Amazon Studios chief resigns after harassment allegations

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(Reuters) – Amazon Studios (AMZN.O) chief Roy Price has resigned, a company spokeswoman said on Tuesday, following allegations that he harassed a producer and took no action when an actress told him she was sexually assaulted by producer Harvey Weinstein.

Price went on a leave of absence last week and Albert Cheng, the studio’s chief operating officer, remains interim head of the division, the spokeswoman said.

Price did not return requests for comment.

Many women have shared their experiences of mistreatment on social media using the hashtag #MeToo, in the wake of allegations of harassment against Weinstein in reports this month by The New York Times and The New Yorker.

Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

The Hollywood Reporter last week reported an allegation by Isa Hackett, a producer on one of Inc’s shows, that Price had lewdly propositioned her in 2015.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for Hackett confirmed the allegations.

“I‘m pleased Amazon is taking steps to address the issues,” Hackett said in a statement on Tuesday. “An important conversation has begun about the need to create a culture in our industry which values respect and decency and rejects the abuse of power and dehumanizing treatment of others.”

The accusations against Price represented a rare scandal for the online retailer.

“This is a necessary move because of the sexual harassment allegation, but I think it’s a convenient excuse to replace him,” said Michael Pachter, an analyst at Wedbush Securities.

Amazon fared poorly for its original TV shows at last month’s Primetime Emmy Awards. Pachter said the company has appealed to elite, liberal tastes with its original TV lineup but has lacked “content that has mass appeal.”

Amazon did not reply to requests for comment.

Amazon is investing some $4.5 billion this year on video content. The company has said it hopes original shows will encourage people to sign up for its streaming and shopping club Prime.

Reporting by Jeffrey Dastin in San Francisco; Editing by Sandra Maler and Grant McCool

Silent Partners: The bankrollers behind the rush of Australia shareholder lawsuits

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SYDNEY (Reuters) – After Australian internet company Vocus Telecommunications Ltd (VOC.AX) gave its second profit warning in seven months, fund manager David Pace received an email from a law firm asking him to join a shareholder class action.

The case, proposed the email, would accuse Vocus of delaying reporting problems it was having bedding down some recent takeovers, and would seek compensation for shareholders.

“I told them flatly, ‘we won’t be participating’,” Pace, whose firm owns 8 percent of Vocus, told Reuters. “It’s just not in my clients’ interests. This is a distraction. My priority is that they just keep focused on turning the business around.”

Pace’s response reflects a growing impatience in Australia’s listed company sector, as local regulations encourage global litigation funders to prosecute more lawsuits of Australian corporates.

Unlike the United States, lawyers in Australia are banned from taking percentage cuts of damages payouts, opening the door for litigation funders to fill the gap.

Australia is now one of the world’s biggest markets for litigation funders, by number of cases and number of participants. Some 30 funders are now vying for a piece of an industry which has seen more than 500 class action lawsuits since 1992, compared to none before then.

The number of shareholder class actions in Australia jumped 115 percent in the five years to 2017, compared to the previous five years. U.S. shareholder class actions rose just 24 percent over the same time.

“Australia is the country where the role played by third party funders in a class action landscape is greater than any country in the English-speaking world,” said Vince Morabito, a law professor at Monash University who specializes in class actions. “It’s the place.”


While advocates argue third-party financing improves the ability of aggrieved parties to seek redress, some business groups say the model promotes more lawsuits and want tighter controls.

“Class actions are on the rise, the proportion of class actions that are funded by entrepreneurial litigation funders are on the rise, and we believe that our regulatory environment is particularly conducive to activist class actions and … profit-driven litigation funders,” said Australian Institute of Company Directors General Manager for Advocacy Louise Petschler.

“A national system of regulation around our class action regime would be a significant improvement.”

Attorney-General George Brandis, who in opposition said greater regulation of litigation funding should be considered, declined to comment.

In 2016, a lawsuit against New Zealand-owned CBL Insurance Ltd generated headlines by winning a A$5 million damages payout, none of which went 300 laid-off factory workers. Litigation funder LCM Finance received A$1.85 million while lawyers, liquidators and auditors split the rest.

The state government has since ordered an inquiry into litigation funding.

LCM Managing Director Patrick Moloney said the lawsuit was brought by the trustees of the collapsed company, not by the factory workers themselves. The trustees were responsible for disbursing the funds recovered, he said.

“It’s easy for everyone to point their finger at the funder, but our job is to fund, to just keep paying the bills. We don’t give instructions, we don’t run the litigation. They have the control over the proceedings.”


Australian targets of litigation funders include surfwear retailer Surfstitch (SRF.AX) and the country’s biggest listed company, Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA.AX). Both are fighting accusations of failing to disclose information that weighed on their share prices.

Treasury Wine Estates Ltd (TWE.AX), the world’s largest standalone winemaker, paid A$49 million in August to settle a class action accusing it of failing to disclose problems with a U.S. expansion.

None of those companies would comment. Nor would Vocus, the internet company, or more than a dozen other listed companies which have received or been notified of plans for shareholder class actions in recent years, citing concerns about interfering with unresolved disputes or re-visiting old ones.

IMF Bentham Ltd (IMF.AX) bankrolled its first class action in Australia in 2001 and now has about two-thirds of Australia’s litigation funding market.

Executive director Hugh McLernon said plaintiffs had received about 60 percent of A$2.1 billion in total payouts from 162 cases funded by IMF Bentham.

IMF Bentham is bankrolling the CBA class action, Australia’s largest with some 800,000 potential complainants.

“I seriously doubt that the class action will drain CBA’s resources but if it does then this will occur in tandem with the concurrent Federal Court allegations of Austrac, the inquiry by APRA, the investigations by ASIC and the tumultuous outcry of the Australian public,” he said in an email, referring to a civil lawsuit by the anti-money-laundering agency and a host of regulatory inquiries.

IMF’s last annual report said it has 65 active matters in Australia, the United States, Canada and Asia, with a “total estimated portfolio value of A$3.8 billion”.

McLernon dismissed as “arrant nonsense” any suggestion his firm’s business model encouraged companies to settle rather than undertake costly, distracting legal battles.

“No board pays out tens of millions of dollars unless there is a reasonable case against them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Pace, the fund manager, said he will use his firm’s top position on the Vocus shareholder register to lobby its board to fight the class action currently being contemplated.

“Just because they try, it doesn’t mean there’s a case to answer to,” he said.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Lincoln Feast

NAFTA negotiators trade barbs, indicate wide differences

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. and Canadian and trade officials on Tuesday accused each other of sabotaging efforts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, even as they and Mexico agreed to extend talks into the first quarter of 2018.

A seven-day round of talks in suburban Washington ended in acrimony over aggressive U.S. demands on autos, a five-year sunset clause on the pact itself and Canada’s dairy regulations, among other key issues. Canada’s foreign minister, Chrystia Freeland, accused Washington of pursuing a “winner take all” approach.

In a major setback, Freeland, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said they faced “significant conceptual gaps” in their views and agreed to stretch out the talks in search of solutions.

Lighthizer complained that the Mexican and Canadian sides showed no evidence of willingness to make changes that would “rebalance” NAFTA to shrink U.S. trade deficits.

He warned that U.S. companies could no longer count on NAFTA trade rules that since 1994 have encouraged investment in Mexico and Canada and that he views as primarily aimed at exporting to the United States.

“Everybody has to give up a little bit of candy, that’s really what this is about,” Lighthizer told a news briefing.

But the talks hit a wall on his proposals to radically reshape NAFTA, causing some observers to wonder whether the Trump administration intends to sink the trade pact.


Washington’s demands, previously identified as red lines by its neighbors, include forcing renegotiation of the pact every five years, reserving the lion’s share of automotive manufacturing for the United States and making it easier to pursue import barriers against some Canadian and Mexican goods.

“We have seen proposals that would turn back the clock on 23 years of predictability, openness and collaboration under NAFTA,” Freeland said.

News of the talks’ extension through to the first quarter of next year, from the end of this year, lifted the Mexican peso MXN=D2 1.2 percent after a volatile day of trading. The peso has fallen 7 percent since July on expectations that NAFTA would not survive.

Mexico sends about 80 percent of its exports to the United States, and is home to a host of factories for U.S. companies that manufacture products there that are then sent to the United States for sale.

Guajardo avoided direct criticism of Lighthizer’s approach, but said Mexico would stand firm against the U.S. demands.

(L-R) Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, U.S. Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer and Mexican Secretary of Economy Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal make statements to the media after a NAFTA trilateral ministerial press event in Washington, U.S., October 17, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

“A bad deal would be against the interest of Mexico itself, and therefore you have my guarantee that there will not be a bad deal,” Guajardo told reporters.

He added that rather than being intransigent, Mexico and Canada were taking a “good sense” approach to the talks.

Despite the tension, Mexican and Canadian officials have stressed that their governments will not walk away from the table. The talks are now scheduled to resume in Mexico City on Nov. 17-21, giving negotiators additional time to devise strategies.

While the NAFTA countries did close out a chapter on competition policy, Lighthizer said there were still deep differences on some issues such as digital trade, intellectual property rights and anti-corruption policies.


Slideshow (3 Images)

U.S. President Donald Trump, who made trade a centerpiece of his 2016 presidential campaign, has repeatedly threatened to terminate NAFTA if Mexico and Canada refuse major changes.

Lighthizer said he was not focused on termination and wanted to negotiate a “good agreement,” but added that he had no plan should talks collapse.

“If we end up not having an agreement, my guess is all three countries would do just fine. We have a lot of trade, a lot of reasons to trade,” he said.

One person close to the process said there was now a real possibility that negotiations to modernize NAFTA, which underpins some $1.2 trillion in annual trade between the three countries, could collapse.

Any termination decision would now be postponed until March 2018, by which time Trump could be distracted by other developments such as his tax reform plan, said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.

But it remained unclear how the talks regain momentum.

“Staggering talks could be the right description in the meantime,” Hufbauer said.

The Trump administration has also set out proposals that could impose fresh restrictions on long-haul trucking from Mexico, according to a person familiar with the matter. That too is likely to meet stiff resistance, Mexican officials say.

U.S. opposition to NAFTA’s dispute resolution mechanisms, plans to restrict outside access to government contracts and attacks on Canadian dairy and softwood lumber producers are all causing friction behind the scenes, officials say.

Additional reporting by David Ljunggren in Washington and Sharay Angulo in Mexico City; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler

Harvey Weinstein resigns from Weinstein Co board

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Harvey Weinstein has resigned from the board of The Weinstein Company, it said on Tuesday, as he faces allegations that he sexually harassed or assaulted a number of women over three decades in the film business.

In a statement, the board said it also ratified its Oct. 8 decision to fire Weinstein as chief executive of the award-winning movie and television company he co-founded with his brother.

A source close to Weinstein confirmed that he had resigned from the board and had no further comment. Weinstein has denied having non-consensual sex with anyone.

Also on Tuesday, Toyota Motor Corp’s (7203.T) Lexus unit said it was evaluating its partnership with the Weinstein Co. Lexus, Toyota’s luxury brand, is a sponsor of reality TV show “Project Runway,” which Weinstein Co produces.

“Lexus does not condone any acts of sexual harassment, assault or discrimination. In light of recent allegations involving Harvey Weinstein, we are currently evaluating our partnership with The Weinstein Company, but have nothing to announce at this time,” Lexus said in a statement.

A&E Television Networks, which airs “Project Runway” on its Lifetime cable channel, is also exploring its options for the show, according to a source with knowledge of the matter.

Weinstein’s executive producer credit and the Weinstein Co logo were removed from “Project Runway” last week.

FILE PHOTO: Film producer Harvey Weinstein attends the 2016 amfAR New York Gala at Cipriani Wall Street in Manhattan, New York February 10, 2016. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

A&E wants to be respectful of women who say they were harmed by Weinstein, the source said, and also is concerned about the livelihood of more than 200 cast and crew members who work on the series.

Weinstein Co is trying to chart a future without Weinstein, the aggressive dealmaker with a knack for managing Hollywood talent, money and egos. On Monday, it said it was in talks to sell the bulk of its assets to private equity firm Colony Capital.

One of Hollywood’s most influential forces since launching in October 2005, Weinstein Co has produced and distributed films including “The King’s Speech” and “Silver Linings Playbook.” Its television unit produces the long-running reality series “Project Runway.”

Harvey Weinstein is credited with conceiving the strategy that scored dozens of Oscar awards for the company’s films.

Hollywood trade publication Variety on Tuesday reported a separate harassment allegation against Bob Weinstein, Harvey’s younger brother and co-founder of Weinstein Co.

Bert Fields, an attorney for Bob Weinstein, said in a statement that the story was “false and misleading.”

“There is no way in the world that Bob Weinstein is guilty of sexual harassment,” Fields said in the statement.

Additional reporting by Sheila Dang; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Richard Chang and Jacqueline Wong

Mitsubishi Motors aims to move on from scandal with 30 percent sales-boost goal

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Mitsubishi Motors Corp (7211.T) plans to boost sales volume and revenue by 30 percent in three years and spend more on research and development (R&D), as the automaker expands in the United States and China and moves on from a mileage cheating scandal.

Announcing its mid-term plan through March 2020, Japan’s seventh-largest automaker on Wednesday said it aimed to raise annual global sales to 1.3 million vehicles, and increase its operating margin to 6 percent or more from 0.3 percent.

Mitsubishi said it aimed to increase annual capital spending by 60 percent to 137 billion yen ($1.22 billion), or 5.5 percent of annual sales, and R&D investment by 50 percent to 133 billion yen. Together, the spending targets represent more than 600 billion yen over the duration of the plan.

The mid-term plan is Mitsubishi’s first since compatriot Nissan Motor Co Ltd (7201.T) bought a controlling stake last year after Mitsubishi admitted to overstating the fuel economy of some domestic models.

“We will rebuild trust in our company as our highest priority, successfully launch new vehicles, and achieve a V-shaped financial recovery,” Mitsubishi Chief Executive Osamu Masuko said in a statement.

“These will be the foundations for our future sustainable growth, which will involve increased capital expenditure and product development spending.”

The automaker is also targeting cost-savings of more than 100 billion yen over the next three years due to development and procurement efficiencies created after becoming a member of the automaking alliance of Nissan and Renault SA (RENA.PA).

Focusing on growing market share in the U.S. and Asia, including Japan and China, Mitsubishi will release 11 models over three years, including the Eclipse Cross compact sport utility vehicle (SUV) which began shipping to Europe this month, and Xpander multipurpose vehicle unveiled earlier this year.

It will also launch an electric minicar in Japan from 2020.

Mitsubishi has been working to expand particularly in fast-growing emerging Asian markets where it is most profitable, opening an assembly plant in Indonesia earlier this year.

Reporting by Naomi Tajitsu; Editing by Christopher Cushing

Mesh implant problem ‘bigger than Thalidomide’

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MPs will debate the risks associated with mesh implants after thousands of women said the device has perforated organs, caused chronic pain and left them unable to work or have sex.

The Labour Party has announced its backing a call for a public inquiry into the mesh procedures and called for products to be stopped immediately in England while this is ongoing.

Around 15,000 women every year have a vaginal mesh procedure which is used to treat stress urinary incontinence and involves inserting a plastic tape through the vagina and around the urethra to support the bladder.

The official complication rate for mesh procedures is 1-3% yet latest hospital figures obtained by Sky News show that it’s higher, with almost 10% of women suffering adverse effects.

Urogynaecologist Sohier Elneil says one of the key problems with mesh is that it can change once inside the body. It can become brittle, erode and slice through organs like the bladder.

:: I was a ‘physical wreck’ after vaginal mesh implant

“It’s a huge problem,” Dr Elneil said.

“I think it’s bigger than Thalidomide, because the numbers of those affected are much more.

“And if we look at the problem globally then it’s worse than the metal-on-metal hips and the PIP scandal as well.”

Dr Elneil is one of few surgeons trained to remove mesh implants, a highly dangerous operation as the implants are designed to be permanent.

She says she used to see one or two women a month but now treats up to eight every week.

She said: “In England there’s been this feeling that the number of women affected wasn’t that great but not everyone was submitting their data, so there was very minimal information to make a decision on.

“Now with the latest reports, quite clearly this is a game changer and the procedure needs to be re-evaluated.”

Video:Mesh ‘lawsuits could be bigger than Thalidomide’

Kath Sansom had a mesh implant fitted to treat mild incontinence caused by childbirth.

After suffering chronic pain, she started a campaign Sling the Mesh to provide support for others and call for the suspension of mesh implants to bring England in line with Scotland, where they were suspended in 2014.

The campaign group now has more than 3,000 members.

She said: “The medical professionals are all very good at denying there’s a problem or saying you are a mystery patient.

“There is also an element of misogyny whereby your pain is belittled because, to look at us women, none of us look ill or in pain.

“The damage is hidden.

“This makes it easier to be shuffled off into a corner and ignored.”

As Sky News first reported two years ago, for many patients the procedure can be quick and successful but thousands have suffered debilitating conditions, are on daily medication and some now struggle to walk.

But there’s another issue Ms Sansom says is rarely discussed – the effect mesh has on a woman’s sex life. For hundreds of women they say the pain they suffer makes having sexual intercourse impossible.

She said: “The impact on women is so devastating.

“It’s such a personal thing and anyone in a healthy relationship will want an intimate relationship and when that is taken away it robs them of a massive part of being a couple and puts a huge strain on relationships and family life.

“It’s so cruel.”

Video:Legal action for vaginal mesh sufferers

NHS England and various clinical bodies, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, maintain that, for many patients, mesh is a safe and effective option that greatly helps with conditions which can be distressing for those affected.

They support the view of the official regulator of mesh, the Medicines and Healthcare products and Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which says there’s not enough evidence to justify a ban.

The MHRA’s director of devices John Wilkinson said: “There is no regulatory reason to take the product off the market because if it is used in the right circumstances with the right patients appropriately consented and aware of the risks then we have no evidence that the product should be taken off the market.”

Vaginal mesh implants are, however, the subject of huge litigation. Sky News has learnt that across the world more than 55,000 women are suing one manufacturer of mesh, Johnson and Johnson.

In the UK, pressure is also mounting, with 400 women taking legal action against the pharmaceutical giant in what lawyers say could become the biggest medical case in UK history.

In a statement, Ethicon, the sister company of Johnson and Johnson which makes mesh products in the UK, said: “Ethicon is confident in the positive impact our pelvic mesh products have had on the vast majority of women who have chosen this treatment option.

“We are confident the evidence will show that Ethicon acted appropriately and responsibly in the research, development and marketing of its pelvic mesh products.”

I was ‘physical wreck’ after mesh implant

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I set up the support page Sling the Mesh on Facebook two years ago, in June 2015, just 10 weeks after I had a mesh implant to treat incontinence from childbirth.

The pain in my legs and feet was so intense, along with burning pains in my vagina – like being cut with a cheese wire – that I knew something was terribly wrong.

When I told my surgeon of the pain I was suffering I was ignored. He told me I must have a slipped disc.

I had walked into the operating theatre as one of the fittest mothers in her 40s you could wish to meet – a keen high board diver, mountain biker and boxer – and emerged a physical wreck.

When I searched online I discovered women worldwide suffering similar problems. All were being ignored, not only by their surgeons but also by the media.

Image:The vaginal mesh that was fitted to tens of thousands of women, leading some to suffer pain

It probably needed a journalist to be mesh injured to provide the final media push needed for the issue to get to Westminster.

That journalist just happened to be me – a mum-of-two living in a small Fenland town more used to writing stories about animal rescues or council planning agendas than being suddenly caught up in what some medical professionals describe as the biggest health scandal of our time.

:: Mesh implant problem ‘bigger than Thalidomide’

The mesh fight began in Britain in 2007 with TVT Mum, Meshies United, TVT Info, Welsh Mesh Survivors and Scottish Mesh Survivors – the latter achieving so much with a suspension of the plastic pelvic implants in Scottish Parliament in 2014 and a subsequent independent inquiry into its safety.

Many other groups globally have fought for years too, all with one common goal – to stop others suffering as we have done.

Image:Kath Samson founded the campaign group ‘Sling the Mesh’

Over and again we have told our stories. That is what we were prepared to do, as it was the only way to make people sit up and take notice, to realise the scale of personal tragedy that mesh can cause when it goes wrong.

Harry Evans, editor of the Sunday Times when the Thalidomide scandal broke in the 60s and 70s, said you must tell a story over and over until people get it. He ran Thalidomide articles every week for months until finally everybody realised what a huge scandal it was.

And so it is with mesh. Globally, men and women injured by both pelvic and hernia mesh implants have told their stories. And finally people get it.

Now the women and men in Sling the Mesh have helped trigger a debate in Parliament and we are calling for mesh procedures to be stopped immediately.

When undergoing this surgery it is Russian roulette as to whether it will be successful or not. We hope that the British government will agree this is a risk not worth taking with a woman’s health.

Super-strong cannabis prompts legalisation calls

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A mental health crisis caused by super-strength cannabis is being exacerbated by Government policy putting criminalisation ahead of young people’s wellbeing, a new report claims.

The study, by drugs think tank Volteface and researchers at Manchester Metropolitan University and King’s College London, found that high-potency cannabis has become almost ubiquitous on the streets.

At the same time mental health referrals linked to the drug have soared, and police prosecutions for possession have halved in the last 10 years.

The authors say the combination is putting young people’s mental health at risk, and they call for the creation of a tightly controlled legal market in cannabis that would enable the harmful effects of new strains to be managed.

Steve Moore of Volteface told Sky News leaving cannabis to the illicit market had incentivised growers and dealers to develop more potent strains.

“In a regulated market we could provide a range of options, and we could give really clear harm reduction messages,” he said.

“A really good example is how we have alcohol regulation at the moment.

“You have 5%, 13%, 40% alcohol, but you get the choice and the knowledge and the information.

“With cannabis that doesn’t exist at all.

“And because we can’t enforce it, we can’t control it, and the police haven’t got the resources we need to look for other models to make it work.”

Cannabis potency is determined by the relative quantities of two chemicals: the psychoactive agent THC, which causes the cannabis high and is associated with addiction and side effects, and CBD, a protective agent that mitigates against its effects.

In more than 50 samples bought in Manchester and tested by researchers, every one had high levels of THC, around 15-20%, and negligible CBD content, meeting the definition of high-potency street cannabis.

Teenagers told researchers it was easier to obtain than alcohol and cigarettes, while frontline mental health services reported a dramatic increase in referrals from cannabis users.

Mental health problems associated with the drug occur on a spectrum, with anxiety at the lower end and extreme and paranoia drug-induced psychosis, which can be irreversible, at the other.

Jodie Beckett, a former nurse who now works with recovering addicts and other vulnerable people in Wolverhampton, told Sky News cannabis addiction had a major impact on her life.

“At the beginning it was all a bit of fun, but once it becomes a daily habit and you’re looking for it to feel normal it becomes a problem with relationships.

“You take it to feel normal but it makes you abnormal.”

She was eventually struck off as a nurse.

“It came to a point where I was actually diagnosed with a drug-induced, mental health problem which I still have to take medication for today and I probably will for the rest of my life.

“Looking back at it, if I knew anyone tempted to or being offered it, I’d say ‘no don’t touch it’, because it’s the gateway to hell.”

Professor Robin Murray of the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London, said: “I have no doubt that people presenting for cannabis-induced psychosis are the ‘tip of the iceberg’ of people adversely affected by heavy cannabis use.”

The police defended their enforcement policy.

National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for cannabis, Commander Simon Bray said: “Police forces are committed to reducing the harms caused by drugs and we would remind people that these substances are controlled because they have been shown to be harmful.

“It is often not possible to know how dangerous a drug will be, or even what it contains – but all drugs can cause significant harm.

“We will continue to work closely with partner agencies and will use our enforcement powers appropriately and robustly, to deal with the impacts of illicit drug crime.”

Labour woos Tory rebels on universal credit vote

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Labour is wooing potential rebel Conservative MPs in a bid to force a Government defeat in the Commons on a motion to pause the roll out of universal credit.

Theresa May has been forced to meet the rebel leaders in 10 Downing Street in a bid to head off a revolt which could lead to a damaging defeat for the Government.

Before the Commons debate, the Work and Pensions Secretary David Gauke faces an uncomfortable grilling by a committee of MPs chaired by the former Labour welfare minister Frank Field.

Labour and the Conservative rebels claim universal credit is pushing people further into debt, rent arrears and even evictions and that one in four claimants are having to wait over six weeks to receive any funds.

“The Government has so far not listened to MPs’ concerns about the mounting issues with their flagship social security programme,” said the shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abraham.

“We must stand together to make our voices heard.

“I urge Conservative MPs to vote with their conscience and support our motion to pause the roll out of Universal Credit.”

Video:Universal Credit: Britain On The Breadline

But Mr Gauke, writing in The Sun newspaper, appears defiant and is so far resisting pressure to make further concessions to help people having to wait six weeks for their first payment.

“We understand that for some people, that’s a big change to how they manage their household budgets and their rent,” he writes. “That’s why we have extensive personalised support for people who need extra help.

“No one in need should be left without money while they wait for their first payment.”

Ahead of Mr Gauke’s appearance before the Work and Pensions Select Commmittee, Mr Field has hit out at his answers to a series of questions the committee asked him about universal credit.

“I am pleased, finally, to receive an answer to some of our questions,” said Mr Field. “I am alarmed, however, by the response.

“The department has no idea about the operation of its flagship policy. For example, they do not know how many people are waiting eight, 10, 12 weeks for payment, or why.

“They don’t and can’t know if it’s going right or wrong. It beggars belief that they decided to press ahead on this collision course totally in the dark.”

When it comes to the Commons debate later, Labour MPs fear the Government may repeat its tactics in two votes on Labour motions last month, on public sector pay and tuition fees, when it ordered its MPs not to vote.

The move prompted a huge row and the granting of an emergency debate by the Commons Speaker, John Bercow, amid allegations that the Government’s actions were an affront to democracy.

Speaking during the emergency debate, the Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said: “We will look, case by case, at Opposition motions and make decisions accordingly.”

Trump: Dead soldier ‘knew what he signed up for’

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Donald Trump is in hot water again after reportedly telling the wife of a soldier killed in action that “he knew what he signed up for”.

Sgt La David Johnson, a Special Forces soldier, was among four US soldiers who were killed serving in Niger.

US President Mr Trump phoned Sgt Johnson’s pregnant widow Myeshia Johnson and spoke to her for about five minutes, according to ABC affiliate WPLG Local 10 in Miami.

The conversation happened shortly before Mrs Johnson and the couple’s two children – a two-year-old son and six-year-old daughter – arrived at the airport to meet her husband’s coffin.

With her was Frederica Wilson, a Democrat congresswoman for Florida.

Video:His widow grieves as Sgt Johnson comes home

Ms Wilson told WPLG that Mr Trump had said: “(Sgt Johnson) knew what he signed up for…but when it happens it hurts anyway.”

She later tweeted: “Sgt La David Johnson is a hero.

“(Donald Trump) does not possess the character, empathy or grace to be president of the United States.”

A former Walmart employee, Sgt Johnson enlisted in January 2014 and defied the odds to become a decorated member of the prestigious 3rd Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

But the 25-year-old was killed on 4 October after his group was ambushed by more than 50 Islamist militants.

He was initially left behind during the evacuation and it was nearly two days later that his body was retrieved.

Mr Trump was playing golf as Sgt Johnson’s body arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on 7 October.

Image:Donald Trump has been criticised for what he said to an army widow

Mr Trump’s phone conversation with Mrs Johnson comes just days after he was criticised for saying previous presidents had not called families of fallen services personnel.

He told NBC: “President Obama I think probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn’t.

“I don’t know, that’s what I was told.

“All I can do, all I can do is ask my generals.

“Other presidents did not call. They’d write letters. And some presidents didn’t do anything.

“But I like the combination of, I like, when I can, the combination of a call and also a letter.”

As controversial as his comments were, some critics say he made them to distract attention from what happened to the four soldiers in Niger, which has not yet been fully explained.

The others killed in the Niger attack were Staff Sgt Bryan C. Black, 35, of Washington; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Ohio, and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Georgia.

The White House said Mr Trump had called all four families involved and “offered condolences on behalf of a grateful nation and assured them their families’ extraordinary sacrifice to the country will never be forgotten”.