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Asylum: 29,000 Cases Unresolved Since 2007

Written By andika jamanta on Rabu, 29 Oktober 2014 | 20.49

By Tom Parmenter, Sky News Correspondent

Failings in the UK's asylum system have led to an "extremely concerning" backlog of cases - with the Home Office accused of being in chaos over immigration.

Some 11,000 asylum seekers have been waiting since 2007 to be told whether they can stay in the country.

In total there are 29,000 cases waiting to be resolved, according to a damning report.

Margaret Hodge MP, chair of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "To make matters worse, the department is also failing to meet its targets for dealing with newer claims, so it is now creating another backlog for itself.

"The number of claims awaiting an initial decision was up 70% to 16,273 in the first three months of 2014 compared to the same period last year.

Video: Asylum Process System In Chaos

"It is deeply worrying that the Home Office is not tracking those people whose applications have been rejected to ensure that they are removed from the UK."

The report said there are 175,000 people whose applications to stay in the UK have been rejected and are still awaiting removal.

The Government scrapped the UK Border Agency last year as part of major reforms. 

One asylum seeker has told Sky News she feels mentally "tortured" after being left in limbo.

Her case has been repeatedly delayed and nine months after applying for asylum the Ugandan woman still has not been given a proper interview about her request.

Fearing further delays to her claim, she asked only to be known as "Namusoke" and explained to Sky News: "I feel tortured here in the UK, I feel depressed, stressed and traumatised, so I really feel bad because I can't help nothing for myself.

"I'm a beggar, which I was not born to do."


  1. Gallery: Struggle Of Calais Migrants 'Prepared To Die'

    Migrants who are trying to get to the UK are continuing to live in tents and get on to lorries after Calais' mayor warned MPs they were "prepared to die"

  2. The images show migrants running behind a truck to try to board it as it approached the border post between Britain and France

  3. Other pictures showed the conditions that the migrants were prepared to live in

  4. The mayor of Calais told MPs that fencing donated by Britain to keep illegal migrants from the French port was "laughable"

  5. She said that the border controls should be in Britain, not in France as they are at present

  6. Ms Bouchart told the parliamentary committee it was easier to get welfare benefits in Britain and that migrants viewed the country as an "Eldorado"

  7. Up to 2,300 migrants are thought to be in Calais and surrounding areas

  8. In recent months the French say migrants have been overwhelming security forces as they make regular attempts to mob the port en masse to try and scramble on to trucks boarding ferries to Dover

  9. The pictures were also taken on a day when Britain's asylum system was described as being a "failure"

The woman is fleeing persecution in her homeland due to the fact she is a lesbian - homosexuality is deemed illegal in Uganda.

Immigration and Security Minister James Brokenshire said: "The immigration system we inherited was totally dysfunctional.

"Turning around years of mismanagement has taken time, but it is now well under way.

"We have reformed visa routes to make them more resistant to fraud and cancelled failing contracts; and we are addressing the backlogs we inherited."

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said: "This report lays bare how Theresa May and David Cameron are presiding over one failure after another in our immigration system."

The Refugee Council's head of advocacy, Lisa Doyle, said: "It's extremely concerning that so many people are still waiting for a decision on their asylum claim, years after first applying."

On Tuesday the mayor of Calais said Britain's benefits system had become a magnet for asylum seekers making their way across the English Channel from France - and that many are "prepared to die" to make the journey.

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Man Guilty Of Murdering Women On Puppy Farm

A dog breeder has been found guilty of murdering his partner and her daughter at his puppy farm.

John Lowe, 82, opened fire on 66-year-old Christine Lee and her daughter Lucy Lee, 40, with a shotgun he normally used for killing rats.

Christine's daughter, Stacy Banner, said after his trial: "The shotgun was one of seven that had been returned to him by the police only months before he used it to kill."

She added: "John Lowe pulled the trigger but it was the Surrey Police who put the gun in his hands."

Surrey Police apologised to the family after Lowe's shotguns were returned to him in July last year following their confiscation the previous March.

The force said two reports indicated the decision was "flawed" and vowed to "co-operate fully" with an Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation.

Lowe told his trial at Guildford Crown Court that the women's deaths near Farnham in Surrey in February were "a terrible accident" after a struggle over the gun as he went to destroy some dogs.

But the jury of six men and six women convicted him of their murders after hearing that, following his arrest, he told the police he had "put down" the women because they had been "giving me s*** for weeks".

They also heard that Lucy made a "desperate" 999 call to police saying that Lowe had killed her mother and telling the operator she was going back to confront him.

She was then shot twice, with Lowe reloading the .410 calibre double-barrelled weapon between shots.

Lowe, who listened to proceedings through a hearing loop, showed no emotion as the verdicts were given.

Speaking outside court, Mrs Banner said Lowe "brutally and deliberately murdered my mum and my sister by shooting each of them at close range with a shotgun - they did not stand a chance".

She added: "My life stopped when their lives ended on 23rd February this year. It will never be the same for me or my children who have lost their aunt and Nanny Burger King."

She also called for the way gun licencing decisions are made to be changed.

"(It) cannot be left entirely up to the police. There needs to be thorough and regular multi-agency assessments for would be gun-holders. And the cost of a shotgun licence needs to be significantly increased."

Christine Lee's sister, Julia James, said: "Christine had a heart of gold and was full of life. Lucy believed in protecting life and being kind to others.

"I witnessed on numerous occasions how caring Christine and Lucy had been towards Lowe. It has been heart-breaking listening to his lies."

Surrey Police said three of its employees are being investigated for gross misconduct over the decision to return Lowe's guns before the shooting.

It is also reviewing all cases where guns have been removed and then returned to people in the last three years.

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Tesco Faces Criminal Probe Over Profits Crisis

By Mark Kleinman, City Editor

The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) is poised to launch a formal criminal probe into the accounting crisis at Tesco that led the UK's biggest retailer to overstate profits by £263m.

Sky News has learnt that the agency could confirm as soon as this week that it is opening an inquiry, adding to separate investigations by the City regulator and the accounting watchdog.

The SFO is understood to have notified Tesco of its intention to formally investigate the issue in recent days, and is expected to trigger a stock exchange announcement by the supermarket giant.

The move is not entirely unexpected, but the news that the SFO is to undertake a formal probe will add to the sense of crisis at Tesco.

The company, which has lost more than half its value during the last year, has been hit by unprecedented boardroom turmoil, with the chairman, Sir Richard Broadbent, planning to quit next year.

Eight executives, including the UK managing director Chris Bush, have been asked to stand aside pending the outcome of the investigations into the accounting mis-statement, which relates to payments from major suppliers.

Deloitte, the accountancy firm, and Freshfields, Tesco's legal adviser, undertook a preliminary probe, which was handed to the retailer's board last week.

That report has been handed to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), with which Tesco said earlier this month it is co-operating.

Dave Lewis, the new Tesco chief executive, last week unveiled a fall in half-year profits of more than 90% as the company battles to recapture market share lost to discounters such as Aldi and Lidl.

Tesco has also been deserted by some of its leading shareholders, including the US-based Harris Associates and Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, amid concern over its strategy and the state of its balance sheet.

The turmoil has forced Tesco to shore up its financial position by turning to five banks to lend the company £1bn each in order to head off the prospect of lenders calling in existing loans.

The Daily Telegraph reported on Wednesday that major consumer goods companies which supply Tesco have asked auditors to scrutinise their dealings with the retailer.

The SFO, which has powers to prosecute companies as well as individuals, has been pursuing high-profile cases against Barclays, GlaxoSmithKline and Rolls-Royce, among others.

The SFO and Tesco both refused to comment.

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Tech And Staff Failures Behind Case Backlog

The failure of two major IT projects and "ill-judged" staffing decisions have led to the loss of more than 50,000 people who cannot be found in Britain, according to a report by MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report reveals the Home Office is unable to track tens of thousands of people whose applications to stay in the UK have been rejected.

Some 175,000 people whose applications were unsuccessful have been placed in a "migration refusal pool" to await removal from Britain.

While some applicants may have left voluntarily, the department does not know how many remain because it lacks "a system to check departures from the UK".

In 2012, the department employed Capita to confirm the records and whereabouts of those refused permission to stay.

Video: Lawyer Harjap Singh Bhangal

Capita was unable to find more than 50,000 people, with the department in some cases failing to retain even basic information such as addresses and postcodes.

The failure has been blamed in part upon a "botched" attempt by the now-defunct UK Border Agency to downgrade its caseworkers.

The report found the move led to 120 experienced caseworkers leaving the agency, adding that new staff with the "right skills" will be needed to clear the backlog.

Failures in large-scale IT projects have exacerbated the problem, leaving the department to operate with out-dated technology.

The Home Office has cancelled both the Immigration Case Work (ICW) IT programme and the ill-fated e-Borders system, which cost almost £1bn.

The report says: ""The Department had expected large-scale IT projects... to transform its processes and allow it to produce better information and substantial financial savings."

Video: Asylum Seeker Has To Beg To Survive

But the failure of the programmes left the department without a "comprehensive, system-wide IT strategy" to deal with people seeking to remain in the UK.

"IT limitations mean the department cannot track people through the immigration system, or ensure people with no legal right to remain are removed from the UK," the report says.

"As a matter of priority, the department should identify the future IT capabilities it requires so it can develop a comprehensive, system-wide IT strategy that will deliver the required capabilities."

On Tuesday, the mayor of Calais said Britain's benefits system had become a magnet for asylum seekers making their way across the English Channel from France.

Skills Minister Nick Boles warned that Britain has lost control over immigration, and may not be able to stem movement from within the EU.

"We may never be able to control it entirely because it's a fundamental principle of the EU," Mr Boles told Total Politics.


  1. Gallery: Struggle Of Calais Migrants 'Prepared To Die'

    Migrants who are trying to get to the UK are continuing to live in tents and get on to lorries after Calais' mayor warned MPs they were "prepared to die"

  2. The images show migrants running behind a truck to try to board it as it approached the border post between Britain and France

  3. Other pictures showed the conditions that the migrants were prepared to live in

  4. The mayor of Calais told MPs that fencing donated by Britain to keep illegal migrants from the French port was "laughable"

  5. She said that the border controls should be in Britain, not in France as they are at present

  6. Ms Bouchart told the parliamentary committee it was easier to get welfare benefits in Britain and that migrants viewed the country as an "Eldorado"

  7. Up to 2,300 migrants are thought to be in Calais and surrounding areas

  8. In recent months the French say migrants have been overwhelming security forces as they make regular attempts to mob the port en masse to try and scramble on to trucks boarding ferries to Dover

  9. The pictures were also taken on a day when Britain's asylum system was described as being a "failure"

"It will be very hard for the British people to accept that... we're going to be the net recipient of a very large amount of immigration every year," he added.

Labour's shadow immigration minister David Hanson said the Government's immigration policy is in "tatters".

He said: "The Skills Minister has admitted that the Government's grand promises have increased rather than decreased public concern.

"Yet they have still deterred the top skills and talent the economy needs. It is the worst of all worlds."

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Energy Crunch: Don't Expect Return To 1970s

Written By andika jamanta on Selasa, 28 Oktober 2014 | 20.49

Are you ready for winter?

This question is at the heart of today's National Grid Winter Outlook report.

The weather is predicted to reach around 20 degrees in some parts of the UK on the final day of October this year so it's no wonder consumers aren't planning how to manage their energy use for the winter ahead.

But while customer use or demand is an important part of the equation – power supply is the key – and that's where the UK's plan falls apart.

In the past year, several power plants have experienced unexpected shutdowns due to fire, breakdowns and accidents.

Video: Why The Winter Lights Could Go Out

At the same time, the building of new plants has been terribly slow and faced numerable delays.

Which is why today National Grid is warning that our electricity supply margin has narrowed from last year, to the lowest level since 2007.

Which means, technically, the risk of blackouts, and brownout (where power use is limited, but not cut off completely) is increasing.

But asking three, more detailed questions, reveals that there isn't call for panic just yet and the prospect of a return to rolling blackouts last seen in the mid-1970s.

:: What is the likelihood of blackouts actually occurring?

The National Grid says that in the event of the UK experiencing the coldest snap in 20 years,  then electricity supplies would not meet demand for up to two weeks in January.

But there is only a 5% chance of this cold snap even happening. And not meeting demand, is not the same thing as a blackout. Which brings us to the next question.

:: How would it work?

Consumers and businesses would be encouraged to iron-out their electricity consumption across the full day, rather than all pile in at peak times.

This would reduce the likelihood of a total collapse at any one point in the day though whether families want to get up to put the dryer on at 3am is a question not addressed in National Grid's report.

Energy intensive business may be able to reorganise themselves to do this more easily, which leads nicely to – the final question.

:: Are emergency measures put in place by National Grid sufficient?

National Grid had started a programme to PAY some businesses to reduce their energy consumption, and time it more evenly with periods when consumer demand is not lower.

In addition, they are un-mothballing some plants previously marked for closure, to have them on standby should that mythical cold snap happen.

The Grid says these plans will lift the electricity margin back up to 6.1% from the 4.1% it is warning is the level at present.

And though it's not a pleasant thought, consumers must remember that behind all the statistics and warnings there is electricity to be had, no matter how cold the weather gets.

It will just cost more.

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Leeds Kids' Care Report Slams Whistleblowers

By Gerard Tubb, North of England Correspondent

An independent investigation into the temporary closure of children's heart surgery in Leeds last year has blamed a badly-compiled dossier of complaints and poorly-managed medics.

The strongest criticism for the 11-day closure in March 2013 by NHS England over safety concerns is levelled at the rival Newcastle children's heart unit which claimed it was whistleblowing on failings in Leeds.

Independent investigators have accused medics from Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust and its chief executive Sir Leonard Fenwick of passing on unsubstantiated complaints.

"Reporting the unchecked allegations of others is not whistleblowing, and Newcastle should have made the status of their concerns clearer when they reported them," it said.

Video: Bad Report Halted Kids' Heart Ops

The report blames heart specialists at both units for "disagreements and personality clashes" and says management at both centres could have been better.

"Managers at affected trusts... have a responsibility to ensure that strong, respectful relationships are maintained between staff at 'competing' trusts," it says.

The rivalry between the trusts followed a bitter row over a decision by NHS England to close the Leeds unit and retain the Newcastle service, which has since been placed under review.

The political nature of some complaints from parents in the Newcastle "dossier" were also criticised.

Video: 'Forgotten Families' Of Hospital

"Those receiving the concerns and acting on them should have distinguished between concerns to which parents wanted answers and those being communicated for political purposes," the report says.

NHS England said at the time that the closure was for a "constellation" of reasons including poor data submission and the absence of both senior heart surgeons, one of whom was on holiday, the other under internal investigation.

The report backs NHS England's stance, saying: "Leeds senior management at the time should have ensured that data (on heart surgery patients) was full, accurate and submitted on time."

Sky News revealed last week that the second surgeon, Nihal Weerasena, is now under investigation by the General Medical Council over allegations about his fitness to practise.

Video: Leeds Hospital: Parents' Outrage

The report, described as the final "overarching" review of events that led to the closure has been welcomed by NHS England, which commissioned it.

NHS England's deputy medical director, Dr Mike Bewick, said: "Patients should be reassured that this service has been rigorously scrutinised and has improved as a result.

"Patients and the public can have confidence that this is a well-run unit and is now in a position to go from strength to strength."

The closure came the month after the publication of the Francis report into failings at Mid Staffordshire which warned that the NHS must act on safety concerns.

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Energy Crunch: Plan To Keep The Lights On

National Grid has warned the UK may be forced to resort to emergency measures to keep the lights on if bad weather strikes this winter, with households picking up the bill.

Its annual Winter Outlook report looking at the capacity margin - the gap between total electricity generating capacity and peak demand - was compiled as the country misses output from five key power stations following fires or safety checks.

The network operator put the figure at just 4.1% - its narrowest since 2006/7 - and said that margin of spare capacity could fall further to just 2.8% if weather conditions took a turn for the worse.

Such a scenario would mean the grid failing to meet its "basic reserve requirement" of spare capacity needed to run the system, forcing it to adopt contingencies such as paying factories to shut down and supplying reserves from mothballed power stations.

National Grid said it was finalising contracts with three sites, Littlebrook in Kent, Rye House in Hertfordshire and Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, to provide reserve capacity that would widen the margin by 2%.

Having to use these power stations would add £1 to the average family bill, the operator confirmed, as it would cost £25m.


  1. Gallery: Blackout Britain: 1970s Power Cuts

    Paul Caldecott, six, was forced to stay at school because his parents couldn't pick him up

  2. Four women work in a Slumberdown office in Bond Street, London, during a miners' strike in 1973

  3. A woman breastfeeding her baby during a blackout at St Andrews Hospital, Dollis Hill, northwest London

  4. Working for Slumberdown had its advantages, as these women could wrap themselves in quilts to keep warm during a blackout

  5. Customers and staff at an HMV shop in Oxford Street, London, during a power cut in December 1973

The prospect of an electricity crunch has risen since the summer, when a key measure of risk, called Loss of Load Expectation (Lole) was forecast at 0.5 hours for the coming winter.

Since then the Lole risk measure has risen to 1.6 hours, factoring in the fires that have caused the permanent shutdown of Ironbridge in Shropshire and the temporary closure of Ferrybridge in West Yorkshire.

A power station in Barking will also close, while a planned return to service for four EDF nuclear reactors at Heysham in Morecambe, Lancashire, and at Hartlepool, will see them return at only 75% capacity.

A fire earlier this month put half of operations out of action at Didcot B power station in Oxfordshire - which has capacity to supply a million homes.

The part of the site affected by the blaze is expected to return to around 50% service this week.

The Grid report said gas supplies were well ahead of expected peak demand but warned of the uncertain impact of tensions over Ukraine, which could strangle availability from the continent.

Video: Warning Expected Over Blackout Risk

The report warned that in the "extreme scenario" of cold winter conditions and Russia cutting off supplies, the UK may have to arrange factory shutdowns as well and rely on expensive imports from markets further afield such as Asia and South America.

Cordi O'Hara, director of market operation, said: "The electricity margin has decreased compared to recent years, but the outlook remains manageable and well within the reliability standard set by Government.

"As system operator, we have taken the sensible precaution to secure additional tools to bolster our response to tighter margins."

Energy Minister Matt Hancock said lights would stay on across the country.

He told BBC Radio 4: "There will be secure energy supplies this winter. There will be no power cuts to householders."

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Lloyds Cuts 9,000 Jobs And 200 Branches

Lloyds Banking Group has confirmed 9,000 job losses and 200 branch closures as it moves to bolster its digital banking offering through a £1bn investment over three years.

The bank - 25%-owned by the taxpayer - said the job and branch cuts would take place as consumers' habits continued to shift towards online banking services.

Lloyds said it would be investing in remote advice services for customers, who would be increasingly expected to use online banking or self-service facilities within branches instead of dealing with staff face to face.

More than 10 million Lloyds Banking Group customers currently bank online while five million use its mobile banking services.

The news was contained in its latest results which showed a nine-month profit before tax of £1.61bn - 5% down on the same period last year.

Lloyds said the figure included an extra £900m provision for the costs associated with the payment protection insurance mis-selling scandal.

Sky News reported on Monday night that Lloyds and other major banks were all planning to put aside extra funds, giving them a combined provision of more than £22bn.

Video: How Do You Use Your Bank?

Lloyds accounts for half the total.

Underlying profits for the business, which includes Halifax and Bank of Scotland, rose 41% to £2.2bn in the third quarter.

Sources at the bank told Sky News it had already shed 45,000 jobs since its bailout at the height of the banking crisis.

Video: The Cost Of Banking To The Banks

The latest cuts represent around 10% of its current workforce of 88,000 and form part of its plans to "digitise" the bank.

Earlier this year, the British Bankers' Association published research showing that UK-based customers conducted almost 40 million mobile and internet banking transactions each week in 2013, a huge increase on the previous year.

The branch closures will mainly affect urban areas where there are already high concentrations of Lloyds branches.

Video: 1964: Banking For the Ladies

Chief executive Antonio Horta-Osorio said: "Over the last three years the successful delivery of our strategy has ensured that we have become a safe, highly efficient, UK-focused retail and commercial bank.

"The next phase of our strategy will use these strong foundations as a basis for meeting the rapidly-changing needs of our customers, and sets out how we will grow the business in a way that will deliver increasing and sustainable returns for our shareholders."

Shares have been under pressure since the results of a European stress test to see how lenders would cope in maintaining the buffer of capital they hold in the event of a financial crisis.

Video: Banks To Use Twitter Cash Transfers

Lloyds passed the test but performed the least well among UK banks, adding to fears that it may struggle when details of a further exercise by the Bank of England are published in December.

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US Ebola Nurse Slams Quarantine Process

Written By andika jamanta on Minggu, 26 Oktober 2014 | 20.49

An American nurse who has been treating Ebola patients in Africa has criticised quarantine rules that keep her isolated despite testing negative.

Doctors Without Borders worker Kaci Hickox returned to the US from Sierra Leone on Friday and was taken to a New Jersey hospital in case she had the killer virus.

She has now been told she is free from the disease, but will be unable to leave quarantine for another 21 days.

Illinois joined New York and New Jersey on Saturday night in introducing a mandatory 21-day quarantine period for anyone who has been involved in treating victims in west Africa.

Other states, including Virginia and Georgia, are also considering whether to impose the same regime.

Video: '10,000 Ebola Orphans By Christmas'

It follows 33-year-old doctor Craig Spencer falling ill with ebola having spent several days travelling around New York, riding the subway and visiting a bowling alley.

Writing in the Dallas Morning News, Ms Hickox said: "This is not a situation I would wish on anyone, and I am scared for those who will follow me.

"I am scared about how health care workers will be treated at airports when they declare that they have been fighting Ebola in West Africa.

"I am scared that, like me, they will arrive and see a frenzy of disorganisation, fear and, most frightening, quarantine."

Video: Ebola Response: Science Not Fear

She said on telling a border official she had just arrived back, she was immediately ushered into a private room before having questions "barked" at her.

She said she was made to wait hours with little to eat, only to later test negative for the virus.

Despite the test, she must wait in a secure facility in New Jersey until it is certain she has not contracted the disease.

She said: "I... thought of many colleagues who will return home to America and face the same ordeal. Will they be made to feel like criminals and prisoners?

Video: New York Fears After New Ebola case

"The US must treat returning health care workers with dignity and humanity."

The number of Ebola cases worldwide has now exceeded 10,000, with nearly 5,000 not surviving.

President Barack Obama urged Americans on Saturday to be guided by the facts about Ebola and "not fear".

Dr Spencer, who is being held at the Bellevue Hospital Center in New York, was described by officials overnight on Saturday as "entering the next phase of his illness".

Video: Cured Texas Ebola Nurse 'Blessed'

A health service statement said: "The patient is awake and communicating. In addition to the required supportive therapy, we initiated antiviral therapy within hours of admission. We also administered plasma therapy yesterday."

Meanwhile, in Sierra Leone, a team from the British Army has started training residents in how to use protective equipment to reduce the spread of the disease.

Many of the locals who have volunteered to help fight the virus have no medical background.

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Afghanistan: Britain Never Had Enough Soldiers

By Stuart Ramsay, Chief Correspondent

It is hot. Hot as hell. Driving a Jackal long-distance reconnaissance truck and dragging another broken one behind.

My cameraman Jim Foster is at the wheel as we career across the desert on the outskirts of an Afghan village full of Taliban.

They have been firing at us for at least half an hour and we know it is going to get a lot worse. It's the summer of 2008.

"RPG! RPG! Hold tight!" Jim shouts.

To our left, in near slow-motion, I see a Talib lift his rocket-propelled grenade.

In my mind, I am screaming, but I am silent. Trying to work a camera. I am all fingers and thumbs. I know this is really, really bad. I remember thinking I hope it doesn't f****** hurt. He is so near he surely can't miss.

Video: On Patrol In Helmand

I heard the whoosh. It passes between us, just above our heads. Then explodes in the air behind us.

"Christ," I shout at Jim.

Then I see three more Jackals driven by Pathfinders from the Parachute regiment manoeuvre around us. Guns blazing towards the Taliban positions.

They are protecting us. They smash the Taliban and we surge forward over a final hillock and into the desert.

We pull over and form a circle as mortars and rounds crash into the desert a short distance behind us.

I pass Jim a bottle of water. Boiling hot from the sun, but still cooler than us.

He drinks the lot, smiles, and taps me on the leg.

"That was interesting," he says, smiling. "You did well son, very well mate."

I wanted to cry. Afghan embeds can be like this. Awful.


  1. Gallery: A Timeline In Pictures

    October 7, 2001: US President George W Bush announces the US and Britain have started bombing Afghanistan

  2. March 26, 2006: The first regular British troops of the Helmand Task Force unload their kit after arriving by helicopter to an American-run base in Lashkar Gah in Helmand

  3. April 25, 2006: Defence Secretary John Reid announces Britain's GR7 Harriers would stay on in Afghanistan until at least 2007

  4. January 2, 2008: Prince Harry sits with a group of Gurkha soldiers after firing a machine gun from the observation post on JTAC Hill, close to forward operating base Delhi, in Helmand Province

  5. February 21, 2008: Prince Harry riding an abandoned motorcycle past his Spartan armoured vehicle, in the desert in Helmand

  6. The Ministry of Defence announced in February 2008 that the then 23-year-old Prince, an officer in the Household Cavalry regiment, had spent the past 10 weeks secretly serving in Helmand

  7. February 20, 2008: Prince Harry sitting below the turret of his Spartan armoured vehicle as he communicates with other units by radio

  8. July 13, 2009: US Marine Sergeant Anthony Zabala runs to safety as an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explodes in Garmsir district of Helmand

  9. 2009 saw the most IED attacks of the war so far, with 7,228 IED attacks killing 280 coalition soldiers

  10. November 10, 2009: Friends and family react as hearses carrying the coffins of six dead soldiers pass mourners lining the High Street in Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire

  11. November 14, 2010: Prince William salutes the memorial to the British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, during a remembrance day ceremony at Camp Bastion

  12. Capt Judith Gallagher with the Dragon Runner developed by Qinetiq which can remotely disarm IEDs and can be carried by a soldier in a back pack

  13. July 20, 2010: Soldiers from Scots Guards during an operation at an Afghan National Police base on Punjab hill, Helmand

  14. January 28, 2011: Mr Miliband arrives at Camp Bastion in Helmand for his first visit to Afghanistan

  15. January 29, 2011: Labour leader Ed Miliband, shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy and shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander watch a landmine detection exercise at Camp Bastion

  16. April 9, 2011: British troops, most of whom are new in theatre starting their tour, travel in a chinook helicopter to Lashkar Gah in Helmand

  17. April 10, 2011: A Chinook makes a delivery at Patrol Base Attal in Helmand

  18. July 20, 2011: Afghan elders wait for beginning of a handing over ceremony of control of security in the town of Lashkar Gah to the Afghan police and army

  19. July 27, 2011: Cpl Ryan Wordsworth of X-Ray Company, 45 Commando Royal Marines, brushes his teeth at Patrol Base Kalang in Afghanistan

  20. November 14, 2011: A soldier from the Alpha (Grenadier) company, the 3rd Battalion Royal regiment for Scotland meets a young child on a patrol in Nad e-Ali

  21. March 22, 2012: Sergeant Jon Van Zyl of the Princess of Wales' Royal Regiment stands in front of two Mastiff vehicles and beneath Venus and Jupiter in the clear Helmand desert sky

  22. December 18, 2012: The Princess Royal talks to Lieutenant Colonel Ben Wrench, Major Angus Watson and Sergeant Gardner in Camp Tombstone during her visit to Camp Bastion

  23. January 21, 2013: Prince Harry does a pre-flight check of his Apache helicopter after starting his 12 hour VHR (very high ready-ness) shift

  24. Harry scrambles to his Apache

  25. April 2, 2013: Petty Officers inspect a Chinook airframe for small arms fire damage as part of the ongoing battlefield maintenance and repair on Camp Bastion

  26. October 5, 2013: Soldiers approach a Chinook aircraft in the Nahr-e Saraj district, Helmand

  27. October 11, 2013: An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier from 3 Brigade 209 Kandak looks through his rifle scope as he is trained on marksmanship skills at ANA Camp Shorabak, Helmand

  28. December 23, 2013: Private Zina Saunders, a dog handler, gives Hazel Christmas presents which were sent by the handler's friends and family in the UK

  29. December 23, 2013: Soldiers based at Patrol Base Lash Durai, Afghanistan get into the festive spirit

  30. October 3, 2014: David Cameron addresses British troops at Camp Bastion in Helmand for the final time before troops wind down their mission in Afghanistan

Every year since 2001 I have reported from Afghanistan in various capacities.

Often on embeds with the British and American forces and often as a civilian, meeting the Taliban, covering elections and reporting on this country of no real importance to the UK, apart from its place as the crucible of al Qaeda and the birthplace of terror-related stories that have dominated most of my life ever since 9/11.

The embed is a much talked about and often misrepresented phenomenon. They can be horrendously annoying, bureaucratic and plain dumb.

But in an era where war reporting, and the protagonists in the fight, be they the armies of Western governments or the forces aligned against them such as the Taliban or al Qaeda, see reporters as very much part of the battle; being embedded became a part of reality.

If we want to see what is happening at the pointy end of the conflict then embedding was the only way to achieve this.

I am told I held the record for embeds in Afghanistan. I doubt it's true but I did loads. To be honest I can't say I ever actually enjoyed them but I will forever cherish the memories and the many friends I made in the armed forces.

The soldiers, along with all the military personnel who fought in Afghanistan, risked their lives, lost their lives and limbs over all these years, did so without ever missing a single opportunity to bitch and moan.

But they served with a remarkable sense of pride and professionalism.

I never saw a man or a woman scared of the battle, never miss the opportunity to engage the enemy and never doubt that they were doing a job that deserved their full commitment.

Video: Meeting The Taliban IED Killers

Doubt and questioning was for people like me, not them.

When their comrades died they did not, as has often been reported, let their morale drop.

In my experience the death of a friend or a colleague spurred them on.

What better way to honour the fallen than to take their place over the wire, to follow their path, where every step could be your last, where every contact could take your life?

In truth, Britain never had enough soldiers on the ground.

I was deployed on a US Marine embed to cover the presidential elections in 2009.

We came across a ramshackle, half-destroyed government building that was the main base in the area. It had been set up by the British military.

In three rooms I found the British military presence. There were 22 of them, if I recall correctly, and they had held the building and 200 meters of road for four months.

Re-supplied by helicopter they were attacked by the Taliban every single day.


  1. Gallery: Life In Camp Bastion

    Soldiers from 2nd Royal Tank Regiment relax in transit accommodation as they prepare to leave Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan after a gruelling six month tour

  2. British troops cross themselves during prayer as they stand at ease on the parade square at Camp 501, Camp Bastion

  3. The coffin containing the body of British Army soldier L/cpl Paul "Sandy" Sandford is carried by his fellow soldiers during his repatriation ceremony

  4. Troops from various regiments including Sandford's, the Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment held a repatriation ceremony for the British soldier killed in action on 6 June, 2007

  5. British soldiers play a game of Scrabble as they watch the live broadcast of the Royal wedding

  6. Soldiers wait to talk to then Chancellor Gordon Brown, with a cross in the foreground - part of a monument in the memory of fallen comrades

  7. Merlin Pilot Wing Commander Nigel Colman Officer Commanding 78 Squadron sits at the back of a Merlin at Camp Bastion

  8. Troops observe the minute's silence at Camp Bastion during a special Armistice Day Parade on the 93rd anniversary of the end of the First World War

  9. Lieutenant Chris Millen, serving with 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, relaxes in his bedspace in transit accommodation as he prepares leave Camp Bastion

  10. Capt Robbie Robertson (left) and Capt Olly Denning spar at Camp Bastion

  11. Troops from 1st The Queen's Dragoon Guards with a Scimitar tank

  12. Trooper Ben Rakestrow (right), 21, from Egypt squadron, 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, sits on his rather colourful bedspread with friends in transit accommodation at Camp Bastion

  13. Royal Military Police (RMP) as they clear their vehicle and its shelter of snow following a rare snow shower

  14. British soldier Jamie Anderson lifts weights as he passes time at Camp Bastion

  15. A British soldier controls the ball during a football match as comrades (background), and an Afghan National Army soldier, right, look on during a football training session at Camp Bastion

They were never given more support and they were told to carry on trying to impose security on the town and get the market working. It was hopeless, but they never gave in.

The Americans agreed with their job, they just disagreed with the way it was being done. So they took over.

Our 22 soldiers were replaced with 2,200 Marines. Security in the town improved immediately. The Taliban left. The market opened the next day. I think that says it all.

In 2010 my colleague Alex Crawford and I finally met the Taliban for a series of meetings. They explained their thinking, they showed us how they made and laid roadside bombs and they revealed to us how they were entwined with Afghan society.

We, personally, and Sky News, as an organisation, were widely condemned for our decision to talk to the "enemy".

Within months, talking to the Taliban by governments and military had become common place.

As the British combat role draws to an end gauging the success or otherwise of this campaign begins.

The coalition aim to destroy al Qaeda's ability to plan attacks across the world from the safety of Afghanistan was undoubtedly achieved.

But as attention drifted to Iraq, with its own military objectives and problems, the collective focus on Afghanistan stuttered and eventually failed.

Video: Key Moments In The Conflict

Opium production soared, funding the insurgency in the country, and a decision to try to build an Afghanistan that had never existed was almost always going to be too big a project and was probably always going to fail.

This year's presidential elections were a success and the new co-operative government is making the right noises about the future, with a heavy focus on getting rid of endemic corruption. But these are early days.

Without foreign military, the government would probably fail. It still might. For certain the Taliban have not gone away.

As with Iraq our military leave a country with many, many problems but that is not their fault.

They served with integrity and purpose and did as they were asked. They let me experience that. It is an honour to have been there.

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