Daily Archives: July 26, 2015

News Ireland daily BLOG by Donie

Sunday 26th July 2015

David Drumm to give evidence by video link to Banking Inquiry team

    

Ciaran Lynch said a decision would be made on Tuesday

The Chairman of the Oireachtas banking inquiry Ciaran Lynch said it will decide on Tuesday if it will accept an offer from the former Anglo Irish Bank Chief Executive, David Drumm, to give evidence to the inquiry via video link from the United States.

Mr Lynch said by then the inquiry team will have access to the full legal advice on the matter and will make a decision on that basis.

However, he would not be drawn on the implications for the future of the inquiry if some members withdraw from the session if the inquiry does agree to hear Mr Drumm’s evidence in this way.

Mr Lynch said he was sure the work of the inquiry could be kept “out of the courts” when the full membership meet and discuss the matter with their support team and legal advisers on Tuesday.

He said it was important that the inquiry finish its work and that it has managed to complete two thirds of its work and interview 70 witnesses without encountering any major legal obstacles.

Mr Lynch said at the start of the inquiry he had asked members to leave their club jerseys at the door and he was sure they would do that when the group meets again on Tuesday.

He also said it is critical that the banking inquiry survives the recent controversies about how it is operating.

Speaking on RTÉ’s This Week programme, Mr Lynch said a Senior Counsel has been appointed to look at the internal procedures of the inquiry and it would be inappropriate for him to comment.

He said he would not speculate on what would happen if an inquiry member refused to take part in a particular hearing.

The inquiry has faced a number of challenges to date but it has operated on a collegial basis so far and he expected next weeks meeting to discuss Mr Drumm’s offer of video evidence will be in the same context, he added.

Mr Lynch said the value of the committees work will be reflected in its final report which is due to be published by the end of the year.

Earlier, a number of politicians who are members of the Banking Inquiry said that they will not participate in a proposed session where David Drumm may give evidence by video link.

Fine Gael TD Eoghan Murphy and Fianna Fáil finance spokesman McGrath said if the Banking Inquiry agrees to accept evidence via video link from the former Anglo Irish Bank CEO David Drumm they will not participate in that session.

Mr Murphy said he had made the decision to protect the integrity of the inquiry and said it would be undignified of the Oireachtas to offer Mr Drumm the privilege of giving evidence when he refuses to return to Ireland to co-operate with garda investigations.

He said agreeing to Mr Drumm’s request would be a fundamental mistake.

Mr McGrath said he believed that facilitating someone who had refused to cooperate with Justice authorities would be an affront to democracy and should not be considered.

The Socialist Party TD, Joe Higgins said he would make his final decision on the matter on Tuesday after the committee hears legal advice on the matter.

He said some people were saying that it would be interesting to hear from Mr Drumm but many others felt strongly that allowing him to give evidence in this way might treat ordinary people who had suffered as a result of the banking collapse with great contempt.

New poll shows Ireland wants Leo Varadkar as leader

  

Fine Gael Minister for Health Leo Varadkar.

Health Minister Leo Varadkar is the overwhelming favorite among the public and Fine Gael supporters to be the next leader of the party.

A poll for The Sunday Times shows 34% of people would like to see Varadkar, who came out as a gay in January, take over from Taoiseach Enda Kenny.

“It’s always nice to get positive feedback from the public, but there is no vacancy. Enda is the leader and I have my hands full in health and a lot of work to do,” Varadkar said.

The poll shows independents are up five points to 31%, a record high. Fine Gael were unchanged in the poll with 24%. Fianna Fail were down three points to 18%, Sinn Fein were down two to 17%. Labor was down one point to eight and the Greens were down a point to one %.

Recently-formed political alignments were too new to be included as separate groups in the poll and were counted with the independents.

They included the Social Democrats launched last week with three Independent TDs (members of Parliament) as joint leaders. One of them is Roisin Shortall, a former junior minister who resigned from government in 2012 when she also resigned from the Labor Party.

The other new party is Renua Ireland, whose leader is Lucinda Creighton, who also resigned as a junior minister and from Fine Gael when she voted against the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Bill.

Both the Social Democrats and Renua have said they will run candidates in every constituency in the next general election which will be held within a year.

HSE pays €4.4m every year for mental health treatments in the UK?

   

The HSE is paying €4.4 million a year for mental health treatments in the UK.

The Sunday Times reports that 13 patients have been transferred to the UK for specialist psychiatric treatment.

The patients were moved abroad for periods of between two months and almost 14 years.

Fianna Fail’s spokesperson on Mental Health Colm Keaveney said these cases highlight the lack of investment in specialist care available in Ireland.

“We’ve seen a breach in the Programme for Government – a commitment to ring-fence specialist recruitment and expenditure in community mental health teams,” he said.

“It’s resulted in a staffing crisis on the ground … the HSE are left with no option but to export many of our complex, acute mental health needs.”

Irish study to find best way to quit smoking for ever

   

The Quit.ie programme was launched by the HSE in 2011, resulting in 600,000 “quit attempts” since then

One is a global empire with testimonials from Anjelica Houston, Anthony Hopkins and Richard Branson. These stars claim to be among the millions of smokers around the world who have kicked the habit thanks to the advice of a former 100-a-day smoker who ultimately died of lung cancer.

The other is a programme run by the HSE that uses hard-hitting media ads and an online and telephone support system to encourage smokers to quit for good.

And now, the Tobacco Free Research Institute (TFRI) at the Dublin Institute of Technology is using a controlled sample of 300 smokers as guinea pigs to test the success rates of Allen Carr’s Easyway smoking cessation programme versus the HSE’s Quit.ie initiative.

The 12-month Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT), which is free for participants and funded through the Department of Health’s Lottery Fund, is intended to show which programme – if not both – is the most likely to help smokers quit for good.

The Allen Carr method was founded by the British accountant-turned-anti-smoking crusader who devised his ‘Easyway’ method of smoking cessation after trying unsuccessfully for years to quit his 100-a-day habit.

When he finally did quit after 33 years of smoking at the age of 48, he established his now world-wide chain of clinics and self-help books promoting his concept, which kept him smoke-free until his death from lung cancer at the age 72 in 2006.

The Quit.ie programme was launched by the HSE in 2011, resulting in 600,000 “quit attempts” since then.

Along with online and telephone support – including the National Smoker’s Quit Line manned six days a week – it has run a number of hard-hitting media campaigns, including the stark message that “one in every two smokers will die of a tobacco-related disease.”

The campaigns also include a series of TV ads using the late Gerry Collins, the father-of-three from Greystones, Co Wicklow, who candidly spoke of how his addiction to cigarettes was literally killing him before he died of lung cancer due to smoking in January, 2014.

“Unusually, we have recruited publicly because we want to compare these two treatment modalities,” said TFRI founder and consultant respiratory physician Professor Luke Clancy. “The Allen Carr method is well known all over the world but the efficacy has never been established,” he told the Sunday Independent.

While the number of smokers in Ireland is at its lowest ever level, at approximately 20pc of the adult population, Prof Clancy, who was instrumental in bringing in the 2004 smoking ban, said Ireland still has a way to go if we are to achieve the health department’s goal of being virtually smoke-free, with just 5pc of the population smoking by 2025. “We worried that no matter what we do, we won’t reach this target,” he said. “So we’re looking to see can we improve things.”

Already hundreds of smokers have signed up to the free controlled trial that will take place over the next 12 months in Dublin. After completing an online survey, participants are selected based on various criteria, such as age and number of cigarettes smoked a day.

Those selected can bail out any time after being randomly selected to take part in either the Allen Carr group or Quit.ie group. They will be monitored at one, three, six and 12-month intervals after signing a consent form and being assessed by a nurse who monitors weight and carbon monoxide levels in exhaled breath.

Those who stick it out for the whole year will be rewarded with the chance to enter a draw for a trips to Paris and the Caribbean.

How Lycos almost won the search engine war

 

In 1998, a young developer named Jim Gilliam was hired at Lycos after he impressed management by finding bugs in their site. He took on the task of improving their search results to find a way to beat their biggest competitor, Yahoo.
It was exhilarating to be back in the game again, a 20-year-old college dropout with stock options, working at the center of the internet revolution. But I was overwhelmed. I’d only ever worked on a team with a half-dozen people, and Lycos was a huge company with hundreds of employees. All the developers seemed much smarter and more experienced than I was, and I was struggling to understand all the different proprietary technologies Lycos had created.

As I dug in, I realised that the scope of the problems was immense. I was paralysed. I didn’t know where to start. At the end of my first week I passed Lycos’s VP of development Dave Andre’s office on my way out for the night. No one else was around and he waved me in. He asked how everything was going, so I was honest and told him what I was feeling. With no hesitation, he dropped the most influential piece of advice I’ve ever received. He said, “Jim, you can code. You have all the power. Just go do it.” So I did.

Lycos was a search engine, and like all search engines at the time, it was trying to figure out how to make money. The key was to make our search engine into something that would appeal to advertisers. Like Excite and Yahoo, Lycos paid the browser, Netscape, to send traffic our way, and we were all trying to keep people on our sites longer, because the longer people were on our sites, the more ads they saw. Lycos’s CEO, Bob Davis, was a sales guy, and his strategy was to cut deals with new, venture-funded dot-coms and split the revenue on all the ads that we sold. We would increase our ad inventory, help the startups, and the Lycos logo would be all over the web.

I didn’t really care about all that. I cared about our search results, which seemed to be the one thing that no one was paying attention to. We were a search engine, but our results sucked, mainly because it took between six and nine months to refresh the search catalogue. This meant that even our partner sites didn’t show up in our search results, making the entire sales strategy pointless. If I could fix this, our search would be better and we’d actually sell more ads.

Climate change drove woolly mammoths to extinction, say scientists

Dramatic climate shifts made it difficult for large animals such as the woolly mammoth to survive, new research confirms.

    

The mighty megafauna of the last ice age, including the wooly mammoths, short-faced bears and cave lions, largely went extinct because of rapid climate-warming events, a new study finds.

During the unstable climate of the Late Pleistocene, about 60,000 to 12,000 years ago, abrupt climate spikes, called interstadials, increased temperatures between 7 and 29 degrees Fahrenheit (4 and 16 degrees Celsius) in a matter of decades. Large animals likely found it difficult to survive in these hot conditions, possibly because of the effects it had on their habitats and prey, the researchers said.

Interstadials “are known to have caused dramatic shifts in global rainfall and vegetation patterns,” the study’s first author Alan Cooper, director for the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide in Australia, said in a statement emailed to Live Science.

Temperature drops during the Late Pleistocene showed no association with animal extinctions, Cooper said. Instead, only the hot interstadial periods were associated with the large die-offs that hit populations (local events) and entire species of animals (global events), he said.

Ancient humans also played a role in the megafaunal extinction, albeit a smaller one, he said. By disrupting the animals’ environments, human societies and hunting parties likely made it harder for megafauna to migrate to new areas and to refill areas once populated by animals that had gone extinct, he said.

Extinction analysis

The study is the latest in a long string of research examining what caused megafauna, or animals weighing more than 99 pounds (45 kilograms), to die off during the Late Pleistocene.

George Cuvier, the French paleontologist who first recognized the mammoth and the giant ground sloth, started the speculation in 1796 when he suggested that giant biblical floods were to blame for the animals’ demise. The extinctions also baffled Charles Darwin after he encountered megafaunal remains in South America.

Since then, various studies have placed the bulk of responsibility on ice age humans, temperature swings and aperfect storm of events.

However, advances in examining ancient DNA and ancient climate allowed Cooper and his colleagues to get to the bottom of the issue.

They examined DNA from dozens of megafaunal species that lived during the Late Pleistocene, combing through more than 50,000 years of DNA records for extinction events. The ancient DNA not only told them about global extinction events, but also local population turnovers, which occur when a group of animals dies and another population of animals moves in to replace them. [Wipe Out: History’s Most Mysterious Extinctions]

They then compared the data on megafauna extinction with detailed records of severe climate events, which they gathered from Greenland ice cores and the sedimentary record of the Cariaco Basin off Venezuela.

“By combining these two records, we can place the climate and radiocarbon dating data on the same timescale, thereby allowing us to precisely align the dated fossils against climate,” Cooper said. “The high-resolution view we gained through this approach clearly showed a strong relationship between warming events and megafaunal extinctions.”

The findings also show that extinction events were staggered over time and space, likely because the interstadial warming events had different effects on different regions, Cooper said.

Modern connections

Earth’s climate is much more stable today than it was during the Late Pleistocene, making the world’s current warming trends a “major concern,” the researchers said.

“In many ways, the rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and resulting warming effects are expected to have a similar rate of change to the onset of past interstadials, heralding another major phase of large mammal extinctions,” Cooper said.

In addition, humans have disrupted the habitats and surrounding areas of many wild animals, making it challenging for species to migrate or shift ranges to places where they would be better adapted to deal with climate change, he said.

Other researchers called the new study an important one.

It shows “that the extinction and population turnover of many megafauna was associated with rapid warming periods, rather than the last glacial maximum [when the ice sheets reached their maximum during the last glacial period] or Younger Dryas [a sudden, cold spell that happened when the Earth was starting to warm] as has previously been suggested,” said Eline Lorenzen, an assistant professor of paleogenetics at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

In fact, understanding how the past climate change affected extinction rates may help people be better prepared for future rapid global warming events, she said.

“This study is a bit of a wake-up call,” Lorenzen said. “Here we have empirical evidence — based on data from a lot of species — that rapid climate warming has profoundly impacted megafauna communities, negatively, during the past 50,000 years.

“It doesn’t bode well for the future survival of the world’s megafauna populations,” she said.

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Donie’s Ireland daily news BLOG

Saturday 25th July 2015

It’s time to jail reckless bankers say’s & urges Lucinda Creighton in new policy

Bankers who recklessly lend money to people should face jail, Renua Ireland leader Lucinda Creighton has said.

  

Renua Ireland founder & leader Lucinda Creighton

The leader of one of Ireland’s newest political parties was at Leinster House to publish her party’s plan on tackling white-collar crime.

Renua Ireland TD Billy Timmins said the Irish justice system does not take white-collar crime as seriously as so-called ordinary crime.

“If you steal an apple in Moore Street, odds are you will go through the process. But we know that many big criminals involved in company crime and fraud get away with it,” Mr Timmins said.

The plan

The party has published a 10-point plan aimed at increasing action against white-collar criminals, including making reckless lending a criminal offence – as recommended by the Central Bank governor Patrick Honohan.

“There is a really strong sense that notwithstanding the extraordinary collapse of the banking system and the massive destruction caused to the economy which has affected the lives of ordinary citizen, nothing has really changed,” Ms Creighton said.

The former Fine Gael junior minister said the policy would bring real accountability to actions and failures to act in the business world.

“We will introduce legislation which imposes criminal liability on a senior manager of a banking institution, fund or insurance undertaking who knowingly puts the viability of the institution at risk,” Ms Creighton said.

The other seven actions include:

1.       Criminal sanctions for company directors who conduct business recklessly, based on laws already in force in Australia.

2.      Curbing the use of limited company liability to escape punishment for breaking the law.

3.      Tightening provisions to ensure claiming ignorance of the law is not a defence.

4.      Reducing scope for sentence mitigation on grounds of previous good character or “good family”.

5.      Improving training for all company directors.

6.      Facilitating whistleblowers – including giving them a percentage of taxpayers’ money recouped from detecting wrong-doing.

7.      A special white-collar crime court with streamlined procedures and more training for judges and lawyers.

Asked generally about the new party, just launched in March, Ms Creighton said they are organised in all 40 constituencies nationwide in a very short space of time.

She conceded that she had said the party needed something like €1m to run a national election campaign but they had decided from day one not to take company donations.

“So the party in every constituency in the country is engaged in fundraising. It is amounts, big and small but mainly small, from individuals and not companies,” she said.

The Candidates?

Ms. Creighton said by the end of next week 14 candidates will have been selected.

“I think that is excellent for what is a party only launched weeks ago,” she added.

Wicklow TD Mr Timmins said the new party could not match the spending power of the big parties. He said unlike the big ones it got no taxpayer funding as this is decided at the start of each Dail term.

“But we have something special and that is the enthusiasm and commitment of our new members who want to change Irish politics for the better,” Mr Timmins said.

A number of candidates attended the launch, including Cllr Patrick McKee who stood in the recent Carlow-Kilkenny by-election.

Laya Healthcare hike up prices by a mighty 4%

 

Company blames rise on significant increase in volume and cost of claims

Dónal Clancy, managing director of Laya Healthcare, blamed a rise in the number and cost of claims for price rises that will apply to more an half the firm’s customers from September.

Most Laya Healthcare customers will face price increases averaging 4% from the beginning of September.

The company blamed the price increases on a significant increase in the volume and cost of claims over the past year.

The price increases will apply to around 55% of policies and will apply to policies renewed after September 1st. Laya says it has around 500,000 customers.

Laya managing director Dónal Clancy said the company was “acutely conscious of the impact” the increases would have and said it had “tried to minimise the impact across our schemes”.

“We have protected 49 of our schemes from a price increase, and minimised the impact on families with our free kids cover,” Mr Clancy said.

He said the price rises had been driven “by the significant increase we have experienced in the number and costs of medical claims in the past year”.

Mr Clancy said Laya had seen an 18% increase in the volume of claims while the cost of claims has climbed by 15% over the last 12 months.

“While better practices, high-spec technology and improved treatments are all translating into better patient outcomes, they are driving medical costs higher; which in turn has a negative impact on premiums,” Mr Clancy said.

He also pointed to a medical cost management programme implemented by the company which he suggested would deliver efficiencies of €100 million between 2012 and 2016 and had helped minimise the increases.

The Laya price increase sees it join GloHealth and Aviva in upping prices this year and attention now is likely to focus on what will happen and the State’s largest insurer, the VHI. While VHI has made no announcement on its pricing plans, an increase of some kind before 2016 seems likely.

Almost 100,000 new private health insurance policies were sold earlier this year as people rushed to enter the market to avoid age-related penalties introduced at the beginning of May.

Under the new Lifetime Community Rating (LCR) regime which started on May 1st, anyone aged over 34 without private health insurance has to pay higher prices when they take out a policy.

While the price increases will attract most attention, Laya healthcare also announced a range of new and extended benefits.

It has extended its “Free Kids” cover to its Essential Connect Health plan for a second child and every child up to the age of 18.

It will also reduce child rates on 18 schemes by between 3 and 6% and has promised to extend its 24 hour confidential GP Line.

Increases in Irish wine tax is totally against the spirit of the EU trade,

A group claims

 

The Support Your Local campaign said increases in the cost of a bottle of wine goes against the spirit of the European Project.

The group is calling on the Government to reduce excise duty on the beverage in the next budget.

It says a €1.50 increase since 2012 is having detrimental impact on farmers across the continent, while lowering the quality of wine being consumed here.

“€1.50 has been added in excise to a bottle of wine over three budgets,” said Evelyn Jones of the National Off-Licence Association, adding that the group is campaigning for a 50c reduction – one-third of the recent increase.

“That would go a long way towards improving the basic quality of wine tin he bottle.”

“The fact of the matter is that that Government is choking the quality out of an artisan product that’s produced by farmers across Europe.

“It’s seen as middle-class taxation- easy pickings – [but] would be contrary to the spirit of the EU treaty, as we don’t make wine here ourselves.”

There are a handful of wineries and vineyards in Ireland, but they are small in scale. The Lusca winery in Lusk, Co Dublin, produces only a few hundred bottles a year from vines next to their apple orchard.

Scientists stop aging process in earth worms, humans may be next

 

Human eternal life is just around the corner?

New research by molecular scientists at Northwestern University has led to the development of a procedure that allows them to switch off the aging process in worms.

As with most organisms, the worms initially showed that their adult cells began deteriorating when they reached reproductive maturity. The aging process — versus growing — begins because biological functions that protect cells within the body are shut down.

Since humans have the same genetic switch, the findings lend credence to the hope that humanity may one day be able to alleviate the aging process and certain degenerative diseases, according to the Daily Mail.

“Wouldn’t it be better for society if people could be healthy and productive for a longer period during their lifetime?” Richard I. Morimoto, senior author of the study, asked Phys.org. “I am very interested in keeping the [biological] quality control systems optimal as long as we can, and now we have a target. Our findings suggest there should be a way to turn this genetic switch back on and protect our aging cells by increasing their ability to resist stress.”

Morimoto is the Bill and Gayle Cook Professor of Molecular Biosciences and director of the Rice Institute for Biomedical Research in Northwestern’s Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, where he has been building up to his latest findings for a decade. The study was published in the 23 issue of the journal Molecular Cell.

The transparent roundworm C. elegans has a biochemical environment similar to that of humans and are a popular research tool for the study of the biology of ageing and are used to model human diseases.

“C. elegans has told us that aging is not a continuum of various events, which a lot of people thought it was,” Morimoto said.

Harmful drinking is a middle-class phenomenon?

  

Wealthy over-50s are endangering their health by drinking far too much, experts have warned

Wealthy over-50s are endangering their health by drinking far too much, UK experts have warned.

Harmful drinking is a ‘middle-class phenomenon’ with older, successful people at most risk, AGE UK has warned.

Although affluent middle aged people often appear to look after themselves by eating well and exercising regularly, they are actually far more likely to drink too much than their less successful peers.

UK researchers warned it was a ‘hidden health and social problem’ because on the outside most wealthy middle class people appeared to be living well.

“Our analysis challenges popular perceptions of who is drinking too much,” said Age UK’s Chief Economist , Professor Jose Iparraguirre who carried out the research .

“It suggests public health messaging is not reaching high income groups who are most at risk.

“Because this group is typically healthier than other parts of the older population, they might not realise that what they are doing is putting their health in danger.”

The findings are based on responses from 9,000 over 50s who took part in the English Longitudinal Survey of Ageing. They were asked about income, educational attainment, health, physical activity levels, loneliness depression, marital status, and employment.

Current NHS guidelines advise that men drink no more than 21 units a week – roughly 10 pints of beer. Women are advised to stick to 14 units, around seven glasses of wine.

The researchers defined harmful drinking as between 22 and 50 units a week for men and 15 to 35 weekly units for women. Higher risk was quantified as 50 units for men and 35 for women. One unit represents

Analysis of the responses showed that the risk of harmful drinking peaked for men in their early 60s and then gradually tailed off.

Women on high salaries and those who had retired were more likely to drink heavily, while smoking, higher educational attainment, and good health were all linked to heightened risk in both sexes.

Although the researchers found that heavy drinking was no linked to feeling lonely or depressed, men who lived on their own were more likely to consume harmful amounts of alcohol.

A report by the think tank 2020Health found that around eight million British adults drink more than is considered safe my experts, many of whom are middle class people who regularly drink wine with their evening meal.

Women are at greater risk if they evenly share a bottle of wine with their partner because their alcohol tolerance is lower than men’s.

The rise of home shopping delivery services has also been blamed for encouraging more older women to drink.

Government figures published last October showed a 65 per cent increase in the number of women over pension age beginning treatment for drink related problems in the last five years in England.

“We can sketch the problem of harmful drinking among people aged 50 or over in England as a middle class phenomenon: people in better health, higher income, with higher educational attainment and socially more active are more likely to drink at harmful levels,” added Professor Jose Iparraguirre

“Our findings suggest that harmful drinking in later life is more prevalent among people who exhibit a lifestyle associated with affluence and with a ‘successful’ ageing process.

“Harmful drinking may then be a hidden health and social problem in otherwise successful older people.”

Charities said that many middle aged older people did not realise how much they were drinking because they often did it at home.,

“Harmful drinking is a real issue for middle-aged and older people, many of whom are regularly drinking above recommended limits, often in their own homes,”

“These are the people who, if they develop alcohol related illnesses, tend to require the most complex and expensive health care due to the mental and physical problems caused by drinking too much.

Drinking too much alcohol is directly linked to over 60 medical conditions including liver disease sevenfold, mouth cancer fivefold and stroke threefold. For women, breast cancer risk doubles.

A four-legged Brazilan snake discovered recently

Fossil discovered of four-legged snake from 113 million years ago

  

An four-legged snake, Tetrapodophis amplectus a salamander.

Scientists have discovered a 113 million-year-old fossil of a snake which has four legs with fingers and toes.

The Tetrapodophis amplectus – nicknamed ‘huggy snake’ – is the first evidence found of a four-legged snake.

The 20cm-long skeleton, which is thought to be from Brazil, has a tiny head the size of a human fingernail.

It has two very small front legs with wrists, elbows and hands and slightly longer back legs, which would have been used to grasp its prey.

A skeleton of a Tetrapodophis

The fossil, which is of a juvenile, also shows adaptations for burrowing, rather than swimming, strengthening the idea that snakes evolved on land.

Dr Dave Martill, who discovered the unseen fossil in a collection in a German museum, said it is “an incredibly significant specimen”.

The University of Portsmouth professor said: “It is generally accepted that snakes evolved from lizards at some point in the distant past.

“What scientists don’t know yet is when they evolved, why they evolved, and what type of lizard they evolved from.

“This fossil answers some very important questions, for example it now seems clear to us that snakes evolved from burrowing lizards, not from marine lizards.”

• Fossil with hips shows snakes’ lizard past

Dr Martill has been working with expert German palaeontologist Helmut Tischlinger and Dr Nick Longrich, of the University of Bath, who studied the evolutionary relationships of the snake.

Dr Longrich, who had previously worked on the origins of snakes, became intrigued when Dr Martill told him the story at the local pub in Bath.

He said he was initially sceptical, but when Dr Martill showed him photographs, he knew immediately that it was a fossil snake.

He said: “A four-legged snake seemed fantastic and as an evolutionary biologist, just too good to be true.

“It is a perfect little snake, except it has these little arms and legs, and they have these strange long fingers and toes.

• Scientists discover fossilised remains of world’s longest snake

“The hands and feet are very specialised for grasping. So when snakes stopped walking and started slithering, the legs didn’t just become useless little vestiges – they started using them for something else.

“We’re not entirely sure what that would be, but they may have been used for grasping prey, or perhaps mates.”

Interestingly, the fossilised snake also has the remains of its last meal in its intestine, including some fragments of bone.

The prey was probably a salamander, showing that snakes were carnivorous much earlier in evolutionary history than previously believed.