Top story: Lethal stash was from impounded ship
Hello, Warren Murray delivering the first news of this morning.
Lebanese officials have admitted the massive port explosion in Beirut that killed at least 135 people, injured thousands and left many more homeless came from nearly 3,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate kept unsafely in a warehouse since 2014. As recently as six months ago, officials inspecting the consignment warned that if not moved it would “blow up all of Beirut”. The government, facing popular fury, said it was putting an unspecified number of Beirut port officials under house arrest pending an investigation into how the highly explosive materials came to be stored less than 100 metres from residential neighbourhoods.
In 2014 a Russian-owned vessel carrying the chemical – a fertiliser that can be used in bombs – was impounded at Beirut’s port, with its load apparently confiscated and taken ashore. Various reports said a fire started at a warehouse in the port before spreading to the ammonium nitrate’s storehouse and igniting the contents.
The explosion has left much of East Beirut uninhabitable and 300,000 people are said by the governor to have fled the city. International rescue crews have begun flying in to help with the search for survivors. Martin Chulov writes: “Ground zero of the explosion that destroyed much of the Lebanese capital was an enormous arc of warehouses, restaurants, homes and shops that, until Tuesday evening, were the still-functioning heart of an already dying city … Grappling with the cause of such a catastrophic event looms as yet another test for a government that has failed to convince many Lebanese that it is up to implementing a stated goal of introducing accountability. ‘If any country wants to help us, please help institutions you can trust,’ said Fady Haddad, a doctor. ‘Not through the government.’” Here is how anyone wishing to donate can help.
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Grace Millane killer appeals – The man convicted of murdering the British backpacker Grace Millane in Auckland, New Zealand, has begun an appeal against his guilty verdict and jail term. “This appeal is about whether the trial process miscarried,” his defence lawyer, Rachel Reed, told an Auckland court hearing today. In November, a jury took just five hours to unanimously agree that the accused, whose name is suppressed, murdered Millane, 22, in his hotel room after the pair met on a date in Auckland in December 2018. He hid her body in a suitcase and buried it in bushland. In February a judge sentenced the 28-year-old to life in prison with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years. His lawyer indicated in March that he would appeal.
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Revolt against revolution – The biggest planning shake-up for decades in England has been met with claims it will “dilute” oversight, stifle affordable housing and lead to “slum” dwellings. Under a government white paper out today, applications based on pre-approved “design codes” would get automatic approval and land across England would be put into categories of growth, renewal or protection. Many projects would be allowed automatically in “growth” areas; in “renewal” zones, largely urban and brownfield sites, proposals would receive “permission in principle” subject to basic checks. Green belts and areas of outstanding natural beauty would be protected. The Town and Country Planning Association (TCPA) condemned the proposals, saying 90% of planning applications were currently approved but there were up to 1m unbuilt permissions. Labour said it would “set fire to important safeguards” while the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) said the proposals would do “almost nothing” to create more affordable and sustainable homes. Shelter condemned a widened exemption for developers from having to provide affordable housing. Government sources insisted there would be no dilution in building standards.
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Coronavirus latest – Nicola Sturgeon has warned a lockdown in Aberdeen could extend to other towns after health officials linked 32 pubs and golf courses to the outbreak in the city. Meanwhile bereaved relatives have described harrowing experiences losing loved ones to Covid-19 in evidence to the new all-party parliamentary group (APPG) for coronavirus – Downing Street was accused of being “asleep at the wheel” and of mounting a “sluggish” response. There is concern the virus may spread more easily in school and summer camp settings than previously understood, after the emergence of new details of outbreaks in the US state of Georgia and in Israel. Donald Trump has again said he believes coronavirus will “go away, sooner rather than later” despite his top public health expert, Anthony Fauci, saying it would take until next year, and mass vaccination, to bring it under control. In Britain, the Runnymede Trust says people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds face greater barriers in shielding from Covid-19, with employment, public transport, and multigenerational and overcrowded households all risk factors. For further developments head to our live blog.
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‘Know the facts, and think’ – An estimated 80,000 of Hiroshima’s 350,000 people were killed instantly 75 years ago today when the atom bomb was dropped on the city. By the end of the year, the death toll would rise to 140,000 as survivors succumbed to injuries or illnesses connected to their exposure to radiation. As they mark today’s anniversary, the ageing Japanese who bore witness to the bombing there and at Nagasaki are struggling to remind the world of the horror of nuclear weapons, writes Justin McCurry.
“In the beginning, it was really painful to remember those days,” said Keiko Ogura, was eight years old when the Enola Gay dropped its 16-kilotonne nuclear bomb on Hiroshima at 8.15am. She did not speak publicly about her experience for 40 years. “But I wanted young Americans to know what their country had done. I’m not blaming them for what happened, I just want them to know the facts, and think.”
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Gas and electric price reprieve – Home energy bills for 11m households could tumble by up to £100 a year from this winter following record low demand for gas and electricity during the Covid-19 lockdown, according to analysts. Ofgem, the energy regulator, is expected on Friday to announce a sharp reduction to its cap on standard dual-fuel energy tariffs, which could knock between £85 and £100 a year from the average energy bill.
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Interest in camping pitches upwards – A new wave of first-time campers are splurging on portable firepits and comfy airbeds as camping enjoys a revival in tandem with the UK staycation boom.
Despite doom and gloom on much of the high street and the cancellation of the music festival season, retailers say shoppers have been snapping up tents, sleeping bags and cooking equipment, with many camping staples selling out. Guardian readers have been bitten by the camping bug after lockdown – but as they told Molly Blackall, things don’t always go as planned.
Today in Focus podcast: How did Trump get Covid so wrong?
While Donald Trump continues to claim the US is “doing very well” in its fight against Covid-19, the figures suggest a different story. The US has the highest mortality rate in the world, with more than 160,000 deaths. Guardian US chief reporter Ed Pilkington examines how Trump got it wrong.
Lunchtime read: How Roy Hackett changed Britain
When he arrived in the UK in 1952, he faced vicious racism – and decided to fight back. In the first of a new series, Black Lives, he tells the story of the Bristol bus boycott.
England took two early wickets but Babar Azam was unbeaten on 69 after a rain-affected day one of the first Test against Pakistan at Old Trafford. English cricket is gearing up for redundancies and severe cost-cutting measures following a forecasted loss of up to £182m owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. Anthony Martial scored a late winner as a laboured Manchester United beat Lask 2-1 to secure passage to the Europa League last eight. The Dutch cyclist Fabio Jakobsen was placed in an induced coma after suffering severe injuries in a crash on stage one of the Tour of Poland.
The trainer of Bryson DeChambeau, who has added 20lbs of muscle during the coronavirus shutdown to become one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, says he understands the suspicion over the player’s retooled phsyique. Novak Djokovic will decide “in the next few days” whether or not to join the US Open champion Rafael Nadal in withdrawing from this month’s tournament. Nick Kyrgios says he is “slim to no chance” of playing outside Australia again this year, skipping the French Open as well as the US Open because of coronavirus concerns. And the standoff between WNBA players and Atlanta Dream co-owner Kelly Loeffler continues with players wearing shirts in support of the Republican senator’s rival in an upcoming election.
Stocks have been mixed in Asia despite strong gains overnight on Wall Street, where the rally just kept on rolling. The Nikkei, Shanghai Composite and Hang Seng fell while the Kospi in South Korea and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained. Overnight the S&P 500 index logged its fourth straight gain, pulling within 2% of the record high it set in February. The pound is sitting around $1.313 and €1.105 while the FTSE is trending down by 30-40 points at time of writing.
The Guardian splashes this morning with “‘Rushed’ planning shake-up will lead to more slums, experts warn” while the Times takes a different view: “Red tape to be slashed in planning revolution”.
A campaign is under way after the sentencing of PC Andrew Harper’s killers. “Jail killers of 999 workers for life, says widow”, says the Express; in the Metro, “We want Andrew’s law, says PC’s wife”.
A number of fronts show the devastation in Beirut including the i which calls it “The lost city”. The FT has “Pledge to punish the negligent”. The Telegraph shows the devastation too but stays close to home for its lead story: “Pupils face exam chaos ‘life sentence’”. The Mirror has “More to go it alone on the testing” saying councils believe the government system doesn’t work. The Mail gives its front page to “Bridesmaid for Diana was guest on Epstein island” – Clemmie Hambro says she had a “very lucky” escape.
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