Gaza death toll hits 20,000 as UN Security Council delays vote on aid

Palestinian sources claim that since Israel started bombing the territory more than ten weeks ago, at least 20,000 people have died in the Gaza Strip.

According to the Gaza Government Media Office, at least 8,000 children and 6,200 women were among the deceased on Wednesday.

The somber milestone was reached as the UN Security Council had to postpone a crucial vote on a proposal to increase humanitarian supplies for Gaza for a third time in order to withstand a veto from the US, which usually protects its partner Israel from UN action.

Since a seven-day truce collapsed on December 1, the war has entered a more intensive phase with ground combat previously confined to the northern half of the territory now spread across its length.

When asked about the ever-growing casualty count, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said it is “clear that the conflict will move and needs to move to a lower intensity phase”.

“We expect to see and want to see a shift to more targeted [Israeli] operations with a smaller number of forces that’s really focused in on dealing with the leadership of Hamas, the tunnel network and a few other critical things,” he said. “And as that happens, I think you’ll see as well the harm done to civilians also decrease significantly.”

Air strikes continued across Gaza on Wednesday with at least 46 people killed and dozens wounded in Israeli attacks on the Jabalia refugee camp in northern Gaza, according to the enclave’s Ministry of Health.

In Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, where hundreds of thousand of people have been pushed since early December by Israel’s continued onslaught, air strikes hit a building near a hospital close to an Al Jazeera crew reporting live on air, killing at least 10 people.

“More air strikes are conducted, more victims fall due to the expansion of the Israeli military operations in the areas that are supposed to be safe zones where the majority of Gazans have been urged to flee,” Al Jazeera’s Tareq Abu Azzoum said in reporting from Rafah.

“The air strike took place in an area considered to be very densely populated, and it’s a miracle that no more than this number of people were killed,” he added.

The UN Security Council vote on a bid to boost aid to the Gaza Strip and ask the UN to monitor humanitarian aid deliveries there has been delayed at the request of the US, diplomats said.

According to the United Arab Emirates envoy to the UN, Lana Nusseibeh, the vote will take place on Thursday.

“Everyone wants to see a resolution that has impact and is implementable on the ground, and there are some discussions going on on how to make that possible,” Nusseibeh, whose country drafted the resolution, told reporters in New York.

The text aims to dilute Israel’s control over all humanitarian aid deliveries to the 2.3 million people of Gaza. The initial text has been reportedly modified to soften calls to end the fighting in Gaza to avoid yet another veto from the US.

“We want to make sure that the resolution … doesn’t do anything that could actually hurt the delivery of humanitarian assistance, make it more complicated. That’s what we’re focused on,” Blinken told reporters on Wednesday. “I hope we can get to a good place.”

Currently, Israel monitors the limited humanitarian aid and fuel deliveries to Gaza via the Rafah crossing from Egypt and the Israel-controlled Karem Abu Salem crossing, known as Kerem Shalom in Hebrew.

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Japa: Over 1,000 Nigerians fell victims of fake UK jobs, says IOM

The United Nations Migration Agency, International Organisation for Migration, said more than 1,000 Nigerians have fallen victim to scams involving foreign job opportunities in the United Kingdom.

This was as it advised Nigerians to seek proper information before embarking on any migration.

IOM’s Chief of Mission, Laurent De Boeck, disclosed these at a news conference on Monday in Abuja.

Boeck noted that some of the victims lost as much as $10,000 each in their desperate attempts to secure foreign jobs.

He said they are consequently stranded in the UK because some of them lack the means to come back, while others are ashamed of coming back to their families.

“There are some of them who lost over $10,000 only to be given fake employment letters, which allowed them to get visas.

“They get there, present the letters, and the organisations tell them that the letters did not emanate from the organisations. Over a thousand people are affected,” he stated.

He also disclosed that over 260,000 Nigerians had approached the agency in 2023 seeking guidance on how to migrate through regular or approved routes and also undergoing pre-departure medical health assessments.

Boeck  added that IOM is working with partners to repatriate thousands of people, including Nigerians, from Tunisia, which has recently placed a ban on migration.

On displacements,  Boeck said there has been about a 30 per cent annual increase for the past five years in many states of the North West.

Noting that Zamfara remained the most impacted in this regard, he said the incidents of banditry and other crimes were fueling the increase.

“In Kano, people are displaced within and there are others who have migrated, which is why our offices in Libya and Niger have more migrants originating from Kano,” he stated.

“In 2023, IOM identified and supported 682 victims of trafficking, with a dedicated focus on vulnerable groups such as survivors of gender-based violence, persons with disabilities, and unaccompanied and separated children.

“Collaborating with the Federal Government of Nigeria, IOM facilitated the return of 4,431 Nigerians and supported their reintegration. A total of 2,853 individuals received reintegration assistance, engaging in socio-economic opportunities of their choice.

“IOM’s Migration Health efforts in 2023, including over 260,000 Pre-Departure Medical Health Assessments diagnosing and referring 166 migrants with TB, administering 15,000 vaccine doses, and renovating three public hospitals, exemplified the organization’s commitment to comprehensive healthcare,” he stated.

(Punch)

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COP28: Tinubu meets King Charles, Nigeria, others eye $261bn

President Bola Tinubu on Thursday met King Charles III of England in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, the venue of the COP28 Climate Summit.

Both leaders had arrived in the city to join the conference where leaders from over 198 countries are expected to participate.

Tinubu announced the meeting on his X account, describing the British monarch as a passionate climate advocate.

He stated, “I had a productive meeting with His Majesty, King Charles III of England who is also the Head of the Commonwealth, and a passionate climate advocate.

“The meeting was a significant step in strengthening the partnership between Nigeria and the United Kingdom, and I am optimistic about the positive impact our joint efforts will have on our planet’s future as we look forward to setting an equitable global standard for environmental stewardship at COP28.”

Thursday’s meeting became President Tinubu’s first engagement since he arrived Dubai in the early hours of the day.

Presenting the 2024 budget proposal to a joint session of the National Assembly, the President revealed that he had directed relevant government agencies to diligently work towards securing substantial funding commitments that will bolster Nigeria’s energy transition.

He said Nigeria must seize this opportunity to attract international partnerships and investments that align with her national goals.

“I call upon our representatives to engage proactively to showcase the strides we have made in the quest to create an enabling environment for sustainable energy projects.

“Together, we will strive for Nigeria to emerge from COP28 with tangible commitments, reinforcing our dedication to a future where energy is not only a catalyst for development but also a driver of environmental stewardship,”

Meanwhile, Nigeria and other poor oil and gas countries whose climate and environment have been impacted by fossil fuel exploration by International Oil Companies will benefit from a $261bn climate fund, The PUNCH has learnt.

The climate summit, which kick-started in Dubai on Thursday, saw donations from countries including $100m from the COP28 host United Arab Emirates, another $100m from Germany, at least $51m from Britain, $17.5m from the United States, and $10m from Japan.

The fund, a total of about $261bn will help nations impacted by climate change from fossil fuel exploration cope with costly climate disasters.

It is not yet clear whether or not more donations would be made before the end of the two weeks conference.

Nigeria and other poor oil-producing countries had demanded for a damage fund for years, and analysts say the donations could “help grease the wheels for other compromises to be made” during the two-week summit.

The fund became necessary following divestments by IOCs from fossil fuel to cleaner energies.

A statement by Secretary General, African Petroleum Producers’ Organization, Omar Farouk Ibrahim, released on Thursday, and obtained by The PUNCH, emphasised the need for richer nations to consider the poorer nations in their decisions to phase out fossil fuel, which according to him, had formed the base for which they (richer countries) rode on its back to development.

(Punch)

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Israel, Hamas in talk over ceasefire, hostage release as death toll hits 15,000

Hopes mounted on Tuesday that Hamas could release dozens of hostages from war-torn Gaza after the militant group’s leader and key mediator Qatar said a truce deal was in sight and the Israeli premier pointed to “progress.”

The announcements are the most optimistic yet of a potential breakthrough in the conflict, which has been raging for more than six weeks and left thousands dead on both sides.

“We are close to reaching a deal on a truce,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, according to a statement sent by his office to AFP.

In Qatar, foreign ministry spokesman Majed Al-Ansari said, “We’re very optimistic, very hopeful” and told reporters: “We are at the closest point we ever had been in reaching an agreement.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has vowed to destroy Hamas, was more circumspect, telling soldiers at a military base only that “we are making progress” on the return of hostages.

“I hope there will be good news soon,” he added, with speculation that an announcement could be made as soon as Tuesday evening after his office announced meetings of his war and security cabinets and government.

In Washington, United States President Joe Biden, who does not support a full ceasefire, said a temporary truce was “now very close”.

“We could bring some of these hostages home very soon,” he said at the White House. “But I don’t want to get into the details of things because nothing is done until it’s done.”

The BRICS group of nations including Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa on Tuesday called for an “immediate, durable, and sustained humanitarian truce leading to a cessation of hostilities” in Gaza, during a summit in Johannesburg aimed at drawing up a common response to the conflict.

Deaths hit 15,000

Despite talk of a temporary truce, fighting raged on in Gaza’s bloodiest-ever war, sparked by the October 7 attack in which Israel says Hamas gunmen killed around 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

In retaliation, Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign and ground offensive in the Gaza Strip. According to the Hamas government, the war has killed more than 14,100 people, including nearly 6,000 children and close to 4,000 women, AFP reported.

S’Africa may shut Israeli embassy

South African lawmakers voted on Tuesday in favour of closing down the Israeli embassy in Pretoria and suspending all diplomatic relations until a ceasefire is agreed in its war with Palestinian terror group Hamas in Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post in a report, crediting Reuters, gathered the resolution was largely symbolic as it would be up to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government whether to implement it; a presidency spokesperson did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

But Ramaphosa and senior foreign ministry officials have been vocally critical of Israel’s leadership during its devastating military campaign against Hamas in the densely populated Gaza Strip, calling on the International Criminal Court to investigate them for potential war crimes.

The report said the Israeli embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, the Israeli ambassador in Pretoria was recalled to Tel Aviv for consultations ahead of the vote, which on Tuesday was resoundingly adopted by a 248-91 margin.

(Punch)

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Visa ban: UK varsities experience low revenue as Nigerians turn to Canada

Most of the universities in the United Kingdom have been experiencing reduced admissions from international students, including Nigerians, following the dependant visa ban policy of the British government.

Recall that the UK Home Office under the sacked interior secretary, Suella Braverman, introduced the dependant visa ban policy that restricted Nigerians and other migrants from bringing family members with them, with effect from January 2024.

The British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Richard Montgomery, while speaking on the policy in June, had said it was implemented to avoid overburdening the British economy’s housing infrastructure and to control the inflow of migrants.

Recounting the repercussions of the policy, the universities and business schools said they could no longer meet the admission targets for 2024, according to a report by 023 Chartered Association of Business Schools, CABS, Annual Membership Survey.

The report said:  “In what appears to be an early signal of the impact of an important change to UK visa policy, nearly half (44%) of the country’s business schools are reporting that they will miss their non-EU recruitment targets this year.

“When reporting on performance against non-EU recruitment targets for the 2023/24 academic year, nearly three in ten responding institutions (29%) said they had either significantly or moderately exceeded their goal. Another 27% said they had met their recruitment target.

“But the remaining 44% said that they fell short of their recruitment goals, of which 22% reported being “significantly below” their target enrolment.

“The survey report adds: ‘There is significant variation in the results by level of study for non-EU international enrolments, as at undergraduate level nearly half of the schools either significantly or moderately exceeded target compared to one-third of schools at postgraduate level.

“At postgraduate level nearly 50% of schools reported recruitment that was either significantly or moderately below target for non-EU international students, compared to 21% at undergraduate level.’

“Survey respondents reported that they were seeing some of the most significant increases in non-EU enrolment from India, Pakistan, and Ghana.

“All these countries had more business schools seeing increases in enrolments for the new academic year than decreases.

“Growth in enrolments from Nepal and Saudi Arabia were also cited by several schools. None of the schools cited decreases in enrolments from Nepal, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.”

Affected by the dependant visa restriction policy, the report disclosed that Nigerians and Chinese have reduced their admissions to British universities, saying “the most frequently cited countries for declining enrolments were China and Nigeria, which could suggest a reversal in the growth in recruitment from these key countries in recent years.”

Canada and Australia benefitting from UK’s dependant visa ban

The report further said the number of international students seeking admission to study Master in Business Administration, MBA, has reduced in number, especially from Nigerians and Chinese.

It said further that these foreign students have turned to Canadian and Australian universities which are now migrant-friendly destinations.

In May 2023, the British government announced that international students would be prevented from bringing dependants with them as of January 2024 (unless students are in postgraduate programmes with a research focus).

The Home Office said at the time that almost half a million student visas were issued in 2022.

(Vanguard)

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11 Americans killed in Israel, others held hostage, says Biden

President Joe Biden said Monday that Americans are likely being held hostage by Palestinian militant group Hamas after its surprise attack on Israel, and that at least 11 US citizens were killed in the assault.

Hamas dragged off about 150 hostages in its weekend onslaught on southern Israel from Gaza, an attack that a senior US defense official said involved “ISIS-level savagery”.

Hamas threatened on Monday to kill the hostages if retaliatory Israeli air strikes continue “targeting” Gaza residents without warning.

The threat came after Israel imposed a total siege on the Gaza Strip, cutting off the water supply, which sparked UN fears of an increasingly dire humanitarian situation.

Biden said that Washington, which has moved an aircraft carrier closer to Israel in a show of support, was working with its key ally on efforts to recover the hostages after the “heart-wrenching” attacks.

“Sadly, we now know that at least 11 American citizens were among those killed — many of whom made a second home in Israel,” Biden said in a statement after meeting his national security team at the White House.

“While we are still working to confirm, we believe it is likely that American citizens may be among those being held by Hamas,” he added.

“I have directed my team to work with their Israeli counterparts on every aspect of the hostage crisis, including sharing intelligence and deploying experts from across the United States government to consult with and advise Israeli counterparts on hostage recovery efforts.”

Biden added that the safety of American citizens at home or abroad was his “top priority as president”.

Savagery
Reeling from the Palestinian Islamist group’s unprecedented ground, air and sea attacks, Israel has counted 800 dead and launched a withering barrage of strikes on Gaza that have raised the death toll there to 687.

The United States sent its largest aircraft carrier and five other warships near Israel in a show of support on Sunday, while boosting fighter aircraft squadrons in the region.

A senior US defense official said Monday said the hostages were the subject of intense engagement with the Israelis.

“There are continual conversations across the US government with all of our Israeli counterparts about the situation of hostages that Hamas is holding in Gaza,” the official told journalists.

The US official also likened the attacks by Hamas to the notorious brutality of the Islamic State jihadist group, which is known by the acronym ISIS.

“This is ISIS-level savagery that we have seen committed against Israeli civilians — houses burned to the ground, young people massacred at music festivals,” the official said.

The United States has meanwhile warned other parties not to get involved, as fears of a regional conflagration grow.

Lebanese militant group Hezbollah should not make the “wrong decision” of opening a second front against Israel as it battles Hamas, the defense official said.

(Vanguard)

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Exam results: UK Nursing Council worries over widespread fraud in Ibadan centre

The Nursing and Midwifery Council in the United Kingdom said there is evidence of widespread fraud at Yunnik Technologies Test Centre in Ibadan, Nigeria.

This follows an alert raised by the NMC in May, that the registration of a total of 512 Nigerian nurses and midwives, who passed at a CBT centre in Ibadan could be fraudulent or incorrect.

Consequently, the NMC notified those who sat their CBT at the Yunnik centre that it needed to probe their data and the concerns it raised.

Yunnik Technologies Test Centre is one of the centres where Nigerian nurses and midwives who wish to practice in the UK take a computer-based test to assesses their clinical and numeracy competence.

The council in a press statement on Thursday, said the investigation showed that while the majority of the individuals who sat their CBT at the Yunnik centre are not considered to have joined the register fraudulently, there is evidence of widespread fraud at the centre.

“There is evidence of widespread fraudulent activity at the Yunnik centre, where we suspect some people fraudulently obtained their CBT, probably by the use of a proxy tester, where someone takes the test on behalf of someone else. Overall, this means we cannot have confidence in any CBT result from this test centre, and we’re treating all CBTs obtained at Yunnik as invalid.

“It’s essential for the NMC to maintain the safety and integrity of the register, and the public’s trust and confidence in the professions we regulate. This means we need to assure ourselves that anyone on our register, or applying to join it, meets our proficiency standards. A valid CBT result is one way in which an internationally educated professional can demonstrate they meet these standards,” the statement read in part.

It said of the 515 professionals on the register, 48 achieved their score in a time believed is more likely than not to indicate that they obtained their result fraudulently.

“We will refer each of these cases to an independent panel, called an Investigating Committee, to decide whether they gained fraudulent entry to the register. In line with our existing policy, those individuals will be offered three opportunities to take a new CBT and will be able to give the Investigating Committee information about the circumstances in which they took the CBT at Yunnik, including any mitigating circumstances or character references. They’ll have the chance to attend a hearing to provide the Investigating Committee with evidence in person.

“If the Investigating Committee decides that an individual’s entry to our register was fraudulently obtained, they’re likely to direct us to remove that individual from the register. An individual would have a right to appeal against this decision.

“Based on the evidence at this stage, we are not taking forward allegations of fraud for the remaining 467 professionals on the register who took their CBT at Yunnik.

“However, because we are treating all CBTs from the Yunnik site as invalid, they will need to resit the test successfully to remain on our register. They will be offered three opportunities to do this, in line with our existing policy. This will enable them to evidence to any employer that they hold a CBT result about which there can be no doubt,” it said.

NMC Chief Executive and Registrar, Andrea Sutcliffe said, this may be a distressing time for people facing uncertainty about their application or place on our register but the council is managing the concerns most safely and fairly.

“Internationally educated nurses and midwives make an incredibly important contribution to our health and social care system. Our paramount concern remains to protect the public by maintaining the integrity of the register for nursing and midwifery professionals practising in the UK. That’s why we’ve responded to this situation with such painstaking care and consideration.

“We’ve kept employers and key partners, including trade unions and other support groups, updated while we’ve worked through this, encouraging them to support individuals affected and proactively tackle any incidents of racism or discrimination that may have arisen. We’ll continue that dialogue while we move forward with this regulatory action, and I’m grateful for their collaboration and understanding,” Sutcliffe said.

The PUNCH reports that a total of 3,383 Nigerian-trained nurses and midwives were licensed to practice in the UK from April 1, 2022, to March 2023.

Data from the NMC also showed that so far, 10,639 Nigerian nurses and midwives practice in the UK.

(Punch)

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UK unveils new prices for visit, student visas

The price of a visit visa to the United Kingdom for less than six months has been revealed.

The visa will now cost £115 which is about N111,878.28 as opposed to the initial £100 a difference of £15.

This would be effective October 4, according to the UK Home Office.

This translates to about a 667 per cent increment.

Student visa fee has also seen an upward review and is now £490 (N476,677.59) from £127 (N123,537.58), representing a 286 percent increment.

The government said that the increment would enable it to pay for “vital services and allow more funding to be prioritised for public sector pay rises”.

The review would take effect on October 4.

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UK marks first anniversary of Queen Elizabeth II’s death

Britain’s King Charles III on Friday thanked the public for their support in his first year as monarch, as he marked the one-year anniversary of the death of his mother, Queen Elizabeth II.

In a short statement, the 74-year-old British head of state recalled the “great affection” for his mother, her life and public service.

“I am deeply grateful, too, for the love and support that has been shown to my wife and myself during this year as we do our utmost to be of service to you all,” he added.

Commemorations will be low key on Friday, with the king — who is at his sprawling Scottish Highland estate of Balmoral — not expected at any official engagement.

He and wife Camilla will attend nearby Crathie Kirk, the late queen’s place of worship, for private prayers and a moment of reflection.

His mother, who was on the throne for a record-breaking 70 years, died at Balmoral aged 96 after a period of declining health.

Throughout her reign she did not publicly mark her accession, as it was also the anniversary of her own father King George VI’s death in 1952.

Last year, when she began her Platinum Jubilee year on February 6, she spent the day in private at her Sandringham estate in Norfolk, eastern England.

– Gun salutes –

In London, the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery will mark Charles’s accession by firing a 41-gun ceremonial salute in Hyde Park from 12:00 pm (1100 GMT).

Members of the Honourable Artillery Company — the oldest regiment in the British Army — will fire a 62-gun salute from the Tower of London from 1:00 pm.

Both regiments were involved in firing the Death Gun salutes to mark the queen’s death, and the Proclamation salutes to mark Charles’s new reign.

The king’s eldest son and heir, Prince William, and his wife, Catherine, will commemorate the anniversary with a small private service at St Davids Cathedral in west Wales.

William’s estranged younger brother, Prince Harry, was in the UK for a charity event on Thursday but was not expected to meet members of his family.

“As you know, I was unable to attend the awards last year as my grandmother passed away,” Harry told the charity event.

“She would have been the first person to insist that I still come to be with you all instead of going to her, and that’s precisely why I know exactly one year on that she is looking down on all of us tonight, happy we’re together.”

Relations between Harry and his father and brother have been strained since he and his wife, Meghan, quit royal life and moved to North America in 2020.

Ties have been frayed further by their criticisms of the family in television interviews, a docuseries and Harry’s autobiography.

– Memorial –

Elizabeth II’s death was a seismic event in British life. For most Britons alive, the queen was the only monarch and head of state they had ever known.

During the 10-day official mourning period, tens of thousands of people queued for up to 25 hours to file past her flag-shrouded coffin as it lay in state in Westminster Hall at the Houses of Parliament.

Even more packed the streets of London and the route west to Windsor Castle for the state funeral, which was beamed around the world to a television audience of millions.

The queen was interred in the King George VI Memorial Chapel, Windsor, alongside her late husband, Prince Philip, who died in 2021, her father and mother and the ashes of her younger sister, Princess Margaret.

Earlier this week, the government announced that a national memorial to the late monarch will be commissioned “in due course”.

In London on Thursday, there were mixed views about Charles’s first year.

Some felt he had been right not to introduce sweeping reform too early. “He’s got a hard act to follow but he will I think change things,” Joanne Hughes, 61, told AFP outside Buckingham Palace.

But despite 161 official engagements and tours of all four nations of the United Kingdom, others were indifferent about the new king — and the monarchy in general.

“The monarchy is dying,” said nursing student Mimi Jaffer-Clarke.

“If he wants it to not die, then he needs to try to get the younger generation to like him — and we just don’t.”

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Court sentences nurse to whole-life imprisonment for killing seven babies in UK

A court in the United Kingdom has sentenced Lucy Letby, a serial child killer, to whole-life imprisonment.

According to BBC, the 33-year-old was found guilty of murdering seven babies and attempting to kill six other infants at the Countess of Chester Hospital.

Letby was said to have deliberately injected the babies with air, force fed others milk and poisoned two of the infants with insulin.

The murders and attempted killings took place between June 2015 and June 2016, when Letby was a nurse in the neonatal ward of the Countess of Chester hospital in northwestern England.

She was tasked with caring for premature babies.

Reading the sentence on Monday, Justice Goss, the judge, said the “cruelty and calculation” of Letby’s actions were “truly horrific”.

“You acted in a way that was completely contrary to the normal human instincts of nurturing and caring for babies and in gross breach of the trust that all citizens place in those who work in the medical and caring professions,” he said.

“There was a malevolence bordering on sadism in your actions.

“During the course of this trial, you have coldly denied any responsibility for your wrongdoing. You have no remorse. There are no mitigating factors.”

Letby refused to appear in court for her sentencing hearing.

WHAT IS A WHOLE-LIFE SENTENCE? 

The whole-life sentence, which is reserved for the country’s most heinous offenses, means she will spend the rest of her life in prison.

A whole-life sentence is different from a regular life sentence.

When a judge passes a life sentence, they must specify the minimum term an offender must spend in prison before becoming eligible to apply for parole.

But when an offender is given a whole-life sentence, they will spend the rest of their lives in prison, with no minimum term and no chance of early release.

Her conviction also makes her the UK’s most prolific child serial killer in modern times.

The mother of a baby boy killed by the nurse said she was “horrified that someone so evil exists”.

The mother of one of the other babies had also told the court that knowing her son’s murderer was watching over them was like “something out of a horror story”.

(Cable)

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