Newspaper headlines: Harvey Proctor, migration levels and hospital shop rip-off

The dramatic and emotional press conference given by former Conservative MP Harvey Proctor to deny he was part of an alleged "Westminster paedophile ring" is one of Wednesday's top stories.

The Independent says the former Essex MP - who left Parliament in 1987 - "launched a blistering attack on police".

He has accused them of carrying out an anti-gay "witch- hunt" in the way they investigated allegations, made by an anonymous accuser, that he and at least eight other prominent men abused and murdered boys.

Mr Proctor - who says he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing - says he should either be charged with murder or his accuser (known by the pseudonym "Nick") should be stripped of his anonymity and charged with wasting police time, the paper adds.

"[Proctor's] statement is the first detailed response from anyone who has been investigated by Operation Midland over claims of an Establishment child sex abuse ring," it notes.

The ex-politician branded the allegations a "heinous calumny" and said "paranoid police" had pursued their investigation of the "far-fetched and unbelievable" accusations " egged on by media, Labour MPs and a ragbag of internet fantasists", the paper reports.

In the Daily Mail, Tom Watson - a Labour MP who has raised the possible existence of a Westminster paedophile ring - defended his position.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The former MP was convicted of gross indecency in 1987. This has made him an "easy target" he says

Mr Watson, who was directly criticised by Mr Proctor, said "he was not judging Mr Proctor" and it was up to a jury to decide his guilt or innocence, if the claims came to court, the Mail says.

The Times profiles "Nick" - now a man aged about 48 - who says he was regularly abused at the hands of politicians and members of the establishment in the 1970s and 1980s.

The paper says the "well-spoken" accuser, who apparently has "a successful life", says he was abused by his own father, who also introduced the youngster to well-connected child abusers.

The paper notes that the Metropolitan Police has concluded that Nick's allegations are "credible and true".

'Demographic upheaval'

"Eight million migrants now live in Britain" is the headline the Daily Express uses to highlight a story that has once again brought the subject of immigration onto the papers' front pages.

The wording refers to the expectation that the latest batch of Office of National Statistics figures will show that the foreign-born population of the UK reached that figure - a record high - in 2014.

The Express notes that the total has grown from six million in 2006, and two-thirds of foreign-born residents were from outside the EU.

Its editorial says "sympathetic Conservatives have proved they cannot fix the mess Labour created".

Image caption This Nigerian family came to the UK in 1972, but the rate of net migration has increased sharply in the last 10 years

It accuses David Cameron of "shamefully stopping short" of demanding the EU changes its immigration rules.

The Daily Telegraph also leads on the story.

The paper says the ONS bulletin is also expected to show that net migration to the UK has reached record levels.

But the Telegraph notes that the rate of increase has slowed in the past five years.

The Daily Mail's editorial says a recent poll has suggested that immigration levels are the British electorate's biggest worry, and notes that the ONS figures do not count an estimated 1m illegal migrants within the UK.

It says the government's recently-announced illegal immigration crackdown, "will have precious little impact on the biggest demographic upheaval in our history.

"Is it too much to hope that the next time they announce a 'tough crackdown', it will be something a little more effective than threatening to shut the odd Indian takeaway?"

Matthew Norman in the Independent argues that Britain's attitude to asylum seekers is in stark contrast to Germany's, and challenges the nation's belief in its "moral superiority".

"Something terrible has happened to a country that demands disdain for unspeakable human suffering from those it elects, and finds itself needing to look to Germany for a basic lesson in compassion."

It is a sentiment echoed in the Guardian's editorial, which states: "Fence-building in Hungary, razor wire in Calais, prison in the UK: none of these are real solutions to either the economic or political challenges of this era of mass migration.

"Nor are they any sort of adequate response to the moral imperative of offering shelter to those seeking asylum."

Party's interest

With voting under way in the Labour leadership contest, press attention turns to those who have been excluded from participating.

The Daily Mirror reports that the party has rejected 56,000 bids to vote in the election.

It adds that about 3,000 applications were found to be from supporters of other political parties - including 1,900 Greens and 400 Conservatives - while the majority were blocked from participating because "they were duplicates, fictional characters or not on the electoral roll".

The Mirror's editorial brands the whole process "an embarrassing farce" and says, "we cannot be sure those choosing the next leader have the party's interests at heart".

It doubts the party's ability to vet the 367,000 supporters who have signed up since its election defeat in May.

And it says the decision to tell "disenchanted voters who walked away from Labour in 2010 or 2015 that they are barred from returning" is arbitrary and potentially unfair.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The leadership candidates took part in a hustings hosted by Nicky Campbell (centre) on BBC Radio 5 live

The Times' editorial says Labour should be able to decide who to allow to participate in the vote free from threats of legal action and injunctions.

"Parties are voluntary associations," it says, "not arms of the state.

"They must decide who to let in and who to exclude."

However, the Daily Telegraph says the "purge" is wrong.

"Who is to say they do not support 'the aims and values' of the Labour Party, which Harriet Harman... insisted yesterday was an absolute condition for voting in the contest," it asks.

The paper adds that, should Jeremy Corbyn win the race, many sitting Labour MPs may find themselves required to embrace different "aims and values" from those they hold now.

Eye-catching headlines

  • £200,000 collection of wine was boiled away by builders - legal action is afoot in Australia as a retired surgeon claims air conditioning contractors accidentally cooked his exceptional wine cellar, the Times reports
  • Contrite canine? No, it's just a hangdog look - The Daily Telegraph says researchers from Cambridge University have challenged the belief that dogs can feel guilt or shame. They say pets will react to their owners body language but are unlikely to experience "more complex feelings"
  • The poohsticks formula that ensures you winnie!- The Daily Mail and others highlight an equation produced by a leading engineer which should ensure success in the favoured game of AA Milne's ursine character
  • The Falkirk Triangle - The Sun has a page-long investigation into claims that the Scottish town of Bonnybridge, near Falkirk, is the world's UFO capital

'Captive market'

After much publicity over higher prices at shops in British airports, and the practice by retailers of being able to claim back VAT and duty paid by customers, the Times headlines on a similar consumer story.

It says it has carried out a price comparison exercise and found that two-thirds of the country's biggest retailers charge as much as 50% more for goods in hospital stores than the price in High Street shops.

WH Smith and Marks and Spencer have been accused of "exploiting a captive market", the paper adds, by making visitors and patients pay more for items, including flowers and get well soon cards.

Image caption Bristol Royal Infirmary: one of the hospitals where Times' researchers studied price levels

The paper lists dozens of examples of what campaigners say are "immoral" price mark-ups.

But the retailers "blamed higher running costs, associated with higher rents and staff wages for longer opening hours", it adds.

The Times says the campaign against the high prices has been joined by Labour MP and former NHS manager Paula Sherriff.

Ms Sherriff says the retailers explanations "do not wash" with her, as she says hospital rents are unlikely to be higher than other locations, such as Oxford Street, and staff costs would not be higher.

Retailers win the right to operate on hospital premises through commercial tenders, the paper explains, with contracts being drawn up with NHS trusts, or third party management companies.

A WH Smith spokesman says the price comparisons the paper quotes are "not fair" and he adds that some products may be cheaper in hospital stores.

'Silly things'

It is rare for a theatre review to break through from a newspapers' back pages to luxuriate in the main news section, but this happens multiple times today with assessments of Benedict Cumberbatch's performance in Hamlet.

Michael Billington in the Guardian says the production - at London's Barbican - is an "anti-climax" and despite a fine performance by its star, the staging is "half-baked".

"The problem is that Cumberbatch, rather like the panellists in I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, is given a lot of silly things to do," he asserts, giving the production a two out of five rating.

Its a marking mirrored by Paul Taylor in the Independent.

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Image caption Cumberbatch as the Prince of Denmark: the consensus seems to be 'love the acting, hate the gimmicks'

He says Cumberbatch is "natural casting" as Hamlet, but his performance in the fastest-selling show in West End history - while commanding - is "insufficiently spontaneous".

Taylor says that the production shifts "a fair bit of text" around to sometimes irritating effect.

However Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail gives the show four out of five, saying that the Sherlock star reminds the watcher "why he is a top-rank actor.

"He has a fine, distinct voice, rare stage presence and speaks the verse fluently and intelligently."

Letts says Cumberbatch's performance lifts an "occasionally puerile" production.

Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph concurs with the Mail's reviewer, awarding four stars and saying: "Cumberbatch emerges unquestionably victorious.

"I feared he might be too remote, but he puts on a warmth of feeling that puts you on his side."

Nonetheless, Cavendish cautions that Cumberbatch is a "blazing five-star Hamlet trapped in a three-star show."

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