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A minister has apologised to those who have experienced delays at the UK’s airports over the weekend.

People have complained of “total chaos” at airports as the summer holidays began for millions.

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Two hour-long queues to show COVID-19 documentation before being allowed airside were reported at Heathrow on Saturday, while there were complaints of a lack of staff at Stansted Airport causing “chaotic scenes”.

Airports and airlines were expecting their busiest weekend of the year, with hundreds more flights and thousands more passengers than at any time during the COVID pandemic.

Speaking to Times Radio, crime and policing minister Kit Malthouse apologised for the delays and suggested that airline staff could be among those made exempt from having to isolate if identified as a close contact of someone who tests positive for coronavirus.

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“I know Border Force are one of the frontline services that will be able to access more of this test and release,” he said.

“And I think at Heathrow yesterday we had a technical issue with the e-gates where they went down for 90 minutes or so. That caused a problem and I’m very sorry about that, and I’m sorry for the people that were inconvenienced.

“Hopefully Border Force will be relieved of some of the aspects of the pingdemic.”

Asked if airline staff could be made exempt as well, he said: “Yes, we would be in conversation with employers.”

Heathrow was expecting to welcome about 128,000 passengers over this weekend, although that is down from pre-pandemic daily volumes of around 230,000 to 260,000 in July 2019.

Chief executive John Holland-Kaye said more staff would be deployed to make sure passengers had a “smooth journey”.

However, Fiona Brett, a violinist travelling to Frankfurt with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, said she had to queue for two hours at Heathrow on Saturday to show her COVID vaccination certificate to staff at check-in, despite already checking in online.

Ms Brett, from Watlington, Oxfordshire, said the “total chaos” meant her 9.30am flight was delayed.

“They were constantly calling people out of the queue for the next flight that was closing,” she said.

“Actually it would have been better to turn up at 8.30 and get called from the back of the queue to the front – total chaos.

“I believe the queues were caused not by too many people but by the airlines having to do all the extra checks before properly checking in.”

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Holiday hotspots moved back to amber list

Other passengers vented their frustrations via social media about the queues at Stansted Airport, with one labelling the scenes “chaotic”.

Manchester Airports Group said it was expecting 958 flights at Manchester Airport from Friday to Monday, 224 at East Midlands Airport and 1,330 at Stansted.

This is an increase from the same weekend last year, when 632, 177 and 735 flights respectively took off.

But it is still significantly fewer than over the same period in 2019 – 2,512, 503 and 2,139 respectively.

Gatwick Airport was expecting to see around 250 to 260 flights and between 25,000 and 27,000 passengers a day over this weekend, up from a low of just 15 flights a day at one point in the pandemic.

Budget airline easyJet said it was expecting to transport some 135,000 passengers from the UK this weekend across more than 80 routes to a variety of green and amber-list destinations in Europe.

A total of 251 flights were due to take-off, flying to destinations including Malta, Madeira, Malaga in Spain, Faro and Lisbon in Portugal, and Corfu and Athens in Greece.

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Disruption to international travel should be expected – transport secretary

Tui said it had almost double the numbers of passengers setting off this weekend compared to last, with the Balearic islands and Greece the “clear favourites” for Britons jetting off for some sun.

Jet2 had 170 flights going to more than 40 destinations, up from around 70 flights to six places last weekend.

A traffic light system for international travel has been in operation since May, with destinations given a green, amber or red designation.

People returning from green list countries do not have to quarantine when they get back, but only a handful of European tourist hotspots are in this tier.

Travellers coming back from amber list countries have to isolate upon their return, but there is an exemption for those who are fully vaccinated as well as under 18s.

Spain, Italy and Greece are on the amber list.

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Tories warned Mark Menzies misuse of funds claims ‘constituted fraud’ but whistleblower told there was no ‘duty’ to report it

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Tories warned Mark Menzies misuse of funds claims 'constituted fraud' but whistleblower told there was no 'duty' to report it

The Conservatives were warned ex-Tory MP Mark Menzies’s alleged misuse of party funds may have constituted fraud but the whistleblower was told there was no duty to report it

Mr Menzies, the MP for Fylde in Lancashire, gave up the Tory whip in the wake of reports in The Times that he misused party funds. He disputes the allegations.

The allegations came about after Mr Menzies former campaign manager, Katie Fieldhouse, spoke to the newspaper.

Mark Menzies pictured in Peru  in 2020
Pic: AP
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Mark Menzies pictured in Peru in 2020. Pic: AP

In a new interview with The Times this evening, Ms Fieldhouse, 78, claims she was told the Conservative Party was aware the allegations were potentially criminal.

She says the Conservative Party’s chief of staff “told me that when they first took over the investigation [from the Whips’ Office] they had consulted solicitors”.

She added: “He told me on the phone, ‘the solicitor said it is fraud but you are not duty-bound to report it because it’s not Conservative Party money’.”

The whistleblower said she was told the decision not to inform the police was made because it was donors’ money and not the party’s.

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A Conservative spokesperson said: “The party is conducting an investigation into the claims made and has been doing so for several months.

“We will of course share any information with the police if they believe it would be helpful to any investigation they decide to undertake.

“Suggestions the party has not been seriously examining this matter are demonstrably false.”

Lancashire Police said today it was “reviewing” information about Mr Menzies after Labour asked for an investigation to take place.

In a statement, the force said: “We can confirm that we have now received a letter detailing concerns around this matter and we are in the process of reviewing the available information in more detail.”

Read more: All the Tory MPs suspended since Sunak became PM

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Ruth Davidson on Mark Menzies allegations

The party’s chief whip, Simon Hart, is said to have been made aware of the claims in January, when the former campaign manager reported what had happened.

Sky News understands there has been an investigation ongoing by Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) since the allegations were first raised, but further information came to light this week and Mr Hart acted immediately.

Speaking tonight, Labour’s chair Anneliese Dodds said: “The Conservative chairman and chief whip must urgently come out of hiding and explain what they knew and what advice they received.

“If, as reported, they or Conservative officials​ were warned about potentially fraudulent activity and chose not to go to the police, this would be indefensible.”

Mr Menzies, who has served as an MP since May 2010, is reported to have phoned his 78-year-old former campaign manager at 3.15am last December, saying he was locked in a flat by “bad people” and needed £5,000 as a matter of “life and death”.

The sum, which rose to £6,500, was eventually paid by his office manager from her personal bank account and subsequently reimbursed from funds raised from donors in an account named Fylde Westminster Group, the newspaper says.

Speaking to Sky News, Ms Fieldhouse said: “I am feeling dreadful because I am a devout Tory and as I have said to everybody else, I reported his actions to the chief whip… it is now the middle of April.

“Come to your own conclusions [about] what is happening.”

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Asked if she was disappointed with the way the complaint was being handled, she said: “Yes.”

Mr Menzies said on Thursday: “I strongly dispute the allegations put to me. I have fully complied with all the rules for declarations. As there is an investigation ongoing I will not be commenting further.”

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Mark Menzies: Tory activist who reported MP over alleged misuse of funds disappointed by party response

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Mark Menzies: Tory activist who reported MP over alleged misuse of funds disappointed by party response

A Tory activist who reported an MP over claims he misused party funds has told Sky News she is disappointed by the way her complaint has been handled.

Mark Menzies voluntarily quit the Conservative parliamentary party this week after a report in The Times claimed he called his ex-campaign manager Katie Fieldhouse, 78, early one day to say he was locked in a flat by “bad people” and needed £5,000 as a matter of “life and death”.

The sum, which rose to £6,500, was eventually paid by his office manager from her personal bank account and subsequently reimbursed from funds raised from donors in an account named Fylde Westminster Group, the newspaper said.

Politics live: Sunak accused of ‘full on assault on disabled people’ after welfare speech

But despite the incident taking place in December – and Ms Fieldhouse submitting her complaint in January – the Fylde MP had remained part of the parliamentary party and as a trade envoy for the government until the press reports surfaced.

He has now lost the Conservative whip and was suspended as one of Rishi Sunak’s envoys.

Mr Menzies strongly disputes the claims, which also include accusations he used campaign funds to pay his personal medical bills.

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Speaking to Sky News’ Frazer Maude, Ms Fieldhouse said: “I am feeling dreadful because I am a devout Tory and as I have said to everybody else, I reported his actions to the chief whip… it is now the middle of April.

“Come to your own conclusions [about] what is happening.”

Asked if she was disappointed with the way the complaint was being handled, she said: “Yes.”

And asked if Mr Menzies should step down, she added: “It is for his conscience and the party to deal with. I have put my faith in the party, it is for them to deal with it.”

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Mr Sunak was also asked by reporters on Friday whether his former colleague should quit the Commons, and why it had taken until now for the party to act, but he said he would not comment while an investigation was being carried out.

Instead, the prime minister said: “It’s right that Mark Menzies has resigned the Conservative whip. He’s been suspended from his position as a trade envoy whilst the investigations into those allegations continue.

“For our part, I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation while it’s happening and he’s no longer a Conservative MP.”

Meanwhile, the Labour Party has written to Lancashire Police to demand an investigation into allegations of fraud and misconduct in public office.

Leader Sir Keir Starmer told broadcasters that the Conservatives “seem to have sat on their hands” over the allegations.

He added: “If they thought they could sweep this under the carpet somehow they were obviously very mistaken and that is why I think there are very serious questions now that need to be answered – not just by the individual but also by the government on this.”

And the Liberal Democrats have called for the ministerial ethics adviser to investigate chief whip Simon Hart’s handling of the complaint.

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Labour blames ‘shoplifters’ charter’ for surge in retail crime

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Labour blames 'shoplifters' charter' for surge in retail crime

A “shoplifters’ charter” has seen thefts rise significantly – to about one offence every minute – but police are charging fewer people, according to Labour.

The party said data showed a record 402,482 shoplifting offences in England and Wales in the year to September 2023.

However, offences resulting in a police charge fell from 20% to 15% between 2018 and 2023, according to a Freedom of Information request.

Labour said offenders were getting off “scot-free” as the fall had not been matched by a rise in other penalties.

More than 54% of shoplifting offences are also dropped with no suspect identified, according to recent Home Office figures.

Labour partly blamed the situation on a 2014 move to introduce a “low value” shoplifting category for items worth under £200 in total.

Theresa May, then home secretary, brought it in to speed things up and allow police to deal with these offences by post.

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But Labour and others, such as the British Retail Consortium, said it meant officers have deprioritised shoplifting.

The rise in shoplifting and attacks on staff have caused some retailers to lock away – or put security tags on – everyday products such as meat, butter, chocolate and coffee.

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Shoplifter ransacks Co-op

Co-op’s food business lost £33m in just six months last year as shoplifting cases surged.

A recent British Retail Consortium survey said the number of annual customer thefts across the UK had doubled to 16 million – far higher than the Home Office data.

Read more:
No excuse for shoplifting as benefits very generous, minister says
Middle-class shoplifters partly to blame, says M&S chairman

Shadow home secretary Yvette Copper said Labour would change the law as criminals are “getting away with it and more local businesses are paying the price”.

“The Conservative government has decimated neighbourhood policing, leaving our town centres unprotected, and they are still refusing to get rid of the £200 rule, which is encouraging repeat offending and organised gangs of shoplifters,” said Ms Cooper.

“Labour will scrap the Tories’ shoplifters’ charter and bring in a community policing guarantee, with 13,000 more neighbourhood police and PCSOs to crack down on shoplifting and keep the public safe.”

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Home Office minister Chris Philp said the “reality” was people in Labour-run areas were 20% more likely to be a victim of shoplifting, and 40% more likely to be a victim of crime, than those in Conservative areas.

“This month, Rishi Sunak and the Conservatives announced that serial or abusive shoplifters will face tougher punishments and we are making assault of a retail worker a standalone criminal offence,” Mr Philp added.

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