Virgin Trains: Final service set to depart as UK’s longest-running rail franchise ends

Virgin Trains: Final service set to depart as UK's longest-running rail franchise ends

Britain’s longest-running rail franchise will come to an end on Saturday after more than 22 years.

Virgin Trains, which began serving the West Coast Main Line in 1997, is being replaced by Avanti West Coast.

Almost 500 million journeys have been made with Virgin Trains, which is co-owned by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group and Stagecoach.

The final service is due to pull out of London Euston at 21:42, bound for Wolverhampton.

Earlier, Sir Richard tweeted his thanks to "all our wonderful people" and their "incredible work".

Avanti West Coast, which will begin running the service on Sunday, told customers that tickets booked with Virgin Trains for upcoming journeys are still valid. A huge thank you to all our wonderful people at @VirginTrains – it’s down to all of your incredible work every day that Virgin Trains has been the UK’s longest running and top-rated rail franchise #VirginFamily — Richard Branson (@richardbranson) December 7, 2019 Report

The end of the franchise comes after Virgin Group and Stagecoach had their bid to continue running trains on the line disqualified by the Department for Transport (DfT) in April because they did not meet pension rules.

The companies are suing the DfT over its decision.

At the time, Sir Richard said he was "devastated" by the disqualification. ‘Certain panache’

Virgin Trains, which is 49% owned by Stagecoach, introduced a series of innovations on the railways, including automatic delay compensation payments, a system to allow passengers to stream films and TV programmes on demand from their own devices, and the provision of digital tickets available for all fare types. We’re not crying. You’re crying. — Virgin Trains (@VirginTrains) December 7, 2019 Report

Rail expert Mark Smith, founder of, said the operator had, with the help of major infrastructure improvements, "transformed" its network by almost tripling passenger numbers and doubling services on some routes such as London to Glasgow.

"I think they’ve done pretty well," he said. "They do have a certain panache and they communicate that to the staff and to the service. Quirky things like the toilets that talk to you, to onboard service with the food and wine. I’m going to be sorry to see them go."

The service has had a variable record – the proportion of Virgin trains which arrived at their final destination within 10 minutes of the timetable ranged from 33% in the final quarter of 2000 to 91% between July-September 2010.

The latest figure, for July-September 2019, was 78%. ‘More reliable wi-fi’

Virgin Trains managing director Phil Whittingham, who will hold the same position with the new operator, said he was "concentrating on a smooth handover" to Avanti, adding: "It’s been a wonderful 22 years transforming services on the west coast and we’re proud of everything our people have achieved in that time."

Avanti West Coast is owned by First Trenitalia, a partnership between Aberdeen-based FirstGroup and Italian firm Trenitalia.

The operator said it would introduce a range of passenger improvements, including 263 more weekly services by 2022, when 23 new trains will begin service.

The existing fleet of Pendolino trains will be refurbished – promising 25,000 new seats, more reliable wi-fi and better catering. When leaving the train, please mind the gaping hole I’ll leave in your life — Virgin Trains (@VirginTrains) December 3, 2019 Report

United Airlines passenger stung by scorpion during flight

United Airlines passenger stung by scorpion during flight

The woman says she felt a stinging sensation on her leg during the flight A woman has been stung by a scorpion while travelling on a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Atlanta.

The woman says she felt a stinging sensation on her leg during the flight on Thursday morning.

When she went to the toilet, the scorpion fell out of her trousers and scuttled away.

The passenger was treated by paramedics before being taken to hospital, the airline told the BBC. She has not been named and her condition is not known.

"After learning that one of our customers on flight 1554 from San Francisco to Atlanta was stung during flight, our crew responded immediately and consulted with a MedLink physician on the ground who provided medical guidance," the airline said in a statement.

"The customer was transported to a local hospital," it added. "We have been in contact with our customer to ensure her well-being." United Airlines passenger stung by scorpion

Flight delayed after scorpion found on plane

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A picture of the scorpion in what appears to be a United Airlines-branded box was published by celebrity news website TMZ, which first reported the story.

Although rare, it’s not the first time a scorpion has been found on a commercial flight. United Airlines said the woman was treated by paramedics before being taken to hospital Earlier this year, a scorpion was filmed crawling out of the overhead luggage rack on a Lion Air flight in Indonesia.

A similar incident happened in 2017, when a Canadian man said he was stung by a scorpion on a United Airlines flight.

Richard Bell said the scorpion fell on his head from above him while he was eating lunch on a flight from Houston, Texas to Calgary in Canada. Richard Bell describes the moment a scorpion fell on his head during a United Airlines flight The airline offered Mr Bell flying credit as compensation, which he accepted.

Later in 2017, an EasyJet flight from Paris to Glasgow was delayed overnight after a passenger spotted a scorpion on board.

PM: We must find source of UK-US trade document leak

PM: We must find source of UK-US trade document leak

Jeremy Corbyn holds up the leaked documents at a press conference on 27 November Boris Johnson has said an investigation is needed into the source of leaked documents on UK-US trade negotiations posted on Reddit.

Labour says the documents show the NHS would be at risk under a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.

On Friday, forum website Reddit said unredacted documents were uploaded as "part of a campaign that has been reported as originating from Russia".

It has suspended 61 accounts that showed a "pattern of coordination".

The government said it was looking into the matter with help from the National Cyber Security Centre.

Speaking on Saturday, Mr Johnson said "we do need to get to the bottom" of the leak but said he had seen "no evidence of any successful interference by Russia in any democratic event in this country". What do the leaked papers actually say?

UK-US trade document leak ‘linked to Russia’

The Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan said this all pointed towards foreign involvement: "I understand from what was being put on that website, those who seem to know about these things say that it seems to have all the hallmarks of some form of interference."

Labour’s shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald reiterated his call for Mr Johnson to release an intelligence report into Russian covert actions in the UK, which No 10 has been accused of suppressing until after the election . Advanced negotiations

In a post on its site , Reddit did not did not provide any further details about the evidence behind its conclusions, nor did it identify any specific individuals.

The BBC has approached the Russian foreign ministry spokesperson but they have yet to comment.

The contents of the documents have played a significant part in Labour’s election message on the NHS, after Mr Corbyn highlighted them at a press conference on 27 November .

The Labour leader said the papers were evidence that the UK government was in advanced stages of negotiations with the US to open up the NHS to American pharmaceutical companies.

Labour have not said where they obtained their copy of the documents.

A version of the documents, heavily redacted, were also produced by Mr Corbyn at an earlier leader debate on 19 November.

At the time, Labour said these were the result of a Freedom of Information request by campaign group Global Justice Now.

The dossier was posted on Reddit more than a month prior to Mr Corbyn’s announcement , prompting questions about how they got there – and why few people seemed to notice them before. ‘Double-edged sword for Labour’

Analysis by political correspondent Jonathan Blake

A bit like journalists never reveal their sources, Labour are quite happy to focus on what these documents say rather than where they come from.

If you look at where Reddit’s comments leave the discussion, it’s both helpful and slightly problematic for Labour.

On the one hand, people are asking "where exactly did you get those documents from?" Remember, they were online in their unredacted form for several weeks before Labour brought them to everyone’s attention.

But at the same time, we’re still talking about these documents and what Labour claims that they show – that the NHS is up for sale, in their words. Boris Johnson and the Conservatives flatly deny that.

So it’s a double-edged sword for Labour.

For the Conservatives, you’ve got this uneasiness around Russian interference in an election campaign – which isn’t good for them because attention will turn to the report by Parliament which the government hasn’t released.

And that’s not very helpful for the Tories either.

Speaking on Saturday, the Labour leader said the controversy surrounding the source of the documents was "nonsense" and accused Mr Johnson of wanting to "hide the issues and the truth" over the future of the NHS in trade deals.

Mr Johnson said the documents "didn’t prove what Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party hoped it would prove" adding "it was just another distraction from the void at the heart of Labour’s policy on Brexit".

Neither UK nor US governments have disputed the authenticity of the documents. Where did the leaked trade documents come from?

The BBC’s security correspondent Gordon Correra said crucial questions remained as to how the document circulating online originally appeared.

He said there would be a significant difference between a state-led operation from Moscow which hacked the material and then leaked it as opposed to someone who is based in Russia simply opportunistically using an already leaked document to cause mischief.

"That question is one that national security officials will be trying to answer."

New blood donation rules for gay and bi men in the UK has not changed rates of infected blood

New blood donation rules for gay and bi men in the UK has not changed rates of infected blood

Pexels New blood donation rules that allow gay and bisexual men to give blood if they have abstained from sex for three months have not changed rates of infected blood.

Just seven out of 2 million blood donations made in England, Scotland and Wales in 2018 were infected with HIV, Katy Davison of Public Health England revealed in a presentation in San Antonio, Texas, New Scientist reports.

The number was up from the year before – by just one. Six donations were infected with HIV in 2017, during which time gay and bisexual men were only allowed to give blood after abstaining from sex for 12 months.

Davison revealed the stats at a meeting of the AABB international blood bank association recently and said that the infected donations were discarded so nobody received HIV-infected blood. LGBT+ activists want to see the three month abstinence policy scrapped in blood donation policy.

The relaxing of blood donation restrictions has been widely welcomed by LGBT+ activists – however many have warned that a three month abstinence requirement is still too long. Furthermore, gay and bisexual men in Northern Ireland must still abstain from sex for 12 months in order to give blood.

Josh Bradlow, head of policy at Stonewall, told PinkNews that the UK needs to adopt a blood donation policy that would allow “the most possible people to donate safely.”

“The current three month deferral period means most gay and bi men will still be excluded from donating blood,” Bradlow said.

“It’s simply untrue that every gay and bi man is a high-risk donor.

“At a time when the number of people donating blood is in decline, we’re calling for a system based on individualised risk assessment of blood donors, rather than the exclusion of an entire group.

“Stonewall will continue to work with the Government, NHS Blood and Transplant Service and other charities to create a fair and safe system.” An ‘illegal blood bank’ was recently set up to protest against the exclusion of queer men.

The news comes just weeks after LadBible’s UNILAD in partnership with ELVIS and pressure group FreedomToDonate set up an “illegal blood bank” specifically for queer men.

The “illegal blood bank” was set up to protest against discriminatory blood donation policies that insist gay and bisexual men abstain from sex in order to be eligible blood donors.

Among those who donated at the illegal blood bank was gay rugby player Keegan Hirst. Organisers said that the blood bank was at capacity and 26 pints of blood were taken in one day.

Furthermore, 2,300 men who have sex with men pledged “digital” pints of blood to show that they would donate if they were eligible – and to highlight the amount of blood donations that are lost due to the policy.

The National Health Service has seen a 25 percent drop in men donating blood since 2014 and requires 135,000 new donors each year to maintain blood levels.

Blood stocks also tend to fall between December and January according to statistics.

Remembrance Day 2019: What are the LGBT poppies? Different colour poppy meanings revealed

Remembrance Day 2019: What are the LGBT poppies? Different colour poppy meanings revealed

Remembrance Day is a commemorative day observed each each to acknowledge the end of the First World War and show respect for the Armed Forces, past and present. Traditionally people wear poppies as a mark of their support for troops and fallen soldiers. But given there are several different colour poppies available – what do each of them mean? Remembrance Day 2019: How should you wear a poppy?

White poppy meaning: What does the white poppy stand for?

Red Poppy

The red poppy is the most famous icon used to commemorate those servicemen and women who sacrificed their lives in World War One and the conflicts that followed.

The red poppy is the most popular flower to wear during Remembrance Day because it grows wild in many fields in northern France and Belgium.

Poppies are tough flowers and can grow anywhere, but they are also delicate – which some believe makes them a fitting tribute to those who have departed.

The red poppy is connected to the Royal British Legion, which is a charity created by veterans of the First World War, and the flower is said to represent remembrance and hope. Saffron Barker reacts to Strictly fans questioning her lack of poppy

Black Poppy

The black poppy is most commonly associated with the remembrance of black, African and Caribbean war efforts.

The Black Poppy Rose appear was launched in 2010 and aims to make the black poppy a nationwide symbol of remembrance.

The website aims are: “To make the BlackPoppyRose a symbol of Remembrance world-wide.

“To educate and empower through understanding historical timelines.

“To empower self identity within African/Black/West India/Pacific Islanders.”

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Rainbow poppy

The so-called rainbow poppy faced backlash after it has been claimed it “disrespects” fallen soldiers.

In 2016, LGBT poet Laureate Trudy Howson introduced the concept of a rainbow poppy.

Posting a design of the flower, she wrote: “The rainbow poppy is a campaign I’m running to bring attention to the brave soldiers who died for our country during WWI at a time when their sexuality was still criminalised.” Police warning: Violent gang targeting London train passengers with knives – CCTV issued

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The design has been disavowed by the LGBT community, which has they are not linked to them at all.

A number of critics took issue with the colourful poppy, urging the LGBT+ community to “get some respect”.

One Twitter user wrote: “I’m not in anyway homophobic, but this is getting beyond!

“The RED poppy is in memory of ALL soldiers during the war. The poem Flanders fields states why.

“Pride has a whole month to raise awareness. Soldiers who died and fought for us have one MINUTE a year. Get some respect!”

TCS first Tata co to include LGBT staff for health cover

TCS first Tata co to include LGBT staff for health cover

Udit Prasanna Mukherji & Namrata Singh | TNN
Kolkata/Mumbai: IT giant Tata Consultancy Services ( TCS ), the country’s largest private sector employer with over 4 lakh people on its payroll, has tweaked its health insurance policy to cover staffers involved in a same-sex relationship. It would perhaps be the first Tata Group company to do so.

In an email update to its employees, TCS announced the new changes which will benefit LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) employees. The new policy redefines ‘spouse’ as ‘partner’, thus broadening the scope to cover same-sex partners.

Some progressive companies have already extended medical cover/family health insurance cover to same sex partners and these include RBS India , Citibank , Capgemini India . Some of these policies have been extended to live-in partners as well.

TCS global diversity head Preeti D’mello told TOI the new policy was formalised last week. The definition of spouse will now include same-sex partners irrespective of their marital status.

Under the new policy, up to 50% of the cost of sex/gender reassignment surgery (up to a maximum of Rs 2 lakh) will be covered by insurance.

“Respect for the individual is one of our core TCS values, and built on this value, we continue our journey towards LGBTQ+ inclusion. We believe in building an organisation where everyone feels included, involved and respected. We want to make the ecosystem fare and conducive for all,” said D’mello, adding that the firm has already received one application for gender reassignment surgery.

KPMG India director and leader for inclusion and diversity Zainab Patel said: “When it comes to promoting LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer/questioning, asexual and many other terms) inclusion in the workplace, one of the issues that often provokes the most debate is the subject of employee benefits. To this effect, KPMG in India, has made fair amount of adjustments in the insurance cover and has extended references to ‘spouse’ to include ‘partner’ and clearly states that this may include partners of the same or opposite sex or live in partner.”

Patel said this has ensured that LGBTQIA+ employees’ partners are treated equally as family members and beneficiaries in medical, insurance, relocation and relevant leave policies (e.g. parental, primary caregiver or compassionate leave).

On the recent move by the government to pass the transgender person protection bill, Patel said it would be exemplary for India Inc to engage with medical insurance providers so as to make India medical insurance gender inclusive under which gender reassignment surgery, hormone therapy, etc. for transitioning transgender persons at the workplace is also covered within its ambit and also put in an effective complaints redressal mechanism in place.

Hiring LGBT, disabled and indigenous astronomers will lead to more significant discoveries, report says

Hiring LGBT, disabled and indigenous astronomers will lead to more significant discoveries, report says

Hiring more LGBT+ astronomers could result "in major discoveries and advances". (Envato) A paper published in an Australian science journal has said that hiring diverse astronomers, especially those from the LGBT+, disabled and indigenous communities, is essential for the country’s success in the field.

The report, published in the journal Nature Astronomy , said that astronomers from marginalised groups are likely to have fresh perspectives that could help Australia advance in the era of “mega-telescopes”.

Professor Lisa Kewley , director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in All Sky Astrophysics (ASTRO 3D), said: “Studies show that increased diversity up to the highest levels of organisations, and effective diversity management, leads to organisations outperforming their competition in innovation, productivity and profit because more ideas are produced.

“These might be ideas for new experiments, products, or new ways to become more efficient or profitable.”

Kewley said that Australia has already shown a “striking” improvement in the number of women working in the industry. Of the 500 astronomers working in Australia, 27 percent are women with PhDs and 37 percent are women studying for a PhD or lesser degree.

The Australian Academy of Science recommended that women should fill at least a third of positions at all levels by 2025.

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She added that many institutions have taken up an initiative called the Pleiades Awards, run by the Astronomical Society of Australia, which rates organisations based on the level of participation by women at all levels.

“The broad uptake of Pleiades Awards is remarkable,” she said. “Institutions are not required to do so, and there is no financial incentive for receiving one.”

Now, Kewley, is the time organisations to move beyond encouraging the participation of women to also actively recruit LGBT+, indigenous, disabled, and chronically ill astronomers.

She added: “It is reasonable to infer that greater levels of diversity in astronomy organisations will also produce a greater likelihood of outperforming competition in astronomy key performance measures in major discoveries and advances.” Jupiter says trans rights.

— ‍⚧️ Stella, the Final(s) Girl ‍⚧️ (@stellas2ndact) November 18, 2019 As astronomers move towards greater inclusion of LGBT+ people, so do the subjects of their research.

Jupiter was photographed in UV light by the Hubble Telescope late last year, but a tweet from a trans activist went viral in October when they captioned a photo of the planet with: “Jupiter says trans rights.”

‘Viral’ Catholic petition against a gay Hallmark Christmas movie turns out to be fake

‘Viral’ Catholic petition against a gay Hallmark Christmas movie turns out to be fake

One of this year’s Hallmark Christmas movie offerings – ‘Holiday Date’. (Hallmark) A Catholic news site launched a petition against a hypothetical Hallmark Christmas movie featuring a same-sex couple and claimed it had gone “viral” with 25,000 signatures. This turned out to not be the case.

Last month, Hallmark was widely criticised for not featuring a single LGBT+ character in a leading role in any of the 40 Christmas movies it was releasing for this year’s holiday season.

However, executives at Hallmark’s parent company Crown Media told The Wrap that they were “looking at pitches for LGBTQ movies” , and in an interview last week the CEO of Hallmark said the company is “open” to LGBT+ representation.

In response, the Catholic anti-abortion news outlet LifeSiteNews started a petition against the hypothetical future film, to “keep sex and sexual practices – including the promotion of homosexuality, transgenderism, etc. – out of their movies”.

The petition continued: “Hallmark would be offending Christian viewers and Christian parents BIG TIME, by experimenting with homosexual themes, and, or cooperating with the LGBT indoctrination agenda, at all… Hallmark should also know that if they give-in to the LGBT agenda, the LGBT activists will never be satisfied.

“They will always want Hallmark to be pushing more and more aberrant views and characters. That doesn’t sound like a very fun Christmas movie at all!”

LifeSiteNews claimed that the anti-LGBT+ petition “gained more than 25,000 signatures in less than one day”.

It added: “As this viral petition demonstrates, there is very little demand for Christmas movies with an LGBT theme. Quite to the contrary, there is significant opposition to the idea.”

But the petition might not be so “viral” after all.

According to Out , people (or bots) are able to sign the petition as many times as they want, as long as they use a different name and email address, meaning that the numbers are likely to have been “grossly inflated”.

At the time of writing, the petition has allegedly been signed by 33,327 people.

South Western Railway strike: Engineering adds to weekend woe

South Western Railway strike: Engineering adds to weekend woe

The strike means hundreds of services are being cancelled each day Weekend travellers on South Western Railway (SWR) have faced disruption due to ongoing strike action compounded by engineering work.

Twenty-seven days of strike action by Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) members began on Monday.

Union leaders have called for fresh talks with rail bosses in the long-running row over train guards.

The company has warned passengers travel will be "especially challenging" throughout December.

Weekend engineering and maintenance work has also meant a number of line closures, including between Bournemouth and Poole, in the Twickenham area, and between London Waterloo and Kingston.

All lines in the Leatherhead area are closed all day on Sunday for maintenance work.

The strike means hundreds of services are being cancelled each day and many commuters have complained about overcrowded trains. BBC Transport Correspondent Paul Clifton explains the background to the strikes The two sides remain deadlocked in the dispute over the role of guards.

On new trains due to start running next year, SWR wants drivers to operate the doors at every stop to save time.

Union members want guards to decide when to close the doors.

Letters have been exchanged in recent days, with the union calling for fresh talks at the conciliation service Acas.

The RMT says the dispute now centres on whether guards should have a few seconds to make sure trains leave platforms safely.

A spokesman said: "The union will continue to push for a negotiated settlement that protects passenger safety and our members remain rock-solid in the ongoing action."

SWR managing director Andy Mellors said in a letter that further talks must be on the proviso that the union has a "new solution" to safely delivering over 10 million more peak-time passenger journeys on time each year. Commuters criticised overcrowded trains Union members have staged pickets at stations on the SWR network SWR released a revised timetable and said it would provide longer trains to increase capacity where possible.

The operator runs services between London Waterloo and Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth and Weymouth as well as Reading, Exeter and Bristol. It also operates suburban commuter lines in south-west London, Surrey, Berkshire, and north-east Hampshire.

Strike days are as follows: From 00:01 GMT on Monday 2 December until 23:59 on Wednesday 11 December

From 00:01 on Friday 13 December until 23:59 on Tuesday 24 December

From 00:01 on Friday 27 December 2019 until 23:59 on 1 January

Has your journey been affected? Email

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Jo Swinson hits back at radio caller criticising ‘boys wearing skirts’ to school

Jo Swinson hits back at radio caller criticising ‘boys wearing skirts’ to school

Jo Swinson defended inclusive school uniforms. (LBC) Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson hit back at a radio caller who attacked the party’s proposed inclusive school uniform policies.

Swinson took calls from listeners during a phone-in on LBC hosted by Nick Ferrari , who earlier this year said live on air that being gay was a “lifestyle choice”.

The angry caller, named Karen, said: “What is it with you and your party putting forward this gender-neutral, boys can go to schools wearing skirts? Why do you think that’s acceptable?

“I mean, we live in a free society right now. But what is going on with it? Do you think it’s right you’re allowing this to go through?”

In the Liberal Democrat manifesto , the party promised to require schools to introduce gender-neutral uniform policies.

Swinson responded: “It’s really about giving kids choice. What it came out of was we had a young member of the Lib Dems who came along to our conference – she was 14 at the time.

“She made the very good point that she was frustrated that she had to wear a skirt when she wanted to run around and play football and do handstands and all of those things that we’d all want our kids to have the freedom to do.

“Why should we be saying to girls or boys at school they have to wear this particular outfit?”

Asked by Ferrari whether she would allow her son to wear a dress to school, the Lib Dem leader added: “If they wanted to, then yes. My five-year-old has silver sparkly shoes.

“I might have technically bought them in the ‘girls’ section, but he really wanted the silver sparkly shoes, so he’s got silver trainers. The sky is still there.”

Jo Swinson: Gender X passports won’t be “stopping anyone else getting on with their lives”

Karen was not satisfied with Swinson’s response, and began on a rant about how giving children uniform choices would increase bullying in schools and that “gender-neutral” passports would allow people to identify as “an alien”.

Ferrari fuelled the fire, asking Swinson: “Do you not see the issue of national security if we don’t have someone’s gender on a passport?”

She replied: “I’m afraid I genuinely don’t.”

Swinson continued: “There’s a hang-up that people have about this. Some people don’t identify as male or female. It’s not a massive deal, get over it. It’s not stopping anyone else getting on with their lives.

“Can we just be respectful to one another and treat people as the individuals that they are, recognising that this group of people in our society already feels vulnerable and marginalised, already feels discriminated against and feels bullied and can be victims of violence.

“Let’s do these small things that show we are taking people seriously as the individuals that they are.”