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Leaders' Debates: PM Rejects Broadcasters' Call

06 March

Downing Street has insisted the Prime Minister is only willing to take part in one televised leaders' debate before the General Election after four major broadcasters repeated they were planning to stage three.

Sky News, Channel 4, the BBC and ITV said they were sticking to their plan of hosting one head-to-head contest between David Cameron and Labour leader Ed Miliband and two pitting seven party leaders against each other during the election campaign.
Earlier this week, Mr Cameron issued an ultimatum to the organisations, saying he would only agree to take part in a single seven-way debate in the week beginning 23 March and before the campaign.
Labour has accused Mr Cameron of trying to "bully" broadcasters into dropping plans for a two-way contest - which Sky News and Channel 4 plan to host ahead of polling on 7 May.
The four organisations have said this TV debate needs to take place - as well as the two seven-way debates of a minimum of two hours each, involving the leaders of the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats, Greens, UKIP, SNP and Plaid Cymru.
But in a response to the broadcasters, Mr Cameron's spokesman Craig Oliver said: "I made the Prime Minister's final position clear in my last letter - he is willing to do a seven-way debate in the week beginning 23 March.
"Clearly it is disappointing that you are not prepared to take him up on that offer. I am ready to discuss at your convenience the logistics of making the debate we have suggested happen."
Mr Miliband said: "It is make your mind up time for David Cameron. He can keep running from these debates with me and show himself to be a weak leader running from his record.
"Or he can agree to the debates which the British people deserve and that our democracy needs."
The Prime Minister said he would agree to one 90-minute debate of at least seven leaders, and possibly also the DUP in Northern Ireland.
He said: "What I have done is unblock the log jam that I am afraid the broadcasters help to create and said 'let's have the debate that gives everybody a say and let's get on with it before the campaign'."
The Downing Street ultimatum earlier this week was made in a letter sent to Sue Inglish, the chair of the broadcasters' leaders' debates committee, by Mr Cameron's communications director Mr Oliver.
But the broadcasters want their three debates to take place on 2 April (ITV), 16 April (BBC) and 30 April (Sky News and Channel 4) and are urging the Prime Minister to appear in all of them.
They wrote a letter to Mr Oliver, saying: "We have consistently set out our intention to hold three debates during the unusually long formal election campaign period  - 30 March to 7 May 2015.
"We spaced the planned debates two weeks apart, twice the length of time between debates as compared to 2010. The dates - 2 April, 16 April and 30 April - were first published in October 2014 and have not been changed.
"We believe that the formal election period is the right time to hold election debates.
"It is the point at which the parties have published their election manifestos and the point at which the electorate as a whole is most engaged with discussion of election issues and the public debate about the future of the country."
Sky News' Director of Newsgathering Jonathan Levy said: "We really hope the Prime Minister will reconsider our invitation to take part in a head-to-head debate.
"The debates will go ahead with the leaders that turn up, and the invitation will remain open to the Prime Minister should he wish to reconsider his position."
Deputy Prime Minister and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg called on him to take part in three contests, tweeting: "Come on @David_Cameron you haven't got your own way so accept it and take part. #tvdebates."
UKIP leader Nigel Farage said: I am pleased the broadcasters have stood firm at last. Would have been better to stick to the original proposal which included fewer parties.  Nonetheless accept the challenge."
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon said: "I will debate David Cameron anytime, anywhere, and on any number of occasions - but a Tory Prime Minister simply cannot be allowed to dictate terms to everyone else."
Peter Robinson of the DUP told Sky News: "I wonder who the broadcasters think they are, that they just set down a diktat and we all follow."
However, he added: "No politician, in my view, if they are given that offer of having that airtime to speak directly to the electorate, will want to miss that opportunity. Certainly I don't."
Sky News and Channel 4 have already said they are prepared to hold the two-way debate on a different date if the leaders of the Labour and Conservative parties can agree.
All four broadcasters said in a statement: "Some 22 million people watched the leaders' debates in 2010 and there is a public desire and expectation for them to happen again in 2015."

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TV Election Debates: Letter To PM's Media Boss

06 March

The letter to David Cameron's director of communications from Sky, BBC, ITV and Channel 4 reads as follows:

Letter From Broadcasters to Craig Oliver
Dear Craig
Thank you for your letter of 4th March.
We are responding as the broadcasters' group and as you released your letter to the press we will be making this response public too.
The broadcasters have over the past six months worked hard to ensure that our viewers have the opportunity to watch election debates in 2015.
We have done so in an independent, impartial manner, treating invited parties on an equitable basis. We have listened to the views expressed by all parties and, as we promised from the outset, have kept evidence about electoral support, public attitudes to the debates and appropriate participation under review.
The debates were enormously well received by 22 million viewers in 2010 and our research has shown that there is a public desire and a public expectation for debates in 2015.
We have consistently set out our intention to hold three debates during the unusually long formal election campaign period - 30th March to 7th May 2015. We spaced the planned debates two weeks apart, twice the length of time between debates as compared to 2010. The dates - 2nd April, 16th April and 30th April - were first published in October 2014 and have not been changed.
We believe that the formal election period is the right time to hold election debates. It is the point at which the parties have published their election manifestos and the point at which the electorate as a whole is most engaged with discussion of election issues and the public debate about the future of the country.
In October we proposed one head-to-head debate between the two leaders who could realistically become Prime Minister and two debates between more parties. We listened to all parties' views on the proposals - both those initially invited and others - and we reviewed the developing evidence on electoral support and public attitudes to the debates.
In discussions the Conservatives argued for a more inclusive set of debates and in particular called for the inclusion of the Greens. We listened to that argument and to others expressed by other parties and by members of the public. We considered evidence of increased electoral support for some parties - notably the SNP and to some degree the Greens - and looked at some evidence that there was public support for a more inclusive format in the debates.
Taking into account all these factors, we made a decision to adjust our proposal to make it even more  inclusive - keeping the two party head-to-head debate but expanding the two multi-party debates to include all the main choices available to voters in England, Wales and Scotland. The parties included were: Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat, UKIP, SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens.
Separately, it was confirmed that BBC Northern Ireland and UTV were planning debates including all the five separate major parties in Northern Ireland - DUP, Sinn Fein, UUP,  SDLP and the Alliance Party.
The two sets of debates would enable all voters in the United Kingdom to see debates with the leaders of the main choices they were able to vote for.
We noted the Conservatives' initial welcoming tone for our amended proposal.
On the basis of this proposal - first tabled in October - and amended to take into account changing facts and input from parties, notably including the Conservatives, we have conducted numerous meetings and conversations with representatives of all parties invited. These have taken place in an organised manner, following clear agendas and in a generally good atmosphere.
We have listened to the views of all parties as we've framed the rules for the 2015 debates. The draft rules which all parties have been given are based on the 2010 rules, amended for the changed circumstances of 2015 and in particular the potential participation of seven parties.
The plan - as you know - for the multi-party debates has been for two 2 hour debates, allowing sufficient time across the two programmes for all seven leaders to participate in a full discussion on a good range of the really big issues facing the country at this election.
The leaders would have the opportunity to address questions posed by the studio audience. The format would allow them to give an uninterrupted answer to the question and then would open up the debate to a moderated discussion between the leaders for up to around 17 to 18 minutes on each question. We think this format, over the course of the two multi-party debates, will allow a proper discussion across a good range of subjects. It does, however, require two debates and a substantial allocation of time to each programme.
Once we have received any further comments from the parties on our draft detailed arrangements we will publish the arrangements as we did in 2010.
This process has all happened in a very orderly manner and we're grateful to representatives of all the parties who've engaged constructively with us.
On 4th March you wrote to us tabling an idea that you had not raised in the previous six months of discussions.
There are elements of it which we welcome and elements which we don't believe have been fully thought through.
The Conservative Party proposal - as we understand it - is for:
:: One debate
:: 90 minutes in duration
:: Involving seven parties
:: The DUP should be allowed to make its case to be included
:: It should take place in the week of 23rd March
The letter makes no mention of the head-to-head debate which we had previously understood the Conservatives were in favour of.
We believe the proposal for just one debate of 90 minutes duration is insufficient to cover the main election issues with seven participants. Our 2 x 2 hour debates format will allow all seven leaders sufficient time to discuss properly a good range of the main election issues. One 90 minute debate with seven leaders would inevitably lead to much less ground being covered, with much shorter contributions from all involved.
We welcome the fact that the Conservatives propose the same seven parties included in our plans. We have included all the main parties available as choices to all voters in England, Scotland and Wales.
We note that you say the DUP should be allowed to make its case to be included. We have already considered the DUP's case very thoroughly. We have responded to the DUP saying that we do not believe there is any obligation on us to invite the DUP or any other Northern Ireland party to take part. It would be unfair and partial to invite the DUP and not the other four major parties in Northern Ireland. We believe voters in Northern Ireland will be well served by the BBC Northern Ireland and UTV debates. The party systems in Northern Ireland and in Great Britain are different and our debates plan reflects that.
We welcome the fact that you have for the first time in six months indicated a seven day period in which the Conservatives would definitely join a debate.
We have given your proposal serious consideration but we don't think it achieves the goal of providing our viewers with election debates that can properly explore a reasonably full range of issues.
We do, however, welcome the positive elements of your letter.
In light of that we propose the following:
We will continue to plan for the three TV debates on 2nd April, 16th April and 30th April as discussed extensively with all parties.
Sky and Channel 4 have already said they are prepared to host the two party debate on a different date if the leaders of the Conservative and Labour parties can agree. Failing that the broadcaster preparations will continue for 30th April.
The ITV debate on 2nd April and the BBC debate on 16th April will be produced and broadcast as planned. They will both be scheduled for 2 hours in peak time starting at 8pm.
The debate on 2nd April is just four days later than the period in which you have expressed a desire to debate and is more than a month before the election.
We very much hope that all invited leaders will participate in the broadcast debates. However, in the end all we can do - as impartial public service broadcasters - is to provide a fair forum for debates to take place. It will always remain the decision of individual leaders whether or not to take part.
The debates will go ahead and we anticipate millions of viewers will find them valuable as they did in 2010. Our invitations will remain open to all the invited leaders right up to broadcast. We'll set no deadlines for final responses. We very much hope all the leaders will participate.
The Heads of News of all four broadcasters would welcome the opportunity to meet Mr Cameron, or his representative, to discuss the debates.
Yours sincerely,
Sue Inglish (BBC)
Michael Jermey (ITV)
Dorothy Byrne (Channel 4)
Jonathan Levy (Sky)

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Becky Watts: Four More People In Court

06 March

Four more people have been charged in connection with the murder of teenager Becky Watts.

Karl Demetrius and Donovan Demetrius, both 29, along with Jaydene Parsons, 23, all of Barton Court, Bristol, have been charged with assisting an offender.
James Ireland, 23, of Richmond Villas, Avonmouth, faces the same charge.
All four are have been remanded in custody to appear at Bristol Crown Court on the 26th of March.
A fifth person, who was arrested on Monday, has been released without charge.
It comes after Becky's stepbrother Nathan Matthews appeared in crown court for the first time charged with her murder.
Matthews appeared via video link unshaven in a grey sweatshirt and in a hearing that lasted 15 minutes he spoke only to confirm his name.
Prosecutor James Ward told the court: "The allegations of this case have been well-rehearsed in the press recently and I do not propose to go into the finer details.
"There are still people helping the police with their inquiries. Therefore, it would be wrong to place before the media further details about this case.
Mr Ward said police were assessing "at least" 1,200 exhibits in connection with the case. "Much forensic work needs to be done," he said.
Matthews was remanded into custody and will next appear before a judge on 26 March.
On Thursday he appeared before Bristol magistrates with his 21-year-old girlfriend Shauna Hoare.
Hoare is charged with intending to pervert the course of justice and will also appear in Bristol Crown Court on 26 March.
Becky, 16, disappeared from her home in the St George area of Bristol on 19 February.
Police launched a huge search for the teenager and a social media campaign that reached millions of people.
Body parts were later found at a house in the Barton Hill area of the city.
Bouquets, teddies and cards have been left at Becky's home, as well as at Barton Court, and mourners have attended churches across the city to pay their respects.

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Harrison Ford's Plane Was 'Leaking Fuel'

06 March

A doctor who was playing golf when Harrison Ford crashed into the California course says he feared the actor's plane would burst into flames.

"He was obviously moaning and in pain," spinal surgeon Sanjay Khurana said.
"My task, if you will, was to get him out of the airplane in a somewhat urgent manner because the fuel was leaking."
The 72-year-old actor was flying solo in a World War Two training aircraft when it crashed into Penmar golf course in the Venice area on Thursday afternoon.
Dr Kahurana said he saw the plane "drop like a rock" about 150ft (45 metres) in front of him.
The told ABC news: "He's obviously an iconic individual and when he lay there as I was trying to check his airway, his blood pressure, it was obvious by his face it was Harrison Ford."
The vintage aircraft remained at the crash site on Friday morning as federal aviation investigators tried to determine what made it come down.
The National Transportation Safety Board said at a press conference they have still not spoken to Ford.
In audio with air traffic control, Ford, who was flying at 3,000 feet, can be heard saying in an urgent voice: "Engine failure," before requesting "immediate return" to the airport.
The single-engine plane clipped a tree as it went down shortly after taking off from Santa Monica Airport, about a mile away, the LA Fire Department said.
The yellow aircraft with stars on its wings was upright and mostly intact after the crash. No one on the ground was hurt.
Witnesses were reported by local media as saying the actor was helped out of the plane by several bystanders and that he could use his legs.
Ford's son Ben, who is at his father's bedside in hospital, tweeted: "At the hospital. Dad is OK. Battered but OK!
"He is every bit the man you would think he is. He is an incredibly strong man."
Ford's publicist Ina Treciokas said: "He was banged up and is in the hospital receiving medical care. The injuries sustained are not life-threatening and he is expected to make a full recovery."
Ford appeared to have used his extensive piloting experience to skillfully bring down the plane on the golf course and avoid nearby homes.
Christian Fry, of the Santa Monica Airport Association, said: "I would say that this is an absolutely beautifully executed - what we would call - a forced or emergency landing, by an unbelievably well-trained pilot."
LA Police Department spokeswoman Officer Nuria Vanegas said the cause of accident appeared to be "mechanical failure".
Carlos Lugo, 63, who was playing golf on the green, said he saw the plane lose power and turn around in an apparent attempt to return to the runway at Santa Monica Airport.
"When he flew over us we knew it was too late to make it back to the airport," he said.
Best known for his roles in the blockbuster films Star Wars and Raiders Of The Lost Ark, Ford is an experienced aviation enthusiast and has been the owner of several planes.
He took his first flying lessons in college, gave up due to lack of money, but got back into it after becoming an established film star.
The Ryan Aeronautical plane that he was flying was built in 1942 - the year Ford was born - and registered to the company MG Aviation Inc.

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Teenager Charged With Murder Of Young Cyclist

06 March

A teenager has been charged with the murder of a 15-year-old as he was cycling with frends in north London.

Alan Cartwright was stabbed while riding along Caledonian Road in Islington last Friday evening.
He managed to continued cycling for a short while before collapsing.
Emergency services were called but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
CCTV of the attack showed the bikes belonging to Alan's friends were taken by a number of men.
Three suspects, aged 17, 18 and 21, were arrested in the early hours of Wednesday.
At a vigil on Saturday, Alan's sister Cherries said the family had been "deeply affected" by his death.
"He was every sort of personality you can think of, really, all wrapped in one," she said.
"He had his moments, but he beat them with his laughter and his jokes and joys.
"Everyone here is showing their support for us. We are all here, celebrating [his life]. It still hasn't really hit me."

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