Virtual reality PTSD treatment has ‘big impact’ for veterans

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Media captionCould virtual reality help treat PTSD in veterans?

Virtual reality could be used to help military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) who have struggled with mainstream treatment.

The treatment involves patients walking on a treadmill in front of a screen which projects images depicting the type of trauma experienced.

The two-year trial found some patients could see almost a 40% improvement in their symptoms.

One veteran said it had given him the “biggest impact” out of any treatment.

‘Eats away at you’

Matt Neve, who is originally from Scotland but now lives in Gower, Swansea, joined the RAF in 2001 at the age of 16. Two years later, he was deployed to Iraq.

His role in the war was as a driver, which left him responsible for helping to pick up wounded soldiers.

Image caption Matt joined the RAF aged 16

He said: “When you’re put into an environment like that when you’re seeing guys that have been catastrophically injured, some have been killed, it’s quite difficult to describe.

“You have all these emotions flowing through you – fear, upset, anxiety – and it all hits you in one wave and it took its toll on me constantly seeing that on a daily basis.

“It eats away at you so much that something’s got to give in the end, and unfortunately for me it was my mental health.

“At its worst I attempted to take my own life. I’ve done it on more than one occasion now, and it’s so, so, so difficult to find a way back from when you’ve hit that lowest point.”

A year later, Matt started experiencing flashbacks and night terrors, while also starting to drink heavily, which had a big impact on his family.

His wife, Zoe, said: “It was really difficult because I didn’t know why his behaviour was like that because he didn’t tell me what he’d seen or what he’d been through in Iraq.

“To come back a totally different person to the one before he went, and to not know the reason why, it made me think, ‘do I really want to be with that person’ at the time. But we did fight through it.”

‘Overcome the avoidance’

Matt only realised the exact problem 12 years after leaving the RAF, after speaking to others with PTSD while competing at the Invictus Games in 2016.

He started receiving counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy, which did not make an impact to his condition, known as treatment-resistant PTSD.

Recently, he and 41 other veterans took part in a two-year study by Cardiff University and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board (CVUHB), using virtual reality to try and combat treatment-resistant PTSD.

Image caption The treatment, called 3MDR, sees patients walk on a treadmill while images relating to their trauma are projected on a screen

The treatment, known as 3MDR, was led by Prof Jon Bisson from Cardiff University.

He said: “We are helping individuals to overcome the avoidance, by walking towards the picture on a treadmill it’s very difficult to avoid and we know that we have to get rid of the avoidance to help an individual to process their traumatic memory.”

Prof Bisson said the trial is the first of its kind in the UK, with similar trials taking place in the Netherlands, United States and Israel.

Two thirds of those who took part in the trial saw an average improvement in their symptoms of 37% and Prof Bisson said the next step would be to widen the trial to other PTSD patients and not just military personnel.

“It’s very, very hard,” Matt said. “About halfway through the programme I thought ‘I can’t do this anymore’, because the images are taking you right back there.

“You want to forget about it, but the only way of forgetting about it is by dealing with it.”

Although Matt still suffers from night terrors, he said 3MDR has had the “biggest impact” on his life since he started treatment.

“The recovery journey is still ongoing, it’ll never end, but planning wise we’re looking to go away as a family in the October half-term. That’s something we wouldn’t have done before, really,” he said.

“It’s little things like that that’ll make the biggest difference.”

Whaley Bridge: Canal and River Trust accused of cover-up

Chinook over damImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Toddbrook Reservoir was at risk of flooding Whaley Bridge when part of the dam collapsed

The Canal and River Trust has been accused of a cover-up after it released heavily censored reports about a dam which partially collapsed.

Residents in Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire, were evacuated amid fears Toddbrook Reservoir would burst and flood the town.

The trust released inspection reports with large sections blacked out, citing concerns over national security.

But critics said they believed this was just an excuse.

People in the town spent almost a week away from home when part of the dam’s auxiliary spillway collapsed in August.

The reservoir and dam were inspected by the Canal and River Trust in November 2018, and separately by an independent inspecting engineer.

‘Ludicrously heavy-handed’

Residents have previously raised concerns about the condition and maintenance of the reservoir and dam, after photos emerged of vegetation growing from the spillway.

Both reports were sent to the BBC and others following Freedom of Information (FOI) requests.

Large sections of the copies received by the media contained large blacked-out sections.

Image copyright Mott MacDonald
Image caption Redacted parts include information about the “adequacy” of the dam

Matthew Forrest, who has been among a group of residents to have called for a public inquiry and criminal investigation, said the redactions seemed “ludicrously heavy-handed”.

“The population of Whaley Bridge had very little confidence in the Canal and River Trust as things stood after the near disaster in August that could have potentially killed thousands of people,” he said.

“This nonsensical black hole of a document does little to build upon any remaining confidence and faith in the Canal and River Trust to internally investigate the causes, let alone replace the neglected Toddbrook Dam.”

The trust said it had redacted information on the basis of “national security and public safety”.

‘Acts of sabotage’

There was “a high level of public interest in not releasing information that would result in a threat to public safety”, it said.

“If the Trust were to release copies of these reports, which were not redacted, it would be releasing key details of the infrastructure and potential vulnerabilities of the Toddbrook Reservoir.

“This would prejudice the protection and safety of the public through potential damage or disruption to the national infrastructure by acts of sabotage.”

In response to accusations of a cover-up, the trust said: “We are following the regulator’s – the Environment Agency’s – policy on any disclosure given the sensitive nature of inspection documents.

“For security and safety reasons, they don’t release information that could expose a vulnerability with a reservoir.”

Image copyright Mott MacDonald
Image caption Some of the photos of the reservoir – taken on 14 November 2018 – have been blacked out

The BBC has challenged the Canal and River Trust’s FOI response after being advised it appeared the trust had redacted material not related to public safety.

Residents have pointed out that the reservoir has been drained, which meant there would be no flood risk even if someone was to sabotage it.

“Surely they [CRT] must have realised the farcical nature of distributing a 90% blacked out report?” Mr Forrest said.

“Some may speculate that they have done it in order to quash any further inquiry.”

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Brexit: Government to reveal detailed plan for EU negotiations

Stephen Barclay and Michel BarnierImage copyright Reuters
Image caption Stephen Barclay and Michel Barnier met for Brexit talks in Brussels on Friday

The government has prepared the legal text of an updated Brexit deal, government sources have told the BBC.

It is expected to make more of the plans public in the next few days, a senior government figure says.

The government has suggested creating “customs clearance zones” in Northern Ireland and Ireland, as part of the proposals put to the EU.

Proposals for reaching a Brexit deal had been expected ahead of a crucial EU summit on 17 October.

The UK is due to leave the EU on 31 October, and Prime Minister Boris Johnson says this will happen whether or not there is a new deal with Brussels.

Mr Johnson says that he would prefer leaving with a deal.

At the Conservative party conference on Monday, he said: “I’m cautiously optimistic. We have made some pretty big moves, we are waiting to see whether our European friends will help us and whether we can find the right landing zone.”

MPs have passed a law requiring Mr Johnson to seek an extension to the deadline from the bloc if he is unable to pass a deal in Parliament, or get MPs to approve a no-deal Brexit, by 19 October.

Detailed plan

With the detailed proposals on the table, the UK side hopes that by the end of the week, both the EU and UK would be in a period of intense negotiations where both sides thrash out a final text.

But there is no certainty over whether the EU will accept the premise of the plans in order to move to the next phase of talks.

The biggest obstacle to a deal is the backstop – the plan to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

The policy – agreed to by former PM Theresa May in her withdrawal deal with the EU, which was rejected three times by Parliament – is unacceptable to many Conservative MPs.

Since becoming prime minister, Mr Johnson has stressed to EU leaders the backstop would have to be replaced if any deal was to be passed by Parliament.

Mr Johnson has argued that the backstop would keep the UK too closely aligned with EU rules after Brexit.

The EU Commission has said it is willing to look at new proposals but these must achieve the same aims as the backstop – and be legally enforceable.

Sources involved in the negotiations with the EU say the checks proposed would not be at the Irish border, and suggestions there would be a series of checkpoints along the border are a misunderstanding.

Talks have continued between the UK and EU, at a technical level. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier met on Friday.

The BBC understands the proposals will accept the need for customs checks on the island of Ireland – but insist these checks, as the government previously pledged, would be conducted away from the border.

Customs formalities would be carried out mostly where goods originate or at their final destination.

The UK government maintains that any further customs inspections would be very limited – and these could be conducted either at new locations or at existing business premises.

The Irish broadcaster RTE had reported that a “string of customs posts perhaps five to 10 miles away from the frontier” had been floated by the UK.

However, government sources have denied that UK officials had proposed a series of inspection posts on either side of the Irish border.

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Your guide to Brexit jargon

Minister to outline longer jail term plans for serious offenders

A prison officer

Changes aimed at forcing the most serious offenders to serve two-thirds of their sentence will be unveiled by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland.

Prisoners convicted of serious violent and sexual offences will no longer be released at the half-way point of their sentence, the minister will announce.

The plan for England and Wales forms part of a review ordered by the PM.

The Conservative conference will focus on law and order on Tuesday, with a speech from Home Secretary Priti Patel.

Ms Patel will say that the Conservative party will reclaim its place as the party of law and order.

She will say: “To the police service: we back you. And to the criminals, I simply say this: we are coming after you.”

Under the government’s proposed changes, offenders in England and Wales will be released at the two-thirds point in their sentence under strict licence conditions. If offenders break these conditions, they would be returned to prison.

Mr Buckland will say: “We owe it to victims to make this change.

“Punishment and rehabilitation are not opposites. We have to do both. Conservatives believe in offering a second chance to those who are ready to change.”

Peter Clarke, the chief inspector of prisons, recently told the government that the safety of the public is being put at risk by the release of some prisoners.

In his 2018-19 annual report, Mr Clarke said thousands of prisoners who were potentially a “high risk of harm” to the public were being released “without proper assessment”.

BBC reverses decision on Naga Munchetty complaint

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Media captionThis exchange, broadcast on 17 July, sparked the complaint

BBC director general Lord Hall has reversed a decision to partially uphold a complaint against Breakfast presenter Naga Munchetty.

He told staff that Munchetty’s words were not “sufficient to merit a partial uphold” of the complaint against her.

She had been found to have breached the BBC’s guidelines over comments she made about a tweet from Donald Trump about four female politicians of colour.

Lord Hall said he “personally” reviewed the decision of the complaints unit.

A complaint against Munchetty was partially upheld after the BBC found she had criticised the US president’s motives in saying four female Democrats should “go back” to “places from which they came”.

At the time, the BBC said Munchetty had gone “beyond what the guidelines allow for”.

On Monday, the director general reiterated that “racism is racism and the BBC is not impartial on the topic”.

The reversal of the decision comes after dozens of black actors and broadcasters called on the BBC to overturn its decision.

The saga began when Mr Trump posted several messages that made references to the Democrat politicians Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib.

“Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” he wrote on Twitter on 14 July.

The comments were discussed on BBC Breakfast on 17 July, where Munchetty said: “Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism.

“Now I’m not accusing anyone of anything here, but you know what certain phrases mean.”

Her co-presenter Dan Walker said that “it feels like a thought-out strategy to strengthen his position” to which she replied: “And it is not enough to do it just to get attention. He’s in a responsible position. Anyway I’m not here to give my opinion.”

A viewer complained to the BBC about both presenters, however they focused only on Munchetty at the third and final stage of the complaints process.

The complaint was partially upheld by the corporation’s executive complaints unit (ECU), on the grounds that the BBC’s editorial guidelines “do not allow for journalists to… give their opinions about the individual making the remarks or their motives for doing so – in this case President Trump”.

What did the director general say to staff?

In an email to BBC staff on Monday, Lord Hall said: “Many of you asked that I personally review the decision of the ECU. I have done so. I have looked carefully at all the arguments that have been made and assessed all of the materials.

“I have also examined the complaint itself. It was only ever in a limited way that there was found to be a breach of our guidelines. These are often finely balanced and difficult judgements.

“But, in this instance, I don’t think Naga’s words were sufficient to merit a partial uphold of the complaint around the comments she made.

“There was never any sanction against Naga and I hope this step makes that absolutely clear.”

He added that she was an “exceptional” journalist and that he has asked editorial and leadership teams “to discuss how we manage live exchanges on air around these topics in the future.”

Support for Munchetty

Munchetty received widespread support. Sir Lenny Henry and Gina Yashere were among 44 stars who asked the BBC to revisit the ruling in an open letter on Friday.

Writer Afua Hirsch, who helped organise the letter, said: “The ruling legitimises racist opinion.”

At the time the BBC said the letter was “based on a misunderstanding of the editorial guidelines and how they apply”.

Some BBC journalists also tweeted their disapproval at the ECU’s ruling.

Presenter Carrie Gracie, who resigned her post as China editor in a dispute over equal pay, said it had caused “unease” among BBC journalists “for whom ‘go back’ = racist” and called on the ECU to explain its decision.

Meanwhile, #IStandWithNaga trended on Twitter, and she had supportive messages from political figures including Chancellor Sajid Javid and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Earlier on Monday, before the ruling was overturned, more than 100 MPs signed a letter to Lord Hall calling for a meeting to discuss the ECU’s ruling.

Trevor Phillips, former chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said the reversal was a “good decision”, but that the BBC should look at why the situation was handled “poorly”, reassess its guidelines for journalists and apologise to Munchetty.

“The BBC still seems to be treating her as somebody who sort of went off the reservation for a minute or two – and that’s forgiven – but they are not accepting that what she did was what every other journalist does, which is to bring an insight from their own knowledge and experience and background to their reporting,” he said.

Ms Hirsch tweeted the decision to reverse the ruling was “good to see” but asked how it happened in the first place, adding: “Why did BBC mislead public in its response?”

Channel 4 presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy, who also signed the open letter organised by broadcasters, tweeted: “A victory of sorts – now let’s hope they can learn the lessons.”

What did Naga Munchetty say in the first place?

Walker: It’s the president. That was the most telling quote for me last night. I can’t remember who said it, but she said, ‘I’ve been told to go home many times to go back to where I’ve come from many times in my life, but never by the man sitting in the Oval Office’.

Munchetty: Every time I have been told, as a woman of colour, to go back to where I came from, that was embedded in racism. Now I’m not accusing anyone of anything here but you know what certain phrases mean.

Walker: Do you hear that quite regularly?

Munchetty: Yes. Not regularly, but I’ve been told it.

Walker: You’re sitting here not giving an opinion, but how do you feel as someone when you’ve been told that before, and when you hear that from him?

Munchetty: Furious. Absolutely furious. And I imagine a lot of people in this country will be feeling absolutely furious that a man in that position feels it’s OK to skirt the lines with using language like that.

Walker: Do you feel his use of that then legitimises other people to use this…

Munchetty: Yes. Yes.

Walker: As our guest was saying there, it feels like a thought-out strategy to strengthen his position.

Munchetty: And it is not enough to do it just to get attention. He’s in a responsible position. Anyway I’m not here to give my opinion.

Jersey Bulls: Depleted island side beat AFC Hayes 2-1 to win opening nine matches

Jersey Bulls play their home games at St Helier’s Springfield Stadium

Jersey Bulls continued their winning start to life with a 2-1 victory at AFC Hayes despite a depleted line-up.

Ruben Mendes and Daryl Wilson scored for a much-changed side as many key players played in the Jersey Football Combination’s 7-0 FA Inter League Cup win over the Somerset County League.

Jersey remain seven points clear at the top of the Combined Counties League Division One South.

The island side have won all their nine games and have a +34 goal difference.

“They managed to get a goal right before the end which made the last five minutes or so very nervy,” Bulls manager Gary Freeman told BBC Radio Jersey.

“We had a few changes to kill the game and make it 3-0, but didn’t take it, and while it’s 2-0 there’s always a chance.

“They came back well in the last 10 minutes, put a lot of bodies in the box, and fair play to Bradley Rolland, who came in for his debut. He pulled off two or three good saves in the last few minutes.”

Bulls’ winning start to the season
3 August: Beat Ash United 3-0 (h)
14 August: Beat Deportivo Galicia 6-0 (a)
17 August: Beat Godalming Town 5-0 (a)
25 August: Beat Fleet Spurs 4-0 (h)
26 August: Beat Westside 1-0 (a)
7 September: Beat Bagshot 7-1 (h)
14 September: Beat Kensington and Ealing Borough 5-1 (a)
21 September: Beat Eversley & California 5-1 (h)
28 September: Beat AFC Hayes 2-1 (a)

Tory conference: Government confirms £25bn for road upgrades

Cars on motorwayImage copyright PA Media

Fourteen road upgrades for England are to be funded at a cost of £25bn under plans to improve infrastructure, the chancellor is to announce.

A national bus strategy and £5bn for ultrafast broadband internet across the UK will also be outlined by Sajid Javid at the Conservative Party conference.

The funding for 2020-2025 had been set aside provisionally by his predecessor.

Meanwhile, at Westminster, opposition parties are expected to discuss their plans to prevent a no-deal Brexit.

The gathering of Tory MPs and party members in Manchester comes after a stormy week for their leader Boris Johnson.

It culminated on Sunday in No 10 denying accusations that in 1999 the prime minister squeezed the thigh of a female journalist under a table at a private lunch.

Other MPs will be in Westminster – after they voted down a motion to grant a three-day recess to cover the conference – and opposition parties are expected to meet to discuss their next moves on Brexit.

The SNP has also said the party wants to look at the possibility of holding a no confidence vote in the government.


Image copyright Getty Images

By BBC political correspondent Chris Mason

The banners that dangle from the conference hall ceiling here tell a story.

Invest, invest, invest they say – in schools, the NHS and the police. In other words, spend, spend, spend.

What a contrast with a few years ago, when the focus was on cuts.

The Conservatives argue that is because the public finances can now support a new approach.

But vast uncertainty still swirls around Brexit – and what it might mean for the national balance sheet.

Since the start of this conference, the party has fleshed out details on how it will spend more than £50bn.

Chancellor Sajid Javid will later make his contribution to this tally with promises on roads, buses and broadband.

‘Decade of renewal’

The Tories have so far made spending vows of more than £50bn at their conference.

In his speech later, the chancellor will say the full benefits of the infrastructure investment “may not be felt for some time”, but: “The work must start here and now.”

The first projects to be funded by the £25bn pot will be:

  • Completing the dualling of the A66 Trans-Pennine expressway and the A46 Newark bypass
  • Improving the M60 Simister Island interchange in Manchester
  • Starting construction on the A428 to improve journeys between Cambridge and Milton Keynes and widening the A12 in east England

At least £5bn will also be set aside to maintain and renew other strategic roads in the same period.

The chancellor will also renew his pledge from the spending round earlier this month to invest £220m into a improved bus services in England, including £50m for the country’s first all-electric bus town or city.

He will also set a goal for contactless payments to be made available on every city bus.

And plans for so-called superbus networks, where local authorities will invest in bus lanes in exchange for more services from operators, will be announced. A pilot is planned for Cornwall in 2020.

Mr Javid is expected to say: “Investment in our infrastructure will be key to making the next decade one of renewal – boosting our economy and making life easier for people all across the country.

“This new multi-billion pound investment to deliver gigabit-capable broadband for all the UK and investment in roads and buses will help people to get around and businesses to grow, ensuring no community is left behind.

“This will make the UK a better place to live and work, extending opportunity and raising living standards for all.”

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Sajid Javid arrived at conference on Sunday

The digital infrastructure will also get a boost, with the £5bn investment to support the roll-out of gigabit-capable internet, and mobile networks – including 5G.

The ambition is to rollout connectivity to the hardest to reach 20% of the country – upping the earlier target of 10%. However, a deadline to reach this goal has not been confirmed.

Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said: “Our rural communities are a thriving hotbed of industry and technology and for them resilient digital connectivity is vital.

“Our country’s digital infrastructure is essential to our future economic growth and productivity and we want everyone in the UK to benefit from world-class connectivity no matter where they live or work.”

But Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, accused the Tories of only offering “a combination of re-announcements and damp squibs”.

He added the announcement showed “the real difference between the parties, saying the Tories were tinkering around the edges, while Labour was proposing a fundamental shift of power and wealth from the few to the many”.

In another announcement, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick will pledge to create a simpler planning system to speed up the building of new homes.

The pledge is a continuation of the work done by his predecessor in the role, James Brokenshire, which will include making it easier for families to extend their homes, for small developers to face lighter planning system requirements and for a new route for redeveloping disused commercial buildings.

Mr Jenrick said: “The bold changes to the planning process will make a real difference to people up and down the nation.”