Bideford town council acted unlawfully by allowing prayers to be said at meetings, the High Court ruled. ‘A local authority has no power under section 111 of the Local Government Act 1972,’ Mr Justice Ouseley said, ‘to hold prayers as part of a formal local authority meeting’, but he rejected arguments based on the European Convention on Human Rights. Abu Qatada, the Islamist extremist cleric, was released on bail and confined to his home for 22 hours a day. Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said: ‘We have to find a way of making him leave. There are legal, rule-of-law ways, of achieving that.’ On a visit by seven British ministers to see the Pope, Baroness Warsi said: ‘I will be arguing for Europe to become more confident and more comfortable in its Christianity.’ Tam Baillie, Scotland’s commissioner for young people, said that school rules against boys wearing skirts could breach the Equality Act 2010.
Britain was given a ‘negative outlook’ (meaning that there is a 30 per cent chance of its losing its AAA credit rating within 18 months) by Moody’s, the ratings agency, which said that it was exposed to ‘any further deterioration in European economic conditions’. George Osborne responded by saying: ‘We can’t waver in the path of dealing with our debts.’ Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, said it showed that ‘George Osborne’s plan is not working’. The annual rate of inflation fell to 3.6 per cent in January, from 4.2 per cent the month before (measured by the CPI), or to 3.9 per cent from 4.8 (measured by RPI); a notable factor was the absence of the increase in VAT of January 2011. Unemployment rose by 48,000 to 2.67 million in the last quarter of 2011. Rangers Football Club went into administration, thereby losing ten points, ruining its Scottish Premier League chances.
Five more journalists from the Sun were arrested by police, as part of Operation Elveden, an investigation into bribery. Commander Ali Dizaei of the Metropolitan Police was jailed again for three years after a retrial on charges of misconduct in a public office; he has about three months to serve. David Cameron, the Prime Minister, raised the idea of ‘drunk tanks’ on the American model. The number of people who speak Welsh fluently is falling by 3,000 a year, the Welsh Language Board said. Posters appeared at Swansea University advising students not to squat on the lavatory seat.
The Greek parliament voted for new austerity measures in order to secure a new €130 billion bailout from the European Central Bank, the EU and the International Monetary Fund. Parties in the ruling coalition expelled 43 MPs from their parties for voting against the scheme. In Athens 48 buildings were burnt down and 150 shops looted by rioters as tens of thousands protested against the agreement. Eurozone negotiators proved reluctant to agree to payment. Moody’s gave France and Austria the same negative outlook as Britain, reduced the credit ratings of Italy and Spain to A3 and downgraded those of Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Malta. Herman Van Rompuy, the President of the European Council and José Manuel Barroso, the President of the European Commission, visited Beijing to seek help for the eurozone from Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier. A ram and a doe that had become inseparable were married in a Valentine’s Day ceremony at Yunnan Provincial Wildlife Park. •
Homs came under shelling from Syrian government forces. Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that President Bashar al-Assad had been emboldened by the failure of the Security Council to act. A BBC correspondent saw mobile-phone video of prisoners taken by the opposition Free Syrian Army having their heads cut off after being identified as Shabiha, government paramilitaries. A Saudi journalist was arrested in Malaysia after tweeting ‘I have hated things about you’, on Mohammed’s birthday. •
In Spain, Judge Baltasar Garzon was suspended from the judiciary for 11 years after being convicted of authorising illegal phone-tapping. He also faced charges of breaching a 1977 amnesty on pursuing crimes from the Franco period. Whitney Houston, the singer, was found dead, aged 48, in her bath at a hotel in Beverly Hills. A woman in Madhya Pradesh, India, was given a $10,000 prize by a sanitation campaign group for leaving her husband two days after their marriage until he built a lavatory in the house; she returned a week later. CSH