I went out in Brexit-loving Harlow with an EU flag on my chest – here’s what happened

EU flags fly above demonstrators during a Unite for Europe march in central London on March 25REUTERS/Paul Hackett
So here’s the thing. I’ve been feeling pretty sad about leaving the European Union, so to cheer myself up I ordered a T-shirt with the European flag on it. I intended to wear it on the day Article 50 was triggered, my way of declaring that for the moment at least I am still part of this great collective endeavour enshrining peace and prosperity on our continent. Big sigh. To hammer the point home, I bought a second blue T-shirt which said Still European.

They didn’t arrive in time, however, so I wore black on March 29th. I thought back to the six years that I was a journalist in Brussels – at a time the European Union was expanding to the East (which by the way, was pushed for by the UK who saw a wider union as an antidote to the ‘ever closer union’ that provoked irrational fear among our political elite. But I digress). In that time I saw a great many press releases, but none moved me to tears – until I read the European Council reaction to Article 50.

“We regret that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, but we are ready for the process that we now will have to follow.” When I read those words I was filled with a deep rush of nostalgia. “We will approach these talks constructively and strive to find an agreement,” the press release continued. “In the future, we hope to have the United Kingdom as a close partner.”

When David Cameron announced the referendum, I chose to see it in a positive light (albeit with reserve about making such a massive constitutional decision this way). In the UK, there was (and sadly still is) a huge lack of understanding about how the EU operates, but I also perceived a strange unwillingness to see any good in it. Even people who professed themselves pro-European felt obliged to caveat all declarations with ‘but of course, it needs reform’ (as do many things, but somehow we feel able to express love for our partners and their cooking, for example, without needing to point out their flaws. But I digress again).

Emma wears her t-shirt in Harlow, where Arek Jozwik was killed.
I hoped the referendum would get things out in the open. We’d debate the benefits of the EU, even for those who never leave the UK – from cleaner beaches to cheaper mobile phone bills. We’d realise that a lot of things we blame on the EU were either baloney or a quirk of our very own Health & Safety regulations. We’d have an honest discussion about what we’d like to change, and how the UK could contribute to that reform (that ‘r’ word again). We might even realise that we have a lot in common with our EU neighbours, and how we stand stronger on the world stage when we’re together.

Very few people wanted to debate, however. Instead, there was lots of shouting, some lying, and the tragic shooting of MP Jo Cox. It was only after the vote when people started googling what leaving the EU would mean. In my neighbouring town of Harlow, a Polish man was beaten to death and some questioned whether Brexit was to blame for a rise in hate crime.

But what does any of this have to do with my EU T-shirts? When they arrived, I laid them out on the kitchen table – and considered sending them back. You see, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to wear them in public. My partner advised me not to. And that made me really mad (not his advice, I must stress, but the fact that I felt intimidated). A few years ago, if I’d worn the EU flag I would have looked like a nerd. Just when exactly did the climate of repression in this country mean that I can’t wear what I chose?

Why are you people still coming to talk to me about this Brexit?

I resolved to wear my T-shirts, no matter what anyone said. For the Saturday morning Harlow park run, a 5km (or 3.1 miles, if you prefer) running meet for around 150 people, I donned the Still European one. With the EU flag on my chest I walked from The Stow in Harlow, where Arek Jozwik was killed, to the centre of town. I also wore it for a trip into London and a walk along the Southbank.

At first, I thought – and quite possibly imagined – that I was attracting furtive glances. Harlow voted to leave the EU by a definitive 68.1% and when I turned, people often looked away. But the only comment on my choice of attire was “like the T-shirt,” when I crossed the finish line. Walking around London and in Harlow town centre, no-one seemed to notice.

READ MORE: 15-year-old boy appears in court accused of killing Polish national Arkadiusz Jozwik
So why had I been afraid to wear them? To help me figure it out, I paid a visit to Jacek Gora, who owns a Polish shop in The Stow. “Why are you people still coming to talk to me about this Brexit?” he asked, shaking his head. “People just want to get on with things like they did before.”

And it struck me that despite all this grandstanding from politicians, most people don’t care that much about the EU. Figures released from an Economist / Ipsos-MORI survey of British public opinion this week show that few people cited Europe as an important issue affecting the country – until politicians asked us to vote. The tragedy of this referendum is that what began as an internal dispute among politicians has now engulfed all of us. We were dragged into a referendum as a way of resolving things once and for all – for the Conservative party.

What we’re about to discover is that we won’t be able to go about things as we’d done quite happily before. But at least we can still wear the T-shirt.

These businesses are making millions running Nauru refugee detention centre – they will regret it

People hold placards at a protest against the Nauru detention centre outside an immigration office in SydneyGetty
In a remote corner of the Pacific Ocean, the Australian government has created an island of despair, where refugees fleeing persecution are trapped and live in appalling conditions, while companies make rich pickings from their predicament.

It beggars belief that any board of directors with an iota of humanity would allow their company to make millions from a state of torment and limbo. But as Amnesty International reveals in its new report Treasure I$land, for some of these corporations the lure of profits has become irresistible, even in situations where they are perpetuating a system of cruelty and suffering.

Inevitably, many of these refugees and people seeking asylum have turned to self-harm in the face of a life of alienation, isolation, abuse and hopelessness. Some such as “Yasmin” from Iran would rather be dead. Her husband “Amir” told Amnesty last year how Yasmin’s mental health started deteriorating during her time on Nauru to the point that she tried to commit suicide on several occasions.

The crime for which they are sentenced to such purgatory is that of seeking safety on Australian shores from human rights violations in the countries from which they have fled by boat. The Australian government has publicly and proudly acknowledged that its offshore processing system on Nauru and Manus Island is harsh and cruel, saying that it is necessary to deter people.

This logic is perverse, because not only is seeking asylum not a crime, but it is a human right embodied in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. Ratified by 145 State parties, this defines the term ”refugee” and outlines the rights of those displaced because of persecution or conflict, as well as the legal obligations of States to protect them.

The Australian government outsources the operation of these facilities to the private sector. The government’s leading contractor on Nauru is Broadspectrum, a subsidiary of Spanish multinational Ferrovial which holds a 25% stake in the company that manages Heathrow Airport and provides transport services for the London Underground system. Broadspectrum has been running Nauru’s refugee processing centre since 2012.

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The contracts are lucrative – a total of £1.5bn over three and a half years in the case of Broadspectrum. But no amount of money can absolve Ferrovial and Broadspectrum from complicityin these human rights violations committed by the Australian government.

They know what is going on, they are aware that the services they provide are a central part of a system that is designed to cause mental anguish to refugees, and that the only legitimate option open to them is to end their operations as soon as possible.

Ferrovial has announced that it will not bid for further work on Nauru and Manus after its current contract ends in October 2017. In the meantime they will make a substantial profit from Broadspectrum’s operations.

But this now comes at greater legal and reputational risk. Their role on Nauru and Manus is attracting international attention and muddying the waters for other parts of their corporate group. The veil of secrecy surrounding these contracts is gradually being pierced.

For Ferrovial and any companies that may be intending to bid, Amnesty International is sending a clear message – you will not be able to conceal the abuses that are taking place on Nauru and Manus Island, which will taint you and undermine your global business interests.

The inhumanity of processing refugees in bleak and inhospitable environments offshore, where abuses are rife, should act as a call to action for all of us. While it is the Australian government that is primarily responsible for creating such a monstrous system, it has been aided and abetted by the private sector. When companies refuse to be complicit in such abuses, despite the profits to be gained, the inhumanities on Nauru and Manus Island will end.

Saudi Arabia deploys over 100,000 troops to oversee 2 million Hajj pilgrims travelling to Mecca

Nearly 2 million Muslims prepare to travel to Mecca on Wednesday, 31 August as Saudi Arabian authorities beef up security with more than 100,000 troops – File photoAhmad Gharabli/AFP
Saudi Arabian authorities have started welcoming Hajj pilgrims who have travelled from across the world to undertake the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

They have deployed more than 100,000 security personnel to protect the nearly two million pilgrims, who are scheduled to travel to the holy shrine on Wednesday (31 August), the interior ministry announced in a press conference on Tuesday.

Briefing reporters on the ongoing preparations for the annual pilgrimage, Interior Ministry spokesperson Major General Mansour Al-Turki said that 1.72 million pilgrims have already reached the kingdom, and they will be joined by some 200,000 people from within the country in Mecca.

He confirmed that hundreds of thousands of pilgrims have been denied entry into the kingdom for carrying inadequate or fake travel documents.

“More than 450,000 Hajj violators were returned after verifying they either lacked the proper permits or the ones they thought were legal turned out fake,” Al-Turki was quoted by Al Arabiya as saying. The spokesman also said that their forces returned 208,236 buses carrying illegal pilgrims.

Additionally, 97 fake agencies were caught and fined for providing unlicensed permits to pilgrims, he noted.

The Hajj pilgrimage is an annual event in which hundreds of thousands of Muslims travel to a holy shrine in Mecca, called the Holy Kaaba. The worshipers perform circumambulation of the Kaaba and offer prayers at the Holy Mosque. The pilgrims later head to Mina where they spend the rest of the day in prayers before travelling to Mount Arafat, regarded as the ultimate rite in performing the Hajj.

Saudi authorities have reportedly hired 51,700 Saudi and expat employees in Mina to serve the pilgrims during their stay at the tent city.

‘Mandela would have supported us’: South African feminists fight to abolish the sex trade

South Africa
Sex workers wearing masks lead a march to mark International Sex Workers Rights Day in Johannesburg March 3, 2011.REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
South Africa is one of the many countries in the global south that is host to a vibrant “sex workers’ rights” movement, calling for full decriminalisation of the sex trade.

But in Cape Town at least, this popular narrative is being increasingly challenged by survivors of prostitution, feminist abolitionists and human rights activists, under the banner of Embrace Dignity, an NGO founded by former health minister Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge.

A former ANC activist, Madlala-Routledge has devoted much of her life to ensuring women get their full rights in South Africa. A member of Parliament from 1994 to 2009, and Chair of the ANC Parliamentary caucus, on leaving politics she wanted to put her experience To good use.

In 2009 Madlala-Routledge was invited to NYC to give a presentation to NoVo, a women’s human-rights organisation, on the topic of trafficking and prostitution in South Africa. The Fifa World Cup was due to be held the following year, and the pro-prostitution pressure organisation Sex Worker Advocacy Taskforce (Sweat) had called on the government to speed up the decriminalisation of prostitution, claiming that it would solve the problems inherent to the sex trade, and offer protection for those involved.

“Being a Quaker and a feminist I should have naturally have been arguing for the abolition of the sex trade,” says Nozizwe when we meet in the Embrace Dignity offices in Woodstock, Cape Town, “but I had swallowed the line about women having control of their bodies [and that] prostitution is the oldest profession.”

Madlala-Routledge had already begun to worry that the World Cup would provide an ideal opportunity for criminal gangs to traffic women into and around the country to meet the demand of the thousands of male spectators and participants.

“Almost everybody else was talking about how fantastic this opportunity was for South Africa,” says Madlala-Routledge, “but I knew it meant bad news for women and girls.”

In conducting her research for NoVo, Madlala-Routledge discovered that the loudest voices were calling to decriminalise not just the women and men in prostitution, but also the pimps, brothel owner and sex buyers.

Preparing for her flight to NYC, Madlala-Routledge picked up a book entitled The Idea of Prostitution, a convincing argument against the acceptance and normalisation of the sex trade by the feminist scholar and feminist abolitionist, Sheila Jeffreys.

“I had no idea how it had even come to be on my shelf,” says Madlala-Routledge, “but I read every word, and when I arrived in NYC I tore up my presentation [which otherwise would have been far more accommodating of the argument that blanket decriminalisation was the only way to eradicate the harms] and delivered a very different one. When I got back to Cape Town I began to focus on campaigning for abolition.”

In 2011, Embrace Dignity was registered as an official NGO, and today it is thriving, with new volunteers knocking at its door every month, and a sway of prostituted women, and those who have left the industry, coming to them for help and advice.

As well as offering support to women to exit prostitution, and running education and awareness programmes in schools, townships, and for the general public, Embrace Dignity campaigns to change the current laws on the sex trade in South Africa.

“We look at the philosophical foundations of the Nordic law [where those selling sex are decriminalised, and sex buying becomes a criminal offence], says Madlala-Routledge, “It explained prostitution is seen as gender based violence in Sweden, and how the law needed to treat buyers and sellers differently because, in the main, women forced or coerced by poverty and gender inequality, so therefore any criminal sanctions should be focused on the buyers, and the women should be helped to exit.”

But Embrace Dignity has yet to convince the majority of funders and politicians that their approach is the correct one. Sweat has been active across South Africa since the early 1990s, and is generously funded by George Soros’ Open Society Foundation.

At the Embrace Dignity offices I meet Dudu Ndlovu, a gender studies student who was previously a volunteer at Sweat. I ask what had led to her shifting positions and becoming sympathetic to the abolitionist position.

“What’s amazing about the work we’re doing here is that we really are pushing for actually reducing harm, like truly, honestly reducing harm and exposing the fact that there is an alternative. It is a comprehensive view, and it is really the truth.”

Mickey Meji has worked with Embrace Dignity for three years, and was also formerly involved with Sweat, both as a volunteer and as a paid worker.

“Initially when I joined Sweat it was the only organisation willing to work with women who are prostituted, except they called us ‘sex workers’,” says Meji. “Since I was on the street and I couldn’t speak with anybody about this, I felt I had found a space for the very first time where I could actually be myself and talk about things I hadn’t talked about with any person.”

Meji eventually realised that pro-prostitution organisations tend to be led by the available funding rather than concern for those involved in the sex trade. “The big funders are willing to fund decriminalisation of prostitution,” says Meji, “and the idea that prostitution is simply ‘sex work’. It is not though, it is abuse of women.”

At Sistahood – a support group for women wishing to leave the sex trade, set up by Embrace Dignity – Meji stands by a whiteboard, scrawling random words and sentences shouted out by the 20-plus women sitting around a large table. “Prostitution must fall”, “Education must rise”, and “Women and girls and not for sale”, they shout.

The women, mainly black South Africans, all have stories of violence from pimps, sex buyers and police, but they are also visualising a future free from prostitution. Many are keen to campaign for the introduction of a law to criminalise the demand.

“These men [sex buyers] have a comfortable life,” says one of the women, “after they have done with us they go back to their homes and their wives. We want them to be exposed and for it to be known that this is what they are doing.”

On my last day in Cape Town I meet Madlala-Routledge for coffee, and ask her what are her future plans for Embrace Dignity. She tells me, in her soft but authoritative voice that the biggest challenge is to educate society and raise awareness about the truth of the sex trades, and of what prostitution represents for poor, black women.

“Mandela would understand,” says Madlala Routledge, “I seriously believe that if we had gone to him to open his eyes, he would have been on our side saying, ‘the nation is not free while women remain in oppression, while poor women, especially marginalized women remain in such dire oppression, dire poverty.’

“We are not free, and that’s what drives me. I can’t really enjoy my freedom and my rights while others are held in the captivity of prostitution.”

Storm Harvey poised to hit Houston again later this week

The National Hurricane Center expects as much as 20 inches of rain over the next two days in the Houston area
Tropical Storm Harvey is poised to re-enter the Gulf of Mexico later today (28 August) and hit land close to Houston once again by the middle of the week, prolonging the flooding that has crippled America’s fourth-biggest city.

The National Hurricane Center expects as much as 20 more inches of rain to fall on the Houston by Wednesday, an area that has already seen turned roads into rivers and home inundated by flood water.

The region has so far seen as much as 30 inches of rainfall in recent days, requiring rescues for up to 2,000 people in and around Houston, which is home to 6.6 million people living in its metropolitan area.

Waters have reached as high as second-storey homes, with the city already receiving more than half the rainfall it gets in a typical year.

The deluge has forced officials to make painful decisions to evacuate flooded areas — and to release water from reservoirs under strain, knowing that it would flow into nearby neighbourhoods.

The US National Weather Service says conditions are “unprecedented”. A “flash flood emergency” is in force across the Houston area, with travel near impossible. The body has already called the first round of rains a once in 500 year flood.

Thousands of homes are without electricity. Many schools are closed – as are the two main airports, with runways completely flooded.

Harvey was the first major hurricane to make landfall anywhere in continental America since Hurricane Wilma hit Florida in October 2005. It was also the first hurricane to make landfall in Texas since Ike in 2008.

Insurance experts quoted by Reuters news agency say it could equal the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 – reportedly the most expensive natural disaster in US history.

Katrina caused about $15bn (£11.6bn) of flood damage in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi.

Owl crashing into power cables hits police force’s phones and communications

Owls: Night Vision, Directional Hearing
A barn owl, not necessarily the one which caused disruption to Avon and Somerset Police force.Wikimedia/Magnus Manske
Owls are known for helping to magically deliver mail in the Harry Potter book and film series. But for Avon & Somerset Police one furry, winged friend was enough to threaten the force’s entire telephone communications.

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After an owl flew into power cables, Avon and Somerset Police urged people to dial 999 on 28 August only if there was a genuine emergency. Such was the disruption that people were also urged to avoid dialling the non-emergency 101 service as other forces came to Avon and Somerset’s support.

The owl was at least living up to its nocturnal nature. The accident occurred at 3.30 a.m. on the bank holiday Monday – taking most of the power out at the force’s headquarters in Portishead.

Becky Tipper, the centre manager for communications at Avon and Somerset Police, told the BBC staff had been requested to come in on their day off to ensure that people dialling 999 could speak to someone.

Avon and Somerset typically picks up 3,000 calls on bank holiday Monday.

She said: “We are running our 999 service and a reduced 101 service but problems are still ongoing so we would ask people to think before you call as we need to keep those emergency lines free for people who really need our help.”

In a statement on the force’s website, a statement read: “We currently have computer and phone problems which is affecting our ability to respond to your calls.

“We are responding to 999 emergency calls but would urge that only genuine 999 calls for assistance are made to us.

“Thank you for your patience and support.”

A 132 million-year-old sea monster has been identified as a new species

A previously unrecognized 132 million-year-old fossilized sea monster from northern Germany has been identified by an international team of researchers.Joschua Knuppe
An eight meter-long, 132-million-year-old sea reptile has been identified by researchers more than half a century after it was first discovered in Germany. The fossilised skeleton is that of a plesiosaur, an extinct marine reptile which roamed the oceans in the time of the dinosaurs.

“The most important aspect of this new plesiosaur is that it is amongst the oldest of its kind”, says Dr Benjamin Kear, senior author of the study from the Museum of Evolution at Uppsala University in Sweden. “It is one of the earliest elasmosaurs, an extremely successful group of globally distributed plesiosaurs that seem to have had their evolutionary origins in the seas that once inundated Western Europe”.

Private fossil collectors rescued the well-preserved specimen in 1964 after it was unearthed in a clay-pit in Sarstedt near Hannover. However, a team of international scientists was only recently allowed to study the remains of the ancient animal which were being held at the Lower Saxony State Musem.

“It was an honor to be asked to research the mysterious Sarstedt plesiosaur skeleton” says Sven Sachs, lead author of the study published in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. “It has been one of the hidden jewels of the museum, and even more importantly, has turned out to be new to science”.

The newly identified plesiosaur has been named Lagenanectes richterae, which translates as ‘Lagena Swimmer’ after the medieval German name for the Leine River near Sarstedt where it was found. The second part of the name refers to Dr Annette Richter, the Chief Curator of Natural Sciences at the Lower Saxony State Museum, who facilitated the identification of the fossil.

The skeleton includes a skull full to the brim with long fan-like teeth, as well as neck vertebrae, and bones from the limbs which resemble flippers. Lagenanectes would have lived in a shallow sea that once encompassed what is now northern Germany 132 million years ago.

“The jaws had some especially unusual features.” says Dr Jahn Hornung a palaeontologist and co-author on the study. “Its broad chin was expanded into a massive jutting crest, and its lower teeth stuck out sideways. These probably served to trap small fish and squid that were then swallowed whole”.

The upper jaws display internal channels in the bone which researchers think could have housed a network of nerves linked to receptors on Lagenanectes’ snout. These may have been used to locate prey.

Elasmosaurs were among the largest plesiosaurs, sometimes growing up to 15 metres in length, with incredibly long necks, including up to 75 vertebrae. They flourished during the Cretaceous period (145-66 million years ago) but went extinct at the same as the dinosaurs.

Manhunt underway after woman ‘dragged off street, stripped and raped’ in Manchester

The Cotton Tree pub, on the right, with Burtinshaw Street opposite, where the woman was attacked.Google streetview
A woman was dragged across a street, stripped and then raped in gardens after she left a pub in Manchester in the early hours of the morning.

Greater Manchester Police (GMP) say that the victim, in her 20s, was attacked by a man wearing a baseball cap and a hooded top, close to The Cotton Tree Pub, on Cross Lane in Gorton, Manchester.

The force says they were called to Bread Street shortly afterwards at 1.30am on Monday (28 August) with the attack taking place in gardens on Burtinshaw Street.

The attacker had already fled the scene when officers arrived.

Police have now appealed for more information about the incident as the victim is offered support by specially trained officers.

The force told the Manchester Evening News: “The man continued to drag her into some gardens on Burtinshaw Street where he unclothed and raped her.

“He then fled the scene in an unknown direction. He is described as Asian, around 28-to-30-years-old, 5ft 10in tall and was wearing a dark baseball cap and a dark hooded top.”

Detective Sergeant Philip Steele, of GMP’s Serious Sexual Offences Unit, said following the incident: “Our primary concern is for the welfare of the woman and the circumstances around her being attacked.

“We are offering her support from a team of specially trained officers and need to make sure that the man responsible for this is found and questioned in custody.

“If you were in or around the pub a short time before the call came in, I’m asking you to think back.

“Alternatively, you may have heard a disturbance in the area which you have not yet reported to us. Please, if you saw, heard or know anything, get in contact with us.”

Autonomous weapon systems are “bound to come”, warns former UK defence chief

Former British defence chief warns about the rise of AI weaponsREUTERS/Ahmed Saad
Retired British general Sir Richard Barrons has warned about the possible rise of ‘killer robots’ in coming years.

Following the call to ban autonomous killing machines, Sir Richard, who led the UK’s Joint Forces Command until last year, told The Daily Telegraph that any call to outlaw the use of such weaponry is likely to be flouted, by nations facing the pressure to deploy these technologies for warfare.

Sir Richard said Britain would never opt for fully-autonomous capabilities, but noted: “If you ask other people around the world, they don’t have the same value struggle”. He reiterated the fact that advanced, lethal weapon systems with no man at the loop will turn up one way or the other.

And the reason for this? Performance improvement, affordability and the ability to save human life, according to the retired senior officer. “Why would you send a 19-year-old with a rifle into a house first to see if anything is in there if you could send a machine and there are many, many many examples in the land and maritime environments”.

Pinpointing the failure to stop nuclear warfare, Sir Richard also said: “The global record of having rules which then mean that stuff doesn’t proliferate isn’t terrific.”

Last week, more 100 technology luminaries, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Mustafa Suleyman, Head of Applied AI at Google DeepMind, wrote an open letter to the United Nations, calling for a ban on the use artificial-intelligence equipped weapon systems (automated flying drones, armoured vehicles and submarines).

“Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare,” the letter read. “Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at time scales faster than humans can comprehend.

“These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways,” the experts added. “We do not have long to act. Once this Pandora’s box is opened, it will be hard to close”.

Thousands of UK solar panels to be investigated over fire safety fears

Solar panel roof
Recent fires have raised concerns over the safety of poorly-fitted solar roof panelsReuters

An investigation has been launched into the fire risk posed by solar panels fitted to thousands of homes, schools and businesses across the UK.

The panels are being investigated by the Building Research Establishment (BRE), a government fire safety contractor which is also testing building cladding in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster in west London. The BRE’s initial findings into the risks of solar panels catching fire will be reported this week, the Sunday Times reports.

The investigation comes just days after 80 firefighters tackled a blaze at a new block of flats in Bow, east London, on 2 July, where the roof-mounted solar panels appear to have caught fire.

An internal investigation into another recent London tower block fire, in Thornton Heath in June, indicated the blaze was caused by “an overheated solar panel”, Orbit, the housing organisation which owns the block, said.

Despite there being some 920,000 solar panel installations across the UK, those fitted on fire-resistant roofs have no minimum fire safety standards to adhere to. Solar panel systems with a low fire rating and which are built into roofs must be at least 65 feet from a boundary wall.

Paul Barwell, chief executive of the Solar Trade Association, said of the BRE investigation: “It is one of the safest technologies but we do need to ensure we have the highest safety standard.”

‘We have seen some shocking installations’

The Society of Fire Protection Engineers stated: “One of the many dangers to solar panels is how the panel and its mounting system impact the combustibility of the overall roof system. Some solar panels include a backing of highly combustible plastic.”

Although solar panel systems are generally safe, there is a danger of poorly fitted systems posing a risk to the inhabitants of the building below them. Jonathan Bates, managing director of a solar panel firm in Berkshire, called Photon Energy, said: “We have seen some fairly shocking installations. Like any industry that grows very quickly, you will inevitably get cowboys.”