Newspaper headlines: Flood cuts warning, Saudi executions and George RR Martin book delay

Flooding has hit the headlines in recent weeks, and several of Sunday's papers continue to focus on the issue.

The Observer says many of Britain's flood defences are being abandoned or maintained to "minimal levels" due to government funding cuts.

A leaked document submitted to ministers suggests this could leave twice as many homes at " significant risk" within 20 years, the paper adds.

It says the document - from the Association of Drainage Authorities, which represents all major organisations responsible for flood defences - is "further proof" that ministers were warned cuts had left large areas at risk before last month's floods.

The Daily Star Sunday says David Cameron has announced a £40m package to bolster flood defences, with £10m of that going to improve barricades in York which recently failed.

The Sunday Mirror calls the £40m pledge a "drop in the ocean", and quotes an MP who brands the government "woefully complacent".

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Bosses responsible for flood defences have been handed bonuses worth almost £300,000 in total, the Daily Express reports.

It says the news sparked "outrage" in the wake of the devastation caused by recent flooding.

In a cartoon, the paper shows an Environment Agency executive in a sea of money above the caption: "I think the banks have burst!"

The agency's PR boss has quit and received a "six-figure pay-off", according to the Sunday Times.

The resignation comes after the agency was accused of misleading the public over the whereabouts of its chairman, who was on holiday in Barbados while tens of thousands of people in northern England "endured ruinous floods", the paper says.

It says the agency indicated the resignation was unrelated to recent events and had been planned for some time.

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The Sun also criticises the Environment Agency, saying bosses "blew flood cash" digging channels to help fish swim during weir improvement work in David Cameron's constituency.

Under the headline "fish called squander", the paper says another Conservative MP protested that the £12m weir improvements were not necessary. A government spokesman says authorities have duties both to invest in flood defences and protect wildlife.

The Mail on Sunday says thousands of flood victims are facing financial ruin because a government-backed scheme to give them affordable insurance has been delayed.

'Binge of head-choppings'

There was "global fury" yesterday as Saudi Arabia executed a popular Shia cleric and 46 other people, the Observer reports.

Nimr al-Nimr was a prominent critic of the ruling royal family, and his death prompted protests in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, the paper says.

The mass beheadings have increased tensions in the Middle East and will probably lead to an escalation of hostilities in Yemen, where Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran are fighting a proxy war, the Independent says.

It quotes a senior Iranian cleric who says: "I have no doubt that this pure blood will stain the collar of the House of Saud and wipe them from the pages of history."

Writing in the paper, Robert Fisk says the "binge of head-choppings" was "worthy of Islamic State", and he wonders whether Saudi rulers have "taken leave of their senses".

But he says Western leaders will "cringe and grovel to the rich and autocratic monarchs" while "gently expressing their unease at the grotesque butchery".

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Eye-catching headlines

  • 'Our space planes will help to save the planet' - Richard Branson tells the Independent he wants to take paying passengers into space, and the scheme could lead to intercontinental travel which is less environmentally damaging.
  • Bubble trouble - Police have released details of "daft" 999 calls, including one from a woman who said her husband had put the wrong bubbles in the bath, the Daily Star reports.
  • Princes laugh at embarrassing Charles - The Duke of Cambridge has spoken of his admiration for his father, but said as adolescents he and Prince Harry sometimes found him embarrassing, the Sunday Times says.
  • The secret of happiness? Simply turn off your email app - Psychologists say constant email updates from smartphones have become a "toxic source of stress", the Telegraph reports.

Winter is delayed

The long-awaited sixth book in fantasy series A Song of Fire and Ice has been delayed, the Independent reports.

It quotes author George RR Martin, who says The Winds of Winter will not be published before the sixth season of Game of Thrones - the TV series based on the books - begins in April.

The delay will not affect the TV show because Martin has already written hundreds of pages and the sixth season has already been filmed, the paper adds.

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The Telegraph says the book has been delayed by "writer's block" - and a famous case of what might be called reader's block also features in the paper.

With a new BBC TV production of Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace due to start tonight, the paper raises a "nagging question" about the book: "Who has actually read it?"

Not all of the actors - at least not until they got their parts in the new production, the paper says.

Actor Paul Dano admits he had not read the book before getting the role of Pierre Bezukhov, but found it "wonderful".

He says the "trick" to getting through the 1,200-page novel, which contains 600 characters, is to "just keep reading".


What the commentators say

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Media captionRashid Razaq, culture correspondent for the London Evening Standard, and Caroline Wheeler, political editor for the Sunday Express, join the BBC News Channel to review Sunday's front pages.

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Mirror: Christoph Waltz will return in two more Bond movies - but "only if Daniel Craig does too"

Times: Saudi Arabia executes 47 people on New Year's Day

Independent: Former Iraq PM al-Maliki says execution will "topple Saudi regime"