What happens when the Rhine, Europe's most important river, runs dry

FRANKFURT (BLOOMBERG) – Kevin Kilps’ car ferry churns the waters of Germany’s Rhine river as he steers towards the bank opposite Kaub, a scenic village just south of the rocky outcropping named after the legendary siren Lorelei.

It’s typically a busy stretch of waterway. On a normal day, the commuter ferry vies for space with cargo barges shuttling supplies to factories in the south and German goods to ports on the North Sea as well as tourist boats heading for nearby mediaeval castles and vineyards.

After a prolonged summer drought, the bustling traffic at one of the shallowest points on the Rhine ground to a halt for nearly a month late last year, choking off a critical transport artery. The impact damped Germany’s industrial machine, slowing economic growth in the third and fourth quarters.

It was the latest sign of how even advanced industrial economies are increasingly fighting the effects of global warming.

“You can see the water levels are lower each year,” said Mr Kilps, who added extra flotation equipment to the 150-tonne boat during the stoppage to enable it to finally cross the river again. “It’s scary to watch the climate changing.”

With its source high in the Swiss Alps, the Rhine snakes approximately 1,290km through the industrial zones of Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands before emptying into the sea at Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest port. It serves as a key conduit for manufacturers such as Daimler AG, Robert Bosch GmbH and Bayer AG.

When low water halted shipping this summer, steelmaker Thyssenkrupp AG was forced to delay shipments to customers like automaker Volkswagen AG, as it couldn’t get raw materials to a mill in Duisburg.

Constraints on the Rhine cost BASF SE around €250 million (S$386 million) by pushing the chemical maker to use more expensive transport options. In a recent newspaper interview, BASF chief executive officer Martin Brudermueller called for major infrastructure investments such as locks and dams that can release water to ensure shipping lanes remain open.

“We have already seen effects on national economic growth,” said Mr Oliver Rakau, chief German economist at Oxford Economics. “The problem is related to global warming and can happen again.”

The river is fed by glaciers and rain. But alpine ice flows shrank 28 per cent between 1973 and 2010 – the date of the most recent in-depth study by the Swiss government – and that decline may be as much as 35 per cent now, according to Dr Wilfried Hagg, glacier expert at Munich University.

“The Alps are warming at an even faster rate as snow and ice melts,” Dr Hagg said. “A warming climate means that incidents like the low river levels this summer are more likely to occur.”

Water depths, which hit 12-year lows at Kaub for most of the second half of 2018, hobbled barge flows for months. The boats, which typically haul more than 18,000 barrels of diesel each, were prevented from loading at full capacity until late December, and fluctuating water levels continued to affect cargo activity in January, according to Riverlake Barging, a Rotterdam-based broker.

Fuel pumps at some gas stations in Baden-Wuerttemberg ran dry this summer because of supply problems, which led to the release of emergency stockpiles in Switzerland and Germany. Natural gas prices in Europe jumped 13 per cent in November, when utilities boosted output at gas-fired generators as they struggled to get supplies for coal plants.

Even with Germany’s extensive road and train networks, the Rhine is hard to beat. Barges can carry more than five times their own weight, making them cheap to operate. Shipping from Rotterdam to Basel costs around 40 per cent less than rail transport, according to the German Federal Institute of Hydrology.

To thwart future transport-related disruptions to the economy, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government is mulling measures such as permanently easing Sunday restrictions on truck traffic in Rhine states, lightening loads on barges and improving freight train connections.

In Kaub – known for Pfalzgrafenstein Castle, an imposing former toll station located on a rock in the middle of the Rhine – locals have noted the river’s ever-lower levels and are concerned about what the coming years will bring.

“I think we’re going to have problems much more regularly,” Mr Kilps, a 15-year Rhine veteran, said as cars rolled on to the ferry.

READ MORE STORIES ON CLIMATE CHANGE

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Riven by crisis, Britain searches for Brexit emergency 'plan B'

LONDON (REUTERS) – Prime Minister Theresa May will try on Thursday (Jan 17) to break the impasse in Britain’s political elite over how to leave the European Union by searching for an emergency exit deal, though there is so far little sign of compromise.

After Mrs May’s two-year attempt to forge an amicable divorce was crushed by Parliament in the biggest defeat for a British leader in modern history, Mrs May called for party leaders to put self-interest aside to find a way forward.

If Mrs May fails to forge a consensus, the world’s fifth-largest economy will drop out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal or will be forced to halt Brexit, possibly holding a national election or even another referendum.

Mrs May has repeatedly refused to countenance another election and has warned that another referendum would be corrosive as it would undermine faith in democracy among the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum.

“I believe it is my duty to deliver on the British people’s instruction to leave the European Union. And I intend to do so,” Mrs May said outside Downing Street in an attempt to address voters directly.

“I am inviting MPs from all parties to come together to find a way forward,” Mrs May said. “This is now the time to put self-interest aside.”

As the United Kingdom tumbles towards its biggest political and economic move since World War II, other members of the European Union have offered to talk though they can do little until London decides what it wants out of Brexit.

Yet ever since the UK voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent to leave the EU in June 2016, British politicians have failed to find agreement on how or even whether to leave the European Union.

In a sign of just how hard Mrs May’s task may be, the main opposition leader, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, refused to hold talks unless a no-deal Brexit was ruled out.

“Before there can be any positive discussions about the way forward, the government must remove clearly, once and for all, the prospect of the catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit from the EU and all the chaos that would come as a result of that,” he said.

But the further Mrs May moves towards softening Brexit, the more she alienates dedicated Brexiteers in her own party who think the threat of a no-deal Brexit is a crucial bargaining chip.

Without a deal, trade with the EU would then default to basic World Trade Organisation rules.

Company chiefs are aghast at the political crisis over Brexit and say it has already damaged Britain’s reputation as Europe’s preeminent destination for foreign investment.

From Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel to Scottish whisky distillers, firms have called for urgent and decisive government action and warned of the consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

“If anybody believes that you can just go ahead without some sort of an agreement here, I think that that is reckless,” said Mr John Bason, finance chief of Associated British Foods, the food and retail group which has sales of over US$20 billion (S$27 billion).

“The UK’s food supply generally is dependent on the free flowing border,” Mr Bason said.

Labour wants a permanent customs union with the EU, a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.

But the chairman of May’s Conservative party, Mr Brandon Lewis, said on Thursday that Britain should not stay in the current customs union because striking international trade deals after Brexit is a priority.

He said senior ministers would meet colleagues from across the House of Commons, Britain’s Lower House of Parliament, on Thursday.

The Times newspaper said both remaining in a full customs union with the EU and delaying Brexit through an extension of Article 50 would be discussed at meetings between the government and lawmakers.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said on Thursday a delay to Brexit was now inevitable, adding that leaving the EU without a deal would inflict profound economic damage on the UK.

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'If the driver slowed down a little bit, I wouldn't have lost my husband and my children wouldn't have lost their father' – grieving widow

A man who caused the death of a father-of-two, after breaking red light while driving at around twice the speed limit, has been jailed for five years.

Michael Jones (25), a roofer from Whitestown Drive, Dublin, had pleaded not guilty to dangerous driving causing the death of Hong Qing Qu at Blanchardstown Road South on November 17, 2015.

After a trial at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court last December a jury found him guilty of the charge.

Judge Patricia Ryan imposed a sentence of five years imprisonment. She backdated the sentence to December 19 last, the day Jones first went into custody, and also disqualified him from driving for life.

Sergeant Stephen Byrne told Dominic McGinn SC, prosecuting, that Mr Qu was driving home from work when his car was struck by an Audi A3 driven by Jones. Mr Qu sustained serious injuries and was brought to James Connolly Hospital in Dublin where he was pronounced dead.

Sgt Byrne said that gardaí were able to determine that Jones had driven through a red light and was travelling between 115km/h and 137km/h at the point of collision. The speed limit of roads in the area was 60km/h, the court heard.

Jones was taken from the scene by men who put him into a Volkswagen Passat and drove him to a hospital, where they left him lying on the ground. Jones gave a false name and said he had injured his leg in a fall.

In her victim impact statement, which she read aloud in court, Mr Qu’s widow said that her two children always ask her “Where’s Papa?”.

She said because they are too young to understand death, she tells them that he is a “hero”.

“If the driver slowed down just a little bit, I wouldn’t have lost my husband and my children wouldn’t have lost their father,” she revealed.

She said that her husband’s parents had not seen their son in 10 years by the time they saw him lying dead in the hospital. She asked the court to picture an old man shouting and screaming at his son to wake up.

She said she wanted justice and “to let my children know that the law in Ireland is truthful and that the person who made the mistake has to take responsibility”.

After reading her statement she held up a photo of her husband to Jones and shouted that she wanted him to see how young Mr Qu had been at the time of his death.

Padraig Dwyer SC, defending, said his client wished to express his remorse for his actions. Jones has no previous convictions.

Judge Patricia Ryan said that Jones was driving well in excess of the speed limit and that he went through a red light which had been red for a “considerable time” prior to the collision.

She said the mitigating factors were that Jones admitted to driving the Audi, his lack of previous convictions, his “relatively” young age, his good work history, his expression of remorse both in the hospital after the collision and in court and that he himself was injured in the collision.

Judge Ryan said that without mitigation the appropriate sentence would have been seven years imprisonment.

She extended her sympathy to the wife, children, parents and extended family of Mr Qu and said that she had taken the content of the victim impact statement into account when considering the sentence.

 

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Steel lining in mobile home 'acted like oven' during blaze, expert tells inquest

A fire safety expert has told the inquest into the tragic Carrickmines halting site blaze that the mobile home that became rapidly engulfed in flames was a modified security hut with a steel lining that acted “like an oven”.

The units on the site, which was provided for ‘temporary emergency accommodation’ by Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, were required by Department of Environment guidelines to be six metres apart.

However, the inquest has previously heard that fire spread rapidly from the first mobile home to the second because they were just 81cm apart.

Five adults and five children died in the tragic fire at the Glenamuck Road halting site in south Dublin on October 10, 2015.

The jury heard the chip pan that caused the fire was sitting on a hot plate powered on to the highest setting.

Mechanical engineer Paul Collins said tests showed the rear right hot plate on the electric cooker was switched on to setting number six. The cooker was relatively new and there were no electrical faults detected.

Asked by the coroner if the chip pan was the definite cause of the fire, Mr Collins replied it was.

Thomas Connors (27), his wife Sylvia (30), their sons James (5) and Christy (3) were recovered from the main bedroom of the mobile home after the fire.

Willie Lynch (25), his pregnant partner Tara Gilbert (27), and their two daughters Jodie (9) and Kelsey (4) were recovered from a second, smaller bedroom.

Jimmy Lynch (39), a brother of Willie Lynch, was removed from the kitchen area.

Six-month-old Mary Connors, daughter of Thomas and Sylvia Connors, was pronounced dead in hospital.

David O’Connor, a certified fire safety engineer, said he was asked by gardaí to carry out a fire safety assessment of the site, approximately three weeks after the event.

Fire safety requirements of building regulations did not technically apply to the dwellings as these units were considered temporary emergency accommodation and were exempt from requirements, he said.

The Department of Environment guidelines note that “temporary” sites providing Traveller accommodation should not be in place for more than five years – the Glenamuck Halting Site was operating for seven years.

New safety guidances issued after the fire, on December 2, 2015, compiled by the National Directorate for Emergency Management, advise the provision of a smoke detector, escape windows, and where a minimum distance of six metres between units is not possible, a firewall should be installed.

The fire had grown in two stages, he said, with an initial “local fire” filling the living room with “untenably hot smoke” in a number of minutes.

Petroleum-based polystyrene insulation in the walls meant that temperatures would have been much higher than that of a normal house fire. “It was off the charts,” he said, describing it as being like “an articulated truck going on fire”.

Mr O’Connor said he could find no evidence of a fire alarm but agreed with coroner Myra Cullinane that he could not be certain what was there because of fire damage, with the first mobile home “completely destroyed” and the second “very badly destroyed”.

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UK in deadlock over Brexit 'Plan B' as May and Corbyn tussle

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s last-minute scramble to shape an EU exit, its biggest policy upheaval in half a century, stalled on Thursday as Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dug in their heels for competing visions.

After May’s two-year attempt to forge an amicable divorce with an independent trade policy was crushed by parliament in the biggest defeat for a British leader in modern history, May asked party leaders to forget self-interest to find a solution.

Yet there was little sign on Thursday that either of the two major parties — which hold 88 percent of the 650 seats in parliament — were prepared to compromise on key demands.

Corbyn said May had sent Britain hurtling towards the cliff edge of a disorderly exit on March 29 with no transition period, and urged her to ditch “red lines”.

But he repeated his own prerequisite for talks: a pledge to block a no-deal Brexit. May told Corbyn that was “an impossible condition” and urged him to join cross-party discussions.

“You have always believed in the importance of dialogue in politics. Do you really believe that, as well as declining to meet for talks yourself, it is right to ask your MPs not to seek a solution with the government?,” she said in a letter.

The further May moves towards softening Brexit, the more she alienates dedicated Brexit supporters in her own Conservative party who think the threat of a no-deal exit is a big bargaining chip and should anyway not be feared.

May’s spokeswoman said she held “constructive” talks on Thursday with MPs, including some from Labour.

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If she fails to forge consensus, the world’s fifth-largest economy will drop out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal or will be forced to delay Brexit, possibly holding a national election or another referendum.

Corbyn said that he might look at options including another referendum — a remark that increased market expectations the chaos could ultimately delay or stop Brexit. [GBP/]

But a second referendum would take a year to organise, according to government guidance shown to MPs on Wednesday, a source in May’s office said.

ANOTHER VOTE?

Corbyn wants May to call another election, something she has refused, having lost her parliamentary majority in a 2017 snap poll that left her reliant on the support of a small Northern Irish pro-Brexit party.

She has also repeatedly said another referendum would corrode faith in democracy among the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU in 2016. Her spokesman said Britain had not raised the idea of delaying exit with the EU.

As the United Kingdom tumbles towards its biggest political and economic shift since World War Two, other EU members have offered to talk.

“We will do everything we can so that Britain exits with, and not without, an agreement,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc was open to the possibility of a “more ambitious” deal than May’s, which he said could not be improved on under principles she set out.

But they can do little until London decides what it wants.

Ever since the UK voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU, politicians have failed to agree on how or even whether to quit the bloc. If there is a solution to the riddle, it may be for parliament’s back-benchers to find it.

May will on Monday put forward a motion on her proposed next steps. Over the following week, MPs will be able to propose alternatives.

On Jan. 29, they will debate these plans, and voting on them should indicate whether any could get majority support.

If a way forward emerges, May could then go back to the EU and seek changes to her deal. Parliament would still need to vote on any new agreement, and it is not clear when that might happen.

Labour says it would back a deal with a permanent customs union with the EU — which would resolve the problem of managing the land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic — as well as a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.

Most Conservative MPs reject a customs union because it would prevent Britain having an independent trade policy — one of their main demands.

Without any deal, trade with the EU would default to basic World Trade Organization rules — a worrying prospect for manufacturers dependent on smooth, uncomplicated supply lines.

Company chiefs are aghast at the crisis and say it has already damaged Britain’s reputation as Europe’s pre-eminent destination for foreign investment.

From Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel to Scottish whisky distillers, firms want decisive government action.

“If anybody believes that you can just go ahead without some sort of an agreement here, I think that that is reckless,” said John Bason, finance chief of Associated British Foods (ABF.L), a food and retail group with annual sales of over $20 billion (15.4 billion pounds).

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Radical rethink needed to get Brexit deal, EU tells British PM Theresa May

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – The scale of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit defeat has convinced the European Union to demand she radically rethink the UK’s red lines as the bloc signalled its willingness to delay Britain’s withdrawal by many months.

The EU had been preparing to make limited concessions over the much-loathed Irish border backstop to help May convince Parliament to back her deal.

But the 230-vote loss on Tuesday night (Jan 15) changed that: European governments now believe a more fundamental shift is needed and the move has to come from the UK side, three diplomats said.

It adds to growing evidence that Brexit is unlikely to happen on the long-scheduled date of March 29, with European governments willing to delay Britain’s departure well into the second half of the year, according to diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the discussions.

But they told May she needs to enter into credible cross-party discussions to ensure there’s a unified British position on Brexit, then present the EU with a roadmap for the way forward.

And that’s what May is now doing. After narrowly surviving a confidence vote on Wednesday, May invited the leaders of rival parties in for talks on how to move ahead with Brexit.

EU diplomats say the next step could be to reopen the political declaration – the part of the agreement dealing with future relations – to make it clearer that ties will remain close after the split.

That could include signing up permanently to a customs union with the EU, which has been one of May’s red lines but is the policy of the opposition Labour Party.

It would remove the need for many elements of the backstop, which is designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, but would anger pro-Brexit lawmakers who believe it would betray the result of the 2016 referendum.

While many EU officials expect May to ask for an extension to the exit day, European governments still disagree over whether it should be allowed – and how long it should last.

Some believe their vision for getting the deal passed can still be achieved over the next 10 weeks, others think an extension is needed that could stretch Britain’s membership well into the second half of 2019. One official said September 2019 could be the new deadline.

May told Parliament on Wednesday that the plan was still to leave March 29 but left the door open to an extension. UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond floated to businesses the prospect of a delay to the end-of-March departure date.

May is not now expected in Brussels this week because she has work to do at home, according to EU diplomats, although she will contact EU leaders on Thursday, according to a person familiar with the situation.

An extraordinary summit of leaders to help May sell the deal is likely before the next regular meeting at the end of March.

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UK in deadlock over Brexit 'Plan B' as May and Corbyn tussle

LONDON (Reuters) – Britain’s last-minute scramble to shape an EU exit, its biggest policy upheaval in half a century, stalled on Thursday as Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn dug in their heels for competing visions.

After May’s two-year attempt to forge an amicable divorce with an independent trade policy was crushed by parliament in the biggest defeat for a British leader in modern history, May asked party leaders to forget self-interest to find a solution.

Yet there was little sign on Thursday that either of the two major parties — which hold 88 percent of the 650 seats in parliament — were prepared to compromise on key demands.

Corbyn said May had sent Britain hurtling towards the cliff edge of a disorderly exit on March 29 with no transition period, and urged her to ditch “red lines”.

But he repeated his own prerequisite for talks: a pledge to block a no-deal Brexit. May told Corbyn that was “an impossible condition” and urged him to join cross-party discussions.

“You have always believed in the importance of dialogue in politics. Do you really believe that, as well as declining to meet for talks yourself, it is right to ask your MPs not to seek a solution with the government?,” she said in a letter.

The further May moves towards softening Brexit, the more she alienates dedicated Brexit supporters in her own Conservative party who think the threat of a no-deal exit is a big bargaining chip and should anyway not be feared.

May’s spokeswoman said she held “constructive” talks on Thursday with MPs, including some from Labour.

Related Coverage

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  • UK would vote to stay in EU by 12 percent point margin - YouGov pollUK would vote to stay in EU by 12 percent point margin – YouGov poll
  • Factbox - May's Brexit next steps: Nothing has changed, or new approach?Factbox – May's Brexit next steps: Nothing has changed, or new approach?

If she fails to forge consensus, the world’s fifth-largest economy will drop out of the European Union on March 29 without a deal or will be forced to delay Brexit, possibly holding a national election or another referendum.

Corbyn said that he might look at options including another referendum — a remark that increased market expectations the chaos could ultimately delay or stop Brexit. [GBP/]

But a second referendum would take a year to organise, according to government guidance shown to MPs on Wednesday, a source in May’s office said.

ANOTHER VOTE?

Corbyn wants May to call another election, something she has refused, having lost her parliamentary majority in a 2017 snap poll that left her reliant on the support of a small Northern Irish pro-Brexit party.

She has also repeatedly said another referendum would corrode faith in democracy among the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU in 2016. Her spokesman said Britain had not raised the idea of delaying exit with the EU.

As the United Kingdom tumbles towards its biggest political and economic shift since World War Two, other EU members have offered to talk.

“We will do everything we can so that Britain exits with, and not without, an agreement,” said German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said the bloc was open to the possibility of a “more ambitious” deal than May’s, which he said could not be improved on under principles she set out.

But they can do little until London decides what it wants.

Ever since the UK voted by 52-48 percent to leave the EU, politicians have failed to agree on how or even whether to quit the bloc. If there is a solution to the riddle, it may be for parliament’s back-benchers to find it.

May will on Monday put forward a motion on her proposed next steps. Over the following week, MPs will be able to propose alternatives.

On Jan. 29, they will debate these plans, and voting on them should indicate whether any could get majority support.

If a way forward emerges, May could then go back to the EU and seek changes to her deal. Parliament would still need to vote on any new agreement, and it is not clear when that might happen.

Labour says it would back a deal with a permanent customs union with the EU — which would resolve the problem of managing the land border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic — as well as a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.

Most Conservative MPs reject a customs union because it would prevent Britain having an independent trade policy — one of their main demands.

Without any deal, trade with the EU would default to basic World Trade Organization rules — a worrying prospect for manufacturers dependent on smooth, uncomplicated supply lines.

Company chiefs are aghast at the crisis and say it has already damaged Britain’s reputation as Europe’s pre-eminent destination for foreign investment.

From Channel Tunnel operator Eurotunnel to Scottish whisky distillers, firms want decisive government action.

“If anybody believes that you can just go ahead without some sort of an agreement here, I think that that is reckless,” said John Bason, finance chief of Associated British Foods (ABF.L), a food and retail group with annual sales of over $20 billion (15.4 billion pounds).

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Britain's Prince Philip, 97, escapes unhurt after road crash near royal estate

LONDON (REUTERS) – Queen Elizabeth’s husband, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, 97, was involved in a traffic accident on Thursday (Jan 17) near the Sandringham estate in eastern England, Buckingham Palace said. He was not hurt.

“The Duke of Edinburgh was involved in a road traffic accident with another vehicle this afternoon,” it said in a statement.

“The Duke was not injured. The accident took place close to the Sandringham Estate.”

Local police attended the scene, it added.

The BBC reported that Philip was driving a Range Rover and that the vehicle landed on its side after a collision.

It quoted a witness as saying the Duke was very shaken.

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Ex-Macron bodyguard Alexandre Benalla in custody over use of diplomatic passports

PARIS (AFP) – A former bodyguard for French President Emmanuel Macron was taken into police custody on Thursday (Jan 17) over his continued use of diplomatic passports after he was fired for roughing up protesters, prosecutors said.

Alexandre Benalla was a security official and a member of Macron’s inner circle before his dismissal last summer after a video emerged of him assaulting protesters at a May Day demonstration while wearing a police helmet.

The video, and claims that Macron’s office tried to cover up the affair, caused a political storm that severely dented the president’s popularity.

Benalla was eventually sacked on Aug 1, and he has since been charged with assault and impersonating a police officer.

But the 27-year-old returned to the headlines recently after it emerged he had retained several diplomatic passports even after losing his job.

In particular, he used them to travel to Africa to meet with top officials in what some officials fear was an attempt to profit from his former insider status.

Police opened an investigation into suspected abuse of trust and illegal use of professional documents, and a senate hearing renewed its hearings this week of government officials, including Macron’s office director Patrick Strzoda.

On Wednesday, Benalla was further charged with “forgery, using false documentation, and obtaining an administrative document under false pretences”, prosecutors said.

Benalla has claimed that he returned the passports shortly after being fired, but that they were handed back to him by a “presidential aide” in October.

He is also suspected of having kept a government-issued cellphone with special encryption capabilities.

The former bouncer began working as a bodyguard for Macron during his election campaign in 2016 before being promoted to a senior security role in the presidential palace in May 2017.

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Girl (7) might not have brain injury if delivered 10 minutes earlier, court hears

A girl with cerebral palsy would probably not have suffered any, or any severe, brain injury had she been delivered ten minutes earlier, it has been claimed before the High Court.

Faye Walsh, now aged seven, has, through her mother Martina, of Letterfrack, Co Galway, sued the HSE and two consultant obstetricians alleging negligence and breach of agreement in relation to the management and circumstances of her birth.

The child was born at University Hospital Galway on August 15, 2011.

The defendants deny the claims against them in proceedings before Mr Justice David Keane.

Mrs Walsh, for the purpose of her pregnancy with Faye, was a private patient of Dr Una Conway, a consultant obstetrician.

Dr Conway and Dr Declan Egan, the second defendant obstetrician, operate private medical practices at Brooklawn Practice, Brooklawn House, Galway West Business Park, and also practice as consultants in the Galway hospital.

Mrs Walsh wanted a private obstetrician at the birth for reasons including she had one previous birth by casearean section and had suffered serious abdominal injuries in a road accident in 2008, the court was told.

The HSE denies negligence and pleads delivery of the baby by Kiwi cup – vacuum assisted delivery using a plastic or metal cup attached to the baby’s head – was reasonable. It also pleads delivery was not unreasonably delayed.

A core dispute in the case concerns the birth arrangements and whether the risks of a vaginal delivery were fully explained. The defendant obstetricians say the options and risks were explained, that Mrs Walsh wanted and agreed to a vaginal delivery, and that was a reasonable course of action.  

Mrs Walsh claims she understood Dr Conway was on annual leave in August 2011 and would be unable to attend the birth but was told Dr Conway and Dr Egan worked “as a team” and Dr Egan would attend. 

The defendants deny Mrs Walsh was told Dr Egan would attend and claim she was provided with a Brooklawn practice information sheet stating, in the absence of Dr Conway or Dr Egan, her delivery would be supervised, for an additional fee, by a covering consultant obstetrician on call for the hospital. 

The plaintiff claims, despite alleged requests by Mrs Walsh and her husband, neither defendant obstetrician was called to the hospital when or after Ms Walsh went into labour about 11pm on Sunday August 14, 2011.

The court heard the on call hospital obstetrician was summoned to the hospital from his home around 4.30am on August 15.

An obstetric registrar was also called and applied a Kiwi cup to the baby’s head. The on-call obstetrician, noted to be present at 4.50am, completed the delivery of the baby at 4.55am.

Faye was born in very poor condition and required immediate resuscitation. She has spastic quadriplegia, is non verbal, a full time wheelchair user and will require 24 hour care for the rest of her life, the court heard.

Most of her care is provided by her parents and she is a “happy, content and smiling child” who gets on well at her community primary school and loves the TV cartoon Peppa Pig, the judge was told.

Opening the case, Denis McCullough SC, for Faye, said their claim was, had one of the defendant obstetricians attended the labour, Faye would have been “promptly rescued” and an urgent forceps delivery completed within ten minutes of a decision to do so. Their case was that would have saved the baby at least ten minutes of hypoxic ischemia and, according to his side’s experts, left her “uninjured or virtually uninjured”.

Mrs Walsh was in pain after delivery and surgery was carried out during which a uterine scar rupture, a “well recognised risk” of vaginal delivery after an earlier CS delivery, was repaired, he said. It is believed that rupture caused profound hypoxic ischemia which damaged the baby, he said.

The case is expected to last a number of weeks.

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