puppies were “exposed to something toxic” where they’d been living, the organization said, adding that the dogs were given “lifesaving medical care.”

After the group posted on social media earlier this year about the litter of sick German shepherd pups, Biden got in touch to see if he could help, director of animal care Kerry Bruni told The Associated Press.


All six puppies, including Major, have been adopted, Executive Director Patrick Carroll said in the post, adding that it was “an honor for us to adopt a puppy to Vice President Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden.”

The organization shared photos of the occasion in their post, including one of a smiling Biden as he and his furry friend left the building.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Latest: Sheriff: List of missing after fire drops to 1,000

Sisters Alli Benefield, left, and Kassy Parish embrace during a vigil for the lives and community lost to the Camp Fire on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2018, at the First Christian Church of Chico in Chico, Calif. More than 50 people gathered at the memorial for the victims. People hugged and shed tears as Pastor Jesse Kearns recited a prayer for first responders. (AP Photo/Noah Berger, Pool)

The Latest on California’s wildfires (all times local):

8 p.m.

A Northern California sheriff says the list of names of those unaccounted for after a deadly wildfire has dropped to around 1,000.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea says that’s about 300 less than what was posted at the start of Sunday.

Authorities stressed that many of the people on the list may be safe and unaware they have been reported missing.

The so-called Camp Fire swept through the rural town of Paradise on Nov. 8. It has destroyed around 10,500 homes.


7:25 p.m.

Authorities say one more set of human remains was found Sunday, bringing the total number killed in a devastating California wildfire to 77.

A state incident report released Sunday evening says the flames destroyed more than 10,500 homes.

Over a thousand names remain on a list of those unaccounted for after the so-called Camp Fire swept through the rural town of Paradise on Nov. 8. Authorities stressed that many of those may be safe and unaware they have been reported missing.

Hundreds of volunteers are sifting through ash and debris, searching for human remains before expected rains complicate their efforts. The predicted downpours could wash away telltale fragments of bone, or turn loose, dry ash into a thick paste that would frustrate the search.

The fire was 65 percent contained Sunday.


5 p.m.

Paradise resident Paul Stavish is mourning the loss of his community at a Sunday memorial for the victims of the Northern California wildfire.

The 72-year-old retired computer engineer placed a battery-powered votive candle on an altar, saying he’s thinking about those who died.

At least 76 bodies have been recovered in the fire zone about 170 miles north of San Francisco.

Stavish moved to Paradise 13 years ago and described the community as warm and tight-knit.

He and his wife and three dogs fled the flames when the so-called Camp Fire swept through the area. His house was incinerated.

Stavish says he drove up for the memorial from Sacramento where he’s staying in a hotel.


4:30 p.m.

More than 50 people gathered at a memorial for the victims of the Northern California wildfire at a church in Chico.

At least 76 bodies have been recovered in the fire zone about 170 miles north of San Francisco.

At the vigil Sunday, Pastor Jesse Kearns recited a prayer for first responders as people hugged, some with tears in their eyes.

“We ask for continued strength as they are growing weary right now,” he said. A banner on the altar read, “we will rise from the ashes.”

Crews searching for remains are stepping up their efforts ahead of rains forecast for later this week that could complicate their work

Jacob Kliebe, a pastor at another local church, prayed for comfort and strength for the days ahead.


1:20 p.m.

Crews searching for remains of people after the devastating Northern California wildfire are stepping up their efforts ahead of rains forecast for later this week that could complicate their work.

A team of 10 volunteers along with a cadaver dog were examining burned houses Sunday in a Paradise neighborhood looking for victims.

They’re focusing on vehicles, bathtubs and mattress springs that would indicate a charred bed.

If no remains are found, the team leaves a note in orange spray paint near the home.

Rain would help suppress the fire but could also complicate the search and recovery effort. Officials say ash that is now dry and easy to dust off would turn into paste, making it harder to uncover remains.

At least 76 bodies have been recovered in the fire zone.


12:45 p.m.

The National Park Service says all but one of 13 mountain lions being tracked in Southern California mountains have been accounted for following a devastating wildfire.

As of Friday, the only missing mountain lion was one dubbed P-74, a young male born last year.

In addition, all four bobcats that the agency monitors via GPS have been located in the Santa Monica Mountains northwest of Los Angeles.

The 151-square-mile (391-square-kilometer) Woolsey fire has charred a huge swath national park land that’s home to the big cats and popular among hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders.

The blaze was 88 percent contained on Sunday and more evacuation orders have been lifted.


9:20 a.m.

Officials have again increased the number of homes and other structures burned by a huge Southern California wildfire.

The figure rose Sunday to 1,130 buildings destroyed — many of them homes — and 300 damaged. The tally is continuing.

Firefighters are making progress against the blaze that broke out Nov. 8 and tore through communities west of Los Angeles from Thousand Oaks to Malibu.

More evacuees have been allowed back in their homes and the 151-square-mile (391-square-kilometer) blaze is now 88 percent contained.

Three people died during the Woolsey fire, including two found in a car and one in the rubble of a charred home. Three firefighters have been injured.


8:20 a.m.

California’s governor is expressing optimism that President Donald Trump will support the state as it deals with raging wildfires.

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown said in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” airing Sunday that the Republican president has “got our back” and has pledged to continue to help.

Trump initially blamed state officials for poor forest management in exacerbating the fires and threatened to cut off federal funding. He’s since signed an emergency declaration and toured the devastated areas Saturday with Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom.

Brown also suggested in the CBS interview that the wildfires will make believers of even the most ardent climate change skeptics “in less than five years” and that those living near forests might need to build underground shelters to protect them from wildfires going forward.


3:55 a.m.

Pope Francis has prayed for victims of California’s wildfires and freezing weather on the U.S. East Coast.

Addressing tens of thousands of faithful in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on Sunday, including pilgrims from New York and New Jersey, Francis prayed that “the Lord welcome the deceased into his peace, comfort family members and sustain all those involved in rescue efforts.”

Francis said he wanted to offer a “special prayer to all those stricken by the fires that are scourging California, and now also for the victims of the freeze of the east coast of the United States.”

At least 76 people perished, and hundreds are unaccounted for in the California wildfires. In the eastern U.S., an unusually early winter snowstorm last week was blamed for at least seven deaths.


12 a.m.

Northern California crews battling the country’s deadliest wildfire in a century were bracing for wind gusts of up to 50 miles per hour that could erode gains they have made on a disaster that has killed at least 76 people.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said Saturday that deputies have located hundreds of people, but nearly 1,300 people remain unaccounted for.

He stressed that the roster includes duplicate names and names of people who haven’t reported that they are OK. He pleaded with fire evacuees to check the list.

The Camp Fire has destroyed nearly 10,000 homes since it sparked Nov. 8 and torched 233 square miles (600 square kilometers). It is 55 percent contained.

President Donald Trump surveyed wildfire damage at both ends of the state Saturday and pledged the federal government’s full support. Three people died in Southern California wildfires.

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Triple child murders: The lodger who destroyed a family

Image copyright Ralph family
Image caption Elsie Ralph sits with her three children (l-r) Paul, Samantha and Dawn

In 1973, a 20-year-old man murdered and mutilated his friends’ three young children. No motive has ever been established and he has never expressed regret. Now, 45 years after being jailed, David McGreavy is due to walk the streets again.

It was a crime that would destroy a family, horrify the nation and – with its gruesome details – continue to provoke furious reaction in Worcester.

Yet it has largely stayed below the radar of the British public.

WARNING: This account includes descriptions some readers might find distressing

Image copyright PA
Image caption David McGreavy was 21 when he was told he would serve at least 20 years for the murders

As far as Clive and Elsie Ralph were concerned, Friday 13 April 1973 had been unfolding like any ordinary day.

Mr Ralph was a lorry driver, Mrs Ralph was a barmaid and they lived on Gillam Street in Worcester with their children Dawn, Paul and Samantha, aged four, two and nine months.

Their lodger, Mr Ralph’s friend David McGreavy, was helpful to have around, as Mr Ralph’s job meant he was often away from home and Mrs Ralph sometimes worked evening shifts. McGreavy was good with the children and seemed to enjoy looking after them.

That spring evening, while Mr Ralph was combining a last-orders pint with collecting his wife from work, McGreavy, having drunk between five and seven pints of beer, could not stop baby Samantha’s crying.

He later said he just put his hand over her mouth, left it there, and “that was it”.

The nine-month-old was dead.

Next, McGreavy went into the room he shared with Paul, four, and strangled him with a wire. He followed this by slitting two-year-old Dawn’s throat, and battering Samantha until her skull was fractured.

He then went into the cellar and got a pitchfork with which he mutilated the dead children.

Then he took them into the garden, spiked their small corpses on to some iron railings between two back gardens, and walked out.

Image copyright Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption Both police and public were shocked by the murders

When Mr and Mrs Ralph returned home, their children were missing. There was blood across their two-bedroom terraced home. Their lodger was nowhere to be seen. They called the police.

PC Bob Rees was the unfortunate person to shine his torch around the garden and make the grim discovery, and within two hours McGreavy was found wandering around the nearby Lansdowne Road.

When arrested, McGreavy asked “what’s all this about?” and denied any knowledge of the murders. But at the police station, he admitted killing the children.

He told officers how he did it but not why he did it.

He has never said why.

Image caption The BBC reporting from the scene in 1973

An old friend of Mr Ralph, McGreavy was an impulsive young man – he once proposed marriage to a girl just a week after meeting her – who tended to flare up after drinking, but he had given no indication he might kill.

He grew up in an Army family, moving frequently as his father took on different posts across the UK and in Germany.

He joined the Royal Navy but was dishonourably discharged after setting fire to a rubbish bin. Colleagues from those days described him as “rather arrogant” and said he always had to have the last word.

He returned from his base at RNAS Brawdy in Pembrokeshire to live in Worcester with his parents, getting short-lived employment as a labourer, a chef and a factory worker. He often lost jobs because of his drinking and cocky attitude.

His fiancée broke off their relationship on New Year’s Eve 1971 and McGreavy argued with his parents. The 20-year-old moved in with the Ralphs.

He paid £6 a week in rent and occasionally cooked and babysat.

Image copyright Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption The children were found in a garden to the rear of Gillam Street, Worcester

Judy Lessemun and her husband Roger had lived in the road for about three years at the time of the murders. She had a job in the city centre and walked past the Ralph home every day on her way to work, and had seen Mrs Ralph with the children.

“On the Saturday morning I got up early like I did every day, about 7am, and opened my curtains and there right in front of me in my front garden were two police officers and sniffer dogs sniffing around.

“I was shocked. I didn’t know what had happened. I left for work as usual and asked the policeman what he was doing and he said he was looking for a weapon, but he wouldn’t say more than that. I tried to walk my usual route down Gillam Street but it was blocked off at one end by police.

“It wasn’t until I got home that night I found out from neighbours there had been a murder. First we heard one murder and it was a child. Then people said that night it was more but we didn’t know.

Image copyright Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption A police officer stands outside the address in Gillam Street following the killings

“I waited for [my husband] Roger to get home from work and told him, but it wasn’t until we read the paper the next day we found out it was three murders and all children. We were in a state of shock. Nobody knew what to say.

“When you walked past the house after it was chilling. You felt really cold. They were put on neighbours’ railings. Can you imagine how bad it was for them?

“Even now when I’ve walked past the same type of railings I still think about it. Awful.

“They must’ve been hung up like in a butchers. I thought ‘how cruel, how could someone be so cruel?'”

Image caption Judy and Roger Lessemun have lived in the area for nearly 50 years

At the time, Alec Mackie, now 79, was a reporter for the Birmingham Evening Mail. He attended a news conference at Worcester’s police station before the press were taken to Gillam Street.

“I was the father of three small children, slightly older than those three,” he said.

“Having been told what had happened, I was invited [by police] to go up the alleyway. I saw the tarpaulin over the fence between two properties, which was horrific, and I thought of my kids all at home tucked up in bed that morning.

“McGreavy had already been arrested, we knew that, but we didn’t say so because we wanted to get publicity for any witnesses or information. But when it became public, the atmosphere in Worcester was remarkable.

“The horrific way the children had been killed… it shocked the nation.

“Even now, when I drive past that area of Worcester, the memories always come back of that Saturday morning.”

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Det Ch Supt Robert Booth, who led the investigation, said at the time that he could not give an accurate description to the public of what happened.

“It was just too horrifying. They were brutally, brutally murdered.”

Image caption Det Ch Supt Robert Booth led the investigation in 1973

Mike Foster, Worcester’s MP between 1997 and 2010, spoke out against McGreavy’s release when the issue was raised during his tenure, and he continues to believe the killer should remain in jail.

“People still remember it as if it was yesterday. The nature of the killings and what he did with the bodies of children afterwards, that image stays with people. The horror of it makes the situation so much worse in people’s minds.

“There’s probably fewer than a dozen cases across the UK where people have the same view: the Moors murders, Soham murders, I would put them in the same bracket. When people hear the details, they are immediately struck by the horror.”

Image caption Mrs Ralph worked some evening shifts at the Punch Bowl Inn


April 1973 -David McGreavy kills four-year-old Paul Ralph and his sisters Dawn, two, and nine-month-old Samantha at their home in Gillam Street, Rainbow Hill, Worcester

June 1973 – McGreavy is jailed for life

1994 – McGreavy transferred to open prison (category D) then back to closed prison conditions (Category C)

2007 – One of a number of bids for parole refused

2009 – McGreavy told he must remain in jail under closed conditions. An anonymity order for his protection is granted

2013 – Anonymity order lifted with ninth parole review underway

2016 – Parole Board confirms McGreavy is being considered for release. Later that month it rejected his application

2018 – McGreavy is cleared for release from HMP Warren Hill in Suffolk

Image copyright Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo
Image caption Crowds gathered outside Worcester Crown Court ahead of McGreavy’s appearance on 16 April 1973
Image caption The children’s mother, now called Elsie Urry, said McGreavy ruined her life

Elsie Ralph was just 23 when police told her the news that collapsed her world.

She had to be sedated in the police station when she found out what had happened. She wasn’t allowed to return to her home or see the children.

Psychiatrists deemed McGreavy sane and fit to stand trial.

He offered no defence, no explanation and pleaded guilty. He was jailed for life with a minimum term of 20 years.

After the trial and using the name Elsie Urry, Mrs Ralph moved away from the area. She says she “just doesn’t know how to cope with it all some days” and tried to kill herself “a couple of times”.

Her marriage broke down and she has not had any further children.

She believes McGreavy, if released, will kill again, despite a Parole Board report claiming he had “changed considerably”.

“If this had happened to someone on the Parole Board, would they be thinking of letting this man go? No way. So why should I have to keep fighting to keep him in prison?

“There’s nothing to say this man won’t do something like this again.

“It has ruined my life. Why should he be released?”

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Pampered pups: Is the ‘pooch pound’ out of control?

Image copyright Victoire Frencia
Image caption Best of friends: Victoire Frencia reckons Kiwi eats better than she does

The UK’s known as a nation of dog lovers, but with ever more opportunities to spoil our best friends, is the “pooch pound” getting out of control?

“Living the life of a wealthy, middle-class dog must be wonderful. If I’m reincarnated I hope it’s as that.”

Victoire Frencia is a 25-year-old living in London and working in marketing. She’s talking about the lifestyle enjoyed by her 18-month-old dog Kiwi, rescued from Cyprus.

“It definitely falls into the category of ‘my-dog-eats-organic-and-better-than-me’, new toys and treats every month,” she says. “It is a high cost, her doggy day care alone sets us back close to £5,000 a year.”

In total, what she and her partner spend on food, toys and the rest equates to roughly half of what they spend on their mortgage – or put another way 5% of their joint incomes.

“Yes, I think it’s definitely over the top,” she admits. However, she adds: “It’s nice to provide ‘the best’.”

‘Family members’

Victoire is not alone in wanting to pamper her pooch.

Euromonitor estimates the dog food market this year is worth just under £1.6bn, about 1.7% down on 2017. However, the premium dog food sector – brands like Lily’s Kitchen, Royal Canin and The Rockster – has risen 2.2% to £379m.

Image copyright Victoire Frencia
Image caption Who could resist the appeal in Cypriot rescue dog Kiwi’s eyes?

One factor driving the market is what’s known as the “humanisation” of pets, according to Trishna Shah, senior market analyst with Euromonitor. “The idea that we’re not thinking about pets as animals: these are actual family members. These are our children,” she says.

“People almost equate their love with how much they’re spending on their pets. People are spending more on better quality products for their pets.”

Harder to put a value on are all the services available to dog owners. With nine million pooches in the UK, doggy day care, dog walkers and dog grooming in particular have proliferated, says the Pet Industry Federation, catering for people who are working.

So why do people like Victoire Frencia spend so much on their dogs?

“It’s just nice to care for something other than ourselves,” she says.

Puppy paraphernalia

Spool back a few months and Victoire’s story might have surprised me.

Now though, as the new owner of Bertie, the Portuguese Water Dog, a whole new world of puppy paraphernalia and pampering has been opened up to me.

A quick search of the internet revealed fountains flowing with Evian water, Fortnum and Mason food and a Japanese Ofurô bath designed to relax aching limbs.

Image copyright The Little Lord Barkley
Image caption Cocktail time at The Little Lord Barkley?

Not a luxurious spa holiday for humans, but just some of the services offered at The Little Lord Barkley dog hotel in Surrey.

It charges between £55 and £75 a night, and offers services including a “dog nanny” and a chauffeur-driven pick-up and drop-off in a Range Rover.

Denise Soares set up the business after finding it hard to find a “reliable, safe and happy environment” for her Dachshund.

She admits they’re at the top end of the market. “We’re not trying to get 80% of the market we’re trying to get 20% of the market.

Image copyright Crispin Luxton
Image caption Percy the Pug is one of the hotel’s VIP – very important pet – guests

“We have had clients that just wanted their dogs to drink chicken water, which means to boil the chicken in water – in this case, organic chicken from Harrods – remove the chicken and let the water cool down – then give it to the dog, our guest.”

‘All they need is attention’

However, Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisko, warns against going too far.

“Dogs don’t need luxury treatments, fashionable clothes or extensive pampering.

“People may think that feeding their dogs lots of rich, tasty food is a nice thing to do for their pet, but it may not suit their dietary requirements and could actually result in an upset stomach or the dog becoming overweight, which brings with it a host of health concerns.

“Taking them for walks, providing social and mental stimulation and giving them lots of attention is all the indulgence they need.”

Image copyright Crispin Luxton
Image caption No photos please? Crispin Luxton wants Percy to be well cared for when he is away

So what persuades clients to book their dogs into a hotel like The Little Lord Barkley?

‘Peace of mind’

Crispin Luxton, 43, owns an IT consultancy in London and spends 10 days a month in Los Angeles. He books his two-year-old Pug Percy into the hotel while he is away.

Percy’s 10-day stay costs on average £450 every month. Crispin says it gives him “peace of mind when I’m abroad”, and he finds the collection and drop-off service very useful. “They’ve got it all sorted. I’m paying for the convenience.”

In general, he reckons he spends about £7,000 a year on Percy, including the hotel stays, on food, insurance, toys, coats, treats and leads.

Of course some people would say that’s over the top, but Crispin says: “I think it’s all relative. People spend ridiculous amounts of money on holidays, gardens and clothes. It’s about what you get out of that.”

He admits some of the things on offer at The Little Lord Barkley are a “bit excessive” though. “At the end of the day he’s a dog.”

Image copyright The Little Lord Barkley
Image caption Better than a muddy puddle? Fountains flowing with Evian water

So does Denise Soares ever feel the concept is slightly ludicrous? “It’s done in a light-hearted, good-spirited way,” she says.

“A lot of owners want to feel they’re giving their dogs something a bit over the top – they feel guilty because they’re away.”

‘A dog can forget it’s a dog’

Of course it’s not necessary to go to these lengths and most dogs don’t get this level of pampering.

The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals estimates the minimum monthly cost of caring for a dog is between £70 to £105, depending on its size and says 69% of owners underestimate this cost.

While the Dogs Trust says: “We do not encourage people to treat dogs like humans as this risks the dog forgetting what it is to be a dog and can cause him to behave in an unnatural way and even potentially develop behavioural problems.

“Whilst it is nice to occasionally pamper a pet, whether that is by grooming it, giving it the odd treat or allowing it to sleep on the bed with you, there are limits and the animal’s comfort and wellbeing should always be the priority.”

Image copyright Victoire Frencia
Image caption Kiwi looks slightly sceptical about her advent calendar

So how does Victoire Frencia respond to people who say “a dog’s a dog”, don’t go over the top?

“Each to their own. I would never let it get in the way of my dog behaving properly and doing what’s it’s told.”

With Christmas around the corner I ask Victoire if Kiwi can expect any gifts.

“Embarrassingly, yes. She’s got an advent calendar.”

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Living next door to a fracking site

Image caption Anti-fracking protests have been held regularly at the Preston New Road site

At the UK’s first operational fracking facility near Blackpool the shale gas has begun to flow. However, a series of small earthquakes continue to disrupt production, and protests by environmentalists show no sign of abating. What is it like to live next door?

Allan Wensley’s farm at Little Plumpton does not just border the Cuadrilla site – the facility sits within it.

However, since he decided to lease his field to the energy firm, his farmhouse home has been besieged by protesters and he and his family have had abuse shouted at them.

“I’ve had lots of abuse screamed at me and a few abusive letters calling me ‘money-grabbing’ and a few names,” the 56-year-old said.

“The police have had to guard my home and my family have been subjected to unpleasant things on the internet.

“However, despite it all, I don’t regret a thing. I’m convinced fracking will be a good thing.”

In 2016 Mr Wensley took his own action when the actor Emma Thompson joined a Greenpeace anti-fracking demonstration on his land.

Encouraged by his wife, he drove his tractor in circles around the double Oscar winner and Love Actually star, literally spraying her with manure.

Image caption Farmer Allan Wensley sprayed protesters including Emma Thompson with manure when they went on his land
Image caption Emma Thompson said Mr Wensley sent her a “very powerful message” after he sprayed her with manure

The protests have continued, but Mr Wensley believes people in the area are split 50-50 over fracking.

“It will supply lots of jobs in the area and I believe it will bring a cleaner, green energy for the country,” he said.

“A lot of people here want it to supply jobs and money for the area.”

The roots of Geza Tarjanyi’s determined opposition to fracking lie in the 2.3 quake that hit the Blackpool area in 2011, and which a report later said was probably caused by exploratory fracking in the area.

The next day the children’s entertainer found a 2ft crack in his wall and damage to his roof.

It was a turning point and he started a long protest campaign which has resulted in many court appearances, a hunger strike and a 15-day walk to Downing Street.

He even changed his surname to Frackman by deed poll and is now a full-time campaigner.

“Fracking is just not safe and most local people are against,” he insists.

“The opposition to this has cost me everything but it’s worth it.

“I’ve had serious threats of violence – people threatening to break my legs – but I’ll carry on.”

Image caption Rodney Knight with his dogs Ghost and Simba, which guard his home and business

Rodney Knight runs a kennels just yards from the drilling site on Preston New Road – and the semi-permanent protest camp outside.

“I didn’t want fracking here – I don’t think anyone around here does,” he said.

“But I believe that if it does take off then it will be good for the area, providing jobs and bringing money.

“I hope what they say is true and it will provide a source of energy that is green and good for the environment – this country certainly needs that.”

He says his business has been adversely affected by the campaigners and calls the protest camp a “disgrace”.

A £2,000 payment given to him out of Cuadrilla’s community fund has been spent on security cameras and a gate after he says he found protesters intruding on his property.

“It’s not the local protesters that I object to but the professional ones who just wander round the country and then move on,” he added.

Cuadrilla has donated £100,000 to local projects and given another £100,000 to the community, which voted to share it among those affected. People living within 0.6 miles of the site received £2,000 while those living further away received £150.

Image caption Tom Stanley is against fracking

Tom Stanley, a 73-year-old grandfather, said he was unimpressed by the offer.

“I thought it was just a sweetener to keep us quiet,” he said.

“But it certainly didn’t have that effect on me,” as he then joked: “I think I took it down the pub a few times.”

As he walked near Mr Wensley’s farm adjoining the fracking site, Mr Stanley added: “I’m not in favour of fracking.

“I don’t think it will bring the benefits they say and I’m convinced it will be bad for the environment.

“There’s been earthquakes and it seems to bring up toxic water.”

Image caption Protester Barbara Cookson lives during the week at a makeshift camp near the site

Barbara Cookson, 67, has lived at the protest camp for the past two years and only goes home to Liverpool at the weekend.

“A lot of the locals used to shout abuse at us as they drove past.

“But many have changed their tune since the latest earthquakes and apologised to us.”

Image caption Eliza Bradley does not think a potential fracking bonanza will reach the seaside resort of Blackpool

Five miles away in Blackpool, shoppers did not express much optimism that fracking would provide a jobs bonanza or investment in the town, which is one of the most deprived in England.

“I can’t see any money comes here if there is any,” said Eliza Bradley, 19, a shop assistant.

“I don’t think we’ll see any benefits anyway – it will just go in someone’s pockets.

“I don’t agree with it anyway – I think it’s bad for the environment and won’t really work anyway.”

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Drilling started at the Lancashire site on 15 October

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Donald Trump Jr. Attacks Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez With Dog-Eating Meme

Donald Trump Jr. used Instagram to take aim at Democratic Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Thursday.

President Donald Trump’s eldest son shared a meme featuring photographs of his father and Ocasio-Cortez, 29, which suggested that her progressive policies would result in Americans having to eat dogs.

“It’s funny cuz it’s true!!!” Trump Jr. captioned the post.

Ocasio-Cortez became the youngest woman ever elected to Congress after winning her race for a U.S. House seat in New York’s 14 District in November’s midterm elections. She is yet to respond to Trump Jr.’s post.

However, Ocasio-Cortez did fire back at former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee earlier this week after he dubbed her “looney” for likening her election victory to the moon landings.

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Reality Check: Your Dog Is Terrible For The Environment

Lyla is a pug, a very popular type of dog. She’s also a vegan. Her owner has stopped feeding her meat, a decision becoming more common among pet owners in the U.S. as people’s rising interest in meatless diets spreads to their pets.

Lyla belongs to Myron Lyskanycz, CEO of the pet food company Halo. The business has sold both meat and vegan ranges of pet food for six years, and its meat-free products now account for 20 percent of dog food sales. Lyskanycz predicts vegan sales will grow quickly over the next decade.

Around 8 percent of Americans describe themselves as vegetarian or vegan, according to one poll, and an additional 31 percent say they actively reduce their meat consumption, according to another. As people move away from meat, said Lyskanycz, “they are going to begin to see it is suitable for their pets too. It’s inevitable.” 

Halo Pets
Lyla the vegan pug.

A plant-based diet for dogs is not as ridiculous as it might seem. In the U.S., the 70 million dogs kept as companions largely eat meat-based diets. If you put all the American dogs, cats and other pets on their own island, they would rank fifth in global meat consumption, behind Russia, Brazil, the U.S. and China.

This has started worrying environmentalists, with global meat and dairy production representing 14.5 percent of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions ― slightly more than the emissions produced by every car, train, aircraft and ship on the planet. Pet dogs and cats are responsible for up to 30 percent of the environmental impact of animal agriculture in the U.S. 

Without cutting the overconsumption of meat ― in pets, as well as humans ― it will be almost impossible to prevent global warming from passing the danger level of a 2 degrees Celsius temperature rise (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).

Free-ranging dogs in other countries that survive by scavenging have been found to consume a diet rich in carbohydrates (biscuits, bread, rice) and relatively low in protein (scraps of meat or remains of carcasses).

Domestic dogs are reported to be better adapted to a diet that is higher in carbohydrates than their wolf-like ancestors because of changes in foraging behavior and a better ability to digest starch. This is supported by a Swedish study that found dogs were five times better at digesting starch ― found in grains, beans and potatoes ― than wolves, and had a digestive enzyme similar to one found in herbivores such as cows and rabbits.

While dogs like the smell and taste of meat, the study says, the diet given to them as puppies is likely to strongly influence their taste preferences as an adult dog.

“Most people who own a dog have never thought a dog could survive on a plant-based diet. As more information comes out, that will change,” said Lyskanycz.

Much of the pet food available today includes bone meal and other leftovers of animals less popular in human diets. But Greg Okin, a professor at the University of California and author of a study on the environmental impact of pet food, said there is a move by some pet food companies to persuade pet owners to buy food made from higher quality meat.

“Marketers are attempting to convince consumers that their dogs are wolves and that their cats are lions and, therefore, must have high-animal content diets,” Okin said. “Dogs aren’t wolves and cats aren’t lions. But people are suckers. In my opinion, they’re being duped into spending more money on products their animal doesn’t need and that, from an environmental perspective, is worse than the cheaper grain-filled brands.”

That said, there are limits to switching pets away from a meat-based diet. While dogs can live on a diet of vegetables, cats are carnivores and need certain nutrients within meat in their diet.

OlyaSolodenko via Getty Images
Cats are carnivores and need nutrients in their diet which they get from meat. 

Dogs “are omnivores and even their wild ancestors had vegetables in their diet. They have since become more suited with evolution for a plant-based diet,” said Dr. Sarah Dodd, a veterinary consultant to companies including Halo who is studying plant-based pet diets. ”With cats, it’s different. On paper you can get all the nutrients in a plant-based diet with formulation, but we do not yet have enough evidence to know if the products currently on offer meet those needs.”

Dodd said large pet food companies should support further research about products for cats. One such company, Mars Petcare, whose brands include Pedigree, Iams, Nutro and Eukanuba, has doubts about consumer interest in vegan pet food.

“While a vegan diet for cats and dogs is possible, it can be difficult to develop,” Dr. Tiffany Bierer, scientific affairs manager at Mars Petcare, said. “For example, dogs and cats require Vitamin D in their diets to maintain proper calcium levels in their body. Unlike humans, they can’t produce it on their own, and Vitamin D is only found in animal-based foods. There are also some nutrients that have limited vegetable or grain sources, like amino acids.”

Another pet food company is addressing the cat problem with slaughter-free meat. California-based Wild Earth, whose backers include billionaire Peter Thiel, says it wants to reinvent pet food with slaughter-free or lab-grown meat, as well as plant-based food.

“We’re using plants and fungi, which is very high in protein, as a first step in replacing meat,” said CEO Ryan Bethencourt. But we don’t advertise ourselves as a vegan company. Our purpose is to create sustainable protein, which could include slaughter-free.”

Wild Earth has already made a slaughter-free mouse meat for cats, though it’s not yet available for sale. Bethencourt said a commercial meat product for humans is likely to come first, to avoid creating an image of lab-grown meat as a substandard human food option.  

“We could do it today or within a few months, but it’s a regulatory and price question,” Bethencourt said, adding that Wild Earth hopes to begin selling a lab meat product by 2020.

For the time being, Okin said pet owners shouldn’t change companion’s diet without guidance.

“Much as we make decisions about what car to drive ― some of us based on considerations of carbon emissions ― we alsomight choose what kind of animal to keep based on its need for animal-derived products,” Okin said. “For people who have animals, I encourage them to talk to their vet about this if they have questions.”

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HuffPost’s This New World series is funded by Partners for a New Economy and the Kendeda Fund. All content is editorially independent, with no influence or input from the foundations. If you have an idea or tip for the editorial series, send an email to

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