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i morning briefing: Bibby Stockholm

Welcome to Monday’s Early Edition from i.

A week that intended to show how well Rishi Sunak’s Government is handling the hot issue of migration probably couldn’t have ended more disastrously. On Saturday, the Government was accused of having “blood on their hands” and presiding over a “moral disgrace” after six migrants died in the Channel. At least 58 people – many of them Afghans – were rescued after a boat got into difficulty off the coast of Sangatte. The incident has renewed calls for more safe and legal routes to Britain. That was also highlighted by an Afghan intelligence analyst who helped British military revealing he was forced to flee to the UK on a small boat after his application for sanctuary here was never answered. Now he’s being threatened with deportation to Rwanda. But the disaster didn’t end there. The Government faced further embarrassment as figures at the end of the week showed a 25 per cent increase in the number of asylum seekers housed in hotels. But most humiliatingly, all 39 asylum seekers who boarded the Bibby Stockholm barge had to be evacuated from it on Friday after potentially deadly legionella bacteria was found in the water. A Home Office insider told i: “The whole saga is embarrassing. You couldn’t make it up at this point.” Now there are fresh allegations that Home Office contractors were told about traces of the bacteria on the same day asylum seekers were transferred on to the vessel. The claims raise more questions about who knew what, and when. We’ll take a look at them, after the headlines.

Today’s news, and why it matters

Mental health hubs set up during the Covid-19 pandemic to help NHS staff could be scrapped, with ministers claiming a decision has yet to be made on their future. The hubs were launched in 2021 to give staff “who have pushed their minds and bodies to the limit over the last year” a place to seek support. The Lib Dems said scrapping them would be “leaving doctors and nurses with few places to turn”.

Cyber attacks on the Foreign Office from “persistent” Russian and Chinese hackers endangered the national security of the UK, according to a former spy boss. Sir David Omand said the attack on the FCDO would have given adversaries useful information which could be “very damaging” for the UK. His comments came after an i investigation revealed hackers accessed the Foreign Office’s internal systems in a major breach that was kept secret from the public.

Britons returning from having unprotected sex overseas during the summer threaten to place additional pressure on NHS sexual health services already stretched to breaking point – with one expert warning of an STD boom. A survey of 2,000 UK adults aged 18 to 55 found more than one in six said that they either have or would have unprotected sex with someone that is not their partner while away.

The state pension is set to get a surprise boost because of a temporary rise in inflation next month. This is, however, expected to leave Jeremy Hunt with even less room for manoeuvre to spend money on tax cuts craved by Conservative MPs in the Autumn Statement.

A car that crashed into a campsite in Wales, injuring nine people, including a baby in a cot, was travelling at “up the three times the speed limit,” it has been claimed. The victims sustained serious injuries remain in hospital. One person was airlifted to the University Hospital of Wales, the Welsh Ambulance Service added.

Five questions on the bacteria found on board the Bibby Stockholm:

When did the Home Office and its contractors find out legionella bacteria was present? This is a key question the government will face pressure over today, after Dorset Council last night said contractors were told about the traces last Monday – the same day asylum seekers were transferred on to the barge. But it wasn’t until Friday that all 39 people were taken off the vessel, some of whom had been moved onto the barge later on in the week. The council said it informed the “responsible organisations”, barge operators CTM and Landry & Kling, about the preliminary test results on 7 August, the same day it received them. In addition, the council said it informed the Home Office directly, in a verbal conversation with an official, on Tuesday. But a Home Office source told Sky News last night there was no record of that conversation. They said the first time the Home Office knew about it was Wednesday evening at the same time the UKHSA found out. Ministers are said to have found out about the bacteria on Thursday. The obscure timeline raises more questions about why it took so long to act, and who knew what, when.

Were tests done soon enough? A water expert has cast doubt on whether the Home Office moved quickly enough to carry out tests and whether full guidance on controlling the bacteria was followed. “They really should have been doing the tests in the second or third week of July. They could have done something about it. It seems to me they have left it too late,” Gary Hogben, technical manager of Feedwater Ltd, told i. He explained it normally takes 10 days to complete legionella tests because it takes time for the bacteria to grow and become apparent in samples. Mr Hogben said he suspects that the issues may have arisen as the barge was not used for many months without heating the water before the asylum seekers were moved on – and Legionella may have been allowed to grow to dangerous levels as a result. He said: “If you do not keep your hot water hot and cold water cold it is going to grow. The barge has been sat there doing nothing.” Read the full story here.

Have asylum seekers been exposed to the bacteria? The Home Office has said that nobody who was on board the barge is currently showing signs of legionnaire’s disease, which is a type of pneumonia. The bacteria can breed in water pipes if they have gone unused for a long time, and the asylum seekers would have taken showers on the vessel. Brian Dikoff of Migrants Organise, who is supporting some of the asylum seekers evacuated from the barge, told the Guardian that many have been left “confused, stressed and angry”. “Many of the asylum seekers are too afraid to drink the tap water at the hotel they were evacuated to. This means they are spending their £9-a-week allowances to buy water,” he said.

How long will it take to clean up? It could be at least a week before the vessel is properly disinfected and had the bacteria flushed out, another water expert said. Under guidance on how to deal with an outbreak, water supplies must be disinfected, which involves chlorine being put into water tanks, before all water sources throughout the building are turned on in a bid to flush it through pipes.

How will it affect other plans for housing asylum seekers? The fiasco over the Bibby Stockholm means the government could face difficulties in finding new ports, i has learnt. An industry source said port operators had seen the “grief” generated by the vessel in Portland Port, Dorset, and were concerned about the impact on their reputation if they accepted a similar barge to be berthed. An industry source said: “I think ports will be looking at the circus around Portland and deciding they wouldn’t want to take on a migrant barge. Portland is getting a lot of grief. There will be plenty of other ports looking at that and thinking, ‘Is it worth it?’ Read the full story here.

Test results on the Bibby Stockholm’s water came back positive for legionella on 7 August – the day asylum seekers first arrived on the barge (Photo: Finnbarr Webster/Getty Images)

 Around the world

Donald Trump spent just three hours in Iowa – including touchdown and take-off – but it was enough to unnerve Ron DeSantis, his closest challenger in what is rapidly becoming a one-horse race. Just months after he appeared to represent a serious challenge to Mr Trump, the 44-year-old has burnt through cash and been forced to appoint a new campaign manager.

A Russian warship has fired warning shots at a cargo ship in the south-western Black Sea, in what is the first time Russia has fired on merchant shipping beyond Ukraine since exiting a landmark UN-brokered grain deal last month. A senior adviser to Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the incident was a “clear violation of international law of the sea, an act of piracy and a crime against civilian vessels of a third country in the waters of other states”.

Singapore’s policy of executing drug dealers is being challenged by victims’ families with dozens on death row. Sceptics say the authorities have failed to present reliable data that they are winning the war against drugs, reports Niko Vorobyov.

A teenage boy has survived a fall of 100 ft (30 metres) from a ledge at the Grand Canyon during a family outing. The 13-year-old said he fell after moving out of the way so other people could take a picture. He has been treated for nine broken vertebrae, a ruptured spleen, a collapsed lung, a concussion, a broken hand and a dislocated finger.

Australia’s former deputy prime minister has admitted to watching the wrong Women’s World Cup game as the country’s Matildas won a nail-biting match against France in the semi-finals. Despite posting on Facebook that he was watching the historic quarter-final, Barnaby Joyce said it was only later he realised he’d seen the wrong match. “I went to the pub and watched them on the weekend, but I think we were watching the wrong game,” he admitted on national TV.

 Watch out for…

 a grand jury in Atlanta, who are expected to consider charges against Donald Trump, this time over accusations he demanded officials “find” votes to overturn his defeat in Georgia. 

 Thoughts for the day

Guy Hands: Why I will spend millions of my personal fortune on reversing climate change. We can halt and even reverse some of the damage we have done, but it requires an extraordinary effort.

Catch up Rishi Sunak, even Italy has woken up to the fact that anti-migrant rhetoric won’t stop small boats. No single country’s populist vote-grabbing can staunch the flow of desperate people, writes Stefano Hatfield.

Romanticising the ‘tortured artist’ is slowly destroying culture as we know it. There’s a deeply held cultural belief that art is enriched by suffering. But it is work – and it deserves remuneration, argues Jackson King.

‘There’s an extractive relationship between art consumer and artist’ (Photo: Tim Graham/Getty)

 Culture Break

Sheela Banerjee: ‘I was told racism wasn’t a problem because Amol Rajan was on Radio 4’. In her first book, ‘What’s in a Name?’, the author and former TV producer explores the complex stories of colonialism, persecution, faith, assimilation and hope behind both her own name and those of her friends.

Sheela Banerjee (Photo: Dollan Cannell)

 The Big Read

‘We want a second baby, but can’t afford one’: The rise of Britain’s one-child families. With the price of childcare and the cost of living increasing, parents desperate for another baby can’t make the sums add up, reports Isabelle Aron.

Alice Isaac can’t make the sums work to afford another child (Photo: supplied)


Tottenham’s dynamic ‘Angeball’ tactics will ease the pain of Harry Kane’s exit. Inverted full-backs, a high-energy press and reborn Yves Bissouma were all positives for Spurs in Ange Postecoglou’s first match, writes Oliver Young-Myles.

Tottenham began life under Postecoglou with a 2-2 draw at Brentford (Photo: Getty)

 Something to brighten your day

People around the world have been treated to the sight of shooting stars sweeping across the night sky. The Perseid meteor shower brings up to 100 meteors an hour, which can be visible without any special equipment. The phenomenon has been seen around the world, but heavy cloud yesterday stopped many people in the UK from catching a glimpse. However stargazers may fare better on other nights this week – with the show continuing until 24 August. Experts say it is better to try to spot meteors when the Moon is below the horizon.

A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid meteor shower on August 13, 2023 in Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai Province of China. (Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

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