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The News Matrix: Thursday 20 December 2012

War has so far cost taxpayer £17.4bn

The war in Afghanistan has cost the taxpayer £17.4bn, the Government has revealed. The final cost of the war is likely to be around £20bn, as the number of British troops will be reduced from 9,000 to 5,200 by the end of 2013. All but a few hundred will return home the following year, despite fears the Afghan army could lose control of parts of the country. MORE

Pupils still fail to get 'C' grades at resits

Less than half of the pupils who re-sat their English GCSEs following this summer's marking fiasco managed to get a good pass. Only 36 per cent got a C grade or above in the exams. Thousands did not take the resit as they had taken up apprenticeships or moved on to college.

British boy's family tribute to teachers

The family of the six-year-old British boy killed in the Sandy Hook tragedy have paid tribute to the school staff "who all selflessly died trying to save our children". Dylan Hockley's parents and brother Jake remembered how "he loved to cuddle" and "play tag" at the bus stop each day. MORE

PM urged to ditch planning law reform

The Prime Minister should ditch proposed changes to planning law making it easier for householders and businesses to extend their premises, a parliamentary committee has said. There is "little or no evidence" the Government considered possible detrimental impacts.

UN appeals for $1.5bn for Syrian refugees

The United Nations yesterday appealed for $1.5bn (£900m) to provide life-saving aid to Syrians suffering from a "dramatically deteriorating" humanitarian situation. The UN hopes to meet the needs of up to one million Syrian refugees in five countries.

Bank boss is 'minted' on £874,000 salary

The new Bank of England governor will have an £874,000-a-year pay packet. Mark Carney will be paid a £480,000 salary, £144,000 in pension contributions and £250,000 housing allowance.

Exploitative family members jailed

Five members of a travelling family who reaped "rich financial rewards" by forcing vulnerable men to work as labourers for just £5 a day were jailed yesterday. William Connors, 52, was sentenced to six and a half years in prison, while his wife and two sons also received jail sentences. MORE

Wal-Mart fine could be billions of dollars

Wal-Mart is facing a fine of billions of dollars after it was alleged its Mexican affiliate sped up store openings by paying substantial bribes. If the company is found guilty under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, the settlement could dwarf the $800m paid by Siemens in 2008 – the largest pay-out to date. MORE

Banks may be forced to be more open

The Government could step in if banks fail to be more open about dealing with cluster-arms manufacturers. Britain has banned the production of cluster munitions. Campaigners have called for the closure of a loophole that allows investment in manufacturers so long as the funding is not directly for cluster bombs.

Enjoy the flight and bath, your highness

Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal al-Saud is set to take delivery of his very own jumbo jet. The Airbus A380 can normally seat more than 600 passengers, but the Prince's customised version will hold far fewer. He is installing a Turkish spa, a concert hall, marble walls and computer-generated prayer mats. MORE

Overdressed man feels the heat

A man travelling from China wore more than 60 items of clothing in an attempt to avoid excess baggage fees. Security officials at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport asked the man to strip down for a lengthy body check. Smuggled among the 61 items of clothing were batteries, USB sticks and toys.

In Cold Blood killers exhumed for DNA

The bodies of the killers made famous by Truman Capote's In Cold Blood have been exhumed for DNA samples at the behest of a Florida prosecutor. Richard Hickock and Perry Smith murdered the Clutter family in Kansas in 1959. The official believes they then massacred another family of four in the town of Osprey. MORE

Harvard treated to Fergie hairdryer tips

Sir Alex Ferguson has delivered a talk to Harvard Business School students in Boston on his management techniques. The Manchester United boss was the subject of an academic report by a university professor which revealed he installed tanning booths at the training ground to keep up his players' vitamin D levels. MORE

Brits award goes to a man – at last

A 22-year-old singer-songwriter championed by Lily Allen has become the first man to win the Brits Critics' Choice Award. Tom Odell said he was "thrilled and honoured" to win the award, has previously gone to the likes of Jessie J and Emili Sande. His style has been described as "vulnerability married to memorable melody".

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