Portrait of the week

Portrait of the week: Trains stop, a volcano erupts and the nation goes to the polls

14 December 2019

9:00 AM

14 December 2019

9:00 AM


The nation went to the polls. Engineering works compounded the misery of passengers on the South Western Railway where the RMT union is holding a strike until the end of the year. Leatherhead was utterly cut off. Hundreds of Greater Anglia services were cancelled when a signals failure turned into problems with rolling stock. After 22 years, Virgin Trains relinquished the franchise to run the West Coast Main Line, which was granted to Avanti West Coast, a partnership between Aberdeen-based firm FirstGroup and Italy’s Trenitalia. All 27,000 chickens on a farm in Suffolk were culled after cases of avian influenza were found.

Vernon Unsworth, a British caver who helped in last year’s rescue of trapped Thai schoolboys, had not been defamed when the billionaire Elon Musk called him a ‘pedo guy’, a Los Angeles jury found. His lawyers argued that the term was an insult, not an accusation. Unredacted documents waved around by Jeremy Corbyn as ‘evidence that under Boris Johnson the NHS is on the table and will be up for sale’ had been uploaded as ‘part of a campaign that has been reported as originating from Russia’, according to Reddit, a forum website, which suspended 61 accounts.

Gross domestic product neither grew nor shrank between August and October. The M&G Property Portfolio announced a temporary suspension of withdrawals; nervous investors withdrew money from other property funds. Lindsay Page, the chief executive of Ted Baker, appointed in April, resigned as the fashion retailer’s profits fell. Lord Saatchi resigned from M&C Saatchi after shares tumbled and an accounting blunder overstated profits by £11.6 million. Shareholders in the haulage company Eddie Stobart approved a rescue plan by which its largest shareholders, DBay Advisors, will lend it £55 million and assume control. In Scotland lorries toppled over in strong winds. Anthony Joshua regained the world heavyweight boxing title after beating Andy Ruiz Jr on points in a fight in Saudi Arabia.


The Democrat-dominated House of Representatives Judiciary Committee drew up articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, alleging ‘high crimes and misdemeanours’. He had, they said, sought to ‘obtain an improper personal benefit while ignoring or injuring the national interest’, by putting pressure on Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 presidential election. He had then obstructed Congress by ‘categorical and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry’. Xiyue Wang, a Chinese-American researcher convicted of spying in Iran, was exchanged for Massoud Soleimani, an Iranian scientist held by the United States. A senior Chinese official, Shohrat Zakir, said that all the people sent to ‘re-education camps’ in the region of Xinjiang, where the Uyghurs live, had now ‘graduated’. Chinese exports to America were 23 per cent less than a year before. The US rate of unemployment fell from 3.6 to 3.5 per cent.

A man shot six people dead in a hospital waiting room in Ostrava, in the Czech Republic, before killing himself three hours later. Mohammed Alshamrani, a Saudi soldier training at Pensacola in Florida, shot dead three sailors there and was himself shot dead. Algeria went to the polls. President John Magufuli of Tanzania pardoned 5,533 prisoners, 15 per cent of the prison population. The decapitation of at least 16 people near the city of Beni in the Democratic Republic of Congo was blamed on the Allied Democratic Forces militia, which has killed at least 100 people over the past month. Samoa declared a state of emergency and made vaccinations compulsory after the death of 63 people in an outbreak of measles.

Russia was banned for four years by the World Anti-Doping Agency from all major sporting events, including the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2022 football World Cup in Qatar. Russian athletes who prove themselves untainted by the doping scandal can compete under a neutral flag. A march in favour of freedom and justice through Hong Kong, allowed by the police, attracted 800,000 people, according to the organisers. Indian police shot dead four men in their custody who had been arrested on suspicion of raping and killing a young woman vet in Hyderabad the week before. A fire in a school-bag factory in Delhi where more than 100 people were sleeping killed at least 40. A wild fire raged on a 40-mile front northwest of Sydney. New Zealand’s most active volcano, on White Island, suddenly erupted, killing at least six tourists. CSH

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