UK coronavirus bill amended over cremation outcry from British Muslims, Jews

UK coronavirus bill amended over cremation outcry from British Muslims, Jews
Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock stands at the dispatch box and speaks during the Coronavirus Bill debate to socially distanced MPs in the House of Commons in London on March 23, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 25 March 2020

UK coronavirus bill amended over cremation outcry from British Muslims, Jews

UK coronavirus bill amended over cremation outcry from British Muslims, Jews
  • The government decision follows Muslim, Jewish protests over burial rites amid coronavirus outbreak
  • The Coronavirus Bill is set to go before Parliament this week, and would give Johnson’s government the most power of any UK government during peacetime

LONDON: The UK government has changed elements of a forthcoming bill, a reaction to the outbreak of coronavirus in the country, after complaints from religious minorities that it would infringe on their burial rites. 
The Coronavirus Bill is set to go before Parliament this week, and would give the government of Prime Minister Boris Johnson the most power of any UK government during peacetime. 
Among the more controversial elements of the initial proposal was a section that would have given local authorities the power to cremate the bodies of coronavirus victims without consent, and “streamlining” the process by removing the need for a medical certificate to do so — something expressly illegal in the UK since 1961. 
Such legislation would have put the government at odds not only with the families of victims who may oppose such a move, but also with several religious groups, including the UK’s Muslim and Jewish communities, as cremation is not permitted as a form of burial in either faith.
On Monday, the UK’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the House of Commons that this section of the bill was to be amended.
He told fellow MPs that the government recognized the need to “accede to the wishes of the families and faith communities,” and so would not be pushing this section of the bill.
MP Naz Shah, the shadow women and equalities minister from the opposition Labour Party, welcomed the move on Twitter.

“I’m so relieved that the government have listened to what we’ve said about religious burials for Muslim and Jewish people, and have brought forward an amendment to address our concerns,” she tweeted.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) echoed Shah’s sentiments, with its Secretary-General Harun Khan praising her for her efforts in getting the government to reverse its position.
“The MCB warmly welcomes the UK Government’s amendment which recognizes the importance of ensuring faith communities are able to bury the deceased instead of cremating in the event of significant deaths due to coronavirus,” Khan said in a statement.

“During this national crisis, we are appreciative of this reassurance by our government and its important efforts to listen to and work constructively with faith communities. 
“We pay tribute to the hard work of Naz Shah, MP for Bradford West, for raising the issue alongside others, and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims for mobilizing support for this important change.
“The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to present unprecedented challenges, and at a time of national crisis, this type of constructive engagement will continue to yield positive results for the whole of society.”

Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, echoed the MCB’s sentiments.
“We would like to extend our deep and sincere thanks to the government for working with us to amend this legislation to protect the final wishes and religious freedoms of the deceased. There could be few things more sacred,” Van der Zyl said in a statement.

“In particular, we are grateful to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick, Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt, Communities Minister Simon Clarke and the Prime Minister’s Special Envoy for Freedom of Religion and Belief Rehman Chisthti for acting speedily to address the concerns raised by the Jewish and Muslim communities.
“Our thanks also go to Naz Shah MP for her own proposed amendment. This has been an inspiring example of interfaith solidarity and responsive government. It shows, even in these difficult times for our nation, why we have so much reason to be proud of this wonderful country.”

Driver who damaged cars worth millions in London given suspended prison sentence

Updated 52 min 18 sec ago

Driver who damaged cars worth millions in London given suspended prison sentence

Driver who damaged cars worth millions in London given suspended prison sentence
  • Ahmed Al-Husseini hit £300k McLaren MP4, £200k Bentley and £100k Porsche Cayenne during 92mph chase in 30mph zone

LONDON: A delivery driver who sped through central London as he chased another car before crashing into a row of supercars, causing up to £1 million ($1.34 million) of damage, was given a 10-month suspended prison sentence on Wednesday.

CCTV footage from August 2019 showed Ahmed Al-Husseini, 25, behind the wheel of an Audi A8 in the exclusive Chelsea area as he pursued the driver of a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren, who he believed had damaged his car.

During the chase, Al-Husseini’s vehicle jumped through the air and collided with railings outside a house before crashing into a £300,000 McLaren MP4, a £200,000 Bentley and a £100,000 Porsche Cayenne. He also damaged an Audi A5, a Porsche Carrera 4S, a Land Rover Discovery, a Vauxhall Corsa and a Mitsubishi Outlander, reported. He suffered head and knee injuries in the crash and spent two days in hospital.

Prosecutor Brian Reece told Isleworth Crown Court that Al-Husseini, a delivery driver for a newspaper company in London, was filmed traveling at speeds of up to 92mph. The speed limit in central London is 30mph. He said the Audi was traveling so fast it became airborne at a junction, “at which point the defendant, as the driver, would have no control over it — and just across that junction is Moore Street, which is the place where some extremely valuable vehicles are parked.”

Reece added: “He gave the context of having been himself in a hit-and-run incident that he attributed to the driver of the McLaren SLR, and thought he was in pursuit of the SLR in Lennox Gardens four to five hours later.

“He claimed he had no recollection of the incident. He had had a full license for about a year and had no previous convictions. Settlement figures given in interview were between half a million and a million pounds for damage to these cars.”

Tony Nayager, defending, said: “If he’s going to drive at that speed then he’s going to bear the consequences. He’s readily in acceptance of his culpability for this matter.

“Perhaps Mr Al-Husseini is feeling rather sorry for himself, rather than anyone else. The car belonged to his father’s former partner; this later broke down their relationship and also his relationship with his father.”

Judge Sarah Paneth told Al-Husseini that only Audi engineering had saved him and a passenger in his car from serious injury or death.

“I’m not so much concerned about the value of these vehicles in monetary terms, it is the number of vehicles and the fact that to any of the people who owned these vehicles, Vauxhalls or Porsche Cayennes, they were all valuable,” she said.

“Whatever the value of the vehicles was, I have to look at the fact that you caused extensive damage to a very large number of vehicles. Damage to these vehicles was caused by you driving far too fast. It is frankly a miracle that no one was seriously hurt, perhaps other than you.”

In addition to the suspended prison sentence, Al-Husseini was banned from driving for two years. Under UK law he will have to pass an extended driving test to regain his license.