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Australian mother court plea rejected

An Australian magistrate has rejected a plea by lawyers for a woman charged with murdering eight children to hold the next hearing in a mental health court.

Mersane Warria, charged under her full name of Raina Mersane Ina Thaiday, is accused of killing seven of her children and her niece, whose bodies were found inside her home in Manoora, a suburb of Cairns, on Friday.

Police were called to the home in the morning after receiving a report of a woman with serious injuries. When they got to the house, they found the bodies, along with Warria, who had stab wounds to her chest.

Warria, 37, did not attend today's brief hearing at Cairns Magistrates Court as she is in hospital.

Magistrate Alan Comans rejected a request from Warria's lawyer to hold the case's next hearing in a mental health court.

Criminal cases are sometimes referred to such courts if the defendant is believed to be mentally ill or has an intellectual disability. The court then decides what the defendant's mental state was when they committed the offence.

The case was adjourned until January 30.

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'High value' raid on Christie's auction house

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Several "high value" items have been stolen from renowned auction house Christie's.

Jewellery, antiques and valuable works of art, including rare pieces by the famed house of Faberge, were taken from the auctioneer's headquarters in King Street, central London, the Mail on Sunday has reported.

The burglary, which was reportedly captured on CCTV, is said to have occurred two weeks ago but no arrests have been made.

Scotland Yard did not name Christie's but said: "We can confirm that officers from Westminster are currently investigating a burglary at business premises which is believed to have occurred between 6pm on Sunday, December 7 and 8am on Monday, December 8.

"A number of high value items were taken. Inquiries continue. No arrests have been made."

France: Man arrested after 'car rampage' injures 11

A driver said to be shouting "God is great" slammed into passers-by in several parts of Lyon, France, injuring 11 people and raising national concern.

The government said the man's motives were unclear but last night's incident came a day after an attack on officers in another town being investigated by anti-terror police and amid general concern after several threats by Islamic extremist groups calling for attacks against the country.

The Interior Ministry said a 40-year-old man had been arrested over last night's attack.

Police union official Michel Bonnet said some witnesses apparently heard the Renault Clio driver shout "Allahu Akbar" - God is great - and refer to the "children of Palestine", but the ministry would not confirm that.

Interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve will go to Lyon today.

A day earlier, French police in a Tours suburb shot and killed a man also shouting "Allahu Akbar" who had stabbed and wounded three officers in a police station.

Campaigners: Radical reform needed to tax system

The campaign group behind new research that suggests poorer households pay almost half of their income in tax, has called for radical reform to the "pernicious" tax system.

The campaign group's chief executive Jonathan Isaby said:

This analysis shows how pernicious our tax burden has become. Not only does the tax system hit the poorest hardest, but those at the top are already contributing far more than anybody could reasonably describe as their 'fair share'.

Our tax system is neither progressive nor fair, and we need radical reform as well as necessary savings if the way we tax and spend is to become fit for purpose.

– Jonathan Isaby , Taxpayers' Alliance.

British Gas customers get early warm home discount

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Most British Gas customers have received their warm home discounts a month earlier than last year, according to the energy supplier. The firm said over half a million of its most vulnerable customers have received their £140 credit in time for the festive season.

This is 130,000 more than last year's figure.

The warm home discount was introduced by the Government and is delivered by energy suppliers to help those most in need such as pensioners on low incomes.

In total, British Gas expects to pay 600,000 of its customers a total of #84 million through the scheme this financial year.

Stephen Beynon, managing director of residential energy at British Gas, said:

No one should be left in the cold during the winter months, especially at Christmas. That's why we've worked hard to deliver the majority of the warm home discount before the holiday period, and give our customers who are most in need £140 to help with their energy bills.

We do a lot to help people who are struggling with their energy bills and last year we spent more than £380 million helping our elderly, disabled and most in need customers. Anyone who's worried about rising costs can - and should - contact their energy provider or a relevant charity to discuss the help available.

– Stephen Beynon,

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Poor households 'pay 47% of income in tax'

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The poorest 10% of households pay almost half of their gross income in tax, analysis by a campaign group has claimed.

The TaxPayers' Alliance research found that direct and indirect taxes accounted for an average 47% of the gross income of the poorest 10% of households, with VAT accounting for the biggest share of the bill.

The analysis of Office for National Statistics figures showed that the average gross income, including benefits, in the group was £9,743 but after tax the figure was £5,132.

The figures for 2012/13 showed that for the poorest 10%, some 13.9% of their gross income went on VAT, 7.2% on council tax and 5.6% on alcohol or tobacco duties.

The top 10% of households paid an average 35% of their gross income in taxes, some £37,287 a year, with income tax accounting for 19.1% of the money paid to the Exchequer.

Battle continues to retake Sinjar from Islamic State

Credit: Reuters

Iraqi Kurdish fighters, backed by US-led coalition airstrikes against the Islamic State (IS) group, pushed their way today into the town of Sinjar, captured by the Sunni militants last summer.

Further to the east, near the border with Syria, Iraqi security forces battled the IS extremists as they tried to retake the strategic military airport of Tal Afar.

The battle for Sinjar and the surrounding area has become the latest focus in the campaign to take back territory lost to IS during the militants' summer blitz.

More: US led forces target Islamic State in 16 air strikes

International Monetary Fund criticised over Ebola policies

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Policies advocated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have contributed to under-funded, insufficiently staffed and poorly prepared health systems in the countries with Ebola outbreaks in west Africa, academics have said.

Researchers from Cambridge University's department of sociology, joined by colleagues from Oxford University and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, examined links between the IMF and the rapid spread of the disease.

They said IMF programmes over the years have imposed heavy constraints on the development of effective health systems in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone - the cradle of the Ebola outbreak that has killed more than 6,800 since March this year.

Economic policy reforms advocated by the IMF have undermined the capacity of health systems in these three nations - systems already fragile from legacies of conflict and state failure - to cope with infectious disease outbreaks and other such emergencies, they added.

Lead author and Cambridge sociologist Alexander Kentikelenis:

A major reason why the Ebola outbreak spread so rapidly was the weakness of healthcare systems in the region, and it would be unfortunate if underlying causes were overlooked. Policies advocated by the IMF have contributed to under-funded, insufficiently staffed, and poorly prepared health systems in the countries with Ebola outbreaks.

– Alexander Kentikelenis

Lightning strike injures seven near Florida NFL stadium

Credit: Reuters

Seven people were taken to hospital after lightning hit a car park near the Tampa Bay Buccaneers American Football stadium in Florida.

A spokesman for Tampa Fire and Rescue said that it didn't appear that anyone was struck directly by the lightning and that no one suffered any serious injuries.

Earlier, the Green Bay Packers beat the Buccaneers 20-3.

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