Posted on

British travellers: are you returning early from Portugal or Greece? | World news

British travellers who are on holiday in Portugal may face a 14 day quarantine when returning as coronavirus cases reached levels considered dangerous by the UK government.

In Scotland, travellers from Greece already have to quarantine, whereas in Wales, this only applies to those arriving from the island of Zante.

Share your experiences

We’d like to hear from UK holidaymakers in Portugal and Greece who are changing plans because of the potential move. Are you trying to come back early? Will you have to cancel your planned holiday?

You can get in touch by filling in the form below or via WhatsApp by clicking here or adding the contact +44(0)7867825056. Your responses are secure as the form is encrypted and only the Guardian has access to your contributions.

One of our journalists will be in contact for publication before we publish, so please do leave contact details.

If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here.

Source link

Posted on

Afghanistan’s Hard Lessons. A British Perspective.

This expert-driven national-security insight can’t be generated for free.  We invite you to support quality content by becoming a  Cipher Brief Level I Member .  Joining this experienced security-focused community is only $10/month (for an annual $120/yr membership). It’s a great and inexpensive way to stay ahead of the national and global security issues that impact you the most.



The post Afghanistan’s Hard Lessons. A British Perspective. appeared first on The Cipher Brief.

Source link

Posted on

Scandinavian woman ‘forced to withdraw rape claim’ in case similar to British teen’s Cyprus ordeal

The British woman is led into a courthouse in Paralimni, Cyprus - AFP
The British woman is led into a courthouse in Paralimni, Cyprus – AFP

A Scandinavian woman says she was forced by Cypriot police to withdraw a rape claim or face arrest, in a striking parallel to the case of a British teenager who was allegedly gang raped on the Mediterranean island.

The Scandinavian woman said police officers questioned her aggressively for several hours after she was raped by two men outside a nightclub.

The officers accused her of lying and said that if she did not withdraw the rape claim they would arrest her and send her to prison.

Her account bears striking similarities to the alleged treatment of a British teenager who was convicted last week of lying about being gang-raped by Israeli tourists in the resort town of Ayia Napa.

She made the initial complaint in July but 10 days later, after being questioned without a lawyer for eight hours in a police station, signed a retraction statement.

<span>The alleged gang rape of the British teenager happened in the resort of Ayia Napa</span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
The alleged gang rape of the British teenager happened in the resort of Ayia Napa Credit: AFP

She faces sentencing on Tuesday  and could be jailed for up to a year and fined 1,700 euro (£1,500) at Famagusta District Court in Paralimni.

The 19-year-old British woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, told the trial that officers threatened to arrest her and her friends unless she retracted the claims of being gang raped by a group of young Israeli men.

After reading about the Ayia Napa case, the Scandinavian woman decided to come forward with her account of similar treatment at the hands of the Cypriot police 20 years ago.

It is the first time she has spoken publicly of the assault and has previously only discussed it with her doctor and her husband.

Now aged 43, she was 21 when she met the men in a nightclub in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, in January 1998.

They offered to give her a lift to her hotel. Instead, they raped her in a car park. “I fought for my life and thought I was going to die,” she told The Telegraph.

She went to the nearest police station to report the rape and was taken to a hospital for an examination.

She was then taken to a police station for questioning. “The main investigator was extremely brutal and aggressive. I was in big shock so I had some difficulties remembering details.

“This made him very angry. He then started accusing me of making the whole story up to receive money from my insurance company.”

The same allegation was made by in court by Cypriot police against the British woman.

Both alleged victims said they were mystified by the accusation because they did not think that holiday insurance covered rape and had no intention of claiming any financial compensation.

“I was very afraid and felt trapped in the room with them. They treated me as a big criminal. They kept me in the police station for many hours. They told me that if I didn’t withdraw the rape allegation they would arrest me and send me to prison. So I did and they let me go,” said the Scandinavian woman, who asked to remain anonymous.

She said she was still deeply affected by the ordeal and had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder – just like the British teenager who is on trial. “The treatment I received from police was terrible,” she said.

<span>Michael Polak, a British lawyer representing the teenager in the trial</span> <span>Credit: AFP </span>
Michael Polak, a British lawyer representing the teenager in the trial Credit: AFP

Michael Polak, a British lawyer representing the British woman, told The Telegraph: “This case bears remarkable similarities to the teenager’s case. It raises serious questions about the investigation of rape in Cyprus and the treatment of rape complainants there.”

In a report in 1998, a Norwegian newspaper claimed that police on the island routinely dismissed rape claims, treating the victims as liars.

The report quoted a Norwegian tour operator who said that “police never take rape claims seriously. All such claims are treated as false.”

“Police have a theory that tourists make such allegations so they can claim expenses for their holiday,” the report said.

A senior Cyprus police officer was quoted as saying: “Why rape when it’s so easy to find somebody to have sex with?”

Source link

Posted on

British Columbians fight US billionaire for ‘right to roam’ in wild

MERRITT — When most Canadians come across “No Trespassing” signs, they stop in their tracks and turn around, often in disappointment.

But not everyone gives up.

A few enter into decades-long battles, like the one against B.C.’s giant Douglas Lake Cattle Company, owned by one of America’s richest people, Stan Kroenke. And the lesson these diehards have been able to pass on is that “No Trespassing” and “Private Property” signs in Canada, despite being posted almost everywhere, are often not worth the plastic, wood or metal they’re printed on.

Stan Kroenke.

“Most of the no-trespassing signs you see in B.C. are illegal,” says Rick McGowan, as we travel over a gnarled, grassy track on the magnificent Douglas Lake ranch. This is not just any path, however. McGowan and his allies in the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club have shown in court it is a public right-of-way, even though it crosses the billionaire’s property.

The track leads to peaceful Stoney Lake, one of dozens of public bodies of water in the Cariboo-Chilcotin that locals, including Indigenous people, were able to fish on not long ago, but which have since been blockaded off by landowners.

B.C. Supreme Court Justice Joel Groves has ruled, however, that the American billionaire and his hired hands can no longer keep Stoney or nearby Minnie Lake, which are Crown property, behind locks, gates and no-trespassing signs.

The Nicola Valley club’s case against the Douglas Lake Cattle Company is a boon to Canadians who love the outdoors and seek rightful access to wild places.

McGowan, an easygoing but tough-talking man, is making a point of taking me over some of the long-obstructed public rights of way that lead to Stoney Lake on Kroenke’s ranch. The property is bigger than Metro Vancouver. It’s not only Canada’s largest ranch, it’s the biggest privately owned chunk of property anywhere in B.C.

“Pretty well all the no-trespassing signs around here are shot to s — t,” says McGowan, 67, who spent much of his career with the B.C. Highways Ministry mapping every metre of every road and right-of-way running through the stunning rolling hills southeast of Merritt.

“I’ve surveyed every road in the district. And I knew they were being locked illegally,” says McGowan, whose unique expertise is part of the reason Justice Grove called him an “impressive witness” and took him so seriously as an impartial “public-interest” litigant.

To put it another way, McGowan and his comrades are not in this for the money. Yet McGowan has been arrested three times by the local RCMP though never convicted. The judge criticized the police for their insidious collaboration with Kroenke’s ranch staff. B.C. government bureaucrats and politicians were also bitten by the judge’s rebukes.


Even though the Douglas Lake ranch conflict has huge implications in its own right for access to wilderness, the Nicola Valley club’s concerted response to the reclusive billionaire’s efforts to lock out the people of B.C. is part of a much bigger movement.

That movement has been called “the freedom to roam” or “the right of public access to the wilderness.” It’s a centuries-old campaign by walkers, fishers, recreational users and other ordinary people to gain justified access to lakes, streams, mountains and wilderness, while showing respect for private property.

Sometimes campaigners try to gain access to government-owned lakes and rivers that end up surrounded by private land, which is the situation in the Nicola Valley case. Other times they battle to forge designated trails through “uncultivated” private property itself.

The freedom to roam is well advanced in Scotland, Finland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Austria, Switzerland and other nations, where it’s possible to walk pastoral routes that wend their way through a blend of public and private land for hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres.

Will Canadians follow the European path?

‘Everything you can see … is owned by Stan Kroenke’

“Everything you can see for 30 miles is owned by Stan Kroenke,” McGowan says, standing at the top of a hill that surveys vast grasslands dotted with horses, cattle, rocks, birds and lakes.

The Douglas Lake Cattle Company is one of many B.C. ranches bought since 2003 by Kroenke, a Colorado-based real-estate baron who owns the Los Angeles Rams, the Denver Nuggets basketball team, the Colorado Avalanche hockey team, London’s Arsenal soccer club and other major-league sports franchises. He is married to Ann Walton, a scion of the family that owns Walmart, the world’s largest company by revenue.

Rick McGowan, with his truck, next to Stoney Lake on the Douglas Lake ranch.

The Douglas Lake ranch — together with Kroenke’s recent acquisitions of nearby Alkali Lake, Riske Creek, Dog Creek and Quilchena ranches — encompasses roughly 5,000 square kilometres of deeded and Crown grazing land. Metro Vancouver, by comparison, covers 2,700 square kilometres.

The Douglas ranch has its own airstrip and fishing lodges. It also surrounds Stoney Lake and Minnie Lake, which McGowan and friends used to fish in before they were blocked by Kroenke, the man often known as “Silent Sam” since he never talks to the media. Forbes Magazine estimates Kroenke is worth $8.5 billion.

Since he owns more gigantic ranches in the U.S., Kroenke put a Canadian, Joe Gardner, in charge of the Douglas ranch and the extremely costly court case against the Nicola Valley club, which has had to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to fight the non-resident magnate.

But Gardner, after 40 years at the ranch, stepped down as general manager in July, just six months after Justice Groves decided against the Douglas Lake Cattle Company, saying two of the Crown-owned lakes on the ranch must be reopened for catch-and-release fishing to the public, even if the lakes are stocked by the ranch. Gardner, who still works for Kroenke, was not available for comment.

The judge’s hard-hitting decision — which criticized Gardner for acting above the law and RCMP members for colluding with him — is a huge affirmation that the Canadian public has a right to cherished water bodies, at a time when many believe governments are failing to stand up to private interests.

Groves accused the B.C. government of failing to respond to Douglas Lake ranch’s unlawfulness. “Over 20 years, a privately held corporation, owning a large swath of land, prohibited the public from driving on the public road, and the province did nothing,” he said.

The judge also rebuked Victoria in a scorching epilogue: “It makes no sense to me that the Crown would retain ownership of the lakes, only for there to be no access.” He urged B.C. politicians to re-examine trespassing laws and “guarantee access to this precious public resource.”

The Douglas Lake ranch is appealing the judge’s decision.

McGowan, who acknowledges he’s “a bit of a pot stirrer,” has long found it both provoking and laughable that RCMP officers have arrested him and many others for fighting for the freedom to fish on public lakes. He’s supported by countless people in the Nicola Valley, Kamloops, Metro Vancouver, Victoria and farther afield.

Their donations arrive by many routes, including at Nicola Valley club picnics, where hunting rifles are raffled. “I’ve been fighting this for over 30 years,” including with Douglas ranch’s previous owners, says McGowan, adding how rewarding it is that he’s been joined in the past decade by the Nicola Valley club and people like his lifelong neighbour, retired school teacher Harry Little. 

Little, a soft-spoken 73-year-old, has come along with us for the ride onto the Douglas ranch, where he describes how McGowan and he have frequently cut off illicit gate locks and explains that the overgrown road to Stoney Lake — which bizarrely remains under a highways maintenance contract — now dives under the surface of the lake, since Kroenke’s people have flooded it.

McGowan, leaning his big frame against his white Dodge Ram three-quarter-ton pickup truck, says people often ask him how he can keep going, since they worry the long conflict must be stressful.

But he laughs at the idea, saying: “This is therapy.”

Surveying the near endless hills of the Douglas Lake ranch, he says, “This was all locked for 30 years.” And now some routes are slowly being reopened.

Not that it is mission accomplished. McGowan says there are at least 30 more lakes in the Nicola Valley that landowners are illegally blockading behind gates, boulders and logs.

That includes the former access route to nearby Quilchena Falls, a spectacular waterfall south of the Kelowna Connector highway, which locals decades ago used to love to visit for swimming and picnics. But Quilchena Falls is now also blocked by Kroenke’s vast land holdings.

What, McGowan muses, does one of the world’s richest land barons want? “At the end of the day, I guess the true capitalist wants to own everything.”

The right to public jewels

I have had the pleasure of walking for days on end on trails through Scotland, Denmark, Italy and Wales, which at certain points traverse private land.

The remarkable European hiking and pilgrimage routes, many of which were in use for a millennium, have been reopened in many cases only because citizens fought complex battles for the right to enjoy them. Now they are considered public jewels.

Chris Harvey at Quilchena Falls, a public body of water now surrounded by the Douglas Lake ranch, which is restricting access.

One of the first crusades for the right to cross private land occurred in Manchester, England, in the 1930s. That’s when a rebellious group of young factory workers who called themselves “ramblers” showed just how determined they were to walk in a beautiful, privately owned area known as the Peak District.

The ramblers did so en masse and many, like in the Nicola Valley, were arrested. But over the long run they prevailed. And Britain is not alone in offering the public access to rights of way, including around the edges of farms. Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand and many other countries make a point of offering ordinary people the freedom to roam.

Taking into account local context, each country has carefully worked out viable ways to protect landowners from irresponsible users, who owners fear might venture off designated trails, leave behind garbage, camp without permission, start a fire, damage the environment or sue for an injury.

In Canada, by contrast, private-property signs blocking access to public land abound, thoroughly intimidating the uninformed populace. The Nicola Valley club lawyer, Chris Harvey, says Canadians appear to expect governments to protect their access to the wild. But most governments are doing the opposite.

When it comes to property rights, Harvey says, Canadians are somewhere in between more open-minded European landowners and hypervigilant Americans, many of whom behave as if the right to protect private property, often with guns, is their nation’s most sacred value.

The right-to-roam movement in Canada is slowly gaining legs, however, including in B.C., where even city dwellers feel defined by wild places.

Two years ago, inspired by the Douglas ranch case, B.C. Green Leader Andrew Weaver launched private members Bill M223: The Right to Roam Act. Even though it died on the order paper, Green representative Claire Hume says it “remains an issue we think is incredibly important and one we would love to see government take on.”

Recognizing the right-to-roam discussion raises “some delicate decision points around traditional (Indigenous) territory and private property-trespass law,” Hume said Weaver didn’t expect his bill — which was intended to make nature “open to all, not just the privileged few” — to pass the way he had drafted it. But he does hope it will spark more discussion in the legislature.

Right-to-roam advocates have never sought unfettered access

The head of the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre, Calvin Sandborn, is one of many leaders of a loose-knit coalition determined to make it possible for citizens to experience nature by venturing onto private land.

Sandborn and law students Graham Litman and Matt Hulse have created a seminal report titled Enhancing Public Access to Privately Owned Wild Lands, which looks at some of B.C.’s most lively action fronts.

In addition to covering the Douglas Lake conflict, Sandborn’s team is monitoring an effort to create a 700-kilometre walking network on Vancouver Island, called the Island Spine Trail. They’re also tracking roaming disputes on Lasqueti Island, Galiano Island and in Comox.

Rick McGowan and long-time neighbour Harry Little, on the Douglas Lake ranch.

The B.C. Wildlife Federation, the B.C. Federation of Fly Fishers and B.C. Outdoor Recreation Council have prepared positions on the right to roam. And they’re tracking the many ways recreational users constantly come up against landowners.

To ease landowners’ concerns, Sandborn emphasizes right-to-roam advocates have never sought unfettered access to property. “We don’t want people going through a hundred different trails on someone’s property. Access can be provided in a variety of ways.”

And not only to remote wilderness. The Gorge region of the City of Victoria is also in play. Sandborn’s students have surveyed how property owners have built carports and sheds over public rights of way to the Gorge waterway, which are legally supposed to occur every 200 metres.

Sandborn says when one Gorge neighbour who lived across the street from waterfront properties that were illicitly blocking beach access found out what the law students were doing, he remarked, “’I’ve lived here 20 years. And I didn’t realize until now I had the right to take my canoe down to the water.’”

Metro Vancouver has its own access-to-waterfront issues, says Sandborn — in White Rock and West Vancouver.

Washington state can be a model for B.C.

The University of Victoria report suggests which global jurisdictions could be models for B.C. Surprisingly, given Americans’ legendary emphasis on absolute private property rights, one of them is in B.C.’s own Cascadian backyard: Washington state.

The counties that contain Seattle and Bellingham both offer major tax breaks to owners who make portions of their land available to hikers, birdwatchers, sightseers, horseback riders and other nature lovers, all of whom are expected to follow rules for respecting private property.

Creative things have also been happening at the other end of Canada, in Nova Scotia. That province has long provided citizens the right to cross private, uncultivated land and to go on foot along the banks of rivers and lakes to fish, including with a boat.

Which is precisely the kind of freedom the Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club seeks on the Douglas ranch and beyond.

McGowan is playing the long game, but he doesn’t, to put it mildly, trust politicians. He knows his comrades will need help, particularly from younger generations. He realizes his encyclopedic knowledge of roads and property bylaws in the Nicola Valley has been an incredible asset for the local cause, but he also knows most people don’t have the same background.

So, at his age, he’s worried.

As geese fly overhead, he says the access-to-land cause in the Nicola Valley needs “somebody else to pick up the cudgel.” The long-term strategy of billionaire landowners and their ilk, he believes, is to use their immense wealth to hire lawyers and others to wear people down.

“This is their dream: That guys like me will die off. And nobody will remember.”

The Douglas Lake ranch’s appeal will be heard March 30  and 31 in Vancouver.

[email protected]

Source link

Posted on

Elon Musk found not guilty of defaming British cave explorer | Technology

Elon Musk did not defame British cave explorer Vernon Unsworth by calling him a “pedo guy” on Twitter, a Los Angeles jury found Friday.

The case has pitted a 64-year-old financial adviser earning a salary of about £25,000 ($33,000) against one of the richest and most famous men in the world. The dispute stems from the Tesla and SpaceX chief’s ancillary involvement in the Tham Luang cave rescue in June and July 2018, which saw 12 young football players and their coach successfully extracted from a flooded cave system by a team of British cave divers.

On 13 July 2018, after the successful completion of the rescue, Unsworth said in an interview with CNN that the rescue pod Musk had delivered to the cave site was a “PR stunt”, adding that he should “stick his submarine where it hurts”. A video clip of the interview went viral, drawing the ire of Musk.

The billionaire entrepreneur responded in a series of tweets on 15 July, suggesting that Unsworth’s presence in Thailand was “sus[picious]” and calling him “pedo guy”.

Musk eventually deleted the tweets and apologized to Unsworth.

The jury was tasked with determining whether a reasonable person would understand the tweets to mean that Musk was calling Unsworth a pedophile.

Musk’s attorneys argued that the tweet was not a statement of fact, but an insult, which is considered protected speech. They also attempted to show that Unsworth’s reputation had not been seriously damaged.

Unsworth’s attorneys introduced evidence of the broad dissemination of Musk’s tweets, which were reported in 490 English-language articles on 361 websites in 33 countries.

They also introduced evidence of Musk’s behavior after the 15 July tweets, including his hiring of a private investigator to seek proof of Unsworth’s “nefarious behaviour”.

Source link

Posted on

Australian police find body of man in search for missing British backpacker

Australian police have found a body they believe to be that of Aslan King, a British backpacker who went missing from a campsite at the weekend.

The body has not yet been formally identified, but local authorities believe it is that of King, 25, who has been missing in the state of Victoria since Saturday.

King, an illustrator from Brighton, was last seen at a camping ground in Princetown, on the Great Ocean Road, at about 2am on Saturday. His disappearance prompted an intensive search.

King had been camping with friends near the Twelve Apostles, about three hours southwest of Melbourne, when he suffering a suspected seizure and hit his head, before suddenly running into bushland.

Fearing King – who had been on holiday in Australia – had become disorientated and lost in the bush, police deployed a helicopter, horses, motorcycle riders, specialist rescue teams and volunteers to find him.

“The body was located about 10:15 am this morning in a creek just over a kilometre from the camping ground where Aslan was last seen,” police said.

Source link

Posted on

How Kremlin Assassins Sowed Terror Through The Streets Of London While British Police Scrambled To Stop Them

Rain was spreading like a fresh bruise across the London sky as the unmarked car rolled up Whitehall toward Big Ben. The Scotland Yard protection officer scanned the road with a well-trained eye, clocking potential hazards as the car passed the spiked iron gates of Downing Street, and swung right on Parliament Square. He had spent years guarding countless government ministers and visiting foreign dignitaries, and there wasn’t an inch of this maze of power that he didn’t know like the back of his hand.

Nothing looked amiss as the car sloshed to a stop outside a modern multicolored glass building. London’s black-cab drivers were doing roaring business in the rain, and the pavements were gray and empty except for a smattering of pedestrians under dripping umbrellas. But the city was in crisis. Days before, the FSB defector Alexander Litvinenko had died in the full glare of the world’s media after being poisoned with radioactive polonium. But first, he managed to solve his own murder by publicly accusing the Kremlin of orchestrating his killing in a statement issued from his deathbed. The protection officer had been summoned as the government scrambled to respond to this brazen nuclear attack in the heart of London.

The doors to the Home Office slid open and the officer strode into the command center of British state security. He was shown upstairs to a large boardroom where a host of grave-faced officials was waiting. A stale sort of mugginess in the air told him they had been cooped up together for some time.

“There were six people on the Kremlin’s hit list,” the woman at the head of the table said as soon as he sat, “and they have already killed Litvinenko.” Officials from MI5, MI6, and GCHQ were seated around the table, the officer noted, alongside the Home Office security chiefs. “This is a direct policy of the Russian state: they are killing dissidents,” the chair continued. “We have some here, and they are coming for them.” She addressed him directly. “Make them safe,” she commanded.

The exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky and the Chechen rebel leader Akhmed Zakayev were judged to be under “severe” threat of assassination, the officials around the table explained, meaning an attack was considered “highly likely,” while a Russian journalist living in Britain and the Cold War defector Oleg Gordievsky had also been identified as Kremlin targets. Another political hit on British soil would be an “unimaginable” disaster for the government as it struggled to salvage relations with Moscow and restore public confidence in the wake of the Litvinenko imbroglio. So the Home Office wanted Scotland Yard’s Specialist Protection Command to work alongside the security services to provide “defense in depth” for each of the exiles on the Kremlin’s hit list.

Specialist Protection was usually tasked with guarding the prime minister and members of the cabinet, so its officers had the same level of security clearance as Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism command. That meant they could be briefed on intelligence British spies had gathered about the threats to the Russians on their watch.

Over the week that followed, they learned about the FSB’s poison factory outside Moscow, where armies of state scientists were developing an ever-expanding suite of chemical and biological weapons for use against individual targets. There were poisons designed to make death look natural by triggering fast-acting cancers, heart attacks, and other fatal illnesses. There were labs set up to study the biomolecular structure of prescription medicines and work out what could be added to turn a common cure into a deadly cocktail. And the state had developed a whole arsenal of psychotropic drugs to destabilize its enemies—powerful mood-altering substances designed to plunge targets into enough mental anguish to take their own lives or to make staged suicides look believable.

That Russia had poured such unimaginable resources into providing its hit squads with the tools of undetectable murder made the brazenness of Litvinenko’s killing even more perplexing. Polonium had the potential to be the perfect traceless poison: its alpha rays made it hard to detect, and with a smaller dose Litvinenko would probably have died quietly of cancer a few months later. Perhaps, the security officials thought, his two assassins had overdosed him accidentally in their desperation to get the job done. Or maybe his death was deliberately dramatic, designed to send a signal to Russia’s dissident diaspora in Britain. Either way, there was one thing the protection officer learned for sure: even if it looked like the death of a Russian exile was the result of natural causes, accident, or suicide, that conclusion might well not be worth the autopsy paper it was written on.

To add to the complexity, the FSB was inextricably intertwined with Russian mafia groups, which in turn had deep links to powerful organized crime gangs in Britain, so Scotland Yard needed to be ready for anything from a sophisticated chemical, biological, or nuclear attack to a crude hit contracted out to a London gangster for cash.

The greatest threat, by far, was to Berezovsky. The oligarch had made himself Russia’s public enemy number one through his relentless attacks on the Kremlin and his efforts to foment insurrection in Putin’s backyard, and he had effectively appointed himself the chef de mission of the entire dissident community in the UK. He had already survived several assassination attempts, and the Russia watchers were getting a steady stream of intelligence about new plots to kill him. Russia’s state security and organized crime complex had grown into a multiheaded hydra under Putin’s auspices, and competing factions within the FSB, the mafia, and the country’s military intelligence agency were all vying for the chance to harpoon the president’s white whale.

Shielding Berezovsky was now the protection officer’s top priority. It was time to pay a visit to Down Street.

Berezovsky was in typically rambunctious spirits. The murder of Litvinenko was a sickening blow, but it was also a resounding vindication. The assassination had, as the defector said in his dying statement, shown just how brutal Putin truly was, and finally the world was listening. His office on Down Street was abuzz as the oligarch and his acolytes made sense of what had happened and conspired to ram home the message of their friend’s murder.

For his own part, Berezovsky had no doubt about who had administered the polonium—but he was skeptical that Litvinenko was the intended target. Hadn’t Berezovsky himself been warned, years before, of a radioactive plot to kill him on British soil? Wasn’t he Putin’s true nemesis? The oligarch was busy telling everyone that the assassins had really been sent to eliminate him but must have failed and seized the chance to poison Litvinenko instead. So when the protection officer showed up in his office with the news that he was at the top of the Kremlin’s UK hit list, he was thrilled. Finally the state was endorsing what he had been saying all along: Vladimir Putin was trying to kill him.

The protection officer was a tall, elegant man with close-cropped silver hair and pale blue eyes. He was a shade more erudite than many of his Scotland Yard colleagues, and he formed an easy rapport with Berezovsky. It would be necessary, he explained, to scour every detail of the oligarch’s lifestyle for weak spots that could be exploited by the Kremlin’s assassins. The first step was to perform a full “ingestion audit”—cataloging everything Berezovsky consumed, to assess his susceptibility to poisoning. During a series of interviews, officers filled their notebooks with an exhaustive list of anything the oligarch ate and drank, learning more than they ever thought they would about the finest wines and whiskeys money could buy, as well as documenting all the creams and lotions he applied to his body and the medication he was taking. It did not take long to identify a major problem.

Berezovsky was heavily reliant on Viagra, and, worse, he was taking a penis-enlargement formula that he had specially shipped over from Moscow. Still more alarming was his appetite for teenage girls, which made him a sitting duck for honey traps. The oligarch was constantly being contacted by disturbingly young sex workers from the former USSR and he frequently ferried them over to Britain for sessions on his private plane.

I have the absurd responsibility of trying to persuade a sixty-year-old billionaire that he has to rein all this in, the protection officer reflected wearily as he reviewed the results of his lifestyle audit. But he was used to this sort of ethical dilemma from years of guarding the great and the good in London. When an ambassador did drugs in the back of the car, or a diplomat brought a hooker back to his hotel, it was part of the job to look away. “I’m not going to sit here giving you a lecture on morals or ethics, but you’re very vulnerable here,” was all he said to his charge. “This is how they’ll kill you.”

The problem wasn’t just the girls. Berezovsky was forever being approached over the transom by would-be business partners and political allies who wanted his funding for this new enterprise or that new opposition party, and he was all too free and easy about meeting anyone who asked to see him.

Then there was the challenge of separating the Kremlin-sanctioned threats from those arising from the oligarch’s own risky business dealings. Berezovsky had tangled often enough with organized crime to acquire some nasty private adversaries who had tried to take him out before, but the officer’s remit was limited to protecting him from government assassins. The problem was that Berezovsky’s private enemies could easily hire a moonlighting FSB hit squad to go after him, and the state was equally capable of enlisting another oligarch or mafia boss to orchestrate his killing as a cutout, so it was all but impossible to be sure where any given threat really originated.

The officer reasoned that there was no point confronting Berezovsky about the darker side of his life. After all, he would never answer truthfully anyway. But he instructed the oligarch not to meet anyone who approached him out of the blue on any pretext—be it sexual, commercial, or political—without first passing on the details to Scotland Yard for vetting.

The intelligence flowing into Specialist Protection from Britain’s spy agencies indicated an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of new threats against Berezovsky. The officers were deluged with the names and photographs of a rapidly changing cast of individuals linked to the Russian security services or organized crime who were believed to be involved in plans to kill the oligarch. When a fresh plot emerged, officers would track Berezovsky down and yank him out of whatever dinner or business meeting he was attending to warn him he was in imminent danger.

The protection officer began to feel he was living in a John le Carré novel, meeting Berezovsky furtively at night on misty street corners in Belgravia to show him mug shots of his latest would-be assassins under the lamplight and implore him, please, for God’s sake, not to agree to meet them.

The others on the Kremlin’s hit list had adapted well enough to their new security regimes. The rebel leader Zakayev accepted an armed guard at his house when the threat level was deemed high, and he never met anyone new without careful vetting and countersurveillance measures. Gordievsky and the Russian journalist were conscientious about their safety. But Berezovsky was impossibly unruly.

On more than one occasion, he called the protection officer to announce that he had just met someone he had been warned might be part of a plot to kill him. And he flatly refused to stop antagonizing the Kremlin. He kept traveling to Belarus and Georgia to stoke unrest right on Putin’s doorstep—even after being told that Scotland Yard could do nothing to protect him when he was overseas. And every time he gave another interview in which he took a potshot at Putin, fresh intelligence would flood in from Britain’s listening posts in Moscow indicating that new plans were being laid to silence him. It was almost, the protection officer thought, as if you could feel the chill wind blowing in from the east.

But the oligarch seemed to thrive on it. “I am what I am,” he would say. “I am Boris Berezovsky, and I crave conflict.” It was as if he had a strange sort of destructive energy, the officer thought, that made him want to run right into danger.

Though he had had stayed relatively quiet immediately after Litvinenko’s slaying, by the spring the oligarch was ready to launch his next broadside. The protection officer woke one day in April to discover that his charge had given an interview to the Guardian renewing his declaration that he was plotting the violent overthrow of President Putin. Berezovsky claimed he had forged close relationships with members of Russia’s ruling elite and was bankrolling secret plans to mount a palace coup. “We need to use force,” he told the newspaper. “It isn’t possible to change this regime through democratic means.”

The Kremlin immediately hit back, denouncing Berezovsky’s call for revolution as a criminal offense that should void his refugee status in Britain. Scotland Yard said it would investigate those allegations, but the oligarch was unconcerned: the courts had already ruled that he couldn’t be sent back to Russia to stand trial.

The protection officer was horrified. Berezovsky’s latest pronouncement was followed by yet another flood of intelligence indicating that the FSB was setting up a fresh plot to kill him. And this was no empty threat. Soon after the first reports came in, Specialist Protection received an urgent call: Word had just come over the wire that an assassin was on his way to Britain.

The hit man was a fearsome figure in the Russian ganglands—and he was no stranger to the man he was coming to kill. Movladi Atlangeriev was the godfather of Moscow’s Chechen mafia, known as Lord or, more reverently, Lenin throughout the underworld. He started out in the ’70s as a smart young Chechen hoodlum with a taste for fast Western cars and a talent for burglary and rose to riches in the ’80s running a gang of thieves targeting wealthy students across the capital. At the turn of the decade, as communism fell, he persuaded the heads of the city’s most prosperous Chechen crime groups to band together and form a single supersyndicate under his leadership—and that was how he became one of the most powerful gang bosses in Moscow.

The new group was called the Lozanskaya, and it soon asserted its strength in a series of bloody skirmishes with the local mob, leaving the streets strewn with the mutilated bodies of rival gang bosses. Racketeering, extortion, robbery, and contract killings were its stock-in-trade. But Atlangeriev was a suave man with smoky good looks and an enterprising mind to match his wardrobe of well-cut suits, and he blended well with Russia’s emerging business elite. The gang quickly branched out under his command, taking over swaths of the city’s gas stations and car showrooms. That was how it established a lucrative relationship with Berezovsky.

The businessman made good money selling Ladas through dealerships under the gang’s control, and then he paid the Lozanskaya to provide protection as his car businesses grew rapidly in the early ’90s. When Berezovsky was attacked with a car bomb during a battle with the gang boss Sergei “Sylvester” Timofeev, some said it was Atlangeriev’s mob who had struck violently back on his behalf. And when the oligarch fell out of favor with Putin and fled to Britain, the Chechen crime lord kept in touch.

Now, in June of 2007, Atlangeriev was on his way to London, and the Russia watchers knew he was coming with orders to kill Berezovsky. The intelligence pointing to his involvement in a live FSB plot to eliminate the oligarch had come through six weeks earlier, and the protection officer had been dispatched to instruct Berezovsky not to meet him under any circumstances.

Atlangeriev’s movements and communications were monitored, and when he bought flights to London via Vienna, the protection officer received an urgent call from MI5. “He’s arriving at Heathrow,” the voice at the other end of the phone said. “Remove the target.”

The officer raced over to Down Street to tell Berezovsky his assassin was on the way and he needed to get out of the country immediately. As always, the oligarch perked up at the prospect of an adventure and flung open his office door with a flourish. “Warm up the aircraft!” he bellowed across the lobby to his secretary. “I need to leave today.”

Berezovsky took off for Israel, accompanied by a young officer who had just joined Specialist Protection after a spell as a London beat cop and couldn’t believe that this was his new world. The private jet landed at Ben Gurion Airport, and the party crossed the tarmac to a helicopter waiting to whisk them out to the coastal town of Eilat, where the oligarch’s £200 million superyacht rose like a gleaming shark’s fin from the turquoise waters of the Red Sea.

The rookie officer was shown aboard by an Amazonian hostess who took him to a private cabin, where a dinner suit was laid out on the bed in his exact size. There were deck clothes, too—shorts, sandals, polo shirts, shoes, and a cap—all branded with the yacht’s name, Thunder B. The vessel had an onboard wardrobe department with clothes in every measurement so the oligarch could keep his guests appropriately dressed whatever the weather. The young cop looked around him in disbelief and decided that if he was doing this, he might as well do it properly. He donned the dinner jacket and bow tie and made his way up on deck.

Back in London, Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism department had swung into high gear alongside the Specialist Protection unit to prepare a response plan for the assassin’s arrival. Now that the target was secure, Scotland Yard could afford to play cat and mouse with the assassin. Officers formed a “pursue and attack” plan: Surveillance teams would follow Atlangeriev around London for as long as possible in order to gather intelligence about his activities before swooping in and arresting him when it looked like he was ready to strike.

The hit man was not coming alone: He was traveling with a young boy, which looked like the same modus operandi one of Litvinenko’s assassins had employed in bringing his family to London as a cover for the hit. Maybe, the officers hoped, if they stayed on his tail long enough the new assassin might even lead them to a secret polonium warehouse in the heart of the city.

“I need pursuit teams. Gunships. Three surveillance teams—sixty officers on the ground,” the protection officer told Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism commander. “We need chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear teams in full protective gear sent in to swab all his luggage.”

The police chiefs agreed on the strategy—but then they were summoned to the Cabinet Office, where a meeting had been convened to brief ministers and officials from the Home Office, Foreign Office, and Downing Street. By then, Atlangeriev was in the air and time was short, but the officers met with resistance as they laid out their plan. If Scotland Yard got caught tailing an FSB agent around London, there would be a major public fuss. The diplomatic fallout with Russia would be another headache the government didn’t need. Couldn’t the hit man just be detained at the border? The officers pointed out that Atlangeriev hadn’t yet committed any arrestable offenses in Britain, and the intelligence implicating him in a murder plot couldn’t be revealed without exposing sensitive sources and listening posts in Moscow. It was essential to follow him in order to prove he really was here to kill Berezovsky before they could arrest him.

After some wrangling, the operation was approved—but the officers were instructed not to say a word to the media either before or afterward. If they were successful in apprehending Atlangeriev and journalists called with questions, their statement should be as short and uninformative as possible. “Police have arrested someone. End.” Berezovsky’s threat level was moved from “severe” to “critical”—meaning an attack was considered imminent.

Atlangeriev would arrive in just a few hours. An operations room was hastily set up, where commanding officers could coordinate the activities of surveillance teams on the ground, with hazardous materials units sweeping behind the assassin for radiation traces and armed response teams at the ready.

In a nearby room was a cabal of security-cleared officers tasked with monitoring a live intelligence feed from MI5 and MI6 as well as reading Atlangeriev’s text messages and listening to his phone calls in real time as soon as he landed. That classified information and intercepted material had to be kept out of the central evidence chain, otherwise it would have to be disclosed in court if Atlangeriev ever came to trial, which would reveal sensitive sources and methods. But when the officers in the intel cell picked up anything relevant, they were to bring it into the ops room and read it out to the senior commanding officer.

Once the ops room and the intel cell were up and running, the surveillance teams were stationed around the airport, and the hazmat crews donned their protective gear. It was time for police chiefs to contact bosses at Heathrow to prepare the ground for the assassin’s arrival.

The plane on which Atlangeriev landed was held on the airstrip for a little longer than usual. The hit man waited with the other passengers, unaware that his bag had been removed from the hold and was being searched and swabbed by officers in hazmat suits outside. When the passengers were allowed to disembark, Atlangeriev and his child accomplice breezed through passport control, collected their luggage from the carousel, and cleared customs with nothing to declare. The pair made their way out of the terminal building and approached the cab stand, where a black taxi was waiting. They climbed in.

London’s iconic black cabs had long been the protection officer’s secret weapon. Unbeknownst to most Londoners, Scotland Yard owned a secret squadron of such cabs for use in special operations, and the security and intelligence services also ran their own fleets of undercover taxis. The cars were so ubiquitous as to be invisible, so there was no more anonymous way to travel around the city. The protection officer had used them to move Tony Blair during an active assassination plot and to transport the British-Indian novelist Salman Rushdie around London during his decade in hiding following the publication of The Satanic Verses. It was possible to make anyone, no matter how high-profile, disappear inside the passenger compartment of a black cab—and a well-timed taxi ride was often the best way to get up close and personal with a surveillance target.

Atlangeriev directed his taxi driver to the Hilton on Park Lane and settled back in the leather seat, unaware that he had just revealed where he was staying to the officers tracking his every move at Scotland Yard. The driver dropped the hit man and his young accomplice outside the hotel, and the pair made their way through the revolving doors at the base of the glowing blue skyscraper. Then officers from the intel cell came running into the ops room. Atlangeriev had placed a call to Berezovsky.

By the time his phone rang on board Thunder B, the oligarch was well prepared. The morning after his hasty escape from Britain, three British security officers had arrived in Eilat and boarded the yacht to brief him. It was a baking hot day, and the officers looked disheveled in sweat-dampened shorts and T-shirts, but they waved away Berezovsky’s largesse and made it clear they were there on serious business. Gathered around a table in the shade on the lower outside deck, they told him they needed his help to buy Scotland Yard some time. If Atlangeriev realized that Berezovsky was completely out of reach, he might just abort the mission and go back to Russia before the authorities had a chance to gather any intelligence. So when the would-be assassin called, they told him to act friendly and say he’d be available to meet in a few days’ time.

Berezovsky wasn’t ordinarily one to follow instructions, but he was relishing his leading role at the center of this live operation against an enemy agent, so he did as he was told when Atlangeriev called. Then he phoned Down Street and told his secretaries to be on high alert for the assassin’s arrival and to tell anyone who called that he was busy. After that, all that remained was to wait. He passed an enjoyable few days on board Thunder B, sunning himself on deck, scuba diving, and zooming around on his Jet Ski while the British authorities tracked his assassin around London.

Scotland Yard’s surveillance operatives found themselves on an unexpected sightseeing tour. They had hoped Atlangeriev might lead them to the heart of FSB activity in the capital, or possibly to a warehouse crammed with radiological weapons, but ever since his call to Berezovsky, the hit man had acted for all the world like a tourist showing a kid around the city. As he and his young companion traipsed through Trafalgar Square and past Buckingham Palace, the hazardous materials officers crept behind them swabbing and scanning for traces of toxins or radiation—but everything came up clean.

The officers judged that when Atlangeriev separated from the boy, that would be the indicator that he was gearing up to strike. They waited, but the sightseeing went on for days, and the protection officer began to get twitchy. Berezovsky was a busy man: he couldn’t stay on his yacht forever. Then finally word came back from the surveillance team that the hit man had set out from the Hilton alone.

“This is the critical moment,” the commanding officer shouted. Atlangeriev had dropped his easy touristic demeanor, and now he was visibly wary of being tailed. He performed textbook countersurveillance moves as he navigated the city—taking circuitous routes, doubling back on himself, and hopping on and off different modes of transportation to throw off anyone trying to follow. Between them, the surveillance teams just about managed to stay on his tail as he visited various addresses—but they couldn’t follow him inside without blowing their cover. Then a readout from the intel cell suggested that the hit man was planning to buy a gun.

“We need to take him off the board,” the commanding officer told the team. Scotland Yard called the officers guarding Berezovsky on Thunder B and told them to prepare him for his big moment. It was time to call his would-be assassin and propose a meeting.

That evening, three plainclothes police officers positioned themselves in the lobby at Down Street. The receptionists on the second floor had been asked to stay late to greet the assassin politely when he turned up, and they waited with trepidation as time ticked by without anyone appearing. After a while, they called downstairs to ask the elderly concierge at the front desk whether anyone had arrived to see Mr. Berezovsky. Yes, the old man said a little shakily, a gentleman had come in a few moments ago, and now there were three others with him in the lobby.

“What are the gentlemen doing now?” the receptionist asked. “The gentlemen are talking,” the concierge replied. “Three of them are lying down, and one is standing.”

When Atlangeriev entered the lobby, two of the officers had swooped in and pinned him to the floor before he reached the elevator, while the third flashed the concierge his police badge. The hit man was arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder and taken into police custody, where he was interrogated for two days, while his child accomplice was taken into the care of social services.

But then the order came down to let him go without charge. It wouldn’t be possible to make charges stick without disclosing intelligence that would give away far too much about British sources in Moscow, the officers were told, and the diplomatic fallout from publicly accusing the Kremlin of ordering another assassination in Britain so soon after Litvinenko’s would have been catastrophic. So Atlangeriev was handed over to immigration officials who designated him a “persona non grata” and put him on a plane back to Russia. That, the officers were assured by their superiors, amounted to a “really strong diplomatic poke in the eye.”

There was a commotion in some quarters at Scotland Yard over the decision to send the assassin home, but others were more sanguine. The protection officer comforted himself with the thought that the FSB might have killed one exile on British soil, but now Scotland Yard had prevented the murder of another. The way he looked at it, that evened the score. He called Berezovsky and told him it was safe to come home.

By then journalists had gotten wind of the dramatic arrest in Mayfair and were inundating Scotland Yard with questions. The press bureau gave out the elliptical response the government had preordained, and when his jet landed, Berezovsky was told to say nothing. The one thing that would increase the threat to his life, he was told, would be to embarrass Russia over its failure to kill him. “Just lie low and keep your head down,” the protection officer said sternly.

Soon after, Berezovsky stood up in front of a packed press conference in central London and told journalists that Scotland Yard had just foiled a Kremlin plot to assassinate him. “I think the same people behind this plot were behind the plot against Alexander Litvinenko,” he said. “Not only people in general, but Putin personally.”

Berezovsky held back the details of who had come for him and how the plot had been stopped, but he told his friends he had to go public with the attempt on his life in order to protect himself. Keeping state secrets was a dangerous game, he said: it was safest that the whole world know the truth. And, of course, he had never been one to pass up the chance for a dramatic press conference.

The protection officer was furious. “We’ve been fucked up the arse,” he shouted at the MI5 liaison officer in charge of monitoring threats against Berezovsky. He couldn’t shake the notion that he and his colleagues had unwittingly become pawns in Berezovsky’s big game.

Six months after the press conference, Scotland Yard received a report of the fate that had awaited Atlangeriev upon his return to Moscow. As he walked out of a traditional city-center restaurant on a bitterly cold winter night, the crime lord had been assailed by two men and bundled into the back of a car, which sped off into the darkness. Berezovsky’s failed assassin had been driven out into the woods and shot at point-blank range in the head. ●

Source link