Former EastEnders actress Sian Blake and her two young sons, Zachary and Amon, died as a result of head and neck injuries, police say.


Scotland Yard confirmed they were investigating a triple murder following the discovery of three bodies hidden in the garden of the family home on Tuesday.

Police sniffer dogs led officers to make the grim find at the property in Kent where “significant attempts” had been made to conceal the family’s remains.

Blake, 43, Zachary, eight, and Amon, four, have now been formally identified and post-mortem examinations have taken place.

Arthur Simpson-Kent, Blake’s former partner, is still being sought by police in connection with the murder inquiry and is believed to have fled the country to Ghana.

Photographs of Simpson-Kent, 48, were obtained by ITV News of Simpson-Kent at Kotoka Airport in the Ghanaian capital Accra – three days after he was quizzed by police over the family’s disappearance.

It is understood concerns about domestic violence were raised by a relative of Blake to British child abuse charity NSPCC on December 16, information that was passed on to the Metropolitan Police and Bexley Council.

A missing person’s investigation was launched on the same day after police visited the home.

Murder detectives helped lead a forensic search of the property on Sunday after being drafted in to assist the borough force.

Earlier, Blake’s sister Ava said Simpson-Kent will have to “answer to God” for his alleged actions.

Speaking at Scotland Yard, she said: “Unfortunately I believe Arthur was responsible for my sister and my (nephews’) deaths.

“I want him to face justice and explain why. It’s my nephews more than anything.

“My brother is angry. My cousins are angry and it’s because of the boys.

“They are angry about Sian, but the boys have devastated us. We have lost a generation. We can never replace them.”

Blake, 43, had motor neurone disease – a fatal, rapidly progressing illness which affects the brain and spinal cord – and was reportedly looking “very frail” before she vanished.

She was last seen with her sons in Waltham Forest, east London, on December 13 and officers spoke to Simpson-Kent three days later at the family home in Pembroke Road, Erith.

Ava Blake, 51, said her sister had told their mother, Pansy, that she wanted to get out of her relationship “a long time ago”.

Blake, who played soul singer Frankie in EastEnders, appeared in the BBC soap for 56 episodes between 1996 and 1997, reportedly quitting because of hostility from viewers towards her manipulative character.

Read More →

Every now and then, an image of a sidewalk with a specialised “texting lane” makes the rounds on my Facebook news feed.


Such images are often of dubious accuracy, but people generally seem to like the idea of corralling the people who text while they walk into their own lane. Because you see them all the time: smartphone zombies who move about the world on autopilot, their eyes fixed on their devices. At best, they are annoying. At worst, they put themselves in serious danger: At least 10 per cent of pedestrian injuries are due to cell-phone distraction, according to emergency-room data, and an estimated six deaths per year can now be blamed on the same.

They’re everywhere, and thank god you’re not one of them, right?

But, of course, you probably actually are. A recent pedestrian safety survey shows that 80 per cent of American adults agree that distracted walkers are a “serious” problem — and yet only 29 percent of these very same adults believed themselves to be part of this problem, as Ben Zimmer at The Wall Street Journal recently reported. It’s a pretty perfect example of something psychologists call the self-enhancement bias, a term describing the embarrassingly stubborn belief that you are better than the average, facts to the contrary be damned. The phenomenon is also sometimes known as the Lake Wobegon effect — you know, for the fictional Prairie Home Companion town, where the children are all above average.

In the 1980s, for example, Swedish psychologist Ola Svenson found that 88 per cent of the Americans she surveyed believed themselves to be a safer driver than average, and 93 per cent said they were more skillful than average. Defying logic, halfof those surveyed believed themselves to be among the top 20 per cent of the safest drivers in the group. People also tend to believe that they are smarter, fairer, and healthier than the average person, and in 2001, two University of Chicago psychologists published a study suggesting that most people believe they are more popular than they really are, too. 

Some studies, in fact, have found that people who are the worst at certain skills may be the most guilty of this particular bias. In 1999, Cornell University psychologists Justin Kruger and David Dunning published a well-known study that tested students on their relative prowess at things like grammar and logic, as compared to the others in the group. Again, they found that most people overestimated their competence — but those who were the least skilled tended to also be the least in touch with reality when it came to this estimation. In the grammar experiment, for example, those who scored in the 10th percentile had guessed that they’d score in at least the 60th percentile; on the other hand, the top scorers underestimated their abilities, guessing that they’d land somewhere in the 70th percentile and actually landing near the 90th. (Another experiment in the study, which will shock absolutely no one, found that people who were in fact the least funny in the group believed themselves to be among the funniest.) 

There is some evidence that this might be a uniquely Western — if not uniquely American — tendency, as Psychology Today writers Lawrence T. White and Steven Jackson recently pointed out. White and Jackson describe the findings of a meta-analysis of 91 studies, which found that Westerners tended to be more likely than the East Asians to “consistently [view] themselves in a more positive light”; the Westerners were also more likely “to see themselves as uniquely talented and possessing desirable personality traits.” 

This is mostly just mildly amusing — oh, what narcissistic creatures we are! — until you consider the potential consequences. Psychologists have argued that people’s tendency to believe that they are better drivers than most can also make them mistakenly believe that they are really good at texting while driving, a “skill” that almost no one is actually very good at and that puts the driver and everyone else on the road in serious danger. Some oncologists may be so convinced that their patients will beat the odds and survive that they prescribe unhelpful or unrealistic treatments. Overconfidence has its place, and let’s all agree to ponder where exactly that is once we’ve pocketed our phones. 

Read More →

By decree, the parliament gave interim presidential authority to the speaker of parliament, Oleksandr Turchynov, himself a leader of the opposition.


But even as demonstrators in Kiev celebrated their victory over the pro-Russian Yanukovych, there were signs of trouble in parts of the Ukraine that still lean more toward Russia than Europe. In the Crimea to the south, men gathered to volunteer for militias to oppose the decrees announced in the capital.

In Kiev, the parliamentarian and former boxing champion Vitali Klitschko urged the thousands of demonstrators in Independence Square to remain where they are in order to protect the advances won by the opposition. Klitschko also said that the “self-defense” militias organized to defend the barricades at the square against riot police should remain on the streets to provide security. “There are no police on the streets right now,” Klitschko told reporters. “The police will be reorganized, and we will try to do this as fast as possible.”

Another member of parliament warned his colleagues that they needed to move quickly to bring security forces back to work, saying that some of the nation’s vital infrastructure, including nuclear power plants, were unguarded.

Maintaining security wasn’t the only issue. Turchynov, the new interim president, said Ukraine’s pension fund, national currency and banking system were facing “immense problems,” according to the news group RIA Novosti.

Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Moscow would delay a planned purchase of $2 billion in Ukrainian eurobonds until Kiev formed a new government. In December, Russia had signed a deal with President Yanukovych promising a $15 billion support package. The move toward Russian aid, and away from a trade agreement with the European Union, was one of the sparks that began three months of protest in Kiev.

Independence Square was filled with thousands of Ukrainians Sunday who piled heaps of flowers at makeshift shrines beside photographs of some of the 82 protesters who have been killed by riot police in the recent clashes. In western Ukraine, large crowds assembled to mourn the protesters.

Members of the opposition, which now controls Kiev and the central government, also announced that protesters arrested during demonstrations would be freed immediately, while they also sought to detain and prosecute the dismissed prosecutor general, Viktor Pshonka. The interim interior minister, Arsen Avakov, said the new government would open an inquiry into lethal force used by riot police and security forces during the protests.

The whereabouts of Yanukovych remain unknown.

In a single climactic day, the political order of Ukraine was overturned Saturday when the Ukrainian parliament voted to dismiss Yanukovych from office and to free jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, who went directly from a prison hospital bed to a stage at Independence Square to address an audience of tens of thousands.

“A day for the history books,” tweeted Geoffrey Pyatt, U.S. ambassador to Ukraine.

Still unknown is whether a defiant Yanukovych and a bitterly divided Ukraine will accept any of parliament’s decrees. Leaders of the ousted government, especially those from Ukraine’s east and south, said they would oppose new measures.

Yanukovych, whose exact whereabouts have been unknown since Friday evening, appeared on television Saturday in a prerecorded interview to say: “I am not planning to leave the country. I am the legitimate president, and I am not going to resign.”

“What we witness now resembles Nazi occupation,” Yanukovych said. “My car was shot at. But I am not afraid for my life, I am afraid for my country.”

Yanukovych said Russian President Vladimir Putin told him that he had spoken with President Barack Obama and promised that “we will negotiate.”

But the White House released a statement that praised the “constructive work” done by the Ukrainian parliament and urged “the prompt formation of a broad, technocratic government of national unity.”

On Sunday, U.S. national security adviser Susan Rice warned that Russian troop intervention in Ukraine would be a “grave mistake.”

“This is not about the U.S. and Russia,” Rice said during a wide-ranging interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “This is about whether the people of Ukraine have the opportunity to fulfill their aspirations and be democratic and be part of Europe, which they choose to be.”

William Hague, the British foreign secretary, told the BBC on Sunday: “We don’t know, of course, what Russia’s next reaction will be.”

He noted that Russia had supported a compromise with Yanukovych last week that would have allowed him to stay in power for another 10 months.

“We do know that Russia, as well as the United States, has said a few days ago that they would get behind a deal that had been made, that deal has now been overtaken by events and this is the importance of us continuing a dialogue with Russia,” Hague said.

The European Union’s foreign-policy chief, Catherine Ashton, is scheduled to come to Kiev on Monday.

Just hours after parliament voted to remove the president on Saturday, his archrival Tymoshenko, a key figure in Ukraine’s 2004 Orange Revolution, was released from prison after serving 30 months.

Tymoshenko, suffering from a back injury, was rolled onstage in a pink wheelchair. She gave an emotional, forceful speech, honoring the 82 Ukrainians killed in street fighting and by riot police since Tuesday.

The opposition leader, who still has her trademark blond braid, said that Ukraine would not be truly free until “everyone bears a responsibility for what they have done,” a clear reference to the president and his ousted interior minister, who controlled the riot police forces that used live ammunition against protesters. “If we don’t prosecute, we should be ashamed.”

Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, was sentenced to seven years in prison in a 2011 trial on charges of abuse of power and embezzlement over her role in a deal to purchase natural gas from Russia. Her supporters and many Western countries said the trial and conviction were politically motivated.

In an emergency session, the Ukrainian parliament voted 380 to 0 on Saturday to remove Yanukovych from office, saying he was guilty of gross human rights violations and dereliction of duty. Many of Yanukovych’s allies were absent or abstained from voting.

Then the parliament, now dominated by opposition politicians, declared that early presidential elections would be held May 25.

Tymoshenko, who blinked back tears several times, promised: “I am coming back to work. I won’t waste a minute to make sure you are happy in your own land.”

She ran for president in 2010 but lost to Yanukovych, and most people here assume Tymoshenko will run in the May contest.

“We have been monitoring the situation very closely,” said a senior State Department official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because conditions remained so fluid. “What the United States and our European partners have been advocating for consistently this week is a de-escalation of violence, constitutional change, a coalition government and early elections. The developments we are seeing on the ground are . . . moving us closer to those goals.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Saturday that the opposition in Ukraine was “pushing new demands, submitting itself to armed extremists and looters whose actions pose a direct threat to the sovereignty and constitutional order of Ukraine,” according to Russia’s Interfax news agency.

The new speaker of parliament, Turchynov, told his fellow deputies Saturday that Yanukovych had attempted to flee the country.

“He tried to get on a plane that was bound for the Russian Federation but was stopped by border guards. At the moment, he’s hiding somewhere in the Donetsk region,” Turchynov said, according to Interfax. The Donetsk region, in eastern Ukraine, is home to Yanukovych’s Russian-speaking political base.

Tens of thousands of ordinary Ukrainians poured onto the grounds of Yanukovych’s abandoned presidential compound, 12 miles from downtown Kiev, to gawk at the manicured lawns, small zoo, golf course, botanical gardens and classic cars.

Museum officials were working with militias to guard the presidential mansion and inventory possessions and works of art they say were probably borrowed or stolen by Yanukovych from state museums and institutions. Journalists and others began to pore over a stack of documents left behind.

“Who knows what he has stashed in there,” said Ihor Lihovy, a consultant for the Ukrainian national committee for the preservation of national treasures. “We have been told he hoarded masterpieces. It is a scandal.”

Yanukovych built his mansion and its outbuildings after he was elected president in 2010. None of the Ukrainian public or media had seen the inside of the compound before Saturday. An elderly pensioner with a mouth full of metal teeth shouted, “What a thief!” as he took in the marble statuary.

The crowds were orderly and polite. There was no looting, few were allowed to enter the houses or outbuildings, and opposition protesters warned visitors to keep off the grass.

A group of young people, however, found their way into Yanukovych’s clubhouse and brought out golf balls and clubs and whacked a few drives down the long fairways.

Read More →

(Updates with environmentalist’s comment in third paragraph.



(Bloomberg) —

WASHINGTON — Asking the trucking industry to do more to cut the emissions that add to climate change, the Obama administration on Friday proposed a 24 percent increase in fuel- economy requirements over a decade.

The Environmental Protection Agency and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposal fell short of a steeper increase and shorter time frame sought by environmentalists. Truckmakers must be in full compliance by 2027.

“We will be pushing the administration to require compliance sooner, in order to deliver these benefits more quickly,” Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

The EPA sided with engine-maker Cummins and transmission manufacturer Eaton and proposed a separate standard and testing procedure for truck engines.

Truckmakers had pushed for eliminating the engine target and just testing the whole vehicle the way automobiles are assessed. That way, fuel consumption targets could be met with less expensive changes, such as improved aerodynamics.

“As a power management company committed to increased fuel efficiency and reduced greenhouse gases, Eaton strongly supports the next phase of standards for medium and heavy duty commercial vehicles,” said Alexander M. Cutler, Eaton Chairman and CEO. “These standards provide important incentives to help deploy the next generation of fuel efficient technologies.

It is the second time regulators set efficiency goals for the more than 7 million tractor trailers and other heavy-duty trucks that haul most of the nation’s goods. Regulators predicted environmental and economic benefits from the truck rules. Reduced shipping costs would eventually be passed onto consumers through lower prices, they said.

Following earlier rules to boost the mileage of cars and cut use of coal to make electricity, the truck-efficiency rule is a step to reach President Barack Obama’s pledge to cut overall U.S. climate emissions by 26 percent by 2025.

”Once upon a time, to be pro-environment you had to be anti-big-vehicles,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “This rule will change that. In fact, these efficiency standards are good for the environment — and the economy.”

Unlike standards set in 2011 — lasting through 2018 — these rules force truckmakers to employ new, untested technology. Vehicles built using new technologies developed to meet the new regulatory targets would end up cutting greenhouse-gas emissions by 1 billion metric tons by 2027, saving about 1.8 billion barrels of oil, according to the EPA.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, whose members typically own one or two trucks, has already expressed concern about adding potentially $14,000 to the cost of a new truck and whether untested technology will be reliable enough. The EPA says truck owners’ savings at the pump will allow them to payback any additional vehicle costs in two years.

Fuel is the single largest cost of owning and operating heavy-duty trucks, averaging about $73,000 a year for a tractor- trailer. U.S. households pay about $1,100 a year in diesel charges that are built into retail prices, according to the Consumer Federation of America.

The agency said that most of the gains can be accomplished with existing technology, including more efficient tires, and that the extra costs imposed on vehicles could be recouped by owners within two years by lower fuel bills.

The proposed tractor standards could be met through improvements in the engine, transmission, aerodynamic design and extended idle reduction, EPA said in a fact sheet.

Read More →

Wait, come back! I get it — the last thing in the world you’re likely to watch is one more reality show set in Alaska, since we already have about a hundred to choose from.


(You know who’s most tired of Alaska shows? Alaskans. The state is crawling with TV crews from Discovery, National Geographic and the rest.)

So hear me out as I describe the exquisite and sometimes melancholy effect of watching Animal Planet’s “The Last Alaskans,” a superb, eight-part docuseries premiering Monday night. Without overblown narration or any of the other heavily produced tropes and techniques that viewers associate with the genre, “The Last Alaskans” quietly settles in with some of the last legal residents of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

What happens next? Not a whole lot, except for a patient rumination on the themes of independence and solitude in nature, minus the posturing and usual yammering about the Second Amendment, snow machines, gold fever, etc.

A Congressional act in 1980 banned further human occupation in the refuge, which is hundreds of miles from the nearest city and covers a vast and pristine chunk of the state’s northeast corner. According to the show’s intro, only seven cabin permits remain under a grandfather clause, entitling the occupants and their immediate descendants to continue living on the refuge.

“The Last Alaskans” embeds with four of these stalwart households, the members of which tend to arrive at the end of the summer (as floods and mosquitoes subside) and set about hunting for the red meat and fish that will sustain them through a bitterly cold winter that includes two months with hardly any sunlight.

Produced by Bethesda-based Half Yard Productions (whose other works include TLC’s “Say Yes to the Dress” and — get this — Bravo’s 2010 bomb “The Real Housewives of D.C.”), “The Last Alaskans” was filmed with minimal crew and an evident respect for its setting and subjects, who simply aren’t the sort of people who wait around hoping to get on TV.

Sport cameras attached to drones provide the viewer with an almost foreboding sense of how large and remote the refuge is — and how isolated the cabins are from each other, separated by more than 100 miles. Unlike other reality shows, there’s little sense that a producer is nudging a particular narrative this way or that; the subjects are entirely themselves and, given their loner instincts, remarkably willing to explain why they live here and how they manage it.

“It’s easy to die up here,” says Bob Harte. “Everything else is work.”

Harte, who is in his 60s, taught himself to fly what might be the most ramshackle single-engine airplane in the state, which gets him to and from Fairbanks for occasional supply runs. He’s the talkative heart and soul of “The Last Alaskans” and seems genuinely pleased to have the company.

The more you learn about Harte, the more you admire him — and also worry for him. Cameras or not, he’s a tad danger-prone (a plane crash here; a stalled boat motor in swift current there; a bear raid on his cabin in his absence) and he says he’d be perfectly happy to meet his end in these woods. He’s still nursing the hurt of a long-ago divorce and misses the daughter who was born in his cabin and yet shows no apparent interest in visiting anymore. One windy afternoon, Harte climbs a very tall tree to adjust an antenna that picks up a faraway radio station where callers leave messages to those living far off the grid. One night his ears perk up when his ex-wife leaves a greeting. It’s the only communication he has, and it’s decidedly one-way.

Elsewhere, Ray Lewis arrives with his wife, Cindy, and their three daughters for the fall and winter. The Lewis family spends summer in Fairbanks, which Ray describes as a marital compromise — while Cindy gets her city fix (and the family earns money) Ray itches to return. Now their daughters are getting old enough to move away and perhaps lose interest in sustaining the family’s claim on the cabin.

Bearing a striking resemblance to Daniel Day-Lewis in “There Will Be Blood,” Ray may have no idea how suited he is to TV or how elegant his deepest thoughts about nature and quietude must sound to those of us sitting on sofas shoveling lowfat yogurt into our maws.

Like everyone else on the show, he’s mostly just fixated on killing an animal big enough to provide the winter’s meals.

Speaking of meat, this is the first time in a long time I’ve felt any emotional investment while watching people hunt and fish on TV. In that regard, “The Last Alaskans” is in many ways an ideal program for a channel that stills calls itself Animal Planet. Even though it’s about people, they are inextricably linked to not only their pet dogs but the wildlife all around them. One couple, Tyler and Ashley Selden, are having issues with a grizzly who discovered their salmon cache.

Farther yonder, Heimo and Edna Korth are also prepping for winter. Heimo, who has appeared in previous documentary projects about the last few residents of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, is especially patient with the camera team that follows him on prolonged and initially unsuccessful hunts for migrating caribou or moose. Edna busies herself at the cabin, glad to have returned from a trip to “town,” where, she says, “As soon as you get (there) you smell the exhaust. Out here there’s nothing.”

Most Alaska reality shows feature someone who, like Edna, speaks favorably about the freedom of isolation, but “The Last Alaskans” is one of the rare shows in which you can truly grasp what she means. Life in the refuge is both intoxicating and terrifying; the producers are smart enough to realize that this story doesn’t need jarring edits, loud music cues or cooked-up conflicts. This is what reality TV might have looked like had it not been so easy for the networks and viewers to give into the trashiest impulses.

Late in the first episode, a sad anniversary approaches for the Korths, whose 2-year-old daughter drowned in the river rapids in 1984. Although her body was never found, Heimo and Edna planted a cross for her, which they hike to during the fall in order to leave flowers and hug each other and weep. You’d think the memories of this tragedy might have discouraged them from wanting to live in the refuge.

On the contrary, Heimo says: It’s why they can never leave.

– – –

The Last Alaskans

(one hour) premieres Monday

at 10 p.m. on Animal Planet.

Read More →