British Gas hits customers with biggest one-off increase in energy bills ever recorded

# Gas price rises: Q&A
# How to cut your energy bills

It is the biggest one-off increase that British Gas has ever levied, the company admitted, and means that most families are now paying £400 more a year for their energy than they were at the start of the year.

The company, which supplies energy to nearly half of all households in the UK, raised gas bills by 35 per cent and electricity bills by 9 per cent with immediate effect.

It means dual fuel customers – those that take both gas and electricity from the company – will see their bills increase by 25 per cent to £1,317, a £404 increase compared with the start of the year.

The price increases come just six months after the company increased its dual fuel bills by 16 per cent.

While it was widely expected that British Gas would put up its bills this summer, campaigners reacted with horror at the scale of the increase and warned that millions of consumers, including middle-class families, would struggle to afford the increase.

The price rises will further raise the cost of living, which for the first time in over a decade is now outstripping average incomes, according to official figures.

The company, which supplies energy to 12.5 million households, said it was forced to act because of the soaring price of gas on wholesale market. It added that it was now losing money from supplying residential customers.

However, it is expected to come under fire when its parent company, Centrica, reveals a healthy set of profits thanks to its wholesale gas business, which owns gas fields in the North Sea and which has benefited from the escalating prices.

One in seven homeowners 'to fall into negative equity'

About 1.7m homeowners – or one in seven – may fall into negative equity over the next year as the UK housing market deteriorates further, a leading financial body has warned.

Such a figure would match the depths of the 1990s housing crash, which saw an unprecedented number of people in financial misery as a result of house price falls.

# Mortgage repossessions: how to hang on to your home

Negative equity is when home owners end up owning more on their mortgage than their house is worth, a situation that can cause serious problems – and ultimately repossession – if someone can no longer pay their mortgage or if they are forced to move home.

While the current house price crash is already on course to be as bad as any downturn since 1931, most experts had been relatively optimistic that the great majority of homeowners would not suffer too great a hardship.

That’s because a surprisingly small number of people have taken a mortgage worth more than 90 per cent of the value of their homes over the last year. So even if house prices fell 10 per cent, they would still avoid going into negative equity.

However, according to a report today from Standard & Poor’s, the world’s largest credit rating agency, house price falls will be so severe in the UK, that 1.7 million people will fall into negative equity.

It predicts house prices across Britain could fall as much as 26 per cent before the market bottoms out next year, which will see 14 per cent of the UK’s 11.8 million homeowners with outstanding mortgages slip into negative equity.

Currently around 70,000 are already suffering from the predicament – a far greater number that previously feared. At the start of July the research company CACI calculated that 145,000 mortgage holders were suffering from negative equity.

However, since then more evidence has emerged that the house price slump is gathering pace. House prices have fallen 9 per cent on last year, according to S&P’s estimates which are based on Nationwide and Halifax’s figures for April.

It has forecast a further 17 per cent tumble in house prices “before the trough of this cycle is reached in 2009”.

The ratings agency said that for every further percentage point drop in house prices, around 60,000 to 80,000 borrowers could enter negative equity. S&P said those at most risk were those with high loan-to-value mortgages, and in particular the “modest fraction” of borrowers who have 100pc mortgages - typically first time buyers and buy-to-let landlords.

The vast majority of the UK’s homeowners still have relatively low loan-to-value mortgages, the report said, with an overall UK average loan-to-value ratio of 54pc. However, in the buy-to-let sector, where many loans are interest-only, S&P expects one in five borrowers to fall into negative equity.

The report added: “The current run of house price declines raises the prospect of negative equity for a large number of homeowners, a situation not seen since the 1990’s house price recession.”

Soldier killed in Afghanistan had saved boy

Jonathan Matthews, 35, died from a single gunshot wound after coming under Taliban fire in Helmand Province on Monday.

Sgt Matthews and five colleagues rushed to treat an injured nine-year-old boy after a suicide bomber killed four people at an Afghan army base.

The father of two from Edinburgh, was a member of 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland.

In a statement, his wife Shona told of her family's devastation. She said: "Jonathan trained all his life for the job he was doing, loved what he did, and died doing what he loved. He was well respected and loved by all the family.

"A lover of the outdoors, an Army man through and through, we will miss him. But it gives us great comfort knowing he died doing what he trained to do - he would not have had it any other way."

Colleagues said Sgt Matthews was a "hugely popular man" who was devoted to his wife and to his daughter Meghan and stepson William.

In a statement, the Ministry of Defence said the soldier was on joint foot patrol with the Afghan Army, helping to protect local police near the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, when he was shot on Monday.

"The patrol received reports from locals that the Taliban were in the area but before they could take up defensive positions they received incoming fire, and the soldier sustained a single gunshot wound," the MoD said.

Sgt Mathews died later as a result of his injuries.

His death brings the number of UK troops killed on operations in Afghanistan since 2001 to 113.

After joining the Army aged 21, Sgt Mathews trained as a sniper and reconnaissance soldier. He served in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and finally worked as a mentor to local troops in Afghanistan. A keen sports parachutist, canoeist and hill walker, the soldier was described as a family man who was passionate about Edinburgh and his family.

His commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Campbell, paid tribute to "a hugely popular man".

"An absolute professional, he was courageous, reliable to the core and unwaveringly loyal to all," Lt Col Campbell said.

"But his love of soldiering could never be matched by his absolute devotion to his wife and children."

Sgt Matthews's best friend, Sgt Rab McEwan, of the same regiment, added: "His death was a devastating blow to the team and he will be sorely missed by all. None more so than me."

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, said: "Sgt Matthews was, by all accounts, an exemplary soldier; a true professional in every sense of the word.

"I would like to extend my sympathies to his family."

Alzheimer’s sufferers given hope by new generation of drugs

Millions of Alzheimer’s sufferers have been given fresh hope after a new generation of drugs were shown to reverse the symptoms of the disease.

The treatment can bring the “worst affected parts of the brain back to life” and scientists say it is twice as effective as any medication currently available.

They even suggested the drug works so well it might be given to patients in the future to prevent the onset of the illness.

The results of the human trials were hailed a “major new development” in the fight against the disease, which threatens to overwhelm the NHS within decades.

Alzheimer’s currently affects more than 400,000 people in Britain and the number of sufferers is expected to rise rapidly as the population ages.

The cost of treating the condition will double from £17billion to £35billion by 2026.

The researchers say that if further tests of the drug, called rember, are successful it could be available within four to five years.

“We appear to be bringing the worst affected parts of the brain functionally back to life,” said Prof Claude Wischik of Aberdeen University, who carried out the trials on 321 people with the illness.

He added: “It’s an aspiration for us to develop a drug that we could give preventatively from a certain stage.”

Jimmy Hardie, 72, from Aberdeenshire, was one of the patients who took part in the trials. He used to put sugar in the fridge and suffered mood swings caused by his disease.

But his wife Dorothy, 69, believes that his condition has improved enormously since he started taking rember in 2006.

“Two years ago if Jimmy had gone to his shed he may have forgotten what he was about to do,” she said.

“Now he is able to plan what he wants to do, go and get the tools he needs and do the task. It is encouraging.”

Helen Carle, 68, of Cove, near Aberdeen, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2003 after becoming forgetful and panicky.

She says that she has seen a great difference since she began taking rember three years ago.

“I still have the same personality and I think I am more alert,” she said.

Those involved in the human trial and were divided into four groups – three were given a different dosage of the drug, called rember, while the fourth group took a placebo.

Even after 19 months, patients receiving the highest dose had not experienced significant decline from original position.

“This is a major new development in the fight against dementia,” said Prof Clive Ballard, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society.

The results were the “first realistic evidence” that a new drug can improve cognition in people with Alzheimer’s by targeting a leading cause of brain cell death and suggested that it could be “over twice as effective as any treatment that is currently available,” he said.

Rebecca Wood, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust, said, “This is an encouraging development in the fight against a devastating disease. In this exploratory trial, rember reduced the decline in blood flow to parts of the brain that are important for memory.

She added: “We need more human trials to assess the treatment’s possible side-effects.”

Larger trials - phase three trials on around 1,000 people - of the best dose are still needed to establish the benefit and safety of the drug, which means it could be five years before it is available.

The drugs are expected to cost the same as current treatments for the illness such as Aricept, which are £2.50 a day.

However, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) the Government’s drugs watchdog, ruled that Aricept, which has been shown to improve the memory and day-to-day life of those in the late stages of the disease, was too expensive for widespread use in Britain.

Terry Pratchett, the best selling author who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, disclosed earlier this year that he was being forced to pay for the drug himself.

The latest breakthrough will lead for increased calls for Nice to reconsider its policy on dementia drugs.

A spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Society said: “NICE remit needs to be take into account the wider benefits of treatments to society and the way the drugs can save money in other areas such as Social Care in order to cater for conditions like dementia.”

Previously Alzheimer’s treatments have targeted the formation of protein molecules, or plaques, in the brain of patients which clump together to wreck the networks that hold memories, enable us to perform tasks or knit together when we learn something new.

The new family of drugs works by preventing the build up of different molecules called tau protein inside brain cells.

Prof Wischik has been working on the link between Alzheimer’s and tau protein for more than 20 years.

His work was presented today in Chicago to the International Conference on Alzheimer’s Disease.

Caught on camera: Mysterious speeding object leaves UFO experts puzzled

As a budding photographer, John Farley is used to capturing some extraordinary scenes and images.

But nothing could prepare him for the shock of a speeding UFO which he caught on camera while taking pictures of a famous British beauty spot.

Mr Farley was snapping away at Berry Head in Brixham, Devon, when he captured the unusual image of sunny Torbay.

But it wasn't until he got home and glanced through the images on his computer that he noticed a mysterious round object in the background.

'I don't know what it is,' said the retired bus driver from Kingskerswell near Newton Abbot.

The strange object has left even photographic experts scratching their heads as to what it could possibly be.

'The picture was taken at a thousandth of a second at f4 which would normally make any moving object pin-sharp,' one expert said.

'The fact that John's object is blurred is a bit baffling. I'm afraid we can't identify what's there except to say it's moving pretty damn quickly.'

The sighting was just one of a series of mysterious lights flitted across the night sky on Saturday - which saw a record number of such sightings in the UK.

A Devon couple also claim to have witnessed some 'unusual activity' near their home in Barnsey Gardens, Ashburton.

Wayne and Jo Taylor were treated to a spectacular light show as they sat outside their home on Saturday night.

Mr, 40, said: 'I just couldn't believe it. I've never seen anything like it in my life before.'

He counted about a dozen, slow-moving circular lights in formation heading towards Dartmoor at 10.20pm.

'The whole of Ashburton is now talking about it. I have absolutely no rational explanation for what I saw. The lights moved at one stage at a 90 degree angle.

'They were not these lanterns that people keep reporting. There was no way of telling how far or close they were. It's very difficult to explain them. They were quite random.'

At the same time other star-gazers across the country were being similarly gob-smacked by the apparitions with 200 seen at various points between the South West and Yorkshire.

A spokesman for UFO Investigations UK confirmed it received more than 200 reported sightings.

He called for a Government inquiry to explain the deluge of reports from Sussex and Bedfordshire and from Devon to Lancashire and beyond.

Pictured: The £50,000 jetpack that lets you become a real-life James Bond

It looks more like a couple of oversized soup cans turned into a backpack than a sexy James Bond flying machine.

But this is the world’s first practical one-man flying jet pack, its inventor claimed when he unveiled it yesterday.

Forty-three years after 007 leaped over a wall with his Bellrocket belt in Thunderball, the Martin Jet Pack made its public debut at AirVenture, the world’s biggest air show.

Scroll to the bottom of this article to see video of the jetpack in action

It didn’t travel very far (50ft), very high (just 6ft), or for very long (45seconds), but that wasn’t the object of the exercise, said inventor Glenn Martin.

'I wanted to prove that the technology works,' said Mr Martin.

‘Six feet or 600ft, it makes no difference once you get airborne.’

The huge crowd of aircraft fans at Oshkosh, near Milwaukee, Wisconsin, seemed to agree as the flight was celebrated with wild whoops and cheers.

Mr Martin, a 48-year-old father of two from Christchurch, New Zealand, has spent 27 years perfecting his jet pack, which he hopes to start selling for £50,000 each next year.

He was just five years old when he first dreamed of having a magic flying belt, he said.

It was a dream shared by comic book writers who in 1928 gave space man Buck Rogers a ‘jumping belt’ enabling him to leap over cities.

Other comic heroes followed, and in real life there have been various designs since then, including a craft nicknamed the flying bedstead designed for the Pentagon in 1954.

Bond’s belt was the most successful – but it could only keep the superspy aloft for 30 seconds before it ran out of fuel.

More fuel was impossible because the belt couldn’t handle the payload.

James Bond wore a jetpack in Thunderball, but they could soon be available commercially

Mr Martin said his revolutionary design can stay aloft for 30 minutes, a flyingtime that he believes will make it a best-seller.

After years of calculations and building prototypes since his university days, he said he achieved his breakthrough 11 years ago in his garage workshop by going low-tech.

His calculations showed his design would work but only carrying someone weighing less than 9 stone.

Seven weeks after the birth of their second child, his wife, Vanessa, was recruited as his lightweight test pilot.

‘I took some precautions,’ Mr Martin grinned. ‘I tied the thing to a pole in the garage so Vanessa wouldn’t go flying through the roof.’

Mrs Martin said: ‘Everything went well, and I was hooked immediately.’

Later Mr Martin also enlisted his son, Harrison, then 15, as another test pilot.Then he boosted the engine power to carry heavier people.

The Martin Jet Pack owes more to the hovercraft than the jet.

A motorbike engine running on regular petrol uses car fan belts to drive two fan propellers that spin horizontally inside the ‘soup cans.’

This ‘ducted fan’design is more efficient than the unshielded rotor of a helicopter.

A ducted fan has more and shorter blades than a regular propeller. Being shorter and inside the shroud, they spin faster giving greater lift.

The engine, fuel tank and the pilot are positioned between and below the lift-fans to lower the centre of gravity and prevent the machine turning upside down in flight and diving into the ground – jokingly called the lawn dart effect, after the garden game.

Two control levers protrude forwards beneath the pilot’s arms. The left one is a joystick controlling forward and backward movement and roll, or sideway stilt of the propellers, for left and right turns.

The right lever is the accelerator, the engine start and stop switch, and a button for the emergency parachute.

The ‘ballistic parachute’ is located behind the pilot’s head, on top of all the other machinery.

Like those used in some light planes, it is deployed rapidly by a small explosive charge and is designed to float the jet pack and pilot back to safety should things go wrong.

Mr Martin recently got backing from a group of venture capitalists so he quit his regular job as a biochemist to develop his machine.

He said: ‘Within six months I’ll take it to 500ft, then the sky’s the limit.'

Mr Martin has designed his Jet Pack to meet U.S. Federal Aviation Authority rules for light aircraft.

He and his backers believe it will be ideal for commuters, ranchers with vast herds of cattle, firefighters tackling forest fires, other workers who need to cover large areas, and the military.

And, of course, it also has appeal as the ultimate boy's toy.


* Jet packs were first dreamed up by the comic book writers in 1928 when they gave spaceman Buck Rogers one enabling him to leap over cities.

* In 1949, Saturday morning cinema showed a serial, King of the Rocketmen, in which the hero flew with the help of an atomic rocket pack controlled by knobs and dials on his chest.

* The Pentagon backed tests of the Hiller Flying Platform in 1954. Nicknamed the flying bedstead, the U.S. Navy and Army were interested but it was abandoned after two years.
* In 1960 Bell Aerosystems invented their rocket belt that was made famous by 007 in 1965’s Thunderball. In 1970 the patent was sold to another company, Williams Research, who developed it into a larger version called the WASP. Its big disadvantage was that it was always too thirsty and could never carry enough fuel to give it more than a couple of minutes' flying time.
* In 1984 the rocket belt made a spectacular – but again short-lived – reappearance at the opening ceremony of the Los Angeles Olympics.
* Another version was unveiled by Jet Pack International in 2004. The company says it plans to sell a jet-turbine version to the public next year. No price or range have been revealed.
* The only truly successful one-man jet packs so far have been the nitrogen-squirting Manned Maneuvering Units used by NASA astronauts since 1984.

Desperate shop owner appeals for return of rare breeding shark stolen in daring aquarium raid

With a joint value of around £50,000, Feargal and Sharkey are head and gills above anything you'd find in an average fish tank.

They are so valuable because they are the UK's only captive breeding pair of Australian Marbled Catshark, a little known species of shark much sought after by fish-fanciers with a penchant for the exotic.

Examples of the species are advertised for sale on the internet in America for around £50 each.

But their stock here looked set to soar - after it was revealed Sharkey, the female of the pair, has been stolen from her aquarium.

Devastated owner Peter Newman, 68, who runs an aquatics shop in Farnborough, Hampshire, fears the thieves may now demand a huge ransom for the return of his prized 2ft long, mottled brown shark.

As police investigated the case of the suburban Jaws snatchers, Mr Newman said: 'The person who took this shark knew exactly what they had come for. They must have come prepared with a crow bar, net, container and gloves.

'Because of their value I'm expecting someone to phone me up and say we have your shark, now pay us a ransom if you want to see it again.'

Feargal and Sharkey - named after pop star Feargal Sharkey, the former lead singer of The Undertones - were kept in a 160-gallon tank in a locked garage behind Mr Newman's shop.

He imported Sharkey after a customer ordered the shark but failed to collect her three and a half years ago.

He then spent two years trying to source a male from Indonesia to keep her company.

The pair, which are both around five years old, only started to breed in January this year and have had six babies.

The thieves struck late on Friday or in the early hours of Saturday while Mr Newman and his wife June, 65, were asleep in their flat above the shop, called The Marine Centre.

It is thought the crooks forced the door open with a crowbar and used a net to scoop Sharkey out and steal her alive.

Mr Newman is concerned the culprits may return in a bid to steal Feargal as well and is stepping up security on the premises by installing CCTV.

He added: 'They would have had incredible difficulty taking them both at the same time because as soon as Sharkey became stressed Feargal would have used his pointed head to bury himself in the rocks where the net could not get him.'

Mr Newman, who started his company in 2003, imports sharks, fish and stingrays and makes fish tanks.

'The sharks aren't advertised in the shop but I do take customers out to the garage occasionally to sell them live coral,' he said.

'I was also on local TV recently talking about the breeding programme and how rare the sharks are so that may have sparked a burglar's interest.'

As for Feargal, Mr Newman said he 'seems a bit lost and is not swimming around or eating so much' since Sharkey's sudden disappearance, but their babies are doing well.

PC Stephen Court, of Farnborough police station, said: 'We believe this may have been a targeted burglary of a shark that is extremely rare in the UK.

'The victim is desperate for the fish to be returned and we urge anyone with information about the burglary to contact us.

Due to the unusual type of shark it will be difficult to sell in this country.

'We would ask anyone who has been offered one to buy to contact police as soon as possible.

Sigh, robot: The Science Museum unveils cute robot that likes a cuddle - and a spidery one that can recognise faces

Human touch: Holly Cave cuddles Heart Robot, which is designed to react emotionally to humans

Also taking part in the Emotibots event this week is Hexapod, a six-legged metallic spidery robot that tracks people's faces and latches onto visitors who walk around it.

If a person holds Hexapod's gaze long enough what it sees is downloaded and projected onto a plasma screen.

Children are invited to interact with the Hexapod robot, which also takes pictures of visitors' faces to be uploaded onto its website.

A robot puppet which appears to react emotionally and a metallic spidery creation that tracks people's faces have been bringing out the best - and worst - in children at London's Science Museum.

Heart Robot has a beating heart, a breathing belly, and sensors that respond to movement, noise and touch.

Cuddle him, and he seems to soak up the affection. His limbs become limp, his eyelids lower, his breathing relaxes, and his heart beat slows down.

Designer Matthew Denton with his Hexapod robot which has been designed to react emotionally to humans. It forms part of the Science Museum's Emotibots exhibition

Museum bosses hope the Emotibot exhibit, coinciding with the release of the Disney film Wall-E, will show children that robots aren't all fictional, and increase their interest in science.

The Science Museum's Emotibots exhibition coincides with the UK release of Pixar's Wall-E, which has fuelled a new interest in robots.

The Science Museum's Emotibots exhibition coincides with the UK release of Pixar's Wall-E, which has fuelled a new interest in robots

'A huge number of children will be seeing Wall-E, and it seemed interest in robots was higher than ever,' said Holly.

'Everyone's falling for the 'lonely' robot WALL-E, but the idea of robots having emotions or a personality may no longer just be science fiction.

'How humans and robots might interact in the future is something that raises lots of interesting ethical and moral questions.

'We wanted to do something where children can get up close and interact with the robots.

'For most of them it will probably be the first time they've seen a robot up close. We hope the exhibit will make them think about robots, and whether or not they can really form an emotional attachment to them.'

The robot, invented by animatronics expert Matt Denton, has six legs and a single camera for an eye.

It has had a starring role in several films - prototypes for it were used in two Harry Potter films, for Hagrid's pets. Currently Mr Denton is trying to secure funding for a larger, 2m-wide version.

The robot is on display until Friday in the Antenna gallery.

I need a hug: The Heart Robot is the star of the Emotibots exhibition

But give him a violent shake, or shout in his face, and he gets upset. He flinches, his hands clench, his breathing and heart rate speed up, and his eyes widen.

Heart Robot, created by scientists at the University of the West of England in Bristol, was designed to explore what happens when machines interact emotionally with humans.

But he also revealed something about the psychological differences between pre-teen children.

Handstand soldiers show off their tight undies

Chariots of Fire it ain't! These soldiers from South Korea's Special Warfare Command participate in an odd exercise before moving onto a special operation drill.

If there's ever the need for a crack team of army specialists who can stand on their hands, wearing tight fitting underpants, then these are your boys.

They all look pretty serious about the exercise apart from the two clowns at the back.

At ease, soldiers!

Mortgage approvals plunge to new low in June

Homeowners have been warned to brace themselves for further falls in the value of their houses after figures from the Bank of England showed mortgage approvals have plummeted by more than two thirds in a year.

The Bank said the number of approvals slumped 68.4pc to 114,000 year-on-year in June. They were down from 41,000 in May to just 36,000 last month, the lowest level since records began in 1993.

Economists, who had forecast a reading of 37,000, said the figures are the latest evidence of how borrowers are being hit by the credit crisis, which has forced banks to curb lending and insist on bigger deposits before offering new loans.

# More on economics

Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at Global Insight, said: "This is yet more very disturbing mortgage data that heighten concerns over the potential depth and length of the housing market correction.

"Very low mortgage activity suggests that house prices will continue to head south at a pretty rapid rate," he added.

He warned those people who took out 100pc or even 100pc plus mortgages within the last three years were particularly vulnerable to falling into the negative equity trap.

Simon Rubinsohn, chief economist at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), said: "The latest numbers from the Bank of England demonstrate in the clearest possible way the consequences of the credit crunch for the residential property market."

Ex-Google workers launch Internet search rival Cuil

Cuil's founders are taking aim at their former work place, claiming their search engine offers greater depth and breadth on the constantly expanding world wide web.

"The internet is getting bigger and more disorganised every day," Cuil's founders said in a post on

They say the "new architecture and algorithms" incorporated into their site will be able to handle the exponential growth of the internet. Cuil says that, unlike Google, which reportedly ignores seldom-visited or obscure websites in its index, Cuil doesn't discriminate and has packed 120 billion web pages in its index.

"Size matters because many people use the Internet to find information that is of interest to them, even if it's not popular," Cuil said.

Cuil's founders include former "Googlers" Anna Patterson, Russell Power and Louis Monier. Patterson and Power worked on Google's "TeraGoogle" search index and Mr Monier specialised in search engine design.

The search engine's front page follows the spartan look of Google, even intensifying the focus on a single search box with the use of a plain, black background.

In a seemingly pre-emptive blog posting on Friday, Google software engineers Jesse Alpert and Nissan Hajaj said the company scans more than a trillion web pages and indexes those it believes will be useful to searchers.

"We're proud to have the most comprehensive index of any search engine, and our goal always has been to index all the world's data," Mr Alpert and Mr Hajaj said in the posting.

Google dominates online search with more than 60 per cent of the market and is so popular the company's name has become a verb.

Antigua honeymoon murder: six held by police

Six people have been detained by police in Antigua over the honeymoon murder of a doctor and the shooting of her new husband, a journalist on the Carribbean island has said.

Catherine Mullany was shot in the head by a gunman who entered the couple's cabin at the luxury Cocos Hotel while they were asleep at 5am on Sunday morning.

Her husband Benjamin Mullany, a physiotherapist, is critically ill in hospital after being shot in the neck.

Andy Liburd, news editor of the Antigua Sun, said that at least six people have been held and questioned in connection with the attack.

However, nobody has yet been arrested for the crime.

He said: "As far as I know there are six people in custody, but I don't think they will have been placed under arrest yet. Here in Antigua, people can be in custody for two days before police either arrest or release them.

"The police will want to run the investigation to its fullest course and make sure all the pieces are in place before they make arrests."

Just hours before she was shot dead Mrs Mullany had reportedly sent a text to a friend calling Antigua "beautiful and lush like the Garden of Eden."

The friend said that the hospital doctor had told her she had "never been happier" at her wedding on July 12.

She added: "I can't talk much, I'm so choked up. Cath had only just texted me to say she was having the best time of her life, and joked about how grown-up she felt being married. I can't believe she's gone."

Police on the island, which is a popular destination for beach weddings and romantic breaks but has a sharply rising crime rate, said they were treating the murder as a "robbery gone bad".

Officers believe the couple were woken by burglars battering down their door, and were then shot during a confrontation in their bedroom.

The couple, who are both from the Swansea area of south Wales, were on the last day of their honeymoon. They were due to return home on July 28.

In a joint statement, the couple's two families said they were "devastated" and "struggling to comprehend" what had happened.

Dr Mullany's maternal uncle, Gareth Jones, said: "To be honest, we are all stunned. This is so tragic. I don't know the full details but when I spoke with my sister this morning she was very, very shaken.

"David and my sister only found out about it this morning. They are still surrounded by wedding photographs at the moment and the tragedy is my niece had not even seen them yet. Now she will never see the photographs of her own wedding.

"I am not quite sure of the circumstances but it seems that they have been shot in a robbery. Ben was shot in the neck and apparently his life is in the balance. My niece was killed outright."

Dr Mullany worked in the paediatric unit at the Singleton Hospital in Swansea.

Her colleague Mike Cosgrove, the hospital's paediatric consultant and clinical director, said: "We were expecting Catherine back from her honeymoon today and instead we heard this terrible news.

"We are all completely devastated. She was an excellent doctor and a lovely person, and an extremely popular member of staff.

"She had so looked forward to her wedding; she had talked about it for months. Nobody can believe what has happened."

Paul Williams, Chief Executive of the NHS Trust, described Dr Mullany as "a popular, talented and caring young doctor with a wonderful career ahead of her".

Dr Mullany, who graduated from Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School in London in 2002, joined the Swansea NHS Trust in August 2003 and was training to be a GP.

She and her husband had bought a terraced house together in Rhos, half a mile from Dr Mullany's family home in Pontardawe.

A neighbour said: "Everyone here has nothing but good words to say about them. We've only just heard about it and are very upset."

The couple, who are both 31, were married at the 12th Century St John the Evangelist Church in Cilybebyll and held their reception in a marquee on Dr Mullany's family farm in Pontardawe.

Her father David Bowen, known as Dai, and mother Rachel run a farm and a holiday cottage business.

Mr Mullany's parents Marilyn and Cynlais, who live in nearby Ystylafera, are understood to be making arrangements to fly to Antigua to be at their son's bedside in an intensive care unit at the Holberton Hospital.

The statement from the two families said: "We are deeply shocked and devastated at the recent events in Antigua and are struggling to comprehend what has happened to Ben and Catherine.

"We appreciate the support of our family and friends and would ask the media to respect our privacy at this difficult time."

The couple arrived in the Caribbean on July 14. The Cocos Hotel, which charges up to £330 per night in high season for its 23 chalets, is described as "perfect for honeymoon couples" on travel websites.

Each of its chalets has an outdoor shower, balcony with views of the sea and dazzling white beaches and a hammock.

The shooting is the tenth murder on the holiday island this year, and follows two attacks by masked gunmen in recent days. Last year a record 19 people were murdered on the island.

Harold Lovell, Antigua's tourism minister, tried to assure holidaymakers that the island was still safe, saying: "We pride ourselves that Antigua is a safe and stable destination and this has come as a great shock to us.

"We want to do anything we can to allay fears and solve this heinous crime and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice."

He said police investigators would look at whether there were any lapses in security at the hotel, which employs guards.

He said other hotel guests had been left traumatised by the murder and some had requested to be relocated.

"The police are still obviously trying to work out the motive, but they think robbery will be the motive," he said. "It is something that is being fully investigated by the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda. They will leave no stone unturned."

Crime maps to show offences for every street in Britain

Residents are to be given access to Google-style internet maps of actual streets identifying assaults, muggings and burglaries in towns and villages across England and Wales, under Home Office plans.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, unveiled the scheme to give householders details of every crime that has taken place in every neighbourhood.

They will show how close the offences carried out were to schools, pubs and cash points.

She said it would enable local residents to hold police to account and to demand action to tackle crime hotspots or deal with outbreaks of disorder.

All police forces in England and Wales will publish the crime maps by the end of the year, Miss Smith said. They will be updated every month.

However, there is still confusion amongst some forces over the level of detail that can be published amid concerns it could breach crime victims' right to privacy.

There are also concerns that publishing details of neighbourhood crime could affect house prices or that burglars could use the websites as a tool to target as yet untroubled neighbourhoods.

Police forces in the UK already compile similar maps of street robbery, youth and knife crime but have never published them for fear that neighbourhoods would be "stigmatised" and that the known hotspots for crime would become "ghettos".

They are also thought to have resisted making them publicly available over concerns it might encourage people to report more crimes, thereby driving up the number of recorded offences.

The Home Office said that the new maps would be presented in a "meaningful way".

They will show which schools are in crime-ridden areas, which streets are blighted by burglars and where it is safest to park a car on the street.

Users will also be able to identify crime trends such as whether drug dealing hotspots are linked to a specific phone box or railway station.

At present four forces are publishing online crime maps.

In West Yorkshire, one of the leading forces in the scheme, categories include anti-social behaviour and "youth nuisance" - such as street drinking, skateboarding, shouting & swearing, letting off fireworks, climbing on buildings, false 999 calls, graffiti and dropping litter.

Offences are identified using dots on maps.

In the West Midlands, householders can enter their postcodes and zoom into the map to a street level, where the different crime types would be represented in coloured zones, showing levels of monthly crime and how much they have increased in the past 12 months.

The Tories accused the Government of "stealing" a policy they had announced in April.

During his successful campaign to be London Mayor, Boris Johnson suggested a similar scheme for the capital.

The Conservatives also said that the crime maps themselves were of little use unless residents could use them to hold police directly to account in neighbourhood meetings.

There are also concerns that police may not be able to react to residents' concerns because of government targets which encourage them to pursue certain crimes at the expense of others, regardless of public complaints.

Dominic Grieve, shadow home secretary, said: "Our proposals detailed in April will go much further by setting up quarterly beat meetings - along with directly elected commissioners - to restore real local accountability to policing."

Meanwhile property experts warned that the with the housing market at its lowest ebb for over a decade, publication of such detailed information about local crimes "could wipe thousands of pounds off of house prices over night".

James Scott-Lee, a spokesman for the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, said the effect of the crime maps would be "not too dissimilar to school and hospital league tables".

He added: "In the current economic climate, publicising high crime areas in such detail could literally wipe thousands of pounds off of house prices over night further disadvantaging those who are already struggling to make ends meet."

The Council of Mortgage Lenders said it was concerned that the information could create alarm among housebuyers if a town or borough had higher than average crime levels.

Sue Anderson, a spokesman, said: "We would be concerned about inappropriate knee jerk consumer reaction or publicity."

The idea of crime mapping comes from America - where police departments in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles show crimes down to a house-to-house level.

Officials and police are still discussing the level of detail that can be published after the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, said that he had concerns that the maps could breach data protection laws and the privacy of victims in some cases.

Miss Smith announced the move on a visit to Brierley Police Station in the West Midlands to see a demonstration of local crime maps in action. The force website - - gives the details of eleven categories of crime – ranging from burglary and vehicle theft to assaults, wounding and robbery.

The Home Secretary said: "The public are the best weapon for fighting crime. By rolling out up-to-date, interactive crime maps we can better inform people about crime problems in their area and enable them to have much more of a say in what their local police focus on. This will help increase public confidence in the police and make communities safer."

Canoe fraud: Holiday company offers Darwin tours to Panama

The seven-day 'Darwin Tour' trips to Panama will take in the bustling capital Panama City, the spectacular Panama Canal and the idyllic jungle retreat of Lake Gutun, where the Darwin's lived and visited.

And there is even a chance to go canoeing.

Mr Darwin was jailed for six years and three months after admitting fraud while his wife was jailed for six years and six months after being convicted of fraud and money laundering.

They swindled £250,000 from pensions and insurance companies after Mr Darwin faked a fatal canoeing accident in March 2002.

They tried to start a new life in Panama where they set up a business and bought property with the eventual aim of, ironically, offering canoeing holidays.

Laura Forsyth, from London-based Journey Latin America, who are offering the breaks said: "Brits are fascinated with criminality and to follow in the footsteps of such a notorious couple like the Darwin's is really intriguing

"This was one of the biggest and stories of the year, and now tourists can be a part of it.

"The Darwin's at least got it right choosing Panama, it's one of our most popular destinations for UK tourists and amazingly beautiful and diverse country."

Increasing numbers of UK citizens are choosing central American destinations like Panama and neighbouring Nicaragua and Costa Rica.

She said: "The Darwin trip also offers canoe expeditions on Lake Gatun, but thankfully these are totally legitimate."

Journey Lation America is hoping the 'Darwin effect' will have holidaymakers flocking to book the deals.

But Hartlepool Labour MP Iain Wright condemned the scheme.

He said: "I suppose it's funny on one level, but these people were fraudsters, they're criminals.

"Really they are the last people I would want associated with the town if we want to have investment and opportunity for the region."

The Darwin-themed package includes a nine-night tailor-made itinerary including, historic Panama City, a full-day transit on the Panama Canal, accommodation in a rainforest lodge overlooking Gatun Lake, a full-day boat trip to spot wildlife on Gatun Lake and three nights wind down in Bocas del Toro on the Caribbean.

Prices starts from £1,389 per person and includes all flights, accommodation, transport, some meals and some guided excursions.

Dog appears in Indian court charged with biting

Chotu, the model of docility when he appeared in court last week, was sentenced to death five years ago for a similar offence in its home town of Purnea, 140 miles east of the state capital Patna, but was rescued by animal rights activists.

Accompanied by owner Rajkumari Devi, a childless widow, the dog quietly heard the charge sheet against him being read out with due solemnity and his paws crossed.

"The court was compelled to issue a summons to the dog since the police found that it was a threat to peace and feared that it might create a law and order problem," district magistrate Rajiv Ranjan said.

Chotu's lawyer, Dalip Kumar Deepak, defended his client, pointing out that, despite the presence of many people in the courtroom, the dog did not bite or bark at anyone.

Rajkumari inherited the dog from her mother, who picked it up off the street and considers the animal her protector.

She claims Chotu has bitten only people trying to break into her one-room hut.

She claimed the aggressors were jealous neighbours trying to steal her land deeds in order to seize her property.

Chotu's next court appearance is August 5.

Dogs have featured frequently in Indian courts, on both sides of the law.

India's most notorious bandit, Veerappan, relied on his mongrel, Itappa, to sniff out rare sandalwood trees for him in thick jungles which he then cut down and sold.

But when the master was hauled in, so was the 13-year-old mongrel, which spent nearly 10 years in custody. Three years ago, Itappa was released on 2000 rupee (£24.40) bail for good behaviour in southern India.

India's Supreme Court also recently acquitted a man convicted of murder on the basis of a sniffer dog's "evidence", ruling that a human's life and liberty cannot depend on "canine inference".

It acquitted Dinesh Borthakur, an engineer who spent four years in jail after a trial court in north-eastern Assam state found him guilty of murdering his wife and six-year old adopted daughter in 1999 because a police dog had "fingered" him at the crime scene.

"Since it is manifest that the dog cannot go into the box and give his evidence on oath and consequently submit itself to cross-examination, the dog's human companion must report the dog's evidence and this clearly is hearsay," the two-judge bench declared.

And though the Court conceded that the services of sniffer dogs may be used to investigate crimes, their faculties "cannot be taken as evidence to establish the guilt of the accused".

There is a feeling that in criminal cases, the life and liberty of a human being should not depend on canine inference, the judgment concluded.

Millions of Africans facing starvation

More than 14.5 million of the world's poorest people living in five countries across East Africa need immediate help, the United Nations said, 3.6 million more than during the last food crisis of 2006.

This has led to questions why international aid pleas for Africa's hungry are coming ever more frequently and for ever more numbers of people.

"The British public always responds generously to emergency appeals but they public be asking why does this happen year after year," agreed Barbara Stocking, Oxfam's chief executive.

"The answer is that the world consistently fails to address adequately the underlying causes of these crises." That failure means that this year's looming disaster threatens to be among the worst of recent years, due to what Mrs Stocking called a "toxic cocktail" of factors.

Soaring world food and fuel prices, worsening conflict and disease have intensified the effects of chronic poverty and climate change which has brought ever-more frequent droughts.

In Kenya's parched far north, close to Lake Turkana, a herd of more than 200 goats yesterday fought two dozen camels for space around a withering waterhole in Kaeris village, 47 miles east of the district capital, Lokitaung.

"Our livestock are dying, there is no pasture, the little money we have cannot buy anything in the market because prices are now too high," said Lukas Ingolan, 55, a Turkana tribe elder squatting in the shade.

"The last time it rained here was in April, for one day. Before that, nothing for so long. Without more rain, I can see only death for us unless people come with relief food." The same appeals were being made almost word for word in 2006, and in similar crises across East Africa stretching back to 2004, 1999, 1993 and even to the 1984 famine which killed more than one million Ethiopians.

Since then, there have been more than 60 fresh hunger crises in Africa, prompting emergency aid flows to rise more than 20 per cent each year to £2.7 billion annually.

The problem is that even that vast sum is often "too late, too brief, inappropriate and inadequate", according to research by the charity Care International.

Action to save lives in the short term must be matched by longer term investment to help the most vulnerable side-step the next disaster, said Oxfam's Mrs Stocking.

Aid policies of Western donors cannot all be blamed. Somalia's conflict has worsened to the point where aid workers are now almost entirely unable to reach the worst affected. Kenya's political crisis paralysed its crop planting season. Government investments in modern agriculture are woefully inadequate.

And despite this, there have been some successes.

In Ethiopia, the British Department for International Development has pumped in more than £93 million to fund a cash-for-work programme which has kept more than five million people off handouts this year.

Half-a-day's drive south of the watering hole at Kaeris, Jecinta Nakoli, 37, and three friends pooled cash grants from Oxfam given in 2006 to open petty-trading kiosks in their village, Nachukwi.

This year, they have also been left off food aid registers.

"When people give you food, it is not good," she said, as her cooperative colleagues, all women, nodded enthusiastically in agreement. "It is better to find money from your own sweat and hard work." But these are still the exceptions. Millions of others are still relying on charity to stay alive.

"We hate repeatedly raising the alarm," said Peter Smerdon, spokesman for the United Nations World Food Programme in Nairobi, which has just appealed for £201 million to feed the most vulnerable in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda and Djibouti.

"It is much more expensive to save lives during a famine than to stop an emergency from becoming a famine, but we don't receive enough funds to do as much as we would like in order to build up people's ability to survive a sudden shock without emergency assistance." Without that earlier cash injection, all that is left is รข to speak up and warn of impending catastrophe', Mr Smerdon added.

"If there is no response and millions of people eventually die then at least governments, UN agencies, donors and the general public knew what was going to happen rather than it coming as a terrible surprise."

Caribbean shooting: British doctor shot dead on honeymoon in Antigua

Catherine Mullany, formerly Bowen, was shot in the head during the attack at the luxury Cocos Hotel at 5am on Sunday morning. Her husband Benjamin is critically ill after being shot in the neck.

The couple, who are both from the Swansea area of south Wales, were on the last day of their honeymoon after marrying on July 12. They had been due to return home today.

Mrs Mullany's father David Bowen, known as Dai, said he was "too upset to speak" at the family home in Pontardawe, where the Bowens run a farm and a holiday cottage business.

Mrs Mullany's maternal uncle, Gareth Jones, said: "To be honest, we are all stunned. This is so tragic. I don't know the full details but when I spoke with my sister this morning she was very, very shaken.

"Catherine's parents only found out about it this morning. They are still surrounded by wedding photographs at the moment and the tragedy is my niece had not even seen them yet. Now she will never see the photographs of her own wedding.

"I am not quite sure of the circumstances but it seems that they have been shot in a robbery. Ben was shot in the neck and apparently his life is in the balance. My niece was killed outright."

Mr Jones said his own son, Jonathan, had his honeymoon in Antigua five years ago and vowed never to return, as he felt it was too violent.

Benjamin Mullany, 31, is a physiotherapist who also works in the area.

Mrs Mullany, known as Dr Bowen, worked in the paediatric unit at the Singleton Hospital in Swansea.

Her colleague Mike Cosgrove, the hospital's paediatric consultant and clinical director, said: "We were expecting Catherine back from her honeymoon today and instead we heard this terrible news.

"We are all completely devastated. She was an excellent doctor and a lovely person, and an extremely popular member of staff.

"She had so looked forward to her wedding; she had talked about it for months. Nobody can believe what has happened."

Paul Williams, Chief Executive of the NHS Trust said: "Catherine was a popular, talented and caring young doctor with a wonderful career ahead of her.

"Our sincere condolences go out to her family, and we are all praying that her husband makes a full recovery."

Dr Bowen, who graduated from Charing Cross and Westminster Medical School in London in 2002, joined the Swansea NHS Trust in August 2003 and was training to be a GP.

She and her husband had bought a terraced house together in Rhos, half a mile from Mrs Mullany's family home.

A neighbour said: "Everyone here has nothing but good words to say about them. We've only just heard about it and are very upset."

The couple were married at the 12th Century St John the Evangelist Church in Cilybebyll last year.

Mr Mullany's parents Marilyn and Cynlais were waiting at their large detached house in nearby Ystylafera for the latest news from the Holberton Hospital in Antigua.

Mr and Mrs Mullany, both aged 31, arrived in the Caribbean on July 14. The Cocos Hotel, which charges up to £330 per night in high season for its 23 chalets, is described as "perfect for honeymoon couples" on one travel website.

Each of its chalets has an outdoor shower, balcony with views of the sea and dazzling white beaches and a hammock.

The shooting is the tenth murder on the holiday island this year, and follows two attacks by masked gunmen in recent days. Last year a record 19 people were murdered on the island.

Harold Lovell, Antigua's tourism minister, tried to assure holidaymakers that the island was still safe, saying: "We pride ourselves that Antigua is a safe and stable destination and this has come as a great shock to us.

"We want to do anything we can to allay fears and solve this heinous crime and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice."

He said police investigators would look at whether there were any lapses in security at the hotel, which employs guards.

He said other hotel guests had been left traumatised by the murder and some had requested to be relocated.

"The police are still obviously trying to work out the motive, but they think robbery will be the motive," he said. "It is something that is being fully investigated by the Royal Police Force of Antigua and Barbuda. They will leave no stone unturned."

Weston-super-Mare's Grand Pier destroyed by fire

The blaze, described by witnesses as an "inferno", ripped through the partly-wooden structure and sent clouds of grey smoke spiralling into the air above the resort in Somerset.

It took barely an hour to reduce the Grade II-listed pier, which had recently been bought and refurbished by new owners, to a tangle of blackened metal this morning. The smoke could be seen up to 15 miles away.

Dee Williams, deputy manager of the Grand Atlantic Hotel, which lies 200 yards from the pier, said: "I am watching it now and I think it is going to collapse. It is an inferno. There will be no pier by tonight.

"There are loud bangs going off, which could be fireworks because there was a display on there recently. The tide is out and I think they are having difficulty getting water to it.

"My night porter spotted the flames at 7.15am. There are lots of people about, watching the fire, and the police have blocked off the road.

"The pier was bought by new owners and done up recently, it is part of our identity and would really affect trade if we were to lose it."

Jacquie Whelan, owner of Sunfold Hotel on Beach Road, said:

"I just looked out of the window about ten minutes ago when I woke up and could not believe what I was seeing.

"It is the most horrendous thing. They are massive red flames, hundreds of feet in the air, all over the pier.

"We are a 5-minute walk to the pier, and from where I am standing it just looks like a huge bonfire.

"It is not going to survive."

The fire is believed to have started in the staff canteen area of the west tower of the Grade II listed pier, which is privately owned.

Avon Fire and Rescue said six fire engines and 30 firefighters were at the scene.

Asked if the fire was believed to be suspicious, a spokesman for Avon Fire and Rescue said: "It is obviously a matter which will be referred to by the fire investigators.

"The seriousness of the incident is not known at present but there are no reports of any injuries."

Regarded as the last of the great pleasure piers to have been built, it was opened in 1904 to cater for the large numbers of Edwardian visitors arriving by train who felt that the Birnbeck Pier was too far from the centre of the resort.

The Grand Pier pavilion became home to opera, music hall, stage plays and ballet, while the Birnbeck Pier provided the bulk of the rides and amusements.

However, in 1930 the pavilion was completely destroyed by fire and when it was re-opened in 1933 it contained a large funfair rather than a theatre.

In 1993 a new bowling alley was added at a cost of £250,000 and in the following winter a further £350,000 was spent on a two-storey funhouse and Ferris wheel, along with essential replacement of worn decking.

Brother and sister Michelle and Kerry Michael bought the Grand Pier in January in a multi-million pound deal. They ploughed £1million into a revamp and reopened it in April.

The Red Arrows had been due to fly over the pier in an air show next month and a new £500,000 indoor go-kart track had just opened at the pier, which had recently sported a new climbing wall.

Meanwhile, the old Birnbeck Pier, to the north of the town, is now derelict, although a Manchester-based company which purchased it in 2006 had promised to restore it.

Andrew Horler, mayor of Weston-super-Mare, said: "This is completely devastating - a massive loss."

He added: "It is a real blow for Weston. It is an iconic, beautiful building. It represents Weston. It is in almost every single shot of the town.

"The new owners had incredible plans for the pier. They were making changes. I am lost for words over the pure devastation. It is incredibly sad news. The facility has been there for over 100 years. It is celebrated by local people. It is a really important tourist attraction. I do hope something is able to be rebuilt."

The blaze comes at the start of the holiday season, but Mr Horler said there were other attractions in the town, including miles of beach, and he hoped visitors would not be deterred.

Lance Armstrong Considers Political Office?

Lance Armstrong has hinted that he might consider running for political office in the future, according to People. On Thursday night, Lance told reporters at the Foundation's Livestrong Summit in Columbus, Ohio which as attended by Senator John McCain:

"There might come a time when you feel like you've reached a wall and you need to step into
and try to make change through that channel or those ends."

Armstrong pointed out during an interview with CNN's Campbell Brown that both presidential candidates support cancer research. He said:

"Both candidates I believe care about this issue. Senator McCain is a cancer survivor himself. Senator Obama, I know, is committed after having lost his mother to this disease."

At the summit, McCain told attendees:

"Lance Armstrong is making all the difference in the world, and I'm honored to be in his company."

When asked which candidate would make a better exercise partner, he said:

"I don't have an answer for you on who I would workout with. Probably best just to do a little triathlon. You know, we could hike one day with Senator McCain and play basketball one day with Senator Obama and then the other day they have to go ride with me, and then we’ll figure it out."

How diplomatic of him...I'd definitely prefer working out with Obama and I'm not ashamed to say it.

India blasts: Sixteen bombs in Ahmedabad leave 45 dead and India on high security alert

The terrorist attack on Ahmedabad in Gujarat state was among the worst of its kind. Bombs carefully planted in public spaces to cause maximum casualties exploded in quick succession.

One day before the blasts, seven small bombs had exploded in Bangalore, the centre of India's thriving software industry. The security forces fear that more cities may soon be targeted.

"The entire nation has been asked to step up security at vital installations," said an offical spokesman.

All the bombs in Ahmedabad exploded within the space of an hour. They detonated in the midst of teeming bazaars, congested neighbourhoods and outside hospitals, which were tending the injured from the first blasts.

While the death toll rose to 45, at least 160 people were wounded in the relatively affluent, Muslim-dominated city, including many women and children.

The bombs, fashioned from ammonium nitrate and packed with ball bearings to maximise their destructive power, were strapped to bicycles and motorbikes. Some were hidden under the seats of crowded public buses - and all were detonated with timers at carefully staggered intervals.

Two doctors were killed by explosions in two adjoining hospitals.

"Never before have we seen such ruthless bombings of hospitals. The terrorists' objective was to strike the defenceless and deepen the fear," said a senior security official.

Pankaj Patel said that his son, Rohan, and daughter, Pratha, were killed at Ahmedabad hospital.

"I came with my two children to cheer up my mother [in] hospital. They were laughing when the blast occurred. Now they are dead," he said.

O. P. Mathur, the city's police commissioner, said another unexploded device had been found. Around 30 people had been detained for questioning, he added.

"Anti-national elements have been trying to create panic among the people of our country. The Ahmedabad blasts are part of the same strategy," said Shivraj Patil, the home affairs minister.

The aim was to trigger communal bloodshed between Hindus and Muslims in the volatile city, he added.

Six years ago, Ahmedabad and the surrounding state of Gujarat endured a month-long pogrom, targeted mainly at Muslims, during which at least 2,500 people were murdered.

A little-known group styling itself the "Indian Mujahideen" claimed responsibility for the bombings in an email sent to local television channels minutes before the first explosion at around 6.30pm yesterday. This message declared that the attack was retribution for the killings of Muslims in 2002.

Narendra Modi, Gujarat's chief minister from the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, is one of India's most controversial politicians. He stands accused of organising anti-Muslim riots six years ago and inciting murders. The United States has placed him on a banned list and refused to issue him with a visa.

Indian Mujahideen has also claimed responsibility for last November's bombings in the city of Jaipur, which killed 63 people.

In a similar message sent moments before the attack, the group said the blasts were retaliation for India's alliance with America and Britain.

But Indian and Western security officials believe the "Indian Mujahideen" is merely a new name for Islamist extremist groups, based in neighbouring Bangladesh and Pakistan, which have carried out frequent attacks in India's cities.

Their central grievance is India's control over a large area of the disputed territory of Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority. They also object to the country's strategic and defence co-operation with the West, especially America.

"The command and control for all recent serial bombings and terrorist strikes remain the same and appear to be based in India's neighbourhood," said Arun Sahgal, a retired Brigadier and security analyst with the United Service Institute said.

Sources in India's Federal Intelligence Bureau the attacks demonstrated the ability of foreign insurgent groups to strike "anywhere" by using disaffected Muslims as "carriers". Around 13 per cent of India's 1.2 billion people are Muslims.

Over 550 people have been killed in 11 major terrorist attacks across India since October 2005. None of them has been solved so far - and no convictions secured.

The World Beyond the Wonder Wheel

IN 2004, a documentary photographer named Steve Hoffman began visiting Coney Island, where his grandparents lived and where as a child in the 1960s he often spent summer days at the beach and the amusement park.

After several months, Mr. Hoffman began to focus on a Coney Island he did not know as a child. This was the community of African-Americans who live in Carey Gardens, a housing project at 23rd Street and Mermaid Avenue, two blocks from the beach and six blocks from the amusement area.

At first, Mr. Hoffman relied on a community leader named Sonny Fonville for entree into this world, but in time he established relationships with residents. Most of his photographs are portraits, and he routinely offers a print to his subjects in thanks for cooperating.

Mr. Hoffman frequently takes pictures at the local basketball court, where kids practice for hours, emulating Stephon Marbury, Knicks point guard and local hero. A graffiti-covered wall near the court has become a favorite backdrop for portraits, and when Mr. Hoffman shows up to hand out prints of pictures taken on previous visits, other residents come by dressed especially for a portrait sitting.

Mr. Hoffman, who lives on Long Island, photographs at Carey Gardens every Saturday or Sunday. His sessions at the wall have developed into family gatherings, with people stopping by to look at the prints and comment on an image of a sister or a grandchild.

“So many people have lived there for so long that many are related to one another,” Mr. Hoffman explained. “It really makes me feel like I am documenting one extended family.”

Coney Island is currently a magnet for public and private money that is helping to create jobs and attract new residents. Many longtime residents of Carey Gardens view these developments skeptically, but Mr. Hoffman’s portraits serve as a potent reminder of both the community’s vitality and its great needs.