Woman convicted of plotting with lover to kill husband, collect $1.75 million life insurance benefits

Threesome twist revealed during testimony in Denise Williams’s trial

A Florida woman has been convicted of conspiring with her lover to kill her husband—18 years after he disappeared and she collected $1.75 million in life insurance benefits when his death was ruled an accident.

Denise Williams, 48, reportedly showed no emotion as the verdict was delivered Friday in Leon County after a week-long trial that included details of threesomes and drew comparisons to the film noir classic “Double Indemnity.”

She now faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison after being found guilty of murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the death of her 31-year-old husband, Mike Williams, who vanished Dec. 16, 2000 on a duck hunting trip.

“We got justice for Michael,” the victim’s mother said to prosecutor Jon Fuchs, the Tallahassee Democrat reported Friday.

Denise Williams listens during her trial for the murder of her husband Mike Williams, in Tallahassee, Florida.
((Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat via AP, Pool)

Cheryl Williams refused to believe her son drowned and was eaten by alligators, the newspaper reported.

THREESOME TWIST REVEALED DURING TESTIMONY IN DENISE WILLIAMS MURDER TRIAL

Prosecutors said Denise Williams hatched the murder plot with a man who was her husband’s best friend — and her lover, Brian Winchester.

He became the prosecution’s star witness, testifying that they killed Michael Williams so they could be together and collect on life insurance policies by making the murder look like an accident, according to the reports.

Winchester sold Mike Williams one of those policies, worth $1 million.

Winchester told the jury that plans to make the murder look like a drowning went awry when Michael Williams’ duck-hunting equipment failed to drag him underwater.

He testified that he wound up shooting Michael Williams in the face with a 12-gauge shotgun and then burying the body near a lake, according to reports.

The New York Post reported that Winchester and Denise Willaims carried on their secret relationship until 2005 when they married.

FLORIDA WOMAN ACCUSED OF PLOTTING HUSBAND'S DEATH, MARRYING KILLER STANDS TRIAL

But 11 years later they divorced and soon after he was arrested for kidnapping Denise Williams at gunpoint to convince her not to turn him in to police, according to the paper.

Eventually, he confessed to killing Michael Williams in exchange for immunity and led authorities to the body.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Interior Secretary Zinke stepping down, says Trump

Washington: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who is facing federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, will leave the administration at year's end, President Donald Trump said on Saturday.

Trump, in tweeting Zinke's departure, said the former Montana congressman "accomplished much during his tenure" and that a replacement would be announced next week. The Cabinet post requires Senate confirmation.



Zinke is leaving weeks before Democrats take control of the House, a shift in power that promised to intensify probes into his conduct. His departure comes amid a staff shake-up as Trump heads into his third year in office. The president on Friday named White House budget director Mick Mulvaney as his next chief of staff.

Zinke, 57, played a leading part in Trump's efforts to roll back environmental regulations and promote domestic energy development. When he recently travelled to survey damage from California's wildfires, Zinke echoed Trump's claims that lax forest management was to blame in the devastation.

He pushed to develop oil, natural gas and coal beneath public lands in line with the administration's business-friendly aims. But Zinke has been dogged by ethics probes, including one centred on a Montana land deal involving a foundation he created and the chairman of an energy services company that does business with the Interior Department.

Investigators also are reviewing Zinke's decision to block two tribes from opening a casino in Connecticut and his redrawing of boundaries to shrink a Utah national monument.

Zinke has denied wrongdoing.

The Associated Press reported last month that the department's internal watchdog had referred an investigation of Zinke to the Justice Department.

AP

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Biden Team Floats Beto O’Rourke As VP Running Mate For 2020

Democrats could see a Biden-O’Rourke ticket in the 2020 election.

Joe Biden’s friends and advisers are floating the idea of tapping Beto O’Rourke as a potential running mate in the 2020 presidential election. The former Vice President hasn’t announced official plans to run, but if he does, his team has suggested the Texas Democrat as a way to capture the younger voices in the party, reports the Associated Press.

Joe Biden, 76, is concerned that he may be considered too old to run for president in a party that is hungering for a younger point of view. At his age, he would be the oldest person ever elected president, three years older than when Reagan was re-elected. To help alleviate the concerns, Biden’s team has suggested that the former Vice President tap the 46-year-old Texas representative as his running mate because he has fired up the progressive, and often younger, wing of the party.

Biden has pointed to his age and experience as evidence that he is ready for the role of president, calling himself the “most qualified person in the country to be president.”

“The issues we face as a country today are the issues that have been in my wheelhouse, that I’ve worked on my whole life,” he said.

But critics within the party worry that you can’t excite younger voters with candidates who have been around a long time.

“Can you mobilize younger voters with older candidates? Bernie showed us that you can, but can you effectively mobilize a winning coalition with an older candidate? That is our conundrum, and I would suggest you probably can’t,” said Dale Todd, an Iowa Democratic activist.

“We want freshness coupled with experience; we also want energy and passion in our candidates.”

O’Rourke ran against incumbent Ted Cruz in the 2018 mid-term elections and while he lost the race, his bid raised a great deal of attention and hype, along with a stunning $80 million in donations. For his part, O’Rourke hasn’t said whether he wants to make a run at the presidential office, but speculation has been rampant that he may be interested. At a town hall meeting in Austin, Texas, O’Rourke left the door open.

“No decision, no decision on that,” he said about 2020.

Since the mid-term election, O’Rourke has been actively criticizing and mobilizing against some of President Donald Trump’s more notable policies, including those on health care and immigration. He recently spent time at the migrant facility in Tornillo, Texas, where thousands of immigrants are being held, and in Juarez, where asylum seekers await the chance to petition for asylum in the U.S.

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Hundreds join yellow vest demo in Dublin in solidarity with French protests

Hundreds of people in Dublin have taken to the streets in solidarity with the French yellow vest demonstrations.

Protesters donned yellow vests and some had hard hats, while others tied scarves over their faces.

Those who gathered outside the Custom House overlooking the River Liffey before marching to parliament at Leinster House included pro-Palestinian organisations and socialist republicans.

Others involved in the gathering said they were concerned about the use of fluoride in the public water supply. While anti-Government chanting could be heard.

The "yellow vest" movement in France, which takes its name from the fluorescent safety vests French motorists must carry in their vehicles, emerged in mid-November as a protest against fuel tax increases.

It soon expanded into an expression of rage about the high cost of living in France and President Emmanuel Macron’s policies.

It comes as tear gas has been fired on the streets of Paris during a fifth week of nationwide protests against the French government.

Ignoring calls not to demonstrate following a gun attack in Strasbourg earlier this week, thousands of ‘yellow vest’ activists were out in a huge show of strength.

In Paris, police were out in force to contain possible outbursts of violence.

Tear gas was fired at small groups of protesters in brief clashes with riot police near the Champs-Elysees.

Close by, a handful of topless activists from the feminist protest group Femen faced security forces a few meters away from the Elysee Palace, the president’s residence.

The ‘yellow vest’ movement started in mid-November with protests at junctions and roundabouts against fuel tax increases, but quickly became a wider mobilisation against Macron’s economic policies.

Successive weekends of protests in Paris have lead to vandalism and violent clashes with security forces.

But several major stores, such as the Galeries Lafayette, were open to welcome Christmas shoppers.

Numbers were down compared to Saturday last week, a police source said.

Loic Bollay, 44, marching on the Champs-Elysees in a yellow vest, said the protests were more subdued than in previous weeks but the movement would go on until the demonstrators’ grievances were addressed.

"Since the Strasbourg attack, it is calmer, but I think next Saturday and the following Saturdays… it will come back."

The Interior Minister said around 69,000 police were active on Saturday with a reinforced presence in the cities of Toulouse, Bordeaux and Saint-Etienne.

A police source told Reuters some 16,000 protesters had been counted in France, excluding Paris, by 11am, compared to 22,000 at the same time on December 8.

In Paris, where groups of hundreds of protesters marched in splintered groups in several neighbourhoods, 85 had been arrested by around midday, according to a Paris police official.

On Friday, President Macron called for a return to calm in France after nearly a month of protests by the so-called ‘yellow vest’ movement against his government’s policies.

The demonstrations have hit growth and caused widespread disruption.

"France needs calm, order and a return to normal," Macron said, after a meeting of European Union leaders in Brussels.

In a televised address to the nation on Monday, Macron announced wage rises for the poorest workers and tax cuts for pensioners in further concessions meant to end the movement but many said they would maintain pressure.

The government, as well as several unions and opposition politicians called on protesters to stay off the streets on Saturday, after four people were killed in a gun attack at a Christmas market in the historic city of Strasbourg.

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Parents say priest told mourners that son may be kept out of heaven over suicide: report

Maison Hullibarger died earlier this month.

A Catholic priest in Michigan is facing criticism after he presided over the funeral of an 18-year-old who killed himself earlier this month and told mourners at the service that the teen may be kept out of heaven due to the way he died, reports said.

The parents want the priest who presided over his funeral removed after they say he disparaged and condemned their son during the service.

Maison Hullibarger, 18, a straight-A student, killed himself on Dec. 4. His funeral was on Dec. 8, and Rev. Don LaCuesta said the mass.

LaCuesta mentioned “suicide” six times and wondered out loud if the teen had repented enough to make it to Heaven, Hullibarger's family said. At one point Jeff Hullibarger, the teen's father, walked over to the priest and whispered, "Father, please stop," to no avail.

"We wanted him to celebrate how Maison lived, not how he died," Maison's mother said.

The words were so hurtful that the family said Catholic officials in Detroit apologized in a statement to the Detroit Free Press. Hullibarger's parents want LaCuesta removed from his post in Monroe County, just south of Detroit.

"Everybody seems to understand but the Catholic Church," said Jeff Hullibarger.

The couple also claims that LaCuesta denied them the chance to eulogize their son, as had been discussed in advance. Several boys the same age as Maison walked out of the church crying, the couple said.

"People told me there was almost a smirk on his face," Jeff Hullibarger said.

The Catholic Church has backed off its tough stance on suicide in recent years, finding that it can be forgiven under certain circumstances.

In a Thursday statement to the paper, the Archdiocese of Detroit said its hope "is always to bring comfort into situations of great pain, through funeral services centered on the love and healing power of Christ,” and that "unfortunately, that did not happen in this case."

"After some reflection, the presider agrees that the family was not served as they should have been served. For the foreseeable future, he will not be preaching at funerals and he will have his other homilies reviewed by a priest mentor,” it continued.

The Hullibargers said an apology isn’t enough.

"Really, the only way for that to happen is for this priest to be removed. We’re afraid that, like the Catholic Church does, they’ll send him off and he’ll do it to somebody else," Jeff Hullibarger said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Family of girl, 7, who died in border custody calls for ‘thorough’ investigation

The family of the 7-year-old girl who died while in border patrol custody is calling for a “transparent and neutral investigation” into the circumstances that led to her death, attorneys representing her heartbroken family said in a statement Saturday.

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The tragic death of Jakelin Caal Maquin, who was just five days past her birthday when she died after crossing the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this month, should be investigated within “nationally recognized standards for the arrest and custody of children,” said Ruben Garcia, the director of Annunciation House, a non-profit organization that is working with her family.

“The family intends to assist in such an investigation into the cause and circumstances of Jakelin’s death,” Garcia read from a statement prepared by the family’s attorneys, during a Saturday afternoon press conference in El Paso, Texas.

Garcia spoke on behalf of Jakelin’s parents: her father, Nery Gilberto Caal Cruz, with whom she crossed the border; and her mom, Claudia Marivel Maquin Coc.

Jakelin “was a beautiful and loving child,” Garcia said during the news conference.

“Jakelin and her father came to the United States seeking something that thousands have been seeking for years: An escape from the dangerous situation in their home country,” Garcia read, referring to Guatemala. “This was their right under U.S. and international law.”

Jakelin’s death became public Thursday, five days after she died from dehydration and cardiac arrest, and sparked out sparked outrage from Democrats and immigration advocates alike.

“There are no words to capture the horror of a seven-year-old girl dying of dehydration in U.S. custody,” former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tweeted Friday. “What’s happening at our borders is a humanitarian crisis.”

Department of Homeland Security and Border Patrol officials on Friday defended their handling of the incident. Among the challenges cited, DHS and CBP said it took 90 minutes to get Jakelin medical attention after Caal Cruz alerted agents that she was sick.

Four border patrol agents apprehended a group of 160 migrants — among them Jakelin and her father — and there was no medical staff nearby.

Finally, a CBP official with direct knowledge of the investigation told ABC News that a single bus equipped to transport children from a remote part of the New Mexico border had to make two trips to take everyone. Jakelin had to wait four hours for the bus to return for her and her father, the official said.

Jakelin later had a 105.9-degree fever and had to be airlifted to a children’s hospital in El Paso. That’s when she went into cardiac arrest, suffered brain swelling and liver failure, according to CBP and DHS officials.

She died less than 24 hours later, DHS said.

But Jakelin’s family said through Garcia the little girl had been taken care of by her father, who made sure she had eaten and was hydrated.

“She had suffered from a lack of water or food prior to approaching the border,” Garcia said Saturday.

Garcia added that Jakelin and her family who speak Q’eqchi, and Spanish as a second language. They don’t speak English, Garcia added, yet Caal Cruz filled out an English form during processing.

“It is unacceptable for any government agency to have persons in custody sign documents in a language that they clearly do not understand,” Garcia said.

They urged patience while the medical examiner in El Paso County, which conducted Jakelin’s autopsy, makes a public statement regarding the cause of death.

Her body has left El Paso and is being transported to a funeral home in Laredo that works with Guatemalan consulate. From there, her body will be repatriated to Guatemala, Garcia said.

“The family of Jakelin … is still coping with their profound loss,” Garcia said. “The death of a child is the most painful experience that a parent or family can endure.”

ABC News’ Cheyenne Haslett and Tom Llamas contributed to this report.

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Relief, joy as climate deal clinched in Poland, but many say world needs to step up action

KATOWICE (Poland) – Two weeks of intense negotiations, 30 hours into extra time. The moment the gavel went down, there was a huge sense of relief in the plenary hall at UN climate talks in Katowice in southern Poland late on Saturday (Dec 15).

“Mission accomplished! #KatowiceClimatePackage adopted!” the president of the talks, Michal Kurtyka and state secretary of Poland’s Ministry of Energy, Tweeted afterwards.

“Approximately 200 countries in the room is not easy to find a deal so specific and so technical. But every single step forward is a big achievement. And through this package, you have made a thousand little steps forward together,” he told the plenary.

Delegates erupted into cheers, hugs and a standing ovation at the adoption of the deal that aims to ramp up the fight against climate change. Others criticised it as not ambitious enough by failing to urge nations to make faster and deeper emissions cuts and that the world remains dangerously off-track because current pledges put the planet on course to warm at least 3 degrees Celsius.

Nonetheless, an overjoyed Mr Kurtyka leapt from the head table on to the mainstage to applause in the chamber after a fraught two weeks in which Poland had been criticised for hosting the talks in a city at the heart of the nation’s huge coal mining industry.

At the talks, called COP24, delegates agreed a set of technical rules to put the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement into action from 2020.

Katowice marked the end of three years of negotiations on those rules and the 156-page roadmap means countries can now set to work in collectively cutting emissions, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas from burning fossil fuels, agriculture and deforestation.

“This is an excellent achievement! The multilateral system has delivered a solid result. This is a roadmap for the international community to decisively address climate change,” said Ms Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), under which the talks were held.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said: “From now on, my 5 priorities will be: ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition and ambition.”

Mr Guterres visited the talks three times to rally delegates and is pushing countries to pledge deeper emissions cuts from 2020 during his climate summit at the UN in September next year.

Youth delegates, green groups and vulnerable small island states were very vocal at the talks calling for much greater action to cut greenhouse gas emissions that scientists say are heating up the planet and causing severe weather disruptions.

The face of the talks became schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, a Swedish climate activist who has inspired global strikes by school children and university students angry over the lack of action on climate change and the escalating damage from more extreme droughts, floods, heatwaves, damage to coral reefs and threats to crop yields.

“You say you love your children above all else, and yet you’re stealing their future before their very eyes,” she said in a speech to delegates.

That view that youths’, and the planet’s, future are stake and vulnerable nations being threatened with extinction, permeated the talks.

“The reality is that the world has not yet turned the corner to aggressively drive down global emissions,” said Helen Mountford, Vice President for Global Climate and Economics, at the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

“And the window is closing. The inadequate global response to the climate crisis was articulated eloquently by 15-year-old Greta Thunberg who confronted delegates at these negotiations, calling on them to “pull the emergency break” to combat this existential crisis. Her words delivered a powerful message that global leaders should not ignore.”

“The Paris Agreement is grounded in a vision of the world working together, united by a spirit of cooperation. Heads of state urgently need to take bold measures in their countries and collectively to cut emissions, enhance resilience and seize the economic and social benefits that can propel us to a safer, more prosperous future,” Ms Mountford said.

That call for stronger, faster action, was echoed by many others.

“Without immediate action, even the strongest rules will not get us anywhere. People expected action and that is what governments did not deliver. This is morally unacceptable and they must now carry with them the outrage of people and come to the UN Secretary General’s summit in 2019 with higher climate action targets,” said Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International.

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'A real mess': Brixton residents decry Britain's Brexit chaos

In Brixton, a pro-EU stronghold in south London, voters speak of dismay as the UK stumbles towards exiting the EU.

    London, United Kingdom – Patrick Kelly is well accustomed to tall tales and pivoting plots. On the crowded shelves of his bookshop in Brixton, in south London, thrillers and dramas compete silently for the attention of a handful of quiet customers.

    But Kelly admits there’s no story to rival the political twists and turns that have gripped the UK and threatened to topple embattled Prime Minister Theresa May this week.

    The events of the last week have marked a new chapter in the country’s dramatic bid to depart the 28-member European Union, after 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the bloc during a referendum in June 2016.

    And in Lambeth, the London borough that Brixton belongs to and where more than 78 percent of voters opted to remain, two-and-a-half years of unpredictable and unwanted outcomes have taken a toll.

    “If you wrote it in a novel, people wouldn’t believe it; they would throw it down and say it’s too far-fetched,” Kelly says.

    “I used to consider myself somebody who was politically savvy and could predict how things were going to happen; that’s no longer the case. We are in uncharted territory.”

    ‘A real mess’

    Kelly is not alone.

    From seasoned political reporters camped outside parliament in Westminster to public house pundits spread throughout the kingdom, Britons were left staring wide-eyed this week after the UK’s Brexit crisis kicked into overdrive.

    Since Monday, May has pulled a parliamentary vote on a Brexit deal she brought back home after long and arduous negotiations with EU counterparts; survived a bruising vote of confidence on her leadership of the ruling Conservative Party; and dashed to Brussels – twice – in a bid to win “legal and political reassurances” on the exit proposal’s contentious “Irish backstop” clause.

    Through it all, EU officials have refused to blink and instead maintained that no amendments to the deal will be forthcoming.

    In Brixton, a cosmopolitan corner of London, the extraordinary turn of events has ushered in a mood of glum and alarm.

    “As much as I would love to turn off the Brexit noise because it’s sometimes overwhelming, I have been following the developments over this past week and I feel it is turning into a real mess,” says Patricia Hamzahee, a trustee at Brixton’s Black Cultural Archives museum.

    “I am very sceptical about all of the nirvana stories of the Brexiteers that the world is going to be a shiny, better place once we leave the EU. I really am worried about what future my children can look forward to,” the 60-year-old mother of two adds.

    Hamzaheea’s worries are also shared by other Britons.

    Everything that’s transpired since former Prime Minister David Cameron officially announced in early 2016 the referendum on Britain’s EU membership – from the spiralling rhetoric about immigration in the lead-up to the vote and the spike in hate crimes that followed it, through the Brexit-induced turnover of senior government officials (not to mention Cameron himself and two secretaries tasked with leading the negotiations with the EU), to broken fiscal promises and warnings over impending economic doom – has only served to gradually ramp up a distressing mix of uncertainty and unease, and, at times, outright fear.

    “There is no clarity around what the future is going to look like and because of the ongoing factionalism [in parliament] … there’s just no one clear direction and that is what is really frustrating,” Hamzahee says.

    Calls for a rerun

    Having survived for now, May has promised to bring her withdrawal plan back to Parliament in early January and, in an effort to appease Conservative critics, stand down as prime minister before the UK’s next general election, scheduled for 2022.

    The beleaguered-but-resilient prime minister still faces battles on numerous parliamentary fronts over a Brexit plan that’s deeply opposed by both pro-EU MPs desperate to avoid exiting the bloc and Eurosceptic critics who say her deal fails to deliver a clean break from Brussels.

    The disparate views have produced political gridlock, with seemingly the only existing consensus in parliament being that it would be best for Britain to avoid a potentially catastrophic no-deal departure on March 29 next year, when the UK is scheduled to formally leave the EU.

    Five kilometres from Parliament, in the bustling Brixton Village shopping arcade, a Caribbean restaurant owner, who calls himself Brian, claims there’s a simple solution for breaking the impasse, however.

    “If the politicians can’t agree, they need to take it back to the people to give them guidance,” Brian says.

    “Personally, I think this whole Brexit thing should never have happened … [so] if they call a second referendum, I’ll be happy,” the 49-year-old adds.

    It’s a view shared by others in Brixton, where the traces of immigration to the UK are boldly sketched out on the neighbourhood’s myriad independently owned international restaurants and stores. 

    “We have to have a second vote, so many people who voted leave have told me they now want to remain,” says Tom Kane, a supervisor at former Conservative Party social club turned public house the Effra Social.

    “I would accept this deal (May’s Brexit plan) if there was support for it, not just because we have to sort of go with it,” the 28-year-old adds. 

    “The arch-Brexiteers lied. They targeted people who were understandably fed up because of the way that they had been treated by successive governments, who just wanted change, and they told them beautiful little lies that were so easy to believe.”

    Recent polling conducted by the UK’s National Centre for Social Research suggests the result of the 2016 referendum would be inverted in a second vote, with 52 percent now in favour of remaining in the EU and 48 percent wanting to leave.

    But some prominent Brexiteers argue a second referendum would amount to a treacherous subversion of democracy and the first result must be honoured.

    Last weekend, thousands of demonstrators converged in London for a pro-Leave “Brexit Betrayal” march, led by far-right figure Tommy Robinson.

    Meanwhile, several pro-leave MPs in May’s Conservative Party, including Jacob Rees-Mogg and former Brexit Secretary David Davis have likened holding a second referendum to installing a “dictatorship” and said “the people have already decided” on the EU.

    ‘We lost the referendum’

    Acknowledging the febrile atmosphere, some pro-Remain voters seem to have adopted a more fatalistic stance over a possible second vote, laying bare the extent to which British society has been divided along multiple lines over the singular issue of Brexit.

    “I would have said ‘yahoo’ to a second referendum a couple of weeks ago, but not any more,” says Kelly from behind the counter in his bookshop, arguing that another such ballot could exacerbate the tensions ailing Britain today.

    “Because, one, we (Remainers) lost the referendum; and two, if you have a second referendum and we (Remainers) win by a small majority, the country is going to be more divided than ever, so you really have to think these things through.”

    For Hamzaheea, however, the situation is clear.

    “The people who do the work in this place, the people who get things done, across the board, whether it’s in schools, hospitals, cafes and building sites and everywhere, are often people from elsewhere,” Hamzahee says, visibly distressed as she weighs up the effect of quitting the bloc.

    “I mean, take London. I love this city. I have lived in New York, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Sao Paulo and Ankara, and I can tell you that London is the hub of the world and that’s what makes it the special place it is,” she adds.

    “So if this was about making those people say, ‘This is not the place for me,’ well they (those who voted to leave) have maybe succeeded, but I think this whole country is diminished because of that.”


    Inside Story

    Can Theresa May deliver a deal for Brexit?

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    Horrifying moment hit-and-run driver ploughs into teen pedestrian launching him 65ft through the air

    Shocking CCTV captured 19-year-old Ahmed Yousef desperately running from the path of a speeding Audi in Derby.

    The car, driven by Haider Azad Mirza, 21, smashes into the teen, flips him over the bonnet and high into the air.

    Ahmed spins horribly as he flies over the racing car before he crashes on to the road and slides on to the pavement.

    Panicked witnesses sprint to the unconscious young man as he lies seriously injured, and Mirza speeds off.

    Ahmed was “lucky to be alive” according to Superindendent Adrian Gascoyne, who at the time urged the public to get in touch with any useful information.


    This week Mirza pleaded guilty to four offences at Southern Derbyshire Magistrates' Court, including causing serious injury by dangerous driving.

    He admitted causing serious injury by dangerous driving, driving without a licence, failing to stop after a collision and using a vehicle with no insurance.

    Lynn Bickley, prosecuting, said: “It is a serious offence. It occurred in Normanton Road at around half past seven on November 5, 2017.

    “Mr Yousef was crossing the road when he was hit by an Audi A3 at speed. He was thrown a considerable distance through the air. This was all captured on CCTV.

    “Mr Yousef suffered horrendous injuries and had multiple fractures but he left him there at the side of the road.

    “The victim does not remember this collision but he recalls being treated by paramedics at the scene.

    “He had fractures to his shoulder, injuries to his side and he broke his right knee. He still requires intensive physiotherapy for his injuries.

    “A witness was able to get a partial identification of the number plate.

    “The investigation revealed that the registration plate was false and a number of inquiries were involved to track the vehicle.”

    Asif Munir, mitigating, said: “Mr Mirza has taken a decision which will impact on the next few years of his life.

    “He pleaded guilty before the court and he has been making good progress on his 100 hours of work community order for a previous offence.

    “His family are here and they are appalled and disgusted with his behaviour but they have come to court today to support him.”

    Magistrates considered bail conditions for half an hour.

    After they returned, Mirza was remanded into custody where he will remain until his sentencing at Derby Crown Court on January 10, 2019.



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    Deep in the red: Chinese county pays price for vanity-project binge

    RUCHENG COUNTY, China (Reuters) – In the heart of an impoverished village in southern China, a life-sized statue of Mao Zedong sits on a platform adorned with intricate stonework, flanked by a diorama of Red Army soldiers and traditional brick-and-tile homes with curved roofs.

    Officials have spent a small fortune on the project that has transformed the village of Shazhou, in Hunan province, into an open-air museum dedicated to the Chinese Communist Party. But few tourists have come to peer at the inscription at the foot of Mao’s statue, or take selfies in front of the heroes of the revolution.

    The “red tourism” project was the brainchild of the former Communist Party chief of the local county, Rucheng, and cost 300 million yuan ($44 million). But it has yet to produce a profit, just like the string of public gardens, town squares and office buildings that the county has built in recent years.

    Now the clock is ticking as Rucheng, among China’s poorest counties, and with a population of just 420,400 people, is under pressure to resolve $1 billion in debt, following a decade of credit-fuelled vanity projects, three local officials told Reuters. They requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

    To raise funds and conserve cash, Rucheng – which doesn’t have a train station or an airport – has been slashing public investment in infrastructure projects and increasing government land sales to generate revenue, the officials said.

    Rucheng is not alone – hundreds of other indebted counties in China are in the same boat. In a recent financial stability report, the central bank said that much of China’s hidden debt risk is held at lower-tier levels, meaning prefectures and counties like Rucheng.

    As China prepares this month to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the economic reforms that transformed it into the world’s second-largest economy, fears over local government debt are growing.

    China’s local governments had 18.4 trillion yuan of outstanding debt at the end of October, and were estimated by S&P Global Ratings to have up to 40 trillion yuan in off-budget borrowing.

    Of particular concern to the authorities as they tackle risks in the financial system are those governments with tiny revenue streams relative to their debt. Their over-reliance on income from land sales is also driving asset bubbles in China.

    Rucheng’s free-spending ways came onto Beijing’s radar this year when visiting anti-corruption inspectors were shocked by the contrast between the county’s newly built but deserted municipal district and cramped older areas where residents drink polluted water from aging pipes.

    When the inspectors were in town, numerous anonymous complaints arrived in the mail.

    Since 2008, Rucheng has spent billions on 10 office buildings, 11 public gardens and squares and 26 urban roads, the anti-corruption inspectors found. But less than 6 percent of government spending went on investing in industry.

    Vanity investments helped drive Rucheng’s debt ratio – or borrowing relative to fiscal revenue – to 336 percent last year from 286 percent in 2016, and 274 percent in 2015.

    “We must rectify the problem according to what is required of us, otherwise the local people will not trust our government officials anymore,” said one of the officials.

    The head of Rucheng’s Communist Party was sacked for profligate spending and “ignoring the livelihood of the local people”.

    Hunan province also placed Rucheng on a “top-level government debt warning list” of counties with debt ratios over 100 percent, the Rucheng officials said.

    Local governments on the list face restrictions on taking on new debt, launching new projects, hiring employees and traveling overseas, they said.

    RUCHENG CUTS BACK

    Since the anti-corruption inspection, Rucheng has suspended, canceled and scaled back 79 government projects, cutting investment by 2.1 billion yuan, the officials said.

    All Rucheng officials have been working seven days a week and meeting regularly with local residents, the three officials said. One official died from overwork, they added.

    More than 30 million yuan is also being spent on renovating old water pipes in the area.

    To resolve the debt problem, Rucheng has to repay 400 million yuan a year in principle and interest to reduce its outstanding government debt, which was around 9 billion yuan at the end of 2017, an official at Rucheng’s finance and debt department told Reuters.

    Rucheng’s debt ratio has since dropped to about 60.6 percent, said the official at its finance department. On Dec. 5, the provincial government lowered Rucheng’s government debt warning level from “first-level” to “second-level”, the officials said.

    At the same time, Rucheng officials are under pressure to produce economic growth.

    “The higher authorities require us to have zero additional debt but deliver high-quality economic growth,” said a Rucheng official in charge of the economy.

    WASHING VEGETABLES, BOILING EGGS

    But the legacy of the vanity spending remains.

    A mineral bath tourism spot in Rucheng was deserted during a recent visit by Reuters.

    Local residents washing vegetables and boiling eggs in the hot springs said the tourism spot, which had cost about 400 million yuan to build, had done little to improve livelihoods.

    In nearby Shazhou, which has a population of 500, residents said they had been pressured to sell land at bargain prices to the government for the red tourism project while getting paid only 100 yuan a day as construction workers at the site.

    White elephant projects built by local governments proliferated across China after the central government pumped trillions of yuan into the economy during the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.

    Beijing has since tried to curtail direct borrowing by local governments for such projects, but officials have found ways around the curbs. One widespread method has been the establishment of shell companies known as local government financing vehicles to obtain funds for infrastructure and real estate projects, from which local officials often can profit.

    Rucheng had nine such financing vehicles until recently, said the Rucheng finance official, adding that the number had now been cut to two. More than 1 billion yuan in debt was disposed of in that restructuring, he said.

    Rucheng still has another 1.4 billion yuan of “mid- to long-term payment obligations”, which will take Rucheng 10 years to repay, the official said.

    Despite Rucheng’s large debts, the officials said the county’s 5.36 billion yuan in government bonds presented “no default risk” because they would keep issuing so-called refinancing bonds to roll over the debt.

    WOBBLY ECONOMY

    The crackdown by Beijing in Rucheng was not only painful for local officials, but it also threatened a fragile local economy that is comprised of agriculture, green industries and eco-tourism.

    Like other places in China, Rucheng needs to develop its private sector and new industries to counter a slowing regional economy at a time when government investment is severely constrained, the officials told Reuters.

    There are signs that some private capital is entering Rucheng.

    In September, the Dongguan Electronic Industry Association in Guangdong signed a 10 billion yuan investment plan to create an industrial park in Rucheng, attracted by cheaper land and labor costs.

    That would bring in at least 20 mid-sized electronic firms and create 10,000 local jobs, Guo Peng, manager of the association, told Reuters.

    But for Rucheng officials, the fear of being punished for increasing government debt risks has extinguished much of their desire to chase higher economic growth.

    Rucheng indicated in August that its growth target for the region would be cut to 8 percent from 10.5 percent.

    “We are not taking on any new debt illicitly for construction,” said an official at the county’s Communist Party. “If a local administration raises debt in violation of central government policy, local officials will be held responsible for their entire life.”

    ($1 = 6.8733 Chinese yuan renminbi)

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