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Motoring news

Audi’s new Q cars

April 12 2017

Another week, another new Audi. Two new Audis, in fact. The German car maker has announced a couple more additions to its Q line up of SUVs. The Q4 is a coupe-SUV hybrid that will go up against the BMW X4 and Mercedes GLC Coupe. As its name suggests, it’ll be positioned between the compact Q3 and bigger Q5. At the other end of the scale is the Q8, which will go head to head against the Range Rover. It’s lower and sleeker than the Q7 Audi is also producing. In concept form, it sat only four people, although it seems likely the production version will be a five seater. There’s a 630 litre boot as well. Eagle eyed Audi followers will notice the only SUV slots left to fill are the Q1 and Q6. Watch this space...

UK & World

Man admits Louis Theroux pub con

June 14 2013

A man has admitted conning pub staff into believing he was TV star Louis Theroux. Allan Debenham, 39, pleaded guilty to two charges of making a false representation by claiming he was "Louis Theroux from the BBC". Debenham had booked a room at the £70 per night Duke of York at Shepton Beauchamp, near Ilminster, Somerset, in the name of the documentary maker, magistrates in Yeovil were told. Debenham provided staff at the pub with a telephone number for the BBC's finance department and an order number to arrange payment for his three-night stay. The homeless alcoholic also pretended to be Mr Theroux's personal assistant and got them to put two bottles of wine on his room tab. He was only rumbled when staff became suspicious when the PA telephoned again asked for two bottles of wine and "some fags" to be taken to Debenham's room. The defendant, of Hamilton Road, Taunton, pleaded guilty to two charges of dishonestly making a false representation by claiming he was Theroux. Prosecutor Emma Chetland told South Somerset Magistrates' Court that on the evening of April 21 a man called the pub saying he was "Louis Theroux from the BBC" and made a reservation for three nights. "Later the pub receives another telephone call purporting to be from Louis Theroux's PA who gives a telephone number for the BBC's finance department and an order number to arrange payment," Miss Chetland said. "He also asks for two bottles of wine to be left outside the room. The PA rings again and asks for two bottles of cava and some fags - to use his words - to be left outside the same room. "The person taking the call becomes suspicious at the use of the word 'fags' rather than cigarettes. They go upstairs and find the door to the room locked. They call the telephone number that was left and find it to be unobtainable and they call the BBC who tell them the order number is not one they recognise." Pub staff called police and Debenham was arrested. Investigations revealed that the defendant had also booked a taxi to take him to the pub. "The taxi was booked in the name of Louis Theroux and they were told they might not recognise that person as he had put on a bit of weight but they should send the bill to the BBC," Miss Chetland added. The court heard that Debenham defrauded the owners of the pub out of £165 - the cost of two nights and the two bottles of wine - and the taxi firm of a £14.70 fare. Chris Ivory, defending, described it as a "sad case" with Debenham turning to alcohol after losing his job, his partner and his home at the end of last year. "As a result Mr Debenham had turned to alcohol. He was desperate and he didn't have anywhere to go," he said. "In desperation he tried it on. He managed to get a couple of nights free accommodation and he accepts the prosecution case in respect of that. April was a month that was pretty much a blur to him." Mr Ivory said Debenham is seeking help for his alcohol addiction from Turning Point and has been provided with accommodation. Magistrates adjourned sentence until June 25 for the preparation of a pre-sentence report. Veronica Horman, chairwoman of the bench, told him: "It is good news that you are in touch with Turning Point because once you have recognised you have reached the lowest point the only way is up."


Shoplifter took jewellery and clothing in new year store spree

July 30 2015

Dunfermline’s Debenhams store was targeted by a thief putting items into a foil-lined carrier bag. Appearing in the dock with a translator at Dunfermline Sheriff Court, Reza Shakiba, Hawkhill Avenue, Edinburgh, admitted that on January 3 at Debenhams, Kingsgate, he stole a quantity of jewellery and clothing. Depute fiscal Azrah Yousaf told the court at around 3pm that day Shakiba was seen in the store carrying a gift bag. “He was seen to walk through picking up various items from the display and one point is seen to conceal a jumper under a pair of jeans he was carrying,” said Ms Yousaf. Sheriff Charles Macnair will sentence Shakiba on August 26.

Road tests

Audi Q2 puts quality over size

March 21 2018

Audi’s Q2 was one of the first premium compact SUVs on the market. It sits below the Q3, Q5 and the gigantic, seven seat Q7 in Audi’s ever growing range. Although it’s about the same size as the Nissan Juke or Volkswagen T-Roc, its price is comparable with the much larger Nissan X-Trail or Volkswagen Tiguan. Even a basic Q2 will set you back more than £21,000 and top whack is £38,000. Then there’s the options list which is extensive to say the least. My 2.0 automatic diesel Quattro S Line model had a base price of £30,745 but tipped the scales at just over £40,000 once a plethora of additions were totted up. Size isn’t everything, however. In recent years there’s been a trend of buyers wanting a car that’s of premium quality but compact enough to zip around town. It may be a step down in size but the Q2 doesn’t feel any less classy than the rest of Audi’s SUV range. The interior looks great and is user friendly in a way that more mainstream manufacturers have never been able to match. The simple rotary dial and shortcut buttons easily trounce touchscreen systems, making it a cinch to skim through the screen’s menus. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eQ5p5Z7-Ek&list=PLUEXizskBf1nbeiD_LqfXXsKooLOsItB0 There’s a surprising amount of internal space too. I took three large adults from Dundee to Stirling and no one complained about feeling cramped. As long as you don’t have a tall passenger behind a tall driver you can easily fit four adults. At 405 litres the boot’s big too – that’s 50 litres more than a Nissan Juke can muster. Buyers can pick from 1.0 and 1.4 litre petrol engines or 1.6 and 2.0 litre TDIs. Most Q2s are front wheel drive but Audi’s Quattro system is standard on the 2.0 diesel, as is a seven-speed S Tronic gear box. On the road there’s a clear difference between this and SUVs by manufacturers like Nissan, Seat and Ford. Ride quality, while firm, is tremendously smooth. Refinement is excellent too, with road and tyre noise kept out of the cabin. It sits lower than the Q3 or Q5 and this improves handling, lending the Q2 an almost go-kart feel. On a trip out to Auchterhouse, with plenty of snow still on the ground, I was appreciative of the four-wheel drive as well. The Q2 is expensive – though there are some good finance deals out there – but you get what you pay for. Few cars this small feel as good as the Q2 does. Price: £30,745 0-62mph: 8.1 seconds Top speed: 131mph Economy: 58.9mpg CO2 emissions: 125g/km


Altered images: what does Debenham’s larger mannequins say about shopping and society?

November 7 2013

In the week that Debenhams becomes the first mainstream store to use size 16 mannequins, Helen Brown wonders if size matters? It’s big news. And we may well be hearing and seeing more of it. Three years ago Debenhams Oxford Street pioneered a trial using size 16 mannequins in its window and fashion department displays, arguing that stick-insect models and tiny sizes as standard were causing its female customers no end of angst in the changing rooms and beyond. And presumably, leading to shrinking sales, if not sizes. This week the fuller-figured versions won a permanent place in the public eye when the company installed them alongside the usual size 10 dummies on all its women’s fashion floors in the flagship London store. And this initiative is soon to be rolled out (to coin a phrase) nationwide. The Debenhams in Dundee is apparently one of the first branches to pick up on this new trend, which either means we are at the forefront of the thrusting fashion industry (tak’ tent, City of Culture wallahs) or some keen retail researcher has been alerted to the existence (and effect) of the Dundee peh. So does size matter? It surely do. There has been much talk over recent years about the effect on teenage girls, in particular, of a permanent diet of skinny role models in magazines and the media in general but little, so far, has been done to change that materially. Plus-size models, however beautiful, fit and healthy, are still rarely seen on the covers of glossy magazines or in major TV or cinema advertising campaigns. Designer sample sizes are still very much on the lower side of single figures think the supposedly desirable size zero rather than anything a normal woman of today could fit into without the aid of a bent coat hanger or a block and tackle. The truth is, of course, that British women are, on average, a size 16 and have been for some time Debenhams already stocks up to size 26 in its women’s wear departments and 42% of the company’s clothing sales come from size 14s and 16s. So in some respects, Debenhams’ public face is just catching up with real life in society and its own stores and the reality, perhaps, of reduced spending capacity as well as larger embonpoint. People are more careful about what they buy and are less prepared to be fobbed off with ill-fitting, unsuitable apparel. MP Jo Swinson, campaigner for body confidence in women, reckons that a drive like this is a good way to challenge the notion that there is only one way to be beautiful in our looks-obsessed culture. Debenhams director Ed Watson commented: “Having worked on this project for three years, we hope it will help people in some small way to feel comfortable about their bodies.” They’re both right, I suppose, but I think it may well be less about feeling comfortable about their bodies than feeling comfortable in their clothes. Ask any woman what her biggest problem is in buying clothes and chances are she will tell you it’s little to do with colour, style or even price it’s sizing and getting garments that actually fit. At the moment, I am a walking (or sitting) example of this. I’m supposedly a fairly standard size 14. As I write this, I am wearing size 12 jeans, a size 14 top and cardigan. On the coat rack hangs my size 16 mac. I tried on a rather fetching Levi shirt in John Lewis the other day that was designated LARGE and I literally couldn’t make ends meet. The last jacket I bought is blush-makingly labelled XL but at least I can get it on. Trying on clothes is a nightmare because even if you end up in the fitting room with the size you have carefully measured yourself up to be, the chances of it fitting you are as remote as the possibility of reduced energy bills. To add to the complications, different shops seem to have different-size charts. A Marks & Spencer 12 is not the same as a Wallis 12. A designer 12 (and they don’t go a lot higher than that) is nowhere near a chain store 12. And that’s only when you get to double figures. Don’t get me started on size 8s, the only garments, as far as I can see, that are ever left on the rail at the end of the sales. If that doesn’t tell you what you need to know about sizing policy and knowing your market, I don’t know what does. Petite people, of course, would argue that they have similar problems in getting clothes to fit, so nobody in this tangled equation seems to be a completely satisfied customer. At least this move is a visible recognition that we don’t all fit into the same pigeonholes or frocks. And speaking of mannequins, will this move affect the male of the species at all? Instead of snake-hipped, six-foot, six-packed youths adorning the gents’ outfitting sections, will there now be a swing to displays of the chunkier chap or the larger lad? It will be interesting to see if the guys, as well as other national retailers, follow suit.

Business news

Debenhams profits plunge nearly 85% after battering by Beast from the East

April 19 2018

Debenhams saw its half-year profits plunge nearly 85% after extreme weather brought in by the Beast from the East gouged earnings.The retailer said its bottom-line pre-tax profits fell from £87.8 million to just £13.5 million over the 26 weeks to March 3, having taken a major hit during the final days of the trading period when bad weather forced Debenhams to temporarily close around 100 stores.On an underlying basis – having been stripped of £28.7 million in exceptional costs linked to its strategic review and restructuring – pre-tax profits slumped 51.9% to £42.2 million. That was below analysts’ forecasts, which had placed pre-tax profits at around £44 million.Debenhams also blamed a “disappointing Christmas season” for increasing competitor discounting and ultimately hitting underlying earnings for the UK, which fell 39.3% over the half-year.Like-for-like sales, meanwhile, dropped 2.2%, with the retailer citing a “challenging UK market background”.Difficult trading over Christmas prompted a profit warning by the retailer back in January, sending shares down 20%.It is now forecasting full-year pre-tax profits at the lower end of the current range of forecasts of between £50 million to £61 million.Chief executive Sergio Bucher said: “It has not been an easy first half and the extreme weather in the final week of the half had a material impact on our results.“But I am hugely encouraged by the progress we are making to transform Debenhams for our customers.”He added: “We are holding share in a difficult fashion market, and, in other categories such as furniture, exciting new partnerships have the potential to transform our offer.“We approach the remainder of the year mindful of the very challenging market conditions, but with confidence that we have a strong team and the right plan to navigate them and return Debenhams to profitable growth.”Debenhams and other retailers are facing severe structural pressures and the firm has started shifting its focus away from fashion towards beauty products and gifts.Under chief executive Mr Bucher, who joined the retailer in 2016, the chain has also been refurbishing stores as part of his turnaround strategy.The retailer also announced on Thursday that its chief financial officer, Matt Smith, is leaving to take up a post as finance director at Selfridges.A search for his replacement is currently under way.Debenhams shares tumbled as much as 10% at the start of trading.Russ Mould, an investment director at AJ Bell, said Debenham’s full-year profit forecast amounts to a “mild profit warning, given prior management guidance of £55 million to £65 million range”.“And that excludes the £28.7 million in additional costs and charges relating to the acceleration of the Redesigned strategy.“This latest drop in annual profits will only add to a grim sequence of declines which makes it clear just how serious Debenhams’ competitive position really is.”The retailer has closed two stores since October in a bid to reduce costs associated with rent and business rates, and has identified a further 10 across the country that could be shut down in due course.However, the company is tied into long-term leases in many of its stores, meaning it must shed staff to save on costs.In February, 320 staff were made redundant in a shake-up of middle-management.

This student took his Tinder profile to the next level by turning it into a PowerPoint presentation

February 21 2018

Standing out from the crowd on Tinder can be tough, but with the help of Microsoft PowerPoint a British student has managed just that – and gone viral in the process.Sam Dixey, a 21-year-old studying at Leeds University, made a six-part slideshow entitled “Why you should swipe right” – using pictures and bullet points to shrewdly persuade potential dates to match with him on the dating app. The slideshow includes discussion of his social life and likes, such as “petting doggos” and “laser tag”, and “other notable qualities and skills” – such as being “not the worst at sex” and “generous when drunk”.It even has reviews mocked up from sources such as “Donald Trump”, “Leonardo Di Capri Sun” and “The Times Guide to Pancakes 2011”.Sam told the Press Association the six-slide presentation only took about 20 minutes to make and “started off as a joke”.However, since being posted to Twitter by fellow Tinder user Gracie Barrow, Sam’s slideshow has been shared tens of thousands of times across social media.So, it’s got the seal of approval form Gracie, but how has the slideshow fared on Tinder? “I’d have to say it has been pretty successful,” Sam said. “Definitely a clear correlation of matches and dates beforehand to afterwards.“Most of the responses tend to revolve around people saying ‘I couldn’t help swipe right 10/10’ but I’ve had some people go the extra mile and message me on Facebook.“Plus some people have recognised me outside, in the library and on dates.”A resounding success.


Hairdresser went on shoplifting spree to fund holiday

October 13 2016

A hairdresser went on a shoplifting spree in Dunfermline because she “didn’t have enough money to go on holiday”. Kaitlin Bird went from store to store in the Kingsgate Centre helping herself to goods. She stole jeans worth £48, a jacket priced at £55 and an eye-shadow pallet at £49. She was caught on CCTV stealing the make-up from Debenham’s and when police were called the other stolen items were found when she was searched. Bird, 21, Lang Rigg, South Queensferry, admitted that on July 25 at Debenhams she stole a make-up pallette, at JD Sports she stole a jacket and at Top Shop, she stole a pair of jeans and a necklace. Defence solicitor John Bain said his client’s actions had been “stupid and wrong”. He added: “She’s very sorry for what she’s done and hasn’t found court a pleasant experience.” She had a previous conviction for a similar offence in Edinburgh, the court heard. Sheriff Charles Macnair said: “This was a series of offences of dishonesty because you didn’t have enough money to go on holiday. “I find that attitude quite remarkable for somebody who is in steady employment and would appear to have a supportive family. “If you carry on this way you will soon find yourself in much more serious trouble.” The sheriff imposed a community payback order with 65 hours of unpaid work.

Business news

Weather takes toll on Debenhams

October 24 2014

Annual profits at Debenhams fell more than 20%, reflecting lower sales during last year’s warm winter. Britain’s No 2 department store chain said it was cautious about the future, with consumer spending power remaining under pressure. Debenhams’ results for the 12 months ending in August were hit by a poor start, when warm weather dented sales in the run-up to last Christmas. Its performance improved in the second half, helped by its strategy of cutting back on promotions and targeting more full-price sales. Gross transaction value for the group was up 1.7% to £2.8 billion, giving a turnover up 1.3% at £2.3bn. Underlying profit before tax was down 20.6% at £110.3m, and reported profit before tax was reduced by 23.9% to £105.8m. Online sales increased 17.6% to £430.7m, accounting for 15.3% of the total. This was up from 13.2% in the previous year. Chief executive Michael Sharp said the first half of the year was challenging. Trading was improving, although consumers’ disposable income was still under pressure. “After the challenges we faced in the first half, everyone in the business has been focused on addressing the issues we identified and on delivering on the priorities we set out in April to deliver long-term sustainable growth,” he stated. “Our performance in the second half reflects this, with operating profit up on the previous year.” He continued: “Customers tell us that although they are encouraged by economic improvements, this has yet to translate into higher disposable income, and the market remains tough.” The value of Debenhams shares have fallen more than 20% this year, coming after a profit warning and heavy discounting to shift stock. As part of a turnaround plan, Mr Sharp has been cutting costs and introducing new concessions in Debenhams stores, including Sports Direct, Costa, and Mothercare. Sports Direct owner Mike Ashley has built an 11% interest in the chain. Debenhams operates from 28 countries and is available online in many more countries. The company’s focus this year is to continue a strategy of building a leading international, multi-channel brand. It aims to increase availability and choice through store and online sales, and saw a 15% rise in visits to Debenhams.com. Four new stores were opened in the UK, giving a total portfolio of 160. Internationally, the chain has 68 franchise stores in 25 countries. Shares in Debenhams closed up 0.96% at 63.4p yesterday.

Business news

Profits plunge at Debenhams

April 16 2014

High street mainstay Debenhams vowed to regroup yesterday after half-year profits plummeted following a disastrous Christmas trading performance. The fightback by the department store chain will see a number of “well-known” brands introduced into its 158-strong UK store estate and investment made to speed up delivery times in its online operation. The moves, outlined by chief executive Michael Sharp, follow a “challenging” period for the retailer in which profits fell 24.5% to £85.2 million in the 26 weeks to March 1. Debenhams had alerted the City to the slide in profits on New Year’s Eve after weak trading in September and October was compounded by a difficult festive period. “Promotions are a traditional strength of Debenhams, but in the run-up to Christmas their impact was diluted by the highly promotional trading environment in the UK,” the company said as it revealed its first-half trading figures yesterday. “We are therefore refocusing our promotional strategy, which will see more clearly defined promotional periods in the trading calendar with fewer days on promotion.” The firm said analysis carried out on its shop estate had found that 10% of its UK store space was currently under-performing while acknowledging that it lagged behind rivals in terms of online shopping convenience. It said it was stepping up investment in the automation of its distribution centres to ensure that its premium delivery service was up to scratch ahead of Christmas 2014. “We continue to work on a number of routes to improve sales densities,” the high street stalwart said. “These include adding more choice of products, brands and services. We are currently in discussions with a number of well-known brands, some of which are expected to be trialled over the next six months.” Debenhams is planning to add 14 new stores to its overall estate, increasing available retailing space by 8.5% extra space over the next four years. The new stores will be sized and configured to take account of multi-channel retailing and the burgeoning demand for click-and-collect services. Liz Faulkner, a retail consultant at Conlumino, added: “In a highly competitive marketplace with multi-channel behemoths like John Lewis and Next, Debenhams’ market will remain challenging. But, with continued initiatives bringing its brand-led proposition up to speed, it isn’t out of the race quite yet.” Despite the profits fall, shares in Debenhams closed the day up 4.45% at 81p.