Police seek help identifying man found dead on seafront

Devon and Cornwall Police are seeking help from the public identifying a man who was found dead on the Sidmouth coastline earlier this week. The body of a man was found on Thursday, November 24 on rocks at The Esplanade, at around 2.20pm.

Shannon Brown www.devonlive.com

Officers are working to establish who the man is in order to locate his next of kin. The man was pronounced dead at the scene.

A number of emergency service staff, including police, HM Coastguard, RNLI and the ambulance service attended the scene on Sidmouth waterside. The man’s death is not being treated as suspicious at this time.

Devon and Cornwall Police have asked anyone who may know who the man is to get in contact, so they can inform his next of kin. He is described as white, possibly in his early 70s, of average build, with short grey hair, and approximately 5ft 10in tall.

He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt, which is white with a blue check, black trousers with a brown belt, and black socks. The man was not wearing any shoes or a jacket and had no personal belongings or jewellery with him.

Detective Inspector Andy Hingston said: “We’re keen to speak to anyone who may recognise this person from our description. We are not treating his death as suspicious at this time and are keen to identify him so that we can inform his next-of-kin.

“We would ask whether any hotels or care homes are aware of anyone who has not returned, or anyone who thinks they know who he is to contact us.”

If you have any information that could help with enquiries, please contact police via the website here or by calling 101 quoting log 443 of 24/11/22.

“This government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”

Michael Gove is facing mounting pressure to fully explain his role in the government’s award of large PPE contracts to a company that was first recommended to him by the Tory peer Michelle Mone.

David Conn www.theguardian.com 

Asked in an interview on Thursday how he had responded to Lady Mone’s approach in May 2020, Gove said he had referred all offers of PPE to “the appropriate civil service channels”.

That explanation appears to be at odds with a chain of emails previously released under the Freedom of Information Act that shed light on how the company, PPE Medpro, was added to a “VIP” lane that prioritised politically connected firms. The emails suggest that after initially being contacted by Mone, Gove suggested she contact another then minister, the Tory peer Theodore Agnew.

She then did so, emailing Gove and Lord Agnew using their private, non-governmental email addresses to tell them about PPE that could be procured from “my team in Hong Kong”. It was Agnew, who was then a minister in the Cabinet Office responsible for procurement, who referred PPE Medpro to the VIP lane.

Pressed repeatedly by the presenter Kay Burley on Sky News to recall how he responded to Mone’s offer, Gove, who was Cabinet Office minister at the time, said his job then was to make sure anyone who offered PPE was “referred to the right channel”.

He added: “I would have hoped that you or I, if someone said ‘I can provide PPE’, that we would have said: ‘Great. The thing to do is to go to this official government process, to go through this procurement gateway, to have the quality of the contract that you’re seeking to secure assessed.’”

However, the emails obtained by the Guardian appear to show Gove directing Mone not directly to civil servants but to a fellow minister.

They reveal how Mone laid out a sales pitch to Agnew for the supply of PPE. The government had by then suspended normal competitive tendering processes and, it would later emerge, was fast-tracking to a “VIP” lane offers of PPE referred by politically connected people.

“I hope this email finds you well,” Mone wrote to Agnew, copying in Gove, using their private email addresses. “Michael Gove has asked to urgently contact you [sic]. We have managed to source PPE masks though [sic] my team in Hong Kong. They have managed to secure 100,000pcs per day of KN95 [face masks] which is equivalent to N95 or FFP2. In order to commit to this 100,000pcs per day could you please get back to me asap as freight will also need to be secured. Hope to see you in the House of Lords when we get out of lockdown. Kindest regards, Michelle.”

Agnew replied from his personal email address, copying in the government email address of his private secretary. “Michelle, thank you for your kind offer. I am forwarding this into the appropriate PPE workstream with Dept of Health. They will ask you some basic questions on the details of the offer and then hopefully progress it from there. Best wishes Theodore.”

One of his staff then emailed a Covid PPE “priority appraisals” mailbox, asking them to “pick up with Baroness Mone”. The staff member added the words “VIA LORD AGNEW” and “VIP” to the subject field.

At that stage, the company, PPE Medpro, had not even been incorporated. However, within weeks it had been awarded two government contracts worth £203m to supply millions of face masks and sterile surgical gowns.

Mone’s lawyers have previously said she never had any role “in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro”. PPE Medpro previously said the company “was not awarded the contract because of company or personal connections to the UK government or the Conservative party”.

The Guardian was only able to establish that private emails had been used because of an apparent administrative error by the Cabinet Office, which failed to properly redact documents released after a freedom of information request from the Guardian.

The Guardian contacted Gove to ask him how the account he gave of his response to Mone’s offer on Sky News, in which he said he referred all offers to “the appropriate civil service channels”, was consistent with the suggestion he in fact told Mone to contact Agnew. He did not respond.

The government has consistently defended the “VIP” process; spokespeople have maintained that contracts were awarded “in line with procurement regulations and transparency guidelines, and there are robust rules and processes in place to prevent conflicts of interest”. However, the use of the high-priority lane to award contacts has been ruled unlawful by the high court.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader and the shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, said: “Michael Gove must urgently come clean with the public on his personal involvement in the award of contracts to PPE Medpro during his time as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster.

“The government must commit to publishing all the documents and correspondence relating to the award of taxpayer contracts to PPE Medpro out in the open.”

“Profiteering” revelations prompt anger in Commons

The growing controversy over a PPE company linked to the Tory peer Michelle Mone has sparked an angry reaction in parliament, as MPs demanded an investigation into wider concerns over what one called “absolutely sickening, shameful and unforgivable” instances of politically connected firms profiteering from unusable PPE during the pandemic.

Henry Dyer www.theguardian.com 

Parliamentarians asked ministers for more information about how PPE Medpro was awarded more than £200m in government contracts after it was referred to ministers by Lady Mone.

They also used the occasion to ask broader questions about the government’s procurement contracts during the pandemic – some of which, one MP said, had since been flagged by Transparency International as a “corruption risk”.

In response to an urgent question on Thursday from Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, the junior health minister Neil O’Brien repeatedly sought to defend the government’s actions and its use of a “VIP lane” that prioritised referrals from politically connected PPE companies.

The minister said that “the people who came through the high-priority route were not politically connected people, except in the sense that they were being referred in by MPs across the house”.

The urgent question was triggered by a report in the Guardian on Wednesday. It revealed that the Conservative peer Mone and her children secretly received £29m originating from the profits of PPE Medpro, a company that was awarded large government contracts after she recommended it to ministers, documents seen by the newspaper indicate.

Mone’s referral of the company to the Tory ministers Michael Gove and Theodore Agnew helped it secure a place the “VIP lane”, which was used by the government during the coronavirus pandemic to prioritise certain companies. PPE Medpro then secured two contracts worth more £203m.

Tens of millions of pounds of PPE Medpro’s profits were later transferred to a secret offshore trust of which Mone and her adult children were the beneficiaries, the documents indicate. The documents state that the secret payment to the trust was via Mone’s husband, Douglas Barrowman, who had weeks earlier received at least £65m in profits from PPE Medpro.

Mone’s lawyer last year said she “did not benefit financially and was not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity”. On Thursday, Mone broke a 10-month-long silence on Twitter by sharing an image that said: “Don’t believe everything you read, or everything you think.”

The SNP Cabinet Office spokesperson Brendan O’Hara said it was “almost inevitable” the VIP lane “would come to this”.

‘Sleaze, corruption and scandal’: MP Brendan O’Hara confronts government over PPE contracts – video

“This get-rich-quick scheme to fast-track cronies, politically connected pals and colleagues was never going to end well. I suspect that today’s revelations, however shocking, are simply the tip of a very large iceberg – an iceberg that could yet sink this ship of fools,” he said.

He added: “Transparency International UK has flagged 20% of the £15bn given out by the Tories in PPE contracts at the height of the pandemic as a corruption risk. As we have already heard, they are spending £770,000 every single day to store much of that useless equipment in China.

“Now that we have one Tory politician who had absolutely no background in PPE procurement personally making millions from those contracts, does the government plan to proactively investigate how many others like that are in their ranks, or are they content to sit there and watch this dripping roast of sleaze, corruption and scandal unfold on its own?”

O’Brien replied that “the idea that there was some sort of greater success if you had a political connection, when you say ‘politically connected’, they were our constituents – they were getting in touch with all of us, they had to be referred on somewhere, they had to be managed and they went through the same process as every other contract”.

The UK government is continuing its attempt to recover money from PPE Medpro in relation to unused gowns purchased in a £122m contract – one of two the company was awarded. The gowns were rejected after a technical inspection and never used.

PPE Medpro insists the gowns purchased through the £122m contract passed inspection, and that the company – and, presumably, the beneficiaries of its profits – are entitled to keep the money.

O’Brien told parliament that a “process” was under way with regard to what he called an “underperforming contract”. “The first step is to send a letter before action, which outlines a claim for damages. That is followed by litigation in the event that a satisfactory agreement has not been reached.”

Rayner called on the government to publish correspondence on the award of PPE Medpro’s contracts once the mediation process was finished, a call that O’Brien did not respond to.

The SNP MP Alan Brown called for “a public inquiry into PPE procurement”, while Labour’s Sam Tarry called for the government to publish “in full” the names of the ministers, MPs and officials who referred companies to the VIP lane. “We need to know what corruption happened,” Tarry said.

The Commons speaker reminded members that parliamentary procedure meant MPs were not allowed to specifically criticise the conduct of Mone, a sitting member of the House of Lords.

However, several MPs expressed strongly worded criticism of the revelations in the Guardian.

Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, who lost three family members in the pandemic, said: “For Tory peers and other chums of the Conservative party to have been profiteering at taxpayers’ expense from shoddy, unusable PPE, especially through the VIP procurement lane, at a time when people were locked down in their homes and tens of thousands of people, including my loved ones, were dying is absolutely sickening, shameful and unforgivable”.

Dhesi called on O’Brien to offer an apology to bereaved families for “the amazing lack of integrity at the heart of this whole process”. The minister did not do so.

Criticism of the PPE contracts came from both sides of the house, with the Conservative MP Christopher Chope asking O’Brien: “What has happened to the £122m which was spent on 25m gowns supplied by the company referred to earlier, but whose gowns were never used and weren’t fit for purpose?”

But another Tory MP, Peter Bone, said there was a “rewriting of history” taking place, alleging that the opposition was making political points “out of what was actually a great success in getting our NHS staff protected”.

Contacted about the Guardian’s new disclosures on Wednesday, a lawyer for Mone said: “There are a number of reasons why our client cannot comment on these issues and she is under no duty to do so.”

A lawyer who represents both Barrowman and PPE Medpro said that a continuing investigation limited what his clients were able to say on these matters. He added: “For the time being we are also instructed to say that there is much inaccuracy in the portrayal of the alleged ‘facts’ and a number of them are completely wrong.”

“Dry spills” – Richard Foord already on the case.

Richard Foord raises new sewage spill report in Parliament

Honiton MP Richard Foord is going to raise the topic of the Surfers Against Sewage report in Parliament today, (Thursday).

Water pollution is the result of underinvestment, this public utility has been asset stripped by privatisation. It is subject to weak “light touch” regulation, and chronic underfunding of the Environment Agency.

As a “newly promoted” PPS, Simon Jupp is not free to criticise his government on such fundamental policy issues. So he is unlikely to intervene.

PPSs aren’t exactly “free to speak and free to act.”

Tough luck for Budleigh and Exmouth residents. – Owl

Adam Manning www.midweekherald.co.uk

The report found that South West Water was the second worst offender in the country and gives evidence of people becoming sick from swimming in polluted water. 

The new report uncovers evidence of illegal “dry spills” of sewage into the sea at Exmouth, Sidmouth, Budleigh Salterton and Sandy Bay among spills in rivers, lakes and coastlines across the UK.

The Liberal Democrat MP represents Tiverton & Honiton, where local rivers and beaches have been plagued with sewage spills and his son also became ill after swimming in a local river this summer.

Liberal Democrat MP for Tiverton and Honiton Richard Foord said: “Our children should not be getting sick from spending time in nature or building sandcastles next to sewage.

“This is an environmental scandal. I will be seeking to raise this report in Parliament today and calling on Ministers to explain why water companies are getting away with making these illegal ‘dry spills’. 

“It is deeply shocking to hear people from across the South West, the Lake District and beyond have become sick from swimming in lakes and coastlines as a result of these ‘dry spills’. My own son became ill swimming in a Devon river.

“Months of chaos in Government and an ever-changing cast of Environment Secretaries has meant that instead of action taken to hold water companies to account, we have only seen empty threats from Government. Those MPs who voted against a ban on these sewage discharges last year should hang their heads in shame. 

“The time is now to save Britain’s wild swimming spots and wildlife. This is a wake-up call to Conservative Ministers whose instinct is to do nothing.”

More on “dry spills” (which are anything but dry)

The full Surfers Against Sewage report is a “must read” and can be found here.

“Excellent” Seaton, Exmouth, Budleigh Salterton, Beer, Sidmouth are all listed in descending order of numbers of “dry spills”. [Worst first] – Owl

Devon sewage dumps are ‘putting swimmers at risk’

The impact of sewage discharge on Devon’s bathing spots has been revealed in a shocking report. Today, Surfers Against Sewage released the Water Quality Report 2022, which analysed discharge alerts, meteorological data and reports of ill health to paint a damning picture of the scale of sewage spills across the UK.

Alex Davis www.devonlive.com

During the 2021/22 bathing season, research from SAS showed sewage was dumped into bathing waters 5,504 times in the UK, for a total of 15,012 hours. According to SAS, at least 146 sewage discharges occurred in multiple instances when there was no rain recorded between October 2021 and September 2022– despite regulations stipulating that outflows should only occur during ‘unusually heavy rainfall’. South West Water were the second worst water company for dry spills in the UK, reporting 21 dry spills between May 31 – September 31 2022.

Examples include sewage spills at Croyde Bay on June 21 and Sidmouth Town in 2022, despite there being no cases of ‘unusually heavy rainfall’. Croyde Bay is part of North Devon’s World Surfing Reserve due to the quality of the surf and importance of the ocean to the region’s community.

Teignmouth Holcombe suffered the most dry spills in Devon between October 2021 – September 2022 and the third most in the UK, with sewage discharged five times. Surfers against Sewage is an environmental charity based in Cornwall who campaign to end sewage discharge into UK bathing waters by 2030.

The governments Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan states that overflows at a designated bathing ground must be designed to achieve no more than three overspills for a “good” rating, and no more than two overspills for an “excellent” rating. The table below shows all designed bathing areas in Devon where an overspill occurred in 2022.

Bathing waters impacted during the bathing season- 15 May to 30 September (source: Surfers Against Sewage)

RankBathing Water NameClassificationSewage HoursCount of Spills
5Plymouth Hoe EastGood373303
43Plymouth Hoe WestExcellent4559
44Thurlestone SouthExcellent3910
60Mill BayExcellent2623
76Seaton (Devon)Excellent177
78Dartmouth Castle and Sugary CoveExcellent1623
92Budleigh SaltertonExcellent125
95Woolacombe VillageExcellent124
105Hope CoveExcellent87
111Ilfracombe HeleGood76
112Slapton Sands TorcrossExcellent72
113Teignmouth HolcombeExcellent715
114Sidmouth TownExcellent72
118Salcombe South SandsExcellent69
129St Mildred’s Bay, WestgateExcellent56
138Beacon CoveExcellent46
143Combe MartinSufficient32
159Westward Ho!Excellent22
167Ilfracombe Tunnels BeachExcellent12
172Paignton Preston SandsExcellent11
176Paignton Paignton SandsGood11
177Widemouth SandExcellent12

The report also argued that sewage in Britain’s oceans and rivers was having an impact on the health of bathers. Between 1st October 2021 and 30th September 2022, 720 water users contacted Surfers Against Sewage to report they had become ill after entering the water. The campaign says that’s more than double the amount of reports received in the 2020/21 season.

Of the 720 reports, 424 (58%) said they had become ill in bathing water with “Excellent” water quality ratings. Symptoms reported include respiratory issues, gastroenteritis and infections in the ear, nose and throat.

As well as having health implications for those swimming in infected water. The campaign said their consumer survey showed 11% of people became sick due to entering British waters, which they calculate as costing the economy £21.7 million a year in sick leave.

(Image: Surfers Against Sewage)

Dr Anne Leonard, an environmental epidemiologist and microbiologist based at the University of Exeter, said: “We’ve known for over one hundred years that sewage contains disease-causing microorganisms, and that ingesting water contaminated with this kind of waste causes infections. These infections may be mild, self-limiting illnesses but they can also be really severe infections that require medical treatment.

“We are particularly concerned about the presence in sewage of disease-causing bacteria that do not respond to treatment with antibiotics – so called antibiotic resistant bacteria. We are running out of antibiotics that are effective against the most resistant bacteria, so keeping sewage away from our rivers and beaches is a key public health intervention to reduce preventable infections and limit our reliance on antibiotics.”

Tiverton and Honiton dumped sewage 2766 times in 2021 – the 25th worst record in the country. MP for Tiverton and Honiton, Richard Foord, raised the report in Parliament after his son also became ill after swimming in a local river this summer. He said: “This is an environmental scandal. I will be seeking to raise this report in Parliament today and calling on Ministers to explain why water companies are getting away with making these illegal ‘dry spills’.

“It is deeply shocking to hear people from across the South West, the Lake District and beyond have become sick from swimming in lakes and coastlines as a result of these ‘dry spills’. My own son became ill swimming in a Devon river.

“Months of chaos in Government and an ever-changing cast of Environment Secretaries has meant that instead of action taken to hold water companies to account, we have only seen empty threats from Government. Those MPs who voted against a ban on these sewage discharges last year should hang their heads in shame.

“The time is now to save Britain’s wild swimming spots and wildlife. This is a wake-up call to Conservative Ministers whose instinct is to do nothing.”