Evening Update Wednesday 25th January 2023

Prosecutors have confirmed that a manslaughter trial will be launched over the deaths of three elderly people who drowned in horrific circumstances when their retirement home was flooded in a violent storm. Three residents at the Clos Saint-Grégoire in Biot, aged 82, 91 and 94, died in their bedrooms when torrential flood water burst into their ground-floor accommodation in 2015. Prosecutors have brought manslaughter charges against Biot's then-mayor, the town's head of natural risk management, the retirement home's director and its parent company. For the relatives of the deceased, it's already been a long and painful seven-year legal process to get this far. Prosecutors say Biot town hall was warned of a severe storm at midday on the day in question, 3 October 2015. But it's claimed that the message wasn't passed on to the retirement home and the municipality didn't raise the alert until nine hours later. The municipal official in charge of natural disaster risk management was reportedly at a football match when the storm hit. Orpéa, meanwhile, stands accused of poor living conditions and short-staffing, leaving the three residents alone in their ground floor accommodation until it was too late.

Management at Fréjus hospital have come up with a range of measures to try to ease the pressure on its over-stretched accident and emergency department. Staff at the Frejus A&E have been overwhelmed with work since early January, with long waiting times for patients and a severe shortage of beds. Several other departments in the hospital will be rearranged to free up several dozen extra beds, while a child psychiatric unit will be moved elsewhere to recover another 15 beds. Hospital management also plan to recruit four extra nurses and three emergency care assistants. The director of the Paca regional health authority is due to visit the hospital in early February to discuss the problems.

A self-proclaimed psychic and witch-doctor who manipulated his victims into paying him €400,000 has been jailed for six years. The 65-year-old claimed to have special powers. Police in Nice identified 12 victims, many of them vulnerable and elderly, although it's possible that others were conned by the man and haven't come forward. One victim believed that the psychic could cure her daughter's cancer - and he threatened her with bad luck if she didn't pay up €10,000. One man, in his 80s, was talked into parting with almost €300,000. Another paid more than €7,000 to try to save his marriage. Defence lawyers had pleaded for a lenient sentence due to ill health, as their client has diabetes, kidney problems and difficulty walking - but this wasn't accepted.

Police have arrested seven people suspected of being involved in drug trafficking in Nice's Saint-Roch and Libération districts. They'll face trial in the coming weeks. More than a kilo of cocaine, three kilos of cannabis and €7,000 in cash were seized during the searches. Meanwhile, another nine people are on trial this week in connection with a cocaine and cannabis trafficking operation in the Les Moulins district of Nice in 2021. Prosecutors have called for prison sentences ranging from 10 months  to nine years.

Hyères town council is planning to place two colourful child-sized sculptures on either side of the pedestrian crossings outside every local school to attract the attention of drivers as they approach. Arthur and Zoé are about a metre and a half tall, made from fibreglass and dressed to look like schoolchildren, with high visibility reflective bands on their wrists and ankles. The word "Merci" is written on their backpacks, to thank drivers for being vigilant and slowing down. The first Arthur and Zoé have been inaugurated this week - and the town's other 27 schools will follow later this spring.

Emergency roadworks had to be carried out in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat yesterday after a drinking water pipe burst in the centre of town. A team was dispatched to the site on Tuesday afternoon to repair the damage, and they worked late into the night to restore the supply. Several roads were closed and Lignes d'Azur buses diverted.

Yesterday we mentioned a protest by bakers in Paris against the soaring cost of energy and raw materials. Here on the Riviera, one local baker has introduced the concept of a "solidarity baguette" to help him make ends meet. Customers can choose to pay the regular €1.20 for their daily bread, or opt instead for the solidarity price of €1.80. Axel Picard, who runs a small village bakery near Draguignan, says he's sold almost 100 baguettes at the higher price in the past week - although the vast majority of customers still choose to pay the normal price. His electricity bill has risen by more than 200% this year.

An auction house in Monaco has sold a lock of Napoleon's hair for €5,200. The framed piece of the emperor's hair, which was cut after his death so that an imprint of his face could be made, had initially failed to find a buyer at auction. A French businessman who has been building up a collection of Napoleon-related items approached the auction house afterwards with an offer to buy it.

If you're looking to buy an electric car, and live in the Alpes-Maritimes, the departmental council is offering a special one-off grant to help fund it. Depending on your household income, the Alpes-Maritimes is offering residents between €1,000 and €5,000 to make the switch to electric driving. The grants apply to new electric cars only. The authorities are also offering subsidies of up to €400 to install a charging point for an electric car. You'll find all the details on the official website www.greendeal06.fr

BUSINESS

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) and eight US states have filed a case against Google alleging it has too much power over the online ad market. Its anti-competitive actions had "weakened if not destroyed competition in the ad tech industry", US Attorney General Merrick Garland said. Google accused the DOJ of "doubling down on a flawed argument". The case attempted to "pick winners and losers" in a competitive industry, the firm said. Online advertising accounts for the lion's share of Google's multibillion dollar revenue. Google is the market leader, but its slice of total US digital ad income has fallen from 36.7% in 2016 to 28.8% in 2022, according to market research firm Insider Intelligence.

Microsoft sales have slowed sharply as customers facing economic strains cut their spending on technology. The firm said sales rose just 2% in the three months to December, to $52.7bn, the smallest quarterly increase in more than six years. The update came just days after the firm said it would reduce its workforce by roughly 5%, eliminating 10,000 jobs. The tech industry has been hammered by job cuts in recent months, as advertising and other spending slows. Businesses are worried about the economy, while households that splashed out on computers and other tech while stuck at home during the pandemic have been cutting back, especially as the cost of living rises. Microsoft said revenue tied to the Xbox video game system fell 12%, while spending on its Windows products plunged 39%.

SPORT

Tennis - Magda Linette will meet fifth seed Aryna Sabalenka in the Australian Open semi-finals after she beat Karolina Pliskova to continue her dream run. The Polish world number 45 had previously never gone beyond the third round of a Grand Slam in 29 attempts. But she produced a fearless display in a 6-3 7-5 win over Czech two-time major finalist Pliskova. Belarusian Sabalenka defeated Croatia's Donna Vekic 6-3 6-2 to reach her fourth Grand Slam semi-final. Two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka plays Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in the other semi-final on Thursday.

American Tommy Paul ended rising star Ben Shelton's surprise run at the Australian Open to reach his first Grand Slam semi-final in Melbourne. World number 35 Paul won 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 5-7 6-4 against 20-year-old compatriot Shelton. Shelton, still taking online college classes, had never left the United States before travelling to Australia.

Football - Chelsea and Newcastle are keen on signing Everton forward Anthony Gordon before next Tuesday's transfer deadline. Both clubs tried to sign the 21-year-old in the summer but neither could agree a fee with the Toffees. However, there is a belief Everton may be more open to a sale this month in order to generate funds for Frank Lampard's replacement as manager, although it is unlikely either would pay the £60m Everton would ideally want. The situation is complicated as it is not known how long it will take Everton to name a new manager. Nevertheless, it is expected both clubs will step up their efforts to sign Gordon, who was an unused substitute in Saturday's 2-0 defeat at West Ham, which proved to be Lampard's last game in charge. It has been suggested Chelsea would be willing to loan Gordon back to Everton for the remainder of the season, although it is felt Newcastle are favourites to sign the England Under-21 international.

Cricket - Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill hit centuries and shared a 212-run opening stand as India beat New Zealand in the third one-day international. The win means India take the series 3-0 and go top of the ODI world rankings. Captain Rohit scored 101 from 85 balls and Gill a 78-ball 112 as India racked up 385-9 in the 90-run win.

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