Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories today.
Dozens of people have been killed in a crowd crush at a Jewish religious gathering in northern Israel in what the country’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a “serious disaster”. Emergency services said 44 people, including small children, died in the crush at Mount Meron early this morning. More than 100 were injured. The disaster occurred as tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered for the annual Lag Baomer festival at the tomb in Galilee of a 2nd-century sage, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, with commemorations including all-night prayer, songs, dance and a bonfire. It was not clear how the crush started but some witnesses said people had been asphyxiated or trampled in a passageway. Israeli media published an image of a row of bodies covered in plastic bags on the ground. Videos showed chaotic scenes of men clambering through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron to escape the crush, as police and paramedics tried to reach the wounded. Witnesses described how terror spread through the crowds of pilgrims, with men falling on top of one another. “It happened in a split second,” one said. “People just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster.” The event was the largest religious festival held legally in Israel since the lifting of pandemic restrictions. Here’s what we know so far about the disaster.
Noel Clarke accused – The actor Noel Clarke has been accused of groping, harassment and bullying by 20 women. The alleged misconduct includes claims that the Dr Who and Kidulthood star secretly filmed naked auditions and showed colleagues sexually explicit photos and videos of women. Bafta has suspended Clarke’s recent award for outstanding contribution to British cinema, and his Bafta membership. Clarke, one of Britain’s most lauded stars, categorically denies the allegations made by all 20 women. “I vehemently deny any sexual misconduct or wrongdoing and intend to defend myself against these false allegations,” he said in a statement.
Curtains call – Boris Johnson’s refurbishment of his Downing Street flat could be investigated by parliament’s sleaze watchdog, which could in turn lead to the prime minister being personally sanctioned if found to have breached conduct rules. A complaint submitted to the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, says she must investigate the initial funding of the renovations, which cost tens of thousands of pounds, and investigate the possible involvement of three Tory peers. Johnson, who has dismissed the “cash for curtains” row as a “farrago”, already faces three other inquiries into the matter. Catch up with the issues and whether any law has been broken with our explainer here.
‘Time’ for Covid inquiry – More powerful voices have joined in calls for the government to launch an immediate inquiry into its handling of the pandemic. The Institute for Government thinktank will call on the prime minister to set up a statutory public inquiry in May, with hearings to start in September. The King’s Fund health thinktank, which is chaired by Lord Kakkar, a professor of surgery at University College London, will also tell Boris Johnson that “it is time”. Medical supplies from the US have arrived in India to help combat the devastating wave of the virus that infected another record 386,000 people in the past 24 hours. Follow the latest developments in the pandemic at our live blog.
Maxwell mark – Lawyers for Ghislaine Maxwell have released a photograph of the British socialite, who is in a New York prison facing sex trafficking charges, showing her with a bruised face. It was not clear how she obtained the bruise but her lawyer suggested that Maxwell was injured while having to cover her eyes at night because guards at the prison in Brooklyn flash light in her cell every 15 minutes to make sure she is breathing.
‘It is beautiful’ – Two retired shopkeepers from Amsterdam have become Europe’s first tenants of a fully 3D-printed house constructed using a huge robotic arm with a nozzle that squirts out a specially formulated cement. Elize Lutz, 70, who moved into the two-bedroom bungalow near Eindhoven yesterday with her partner, Harrie Dekkers, 67, said: “It is beautiful.” Lutz said: “It has the feel of a bunker – it feels safe.”
Constitutional questions have dominated the Scottish election campaign. As voters go to the polls next week, Libby Brooks assesses whether they will give the SNP a majority and a mandate for a new independence referendum
After starting out in a flat in Coventry, 2 Tone Records went on to set the agenda for British pop music before peaking when the Specials reached No 1 with Ghost Town in 1981 as riots and recession raged across the country. Ahead of a new exhibition about the label, Dave Simpson talks to key figures such as Jerry Dammers from the Specials, Pauline Black from the Selecter and Everett Morton from the Beat about how the feverish mix of punk, reggae and ska changed music forever.
Manchester United have at least one foot in the Europe League final after thrashing Roma 6-2 in the semi-final first leg. They put a run of last-four stumbles behind them as Edison Cavani and Bruno Fernandes scored twice, but Ole Gunnar Solskjær still said the “job isn’t done”. It’s a different story for Arsenal after they lost 2-1 at Villareal, although the Gunners were given hope for next week’s second leg thanks to a penalty from Nicolas Pépé following a “moment of magic” from Bukayo Saka. Lewis Hamilton has added his weight to a social media boycott this weekend by sports bodies and stars to highlight online abuse. The Wigan coach, Adrian Lam, has promised to address any allegations of racism after Tony Clubb was placed on report following a complaint by Hull FC’s Andre Savelio after the Lancashire team won a narrow 16-14 Super League victory last night. In world championship snooker, Kyren Wilson produced a stellar display to open up a 6-2 lead in his semi against Shaun Murphy. The first round of the NFL draft saw the Patriots pick up Alabama quarterback Mac Jones as the long-term replacement for the legendary Tom Brady.
The Co-op is ditching its plastic “bags for life” because so many shoppers are using them only once that the bags are creating more waste than the single-use carriers they were introduced to replace. Britain’s economy is building momentum as it recovers from the Covid-induced slump, according Guardian analysis. The pound nudged up overnight to $1.394 and €1.151, while the FTSE100 is expected to dip very slightly.
There are some upbeat front pages today amid continued optimism about Britain’s Covid vaccination rollout. “Get out and have fun”, says the Mirror’s front page above a report that a senior government adviser has urged older people to socialise more thanks to vaccine success. The Mail splashes with “What a boost for Britain!”, and the i has “Vaccines in a fortnight for people in their 30s”. The Telegraph lead is “Distancing not needed at big events, PM to be told”. The Guardian also leads on Covid but with “Johnson challenged over refusal to launch inquiry into pandemic”.
The Times has a poll claiming that “Tories increase lead over Labour despite flat row”, while the Express says “‘Laser-focused’ Boris takes aim at critics”. The Sun reports that the PM’s fiancée, Carrie Symonds, has been approached for Strictly. “Tango & cash for curtains”, it puns. The FT looks further afield with “US economy powers back close to pre-pandemic output levels”.
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