BofA fires back at New York over modification violations

Bank of America Corp ( id="symbol_BAC.N_0">BAC.N) has fired back at New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman after he threatened to sue the bank for violating the terms of a $25 billion settlement designed to end mortgage servicing abuses.

In a letter to Schneiderman, lawyers for Bank of America said they were "surprised and disappointed" the attorney general thought the bank engaged in "flagrant violations" of the timeline to process mortgage modifications.


The lawyers also said Schneiderman cannot sue until the bank has an opportunity to cure any alleged violations.

"Bank of America has not committed any potential violations ... let alone failed to cure those potential violations," attorneys Meyer Koplow and Theodore Mirvis, of Wachtell, Lipton Rosen & Katz, wrote in the May 7 letter. Reuters obtained a copy of the letter on Friday.

Schneiderman announced on Monday that he planned to sue Bank of America and Wells Fargo & Co ( id="symbol_WFC.N_1">WFC.N) for violating the terms of last year's National Mortgage Settlement, which was brokered between five major banks and 49 attorneys general.

Schneiderman did not say how the other three banks - JPMorgan Chase & Co ( id="symbol_JPM.N_2">JPM.N), Citigroup Inc ( id="symbol_C.N_3">C.N) and Ally Financial Inc - were performing.

He said Bank of America had 129 violations since October and Wells Fargo had 210 and that their tardiness put homeowners at greater risk of foreclosure.

On Friday, Wells Fargo said it was committed to abiding by the settlement.

"We expect that a constructive pathway may still develop with the New York AG," the bank said in a statement.

Asked about the Bank of America letter, Schneiderman's spokesman, Damien LaVera, said: "At least Bank of America will respond to one New Yorker promptly."

LaVera said the attorney general has "the right to bring a suit against parties that violate the servicing standards and will do so."

Schneiderman has said he would seek injunctive relief and an order requiring the banks to comply with the settlement. His statement did not say he was seeking damages or penalties.

It is unclear how far he can take his efforts because they come outside the primary channel authorized by the settlement to address any potential violations. The settlement's monitor is authorized to first work with a servicer to correct any potential violations and sue only if the errors are not fixed.

Bank of America said that, under the terms of the settlement, the attorney general's office has no right to commence an enforcement action and requested that the notice of intent be publicly withdrawn.

The bank's letter asked for evidence of any violations so it could provide remediation to homeowners without waiting for any "adversary process."

(Reporting By Karen Freifeld. Editing by Andre Grenon)

Illegal immigrant, 19, smuggled into UK after father and brother were murdered by militants in Afghanistan loses fight to stay in Britain

An illegal immigrant who fled war-torn Afghanistan after his father and brother were murdered by militants has lost his his fight to remain in the UK.

Najibullah Hashimi, 19, has been living in England ever since fleeing his war-torn homeland as a youngster, and has settled in well, achieving 13 GCSEs, settling down with a foster family and becoming a valued member of Rodmersham Cricket Club in Kent.

Mr Hashimi and crowds of supporters - including his foster father’s two young sons, who refer to the Afghan national as 'brother' - put forward a case for a right to remain in the UK last month, but today his foster father said Mr Hashimi had failed in his appeal to stay.

Najibullah Hashimi will be deported back to Afghanistan, despite achieving 13 GCSEs and settling in the UK

Mr Hashimi has settled happily in life in the UK with his foster family and is devastated that he has to go to Kabul

However, a letter from the Home Office has since confirmed Mr Hashimi has failed in his appeal, and will be sent to Kabul - despite hearing his concerns that his life will be in danger.

Steve Griffiths, his foster father, today said Mr Hashimi, whom he described as 'a broken man', will be sent to Kabul after a letter from the Home Office confirmed he would have to leave the UK.

But he said his foster son's solicitor may yet contest the decision.

He said: 'We are all devastated. My family, my two boys - they cannot believe this.

'We are all very worried for Najib. He is part of our family, he is part of our lives - you couldn’t meet a nicer fellow.

'Najib has settled here, he has done very well in his education and he wants to give something back. There were so many people from throughout the community who went to support Najib ahead of the court hearing last month, we all want him here.'

Since arriving in the UK unable to speak English, Najibullah has embraced English life and is a cricket coach

The teenager fled war-torn Afghanistan and says he has no home or relatives to return to

He said Mr Hashimi and his solicitor have until the end of the week to consider what course of action they will take next.

Mr Griffiths said: 'Najib’s absolutely beside himself. He is worried for his life, and he doesn’t want to leave here.

'As we understand it, he will simply be flown to Kabul and then left to face it alone. It’s terrible.'

Last month’s tribunal was told how Mr Hashimi, who moved to the UK unable to speak the language, was 'treated like a son and a brother' to his foster family - Mr Griffiths, his wife Michelle and their children, Tyler, 10, and Finlay, eight.

His girlfriend, 15-year-old Lucy Pearce, also said how she relied on her 'inspirational boyfriend' for support.


'I have lost one family five years ago - I don't want to lose the second.  When I am with them, it's like nothing has happened to me.'

  Najibullah Hashimi, 19, who is to be deported


She said: 'I don’t want to embarrass him but if he could stay I want to be with him as long as possible.'

Mr Hashimi said his mother, sister and uncle are living in Pakistan, but that he would be returned to Afghanistan if his appeal failed.

Referring to his foster family in Kent, he said: 'I have lost one family five years ago, I don’t want to lose the second.

'It is going to be heart-breaking. When I am with them [Tyler and Finlay] it’s like nothing has happened to me. I don’t remember what has happened in the past.'

Mr Hashimi said he planned to become a teacher, but is also a regular at his local cricket club.

But Paul Duffy, for the Home Office, told the hearing in London how the decision could not hinge on a 'popularity contest'.

He said: 'We’re talking about a very popular person, he’s a credit to himself and his foster carers. But the ultimate problem in this context is it’s not a popularity contest.

'Even if the appellant’s family [his mother] is in Pakistan, the appellant is now an adult. He will return to Kabul.'

Mr Hashimi is 'beside himself' at the news that he has to move to Kabul, his foster father said today

Pleas from Mr Hashimi's foster family in Kent to let him stay in the UK have fallen on deaf ears at the Home Office

One killed and 24 injured after two hot air balloons crash mid-air above Turkish volcanoes

Two hot air balloons collided mid-air during a sightseeing tour of volcanic rock formations in Turkey on Monday, causing one of them to crash to the ground, officials said.

One Brazilian tourist was killed while 24 other people on board were injured.

The ascending balloon struck another balloon’s wicker basket above it, causing a tear that sent it plunging to the ground, the state-run Anadolu Agency reported.

Scroll down for video.

Tragic: The ascending balloon struck another balloon¿s wicker basket above it, causing a tear that sent it plunging to the ground

Injured but alive: Medics tend to a female survivor of the crash in hospital

The passengers on board the balloon that crashed were mostly tourists from Asia, Spain and Brazil, according to Abdurrahman Savas, the governor of Nevsehir province.

Many had fractured bones and one of them, an elderly passenger, was in serious condition.

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The balloons were flying above scenic canyons and volcanic cones of the Cappadocia region, a popular tourist destination some 300 kilometers (190 miles) from the capital, Ankara. 

Terror: This is the moment the hot air was sucked out of the balloon immediately after the collision causing it to fall from the sky

Fatal collision: A Brazilian tourist was killed and 24 others were wounded when the two balloons collided in the touristic region of Cappadocia

Student arrested for posing by Russian World War Two memorial with an inflatable sex doll

A university student has been jailed in Russia for posing for a photograph in front of a Second World War memorial - arm in arm with a blow-up sex doll.

Anastasia Polnikova, 23, was charged with hooliganism after she and three friends took the inflatable sex aid to the memorial near the Federal University in Stavropol, Russia.

Wearing WWII head gear and waving a Russian flag, the drunk students borrowed the doll from a friend and walked through the park to take the pictures before posting them on the internet.

Detectives are hunting Miss Polnikova's three unnamed friends who went on the run after police issued arrest warrants for them all.

Hooliganism? Police posted this image of Anastasia Polnikova, 23, far left, locked up after she was arrested to warn others against the consequences of copying their stunt. Arrest warrants for the other three have since been issued

Stavropol's Ministry of Internal Affairs spokesman Eugene Nuykin said: 'The identities of all the people who appeared in this photo are known to us and they will all be punished.

Police have also now posted their own image of Miss Polnikova behind bars to warn others against the consequences of copying their stunt.

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She and three pals had posed drunkenly in front of a tank with the blow up sex doll at the memorial to the Great Patriotic War, Russia's name for WWII.

Locked up: Police have also now posted their own image of Miss Polnikova behind bars to warn others against the consequences of copying their stunt

Toying with the law: Wearing WWII head gear the drunk students borrowed the sex doll from a friend and walked through the park to take the pics at the memorial near the Federal University in Stavropol, Russia

'Although their actions do not constitute vandalism as they didn't damage anything, they will be prosecuted for hooliganism.'

He added that one of the male students in the photograph had fled the region, 'but we know where he lives' and that the owner of the sex doll had also being identified.

The university confirmed that all four students in the picture as well as the photographer had been expelled.       


Incredible vertical gardens attached to the OUTSIDE of luxury apartments in Central Park, Sydney

Residents living in a luxury apartment block will not have to go too far to enjoy a little greenery - after a garden was attached to the outside of the building.

The block, in Central Park, Sydney, is home to the world's tallest 'vertical garden' - a living tapestry of plants, flowers and vines stretching 500ft high.

The two dozen green wall panels that cover the building, some as high as 16-storeys, have been filled with over 100,000 plants.

Scroll down for video Garden in the sky: This building in central Sydney is home to the world's tallest 'vertical garden' - a living tapestry of plants, flowers and vines stretching 500ft high

Unusual: The two dozen green wall panels that cover the building are as high as 16-storeys and hold over 100,000 plants

The eye-catching installation was designed by French botanist Patrick Blanc in collaboration with Paris-based architects Ateliers Jean Nouvel.

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In addition, residents on levels 29 to 33 of the complex's east tower have their own cantilevered 'Sky Garden' that juts from the facade.

All of the plants and flowers in the vertical gardens are carefully maintained by a special hydroponic system, which automatically waters them.


Up to 100 British jihadists have joined fighting in Syria: William Hague says there is a 'compelling' case for arming rebels

Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs said he wanted to increase support to 'moderates' fighting to bring down President Assad

Up to 100 Britons have joined fighting in Syria, Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed today as he warned the bloody conflict has become a honey pot for jihadists.

Mr Hague told MPs that the battle to overthrow President Bashar Assad's government forces risked fuelling extremism.

He said the UK was open to 'every way of strengthening moderates and saving lives rather than the current trajectory of extremism and murder'.

By providing more support to mainstream elements of the opposition forces, the British government hopes to undermine the radical jihadist elements who threaten to seize control of the country.  

Thousands have died and millions of people have been displaced by the two-year war, he said.

And he said the case for lifting the embargo on arming the rebels was now 'compelling'.

The European Union is due to reconsider the ban on providing weapons to rebels by the end of this month, although the UK has already given non-lethal support including armoured vehicles and body armour.

Mr Hague told the Commons that the conflict is 'undoubtedly contributing to radicalisation' in Syria.

'Syrian people are facing a regime that is using warplanes, helicopters, heavy artillery, tanks, cluster munitions and even ballistic missiles against them, often without them having the means to defend themselves and their communities.

'The conflict is therefore creating opportunities for extremist groups. Syria is now the number one destination for jihadists anywhere in the world today, including approximately 70 to 100 individuals connected with the United Kingdom.'

'We have to be open to every way of strengthening moderates and saving lives rather than the current trajectory of extremism,' Mr Hague said in a statement to MPs.

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He urged President Assad to take peace talks seriously, in an attempt to end the 'regional catastrophe'.

Rebels: Free Syrian Army fighters prepare to launch a rocket in Deir al-Zor in the eastern part of the country

Mr Hague added: 'With every week that passes we are coming closer to the collapse of Syria and a regional catastrophe, with the lives of tens of thousands more Syrians at stake.

'We are determined to make every effort to end the carnage, to minimise the risks to the region, and to protect the security of the United Kingdom.'

The death toll from the conflict has doubled in the first five months of 2013 and now stands at 80,000 people.

More than 4million Syrians have been 'displaced' and some 6.8million are in 'desparate need', including 3million children, Mr Hague added.

Battle: A Kurdish female fighter who is a sniper takes aim for her vantage point in Aleppo

Fall out: Syrians inspecting the rubble of damaged buildings due to government airstrikes in Qusair

Last month the European Union’s security chief Gilles de Kerchove warned hundreds of young men from across Europe are fighting with rebel forces in Syria.

Gilles de Kerchove said those fighting to bring down President Assad, including many Britons, will be ‘radicalised’ before returning home where they will pose a ‘serious threat’ to national security.

It is feared some will become members of groups with links to al-Qaeda before launching terror attacks at home.

Mr de Kerchove, the EU’s counter-terrorism coordinator, said: ‘We are concerned, of course.’

He said most of the Europeans agreeing to fight with the rebels were being converted by radicals in Syria.

‘Not all of them are radical one day when they leave but most likely many of them will be radicalised there, they will be trained,’ he told the BBC.

‘And as we have seen in previous situations this might create a serious threat when they get back.’

Two in three families plan a summer staycation boosting UK tourism to £12billion

Two-thirds of British families will holiday in the UK this summer amid a cost of living squeeze that means a foreign holiday is a luxury that will have to be sacrificed.

The number of people choosing to holiday at home rose from 35 per cent to 41 per cent between 2011 and 2012, while the figure is put at 65 per cent for this year.

Historically, Cornwall has always topped the staycation popularity list, but the survey claims it has been overtaken by London, Edinburgh and the Lake District.

'Staycationers' are snubbing Cornwall, left, in favour of destinations including Edinburgh, new research shows

London, with sights including St Paul's Cathedral, tops a new poll of where those holidaying at home want to go

The popularity of London was helped by the Olympics and pageantry around the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, however it is also a particularly expensive destination.

A separate study published by the package holiday Thomas Cook suggests Britain is not the cheap option that many people believe.

In terms of the cost of a shopping basket of typical holiday purchases, from a glass of wine to a meal and ice cream the UK is the second most expensive holiday destination behind Sydney, Australia.

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However, the survey did not include the cost of travel and accommodation, which is where people who stay at home and take day trips or short breaks make a big saving compared to a foreign package.

The staycation research was commissioned by Travelodge, which has an interest in people staying in the UK, however it was based on an online poll of 3,000 people conducted by a third party company called OnePoll.

The hotel chain claims that the surge in people taking a holiday at home will boost the UK tourism industry by £3.3billion compared to last year, taking the total to £12 billion.

The charms of the Lake District mean that it is near the top of the list for those choosing to stay in the UK

The study found that 42per cent of the staycationers will taking a one week holiday in the UK this summer, 15per cent are indulging in a two week break and a third will take three short domestic breaks.

People in Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Cardiff, Chelmsford and Manchester were most likely to say they are holidaying at home this summer.

Chief executive of Travelodge, Grant Hearn, said: ‘The staycation trend accelerating to record levels and boosting our economy by £12 billion this year, is a  very welcome sign, and hopefully this is the start of our 2012 Olympics legacy gain.

‘During 2012, our capital city was showcased in its true glory to all corners of the UK and the world, and it’s a great result that London has been crowned as the top staycation destination for 2013.’

However, he said the government is failing to capitalise of the UK’s tourism potential and suggested the Department for Culture, Media Sport, which is run by Tory Secretary of State Maria Miller, it at fault.

The success of last year's London Olympics has encouraged more people to stay at home for their holiday

He said: ‘We are not yet near to unlocking the true potential of our industry. British tourism needs to be treated like a serious business sector and  the Government needs to move our industry from the ineffective Department of Culture Media & Sports to the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills.

‘Lack of immediate action is costing jobs, growth and investment.’

The Thomas Cook study put the cost of a basket of holiday purchases in the UK at £125.74, which was the second most expensive behind the £157.96 for Sydney, Australia.

The cheapest short-haul option was Tenerife at £47.28 for the same basket of goods. Tunisia came in at £52.86, while Egypt is also cheap at £54.07 and even Florida was much less than Britain at £59.25.

The holiday companies have seen a big increase in the sale of all-inclusive packages, where all meals and drinks are included in the headline price, as a direct result of the squeeze on household budgets.

Joanna Wild, the Thomas Cook retail director, said despite the nation’s money troubles: ‘An overseas holiday offers exceptional value for money, whatever board basis our customers choose, given that prices in many resorts abroad are considerably cheaper than in the UK.’

She said all-inclusive deals now account for more than half of all holidays they sell and are particularly popular with families.

UK weather: Sunshine and thunderstorms to hit Britain as forecasters predict temperatures as high as 19C and warn of huge hailstones

The Met Office has issued severe weather warnings for south east Scotland and higher ground through central parts of England, where heavy rain is expected to fall today

It might have been reasonable to believe spring was finally here with some of the temperatures the country has been enjoying recently.

But parts of the country have had to brace themselves today after forecasters predicted heavy showers, flash flooding and huge hailstones.

Heavy rainfall started in parts of Scotland this afternoon, according to the Meteogroup, at times reaching a rate of 50mm of rainfall an hour in areas around Dundee. The showers were moving in a south easterly direction.

Forecasters have said the unstable weather was because of the warm humid air in Scotland - Glasgow has so far seen the highest temperature in Britain after the mercury hit 22C earlier today.

Meteogroup forecaster Claire Austin said: 'It only really kicked off in the last couple of hours.

'At 2pm we started seeing some of the showers developing and they have started getting properly heavier from about 3pm.'

The Met Office issued severe weather warnings for south east Scotland and across the higher ground through the central part of England, where heavy rain was expected to fall today.

There has been some good news however, as sunshine is expected for most of the country during parts of the upcoming week, while temperatures were also expected to hit 19C elsewhere today.

Helen Chivers, forecaster for the Met Office, said: 'We are expecting some very heavy showers to break out through this afternoon, mostly up the spine of the Pennines, so the higher ground in the central parts of the country, and particularly in south east Scotland.

'We have actually got severe weather warnings out for both of those areas.

'There's an amber warning out for the Scottish regions, where we are expecting the heaviest of the weather to be.

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'We could find some flash flooding in areas and large hail stones which could make travelling conditions very difficult.'

Ms Chivers said between 20 and 30ml of rain could fall in the space of one hour. She said hail was most likely to fall in Scotland while thunderstorms and heavy winds were likely to hit central parts of England.

The showers will dry up this evening, meaning most of the country will be dry going into tomorrow. Ms Chivers said: 'Tomorrow is a bit of a cloudy start but the clouds will break up.

While showers are expected in parts of the country today, sunshine could break out later on in the week

Heavy rain has fallen across parts of Scotland including Dundee this afternoon, at times reaching a rate of up to 5mm/hour

'We can expect a few showers to break out in the afternooon, not as many as today, and once again I think they will be over high ground.

'But for most of us it should be a fine day after a rather cloudy start and we should get temperatures in the mid-teens.'

And while Wednesday should not be too bad either, there is the possibility of one or two showers. Ms Chivers said there was also a possibility of some mountain snow over the Scottish highlands.

She said: 'But again, Wednesday looks like being a bright day with some sunshine breaking through.

'On Thursday and Friday we get a bit of an east-west split. The eastern side is going to be cloudy with some rain around, but for the western side of the country it looks fine and dry with some sunshine.'

A pair of parent swans have been keeping it in the family meanwhile, by teaching their recently hatched cygnets to uphold an ancient British tradition.

A pair of parent swans keep it in the family be teaching their recently hatched cygnets to uphold an ancient British tradition

The birds at the Bishops Palace in Wells, Somerset, were teaching their brood how to ring a bell for food

Swans have been synonymous with Wells for centuries where resident swans patrol the stunning 13th century Bishop's Palace

The birds at the Bishops Palace in Wells, Somerset, have been teaching their brood how to ring a bell for food - something that has become a popular spectacle there for over a century.

Swans have been synonymous with Wells for centuries where resident swans patrol the stunning 13th century Bishop's Palace which has been home to the Bishop of Bath and Wells for more than 800 years.

The swans of Wells have the unusual habit of ringing a bell by the Palace drawbridge to ask for food.

The unusual spectacle started 200 years ago when the daughter of an 19th century Bishop taught her favourite swan to ring the gatehouse bell for scraps of food - a technique that has been passed down the swan generations.

Darren Lock: Diabetic driver impaled William Dawkins on railings after losing control when his blood sugar plummeted

A diabetic driver has been jailed after he lost control of his car and impaled a pedestrian on railings when his blood sugar level plummeted while he was at the wheel.

Darren Lock, 41, from Rushden, had already struck a lamppost and was driving with his front bumper dragging along the road when he hit William Dawkins, 46, in Bedford last June.

Lock gave false information to a nurse about his blood sugar levels on the morning of the collision, which left Mr Dawkins in intensive care suffering a punctured lung, broken limbs and broken vertebrae in his neck, a court heard today.

Jailed: Diabetic Darren Lock had drifted into a state of automatism when he hit pedestrian William Dawkins in Bromham Road, Bedford (pictured), last June

A judge said the pedestrian was 'very lucky to be alive' after the incident.

Mr Dawkins spent a week in intensive care where he was treated for two broken vertebrae in his neck, a punctured lung, a burst artery in his left arm, a broken left arm and broken leg.

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IT Consultant Lock from Rushden, was jailed for six months and banned from driving for three years, with an order that he must take an extended retest, after admitting to dangerous driving at Luton Crown Court today.

His lawyer Mark Nicholls said the married father of two had been suffering from 'hypoglycemic automatism' when he struck Mr Dawkins at around half past ten at night on June 28 last year.

He said: 'He drifted into hypoglycemia without being aware of it. He is truly sorry. If he could swap places he would do so in an instant. He has given up his licence and expresses great remorse.'

Prosecutor Kevin Barry said that Lock had seen a nurse that morning about his type one diabetes and had given her false information about his blood sugar levels. He then caught the train to work in London, returning to Bedford at around 10pm.

Despite knowing his blood sugar levels were low, Lock drove his maroon VW Passatt out into Ashburnham Road where he hit a lamppost at the zebra crossing.

Then he drove off and clipped the wing mirror of a Peugeot with his front bumper dragging along the road.

'Deeply remorseful': Lock, 41, from Rushden, was jailed for six months after admitting dangerous driving at Luton Crown Court today

'As the car went into Bromham Road he caused another driver to swerve.


Drivers in the UK are required to inform the DVLA if they have a 'notifiable' medical condition or disability.

The list of notifiable conditions includes some forms of diabetes, along with epilepsy, strokes and other neurological conditions, mental health problems, physical disabilities and visual impairments.

Government guidelines state that licence-holders must inform the DVLA if they have diabetes that is treated by insulin.

Car and motorcycle licence-holders with diabetes that is treated by tablets or non-insulin injections are not required to let the DVLA know, but bus, car and lorry driver licence-holders must flag up their condition.

Drivers are also required to let the DVLA know if they develop a new condition, or if an existing condition gets worse.

The Agency may then contact the driver's doctor before making a decision on whether they must surrender their licence, exchange it for a shorter period licence subject to reviews, or have their vehicle specially adapted in light of their condition.

Then he collided with Mr Dawkins, sending him into the railings on the pavement.

'He was detached from the railings and spent a week in intensive care,' said Mr Barry.

Lock's blood sugar level was tested and found to be 1.8, which is very low. He had a zero reading for alcohol.

The prosecutor said that as a type 1 diabetic Lock should have informed the DVLA of his condition but they had no records.

Mr Nicholls said Lock had 'drifted into hypoglycemia without being aware of it'. He said he had controlled his diabetes for the past 17 years and worked as an IT professional earning over £40,000 a year. Lock had handed back his licence and does not intend to apply again, he said.

He had one previous conviction from May 1999 when he failed to stop after an accident on his way to his wedding.

Jailing him, Judge Richard Foster said: 'You knew that morning that your blood sugar level was not as it should be. You should have checked your blood sugar levels before you drove. You knew full well the dangers of what you did.

'You came out of Bedford station in a state of automatism. Another driver had a narrow escape and Mr Dawkins is very lucky to be alive.'

The court was told that Mr Dawkins' claim for compensation is being dealt with by Lock's insurance company.

Chelsea Flower Show 2013: Zara Phillips is the first of the royals to arrive

Zara Phillips was the first of the royals to arrive today for a sneak preview of the Chelsea Flower Show today ahead of tomorrow's grand opening.

The young royal had a look at the world famous show which other members of the royal family - including the Queen - are expected to view this week.

As the event celebrates its centenary this year, Zara, wearing white jeans, a black jacket and heeled ankle boots, was happy to cut a cake to mark the occasion.

Scroll down for video

Getting the party started: Zara Phillips cuts the cake as the Chelsea Flower show celebrates its 100th birthday

More birthdays: Zara Philips sits on a lawnmower to celebrate 50 years of John Deere, and right, beauty: A Papaver commutatum Ladybird plant

Right at home: The outdoorsy Royal looked at ease atop the mower

Pampas yourself: A women wearing a dress of fresh flowers designed by Zita Elze poses for photographers in the M&A Centenary Garden

Gnome fever takes over: With the 100 year rule banning so-called 'mythical characters' relaxed for the first time, numerous figurines cropped up around the exhibition area

A-list gnomes: Garden gnomes, one of which, wearing glasses, was designed by British musician Elton John

Unusual: Contortionist performance lizards at the Trailfinders Australian Garden presented by Fleming's

In the pink: Joanna Lumley celebrates 100 years of the famous flower show as she attends today's sneak preview

Blooming gorgeous: The actress, dressed in a vivid pink outfit, inspected some of the beautiful blooms that had managed to grow despite the cold weather of late

The other Royal visitor: Dame Helen Mirren, currently starring as the Queen in a West End play, took in the gardens today

Where's the cycle track? Victoria Pendleton in the Australia garden entitled After The Fire

Great Chelsea bake off: Jamie Oliver is one of the celebs at the show today and gave a demonstration in how to use an outdoor oven

Horsing around: Maureen Lipman at a colourful rocking horse stand, left, and right, does it pass the Dragon's test? Deborah Meaden inspects a watering gadget

Walking on the wild side: Jerry Hall looking glamorous in leopard print pumps, left, and right, getting into the spirit: Model David Gandy channels rural chic in waxed jacket

True blues: Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and wife Jackie, left, and right, esteemed guests: Ben Fogle with wife Marina

English roses: Kirstie Allsopp, left, and Emilia Fox wearing a dress from Luisa Beccarias's SS13 collection at the show

There rain or shine: Former Beatle Ringo Starr, left, was on hand to open the WaterAid garden while comedian Rob Brydon was prepared for wet weather with his umbrella

Smile: Singer Lily Cooper posed for a picture she she browsed the show in a casual denim dress and cat face ballet pumps

Inspiration: Lily was delighted to see a flower named after her

Time for tea: Mary Berry joins Lynda Bellingham, left, and Ruth Langsford at the Homebase 'Sowing the seeds of Change' garden, in support of Alzheimer's Society

Blossoming: The 'Sowing the seeds of Change' show-garden was created by gardener Adam Frost

Prince Harry popped into the show before it opened last week to see how a garden close to his heart was growing. He is set to return this week to show his grandmother, patron of show organisers the Royal Horticultural Society, around the B&Q Sentebale Forget-me-not garden that has been created by his charity.

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The show garden was created by renowned landscape gardener Jinny Blom for Sentebale, which helps vulnerable children in Lesotho. She said Harry had been 'passionately' involved in the design process - even having preliminary drawings sent to him for approval while he was serving in Afghanistan.

The garden is intended to represent the mountainous landscape of Lesotho as well as its people and is also a tribute to Prince Harry's late mother Princess Diana..

The Chelsea Flower Show will open to the public tomorrow and run for five days. A number of celebrities made the most of the opportunity to have a sneak preview today with those attending including Joanna Lumley, Helen Mirren and Ringo Starr.

Spring wardrobes: Esther Rantzen, left, and Katie Melua kept to the floral theme with their choice of clothing

Work of art: Lucy Ellis wears a flower hat and seeded dress inspired by the artworks of Van Gogh

To mark the centenary, many gardens draw inspiration from shows of yesteryear - with others looking firmly to the future, including one that reacts to messages sent on Twitter.

The landmark year has also led to the lifting of the usual ban on ornamental gnomes - ordinarily, the Chelsea Flower Show has a strict ban on gnomes 'and other brightly-coloured mythical creatures'.

More than 500 exhibitors spent the weekend putting the finishing touches to the 15 show gardens, 19 smaller gardens and 150 exhibits that make up the 2013 show. The annual show has taken place almost every year since 1913 when the Great Spring Show took place at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea.

The first show was staged in a single tent and included 244 exhibitors, less than half of today’s numbers. It cost the Royal Horticultural Society £3,365 to stage and made a profit of £88.

However, TV presenter and gardener Alan Titchmarsh has issued a stark warning that the Chelsea Flower Show as people currently know it would cease to exist if more young people did not take up careers in horticulture.

Recent research suggested many young people thought a career in horticulture was only for those who failed academically and that it was an unskilled profession.

He said the industry was 'rotten' at PR and that the centenary of the flower show was a chance to demonstrate that those who were involved in horticulture were not thick, dull, unadventurous or incapable of doing anything else.

He said: 'We have the best jobs in the world - growing plants, designing gardens, managing open spaces, feeding the population, looking after historic trees and famous gardens, conducting scientific research into plant breeding, pests and diseases, collecting plants in far-flung parts of the globe, writing and broadcasting about our passion - the list goes on, 60 different areas at least, by my reckoning.

'And yet our role is undervalued by Government, by the population and by young people in particular - in every instance because they just do not understand the breadth of what we do and its importance in terms of the wellbeing of the planet and its population.'