Tributes have been paid to three British nationals who died when a Ukrainian plane crashed in Iran.
Mohammed Reza Kadkhoda Zadeh, who owned a dry cleaners, BP engineer Sam Zokaei and PhD student and engineer Saeed Tahmasebi were all on board the flight.
They were among the 176 people from seven countries who died in the crash.
Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 crashed just after taking off from Imam Khomeini airport at 06:12 local time (02:42 GMT).
The airline said the plane underwent scheduled maintenance on Monday.
A Downing Street spokesman said the UK was “working closely with the Ukrainian authorities and the Iranian authorities” over the crash, and there was “no indication” the plane was brought down by a missile.
As well as the three Britons, the victims in the crash included 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians – including all of the crew, 10 Swedes, four Afghans and three Germans, Ukraine foreign affairs minister Vadym Prystaiko said.
Rescue teams have been sent to the crash site but the head of Iran’s Red Crescent told state media that it was “impossible” for anyone to have survived the crash.
Tributes were paid locally to Mr Kadkhoda Zadeh, 40, who ran a neighbourhood dry cleaners in Hassocks, West Sussex, and had a nine-year-old daughter.
Steve Edgington from the pet shop next door said he had known Mr Kadkhoda Zadeh for 14 years, and described him as a lovely, hardworking man who was good at his job and loved by staff.
Savvas Savvidis, 36, who rented a room in Mr Kadkhoda Zadeh’s home in Brighton, said he was a “super-nice person”.
“It’s so sad. Before he left we had a conversation, he told me that he spent all his life working, working really hard, and now finally he wants to start to enjoy life a bit more.”
Mr Savvidis described Mr Kadkhoda Zadeh as a humble man who loved his daughter very much.
The dry cleaners closed on Wednesday, with neighbouring businesses telling the BBC that staff were too upset to stay open.
Meanwhile, in a statement, BP said “with the deepest regret” that its employee Mr Zokaei, 42, from Twickenham, was among the passengers.
Mr Zokaei had been on holiday. He had worked for BP for 14 years and was based at the company’s site in Sunbury-on-Thames in Surrey.
“We are shocked and deeply saddened by this tragic loss of our friend and colleague and all of our thoughts are with his family and friends,” BP said.
A friend of Mr Zokaei, who did not wish to be named, told the BBC they were “still in shock”.
“He was a highly accomplished person. Very clever and very friendly. Always smiling and full of positive energy. He will be sorely missed.
“He was always trying new adventures. He cycled and toured Europe on bikes a few times. He also loved travelling to interesting far out places.”
Also killed was Mr Tahmasebi, 35, who worked as an engineer for Laing O’Rourke in Dartford.
Last year, Mr Tahmasebi married his Iranian partner, Niloufar Ebrahim, who was also listed as a passenger on the plane.
“Everyone here is shocked and saddened by this very tragic news,” said Laing O’Rourke.
“Saeed was a popular and well respected engineer and will be missed by many of his colleagues. Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this most difficult time and we will do all we can to support them through it.”
‘Humble and generous’
Mr Tahmasebi – whose full name was Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi – was also a part-time PhD student at Imperial College London’s Centre for Systems Engineering and Innovation.
A spokeswoman for the university said: “We are deeply saddened at this tragic news. Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi was a brilliant engineer with a bright future.
“His contributions to systems engineering earned respect from everyone who dealt with him and will benefit society for years to come.
“He was a warm, humble and generous colleague and close friend to many in our community. Our thoughts and sincere condolences are with Saeed’s family, friends and colleagues, as well as all those affected by this tragedy.”
At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier, Boris Johnson and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn both said their thoughts were with the families of those killed.
A UK Foreign Office spokesman has said: “We are deeply saddened by the loss of life in the plane crash in Iran overnight.”
They said it was “urgently seeking confirmation” about how many British nationals were on board and would be supporting any families affected.
Melinda Simmons, British ambassador to Ukraine, said her thoughts are with those affected.
Ukraine’s state aviation service has forbidden its national airlines from using Iranian airspace from Thursday, with the restrictions in place until an investigation into the cause of the crash has concluded.
Ukraine’s embassy in Tehran and Iranian state television both initially said technical issues caused the crash.
But the embassy later removed this statement and said any comment regarding the cause of the accident prior to a commission’s inquiry was not official.
Ukraine said its entire civilian aviation fleet would be checked for airworthiness and criminal proceedings would be opened into the disaster.
The country’s president warned against “speculation or unchecked theories regarding the catastrophe” until official reports were ready.
Ukrainian International Airlines said the flight disappeared from radar just a “few minutes” after take-off.
The Ukrainian national carrier said according to preliminary data there were 167 passengers and nine crew members on board but its staff were “clarifying the exact number”.
“The airline expresses its deepest condolences to the families of the victims of the air crash and will do everything possible to support the relatives of the victims,” a statement said.
The airline, which is investigating the crash, said the aircraft – a Boeing 737-800 – was built in 2016 and had its last scheduled maintenance on Monday.
There was no sign of any problems with the plane before take-off and the airline’s president said it had an “excellent, reliable crew”.
A statement from Boeing said its “heartfelt thoughts” were with all those affected following the “tragic event”.
There are several thousand Boeing 737-800s in operation around the world which have completed tens of millions of flights. They have been involved in 10 incidents, including this crash, where at least one passenger was killed, aviation safety analyst Todd Curtis told the BBC.
This is the first time a Ukraine International Airlines plane has been involved in a fatal crash.
Crystal Palace substitute Connor Wickham scored a late equaliser awarded by video assistant referee to deny bottom side Norwich a much-needed victory at Carrow Road.
Wickham’s strike after turning in Wilfried Zaha’s cross was initially disallowed for offside, but a check by VAR showed the striker was being played on by Christoph Zimmermann’s outstretched boot.
Palace had struggled to create against a resolute Canaries defence – who remain without a clean sheet at home this season – after Todd Cantwell put the hosts in front after only four minutes.
But Norwich ultimately paid for not scoring a decisive second, having come close several times, with Emiliano Buendia drawing a fine save from Palace keeper Vicente Guaita and Kenny McLean hitting the underside of the crossbar.
A renewed Palace surged forward in search of a late winner but Norwich held firm to avoid further damage.
But the Canaries are now five points adrift at the bottom of the table following Watford’s win over Wolves earlier on Wednesday.
Zaha makes most of rare opening
Zaha was a frustrated figure for most of this game, failing to pick up the ball in space to take on his man and quickly swarmed by Norwich defenders when receiving it in a stationary position.
By cutting out his threat, Norwich seemed to have effectively prevented Palace from creating any clear chances, only for Zaha to prove his worth right at the end.
The Palace winger collected debutant Brandon Pierrick’s neat pass, stole a yard on Max Aarons and fired in an excellent cross for Wickham to convert.
Although the linesman raised his flag for offside, referee Jon Moss quickly consulted VAR, with replays showing that as the ball left Zaha’s foot, Wickham was behind the foot of Norwich’s last man Zimmermann.
After VAR had overturned a goal for Palace against Southampton on Saturday for a marginal call and following other more contentious decisions in Wednesday’s games, this was an example of the technology working efficiently and well.
A point for Palace sees them remain ninth, eight points off the top four.
Norwich needed a second
Norwich looked to be on course for a first league win since November, and to at least keep pace with their relegation rivals, but their failure to convert chances when on top and a brief lapse in concentration mean they are now winless in eight Premier League matches.
The hosts made an ideal start, Buendia slaloming into the area after a one-two with Cantwell and firing in a shot that was deflected back into Cantwell’s path, with the 21-year-old calmly slotting under Guaita.
Palace appealed for offside and VAR was quickly consulted but Cantwell was clearly onside.
Buendia, Cantwell and striker Teemu Pukki tracked back throughout and provided enough outlet to ensure their side did not get drawn into sitting too deep for too long, even when Palace dominated possession in spells.
They were unfortunate not to score again, with McLean almost capping a sublime move but seeing his strike bounce back off the bar and Pukki failing to fashion a chance when one-on-one against Palace centre-back James Tomkins.
Despite a much stronger defensive showing, a brief lapse and a lack of clinical edge has cost Norwich a vital two points as they head in to a run of fixtures against Manchester United, relegation rivals Bournemouth and Tottenham, seven points from safety.
Man of the match – Emiliano Buendia (Norwich)
‘It feels like a loss’ – manager reaction
Norwich manager Daniel Farke to BT Sport: “The lads were brilliant today and Crystal Palace are always well structured and we managed it, but we missed chances in the second half. It is unbelievably disappointing to concede in the 88th minute and it feels like a loss.
“It is difficult to create chances against Palace, it was difficult to find the spaces and we hit the bar from six yards. The lads deserved the three points but the reality is only one.
“We cannot influence the other results. We have to come as close to 40 points and it is a long road. It would have been a massive step today so it feels even more disappointing to concede the late goal.”
Crystal Palace manager Roy Hodgson to BBC Sport: “It was very close [for the goal]. You think it might be offside and with the technology you see someone has stuck a foot out, leaned forward and the margins are fine.
“We took chances in the end with 4-2-4 and got our reward, the boldness of the move paid off.
“Connor Wickham has been unlucky with injuries – injury after injury, and he has not been available in my time at the club. It was nice he could play again and I am looking forward to seeing him playing on Sunday.”
Canaries keep dropping points from winning positions – match stats
- Norwich have dropped 14 points from winning positions in the Premier League this season (all since the start of December), only West Ham have dropped more (15).
- Connor Wickham’s equaliser for Crystal Palace was his first Premier League goal since netting against Manchester City back in November 2016.
- No English midfielder has scored more Premier League goals than Norwich’s Todd Cantwell this season (6 – level with Dele Alli, James Maddison and Jack Grealish).
- Norwich’s Emiliano Buendía has provided seven Premier League assists this season – only Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold (8) and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne (12) have registered more in the competition in 2019-20.
- At 18 years and 22 days old, substitute Brandon Pierrick became the second youngest player to feature for Crystal Palace in a Premier League game after George Ndah vs Liverpool in November 1992 (17 years and 341 days).
Christmas dinners have been served to Londoners who are reliant on the city’s homelessness services.
Hairdressers and opticians were also made available at City Hall before guests were given a three-course meal.
Last year, 8,855 people were seen rough sleeping in London, an 18% increase since last year, and more than double the number in 2010.
“Events like this help bring a sense of community back in to London,” Claire, a former rough sleeper, told the BBC.
Claire, who spent 30 years either living on the streets or in prison, said: “It’s the type of event that does matter. It forms partnerships and builds bonds.
“If it wasn’t for the support of St Mungo’s, I’d either be dead or doing what I was before.”
Guests were chosen from the thousands of Londoners that currently receive assistance from services funded by City Hall and delivered by charities St Mungo’s and Thames Reach.
But Claire said services were still “hit and miss”.
“Where I live I’m still waiting for support with my mental health,” she added.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “St Mungo’s and Thames Reach are struggling with finances.
“Since I became mayor we’ve more than doubled the amount of money we’ve spent on rough sleeping and the size of our outreach team.
“But we’re just scratching the surface. We’ve not got the money or the resources to do much more – as it is I’m criticised for going outside my remit and my power.
“It is both heartbreaking and shameful that in one of the richest cities in the world we still have the levels rough sleeping that we do.”
Last year 15,470 people were accepted as being homeless by London councils.
There were 55,000 families living in temporary accommodation, such as bed and breakfasts and hostels.
Hundreds more people are estimated to be sleeping on London’s night buses.
Petra Salva, Director of Rough Sleeper Services at St Mungo’s, said: “It’s wonderful that the Mayor has opened the doors of City Hall for this festive event.
“Christmas can be a time of mixed emotions for clients in our services and our staff work hard to support those who stay with us over the holiday period.”
The streets of Westminster have some of the highest number of rough sleepers in the UK.
But, the borough council’s outreach team is out every night of the year finding those people and offering them support to get them off the street, hopefully for good
BBC London spent the evening with Robert White, who leads Westminster’s outreach team.
A survivor of the Hyde Park bombing has described the explosion which killed four of his fellow soldiers.
Simon Utley was 18 years old and on his first guard duty with the Household Cavalry when the car bomb exploded on 20 July 1982.
Mr Utley was speaking during the civil action against John Downey brought by the daughter of one of those killed.
In 2014, a criminal prosecution against Mr Downey collapsed in controversial circumstances.
It did so after it emerged that Mr Downey had received an assurance from the government that he was not wanted in connection with any offence.
Mr Downey is not being represented at the civil case.
The 1982 blast killed Squadron Quartermaster Cpl Roy Bright, 36, Lt Dennis Daly, 23, Trooper Simon Tipper, 19, and L/Cpl Jeffrey Young, 19.
L/Cpl Young’s daughter, Sarah Young, is bringing a High Court action on behalf of a number of the victims’ relatives against Mr Downey.
Giving evidence in London on Wednesday, Mr Utley’s voice wavered with emotion as he told the court what happened at the time of the blast.
“I was riding along, it was my first guard so I was excited,” he said.
“I remember I was talking to the guy to my left, just asking about what I would be doing later on … and then the bomb went off.
“It was a noise that I can’t describe, but it was a painful noise because it took my eardrum out.”
Finger print evidence
Earlier on Wednesday, the court was told that fingerprint evidence links Mr Downey to the IRA car bomb used to murder four soldiers at Hyde Park in London 37 years ago.
Five prints were found on two parking tickets relating to the car on days leading up to the attack in July 1982.
However, the court heard he has denied involvement in the Hyde Park attack.
A lawyer for the relative bringing the case told the court the “fingerprint evidence is damning”.
“[Mr Downey] has no answer to it,” added the lawyer.
The attack was described as “precision murder”.
A 20lb (9kg) bomb packed with nails and placed in the boot of a car was detonated by remote control as the soldiers rode past on the way to Whitehall.
The lawyer said its objective was “cold-blooded killing with vicious brutality and maximum harm – [Mr Downey] is liable for this”.
So-called “on-the-run” letters were issued as part of the Northern Ireland peace agreement in 1998.
The judge in the criminal trial ruled the letter guaranteed Mr Downey would not face trial and that to proceed was an abuse of executive power.
The civil proceedings are due to last for three days and are similar to a landmark case brought in 2009 by relatives of those killed in the 1998 Omagh bomb.
Civil cases have a much lower burden of proof than in criminal prosecutions, with a judge reaching a verdict based on the balance of probabilities.
Mr Downey is remanded in custody at Maghaberry Prison in Northern Ireland facing other charges.
The 67-year-old from Creeslough in County Donegal in the Republic of Ireland is accused of murdering Ulster Defence Regiment (UDR) soldiers Alfred Johnston and James Eames in an IRA bomb attack in Enniskillen in County Fermanagh in 1972.
Who are the “on-the-runs”?
The Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement of 1998 meant anyone convicted of paramilitary crimes was eligible for early release.
However, that did not cover those suspected of such crimes, nor did it cover people who had been charged or convicted but who had escaped from prison.
Negotiations continued after the signing of the agreement between Sinn Féin and the government over how to deal with those known as “on-the-runs”.
Sinn Féin sought a scheme that would allow escaped prisoners and those who were concerned they might be arrested to return to the UK but a formal legal solution proved difficult to establish in the face of strong unionist opposition.
Against that backdrop, the IRA had still not put its weapons beyond use and Sinn Féin needed grassroots republicans to continue supporting the peace process.
Wolves are likely to recall defender Romain Saiss, who was banned for Sunday’s game against Sheffield United.
Ryan Bennett is again doubtful due to a groin problem, while Morgan Gibbs-White is out with an ongoing back issue.
West Ham are expected to stick with David Martin in goal following his impressive debut at Chelsea.
Jack Wilshere and Michail Antonio both face fitness tests but Issa Diop is available after suspension, while Sebastien Haller might be recalled.
MOTD COMMENTATOR’S NOTES
@alistairmann01: While some teams in the Europa League have seen their domestic form suffer in recent years, Wolves have been able to find the balance and can still boast a healthy league position in addition to qualification to the knockout stage in Europe.
Their steely resolve has been typified by the number of occasions on which they have successfully chased a game in which they’ve fallen behind – Sunday’s draw with Sheffield United being the latest example.
West Ham’s victory at Chelsea brought a seven-game winless run to an end; the challenge now will be to demonstrate whether that improved performance has signified a genuine upturn in form.
VIEW FROM THE DUGOUT
Wolves head coach Nuno Espirito Santo on speculation linking him with Arsenal: “I still have a contract, for me it’s more important that I focus on what I have to do today. I’m focused on the game, it’s the most important moment. West Ham is our present.
“I live hour-by-hour. I know what I have to do next and I still have a lot of work to do.”
West Ham United manager Manuel Pellegrini: “The last season they [Wolves] did very well and this one they have repeated.
“There is no doubt it’s a tough game, away or at home, they have the same players, they don’t have many injured players but – as with any other game – we need to be aggressive and have concentration.”
Wolves are on a very good run and have not lost any of their past nine Premier League games – I would be surprised if they don’t make that 10.
- Wolves won both meetings last season – they’ve never beaten West Ham in three consecutive league games.
- West Ham have won just one of their last seven away league games against Wolves (D2, L4).
- Wolves are unbeaten in nine Premier League matches (W4, D5) – the last time they went 10 top-flight matches without defeat was in January 1972.
- Twenty points is their highest tally after 14 games of a top-flight season since 1979-80.
- Wolves have lost just one of their last 10 Premier League matches in December (W4, D5).
- They have scored in all 13 league games since a goalless draw in the opening day fixture at Leicester.
- They have drawn an unrivalled 17 Premier League matches since the start of last season.
- Wolves have lost only two of the nine league games when conceding first, drawing the other seven.
- Raul Jimenez has been involved in 12 goals in his last 10 league appearances, with seven goals and five assists.
West Ham United
- Victory at Chelsea on Saturday ended West Ham’s seven-game winless run.
- West Ham have won 15 away points from the last 27 available (W4, D3, L2) – 11 of those came against sides who started the day in the top 10.
- They are winless in their last nine Premier League away games played on a Wednesday (D2, L7) – they have failed to score in six of those games, including the last five.
- Sebastien Haller scored three goals in his first three league games this term but has scored only once in his subsequent 10 appearances.
- David Martin became the second oldest goalkeeper to keep a clean sheet on his Premier League debut last weekend (33 years, 312 days), behind only Bernard Lama, also of West Ham.
A woman who was praised for intervening to stop anti-Semitic abuse said she hopes her story can inspire others.
Asma Shuweikh, was reunited with the father of the family that was racially abused while travelling on the London Underground.
“We spoke about our common ground,” she told the BBC “we should learn to get along in this multi-faith world.”
A man has been arrested and bailed on suspicion of committing a racially aggravated public order offence.
In a video shared on social media a man was filmed reading Bible passages which are interpreted as being anti-Semitic to two boys in skullcaps travelling on the Northern Line.
Ms Shuweikh, who was widely praised for confronting the man in the video, said she “wouldn’t hesitate to do it again” and wished more people had intervened.
“The kids looked terrified. I’m a mother and I couldn’t just stand by,” she said.
“As a practising Muslim I can’t see injustice and not intervene. It goes against what we are taught.”
Meeting with the father, who has chosen not to be named, was “really, really nice,” she said.
“We spent an hour talking. At the end of the day we all need to get along as we all live in this country.
“That’s what’s nice about Britain. it’s a multi-cultural society.”
“I hope that people see this story and realise when you go through these things we can come together and something good can come from it.”
Previously the father said that without her intervention, he thought the abuse might have escalated to physical violence.
He said: “We are certain that without her intervention and distraction, he would have continued his abuse.
A man was stabbed to death in a fight outside a block of east London flats in a “particularly vicious attack”.
The 19-year-old was found by police responding to reports of a disturbance outside Owen Waters House, in Fullwell Avenue, Ilford, on Tuesday night.
The victim died at the scene and his next of kin have been informed.
No arrests have been made but the Met said “the possibility that the murder is gang-related is a very strong line of inquiry”.
Police are establishing if the stabbing is linked to a fire at some nearby garages where a car was found burnt out.
The Met said fire crews had been called to the blaze at about 22:20 GMT while traces of blood had also been found around the vehicle.
Det Ch Insp Chris Soole described the killing as a “particularly vicious attack” and appealed for witnesses.
A Section 60 Order – giving police stop-and-search powers – was put in place for the whole of the Redbridge borough until 06:30.
There have been five murder investigations in the borough in 2019 – three of which have been as a result of fatal stabbings.
Homicides in London since 2008
Annual homicides in the Met Police area
So far this year, almost 130 murder investigations have been launched in the capital.
Three investigations have been carried out by British Transport Police and 124 have been investigated by the Met.
At the scene – Greg McKenzie, BBC London
A forensic tent is outside the tower block marking the spot where the teenager died.
Residents have been telling me about rising tensions in the last few weeks. The block – just off a main road in Ilford – is known as a meeting point for drug dealers and people said the issue is “rampant”.
They have also described a lot of “youth disturbance and violence” in the area and expressed their fear, anger and shock.
Officers have been coming in and out of the flats and they are trying to work out whether a burnt-out car is linked to the fatal stabbing.
Former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is returning to football after he agreed to become Fifa’s new chief of global football development.
The move ends speculation linking the Frenchman, 70, with a return to management as Bayern Munich boss.
Wenger left the Gunners in May 2018, after 22 years in charge, three Premier League titles and seven FA Cups.
“I very much look forward to taking on this extremely important challenge,” he said.
Wenger’s new role at the world governing body will help to develop men’s and women’s football, as well as technical aspects of the sport.
He will now be a member of the technical panel of the International Football Association Board, and chairman of Fifa’s technical study group.
Saracens have put rugby union “in a very dangerous place” after they were found to breach salary cap rules, says ex-England captain Chris Robshaw.
The Premiership champions face a 35-point deduction and a £5.36m fine after an inquiry into business dealings between owner Nigel Wray and players.
Robshaw said the European champions were “cheating to a certain extent”.
“It’s not great, the game we love is in the world eye and the pinnacle of English rugby is illegal,” he said.
Clubs cannot spend more than £7m on player salaries, although they are allowed two whose wages do not count towards the cap. Teams can also receive extra money for fielding home-grown players or to pay for injury cover.
It is claimed Premiership and European champions Saracens avoided the regulations by investing in companies co-owned by Wray and some of their star players, including England captain Owen Farrell and forwards Mako and Billy Vunipola.
Harlequins captain Robshaw said the game has “some damage control to do” as a result of the investigation.
“It will not be easy for our sport to move forward,” the 33-year-old added.
“We’re a sport that claims to be whiter than white, and we always look down on football, we look down on this and that and say how it is but we are like everyone else.”
The fine and points penalty, which Saracens are appealing, comes 10 years after another hugely controversial moment for the English game when Robshaw’s club, Quins, were embroiled in the Bloodgate scandal.
“As a sport, we have got to take the damage that comes with that now and I’m sure it will be like that for a while,” Robshaw said.
‘I’m confident we are squeaky clean’
Meanwhile, Leicester boss Geordan Murphy says he would now welcome a league-wide review of club accounts.
Asked if he feels there should be an investigation into all Premiership finances, Murphy said: “Yes, I think so.
“What we have seen at Saracens is the result of investigations that have gone on for a little while, but we are all expected to adhere to the same rules.”
The Tigers head coach told BBC East Midlands Today that he was “a little shocked” by the severity of the punishment from Premiership Rugby, but said he could not comment further without “the full facts available”.
He added that Tigers, a club put up for sale to try and ensure they remain a force in the Premiership, would be open to greater financial scrutiny.
“I wouldn’t want to talk about anyone else’s books, but I’m really confident that our books are squeaky clean,” he said.
“Every year we fill out forms and declare our information, so they have been looking into different teams and every team over the course of the last few years.”
Saracens won titles ‘unfairly’
Exeter boss Rob Baxter says Saracens will have won their last two titles unfairly if their appeal against breaching salary cap rules fails.
Baxter’s side lost the 2018 and 2019 Premiership finals to the London club.
“If this is upheld, it’s pretty obvious those titles have been won unfairly,” Exeter’s director of rugby said at this season’s Champions Cup launch in Cardiff, which Sarries avoided attending.
“If you’re asking me would I like to walk into Sandy Park and see three Premiership trophies there, I would love to.
“In reality do I see that happening? No. There are too many other factors that come into play.
“I believe the way we played in the final last year would have beaten any other team in the Premiership.”
The Chiefs were beaten 37-34 in a thrilling final in June as tries by Wales star Liam Williams, Scotland’s Sean Maitland and England’s Jamie George – who have all toured with the British and Irish lions – helped Saracens peg back a 27-16 deficit with 20 minutes to go.
But Baxter says that to suggest that his side would have won the title but for Saracens’ alleged extra financial muscle is not necessarily the case.
“The whole truth is if Saracens had been operating with a different group of players last season they may not have got to the final, and if a different team had been there they might have outperformed us on the day,” he continued.
“It would be ridiculous for me to say they were givens. How many results could have been different in the course of a season and the top four could have been created differently.
“Every one of the games, semi-finals and finals would have been different. To sit here and say ‘we should have been given the title’ is a little bit like a shortcut when the season is what you do as whole.”
‘Elephant in the room now out in the open’
And Baxter believes it is right that investments by club officials in firms that are owned or part-owned by players should count towards the cap.
“We’re supposed to be working within the salary cap to create a level of fairness and competition. That’s what we have signed up to and agreed to,” he added.
“If the first response is to say the payments, investments and inducements are outside the cap but are OK because the wording of the cap doesn’t catch them, the concern is they will move on by finding another way of doing it outside the wording of the salary cap.
“You shouldn’t be paying outside the salary cap and to dress it up in player welfare and developing the game sticks in the craw.
“There can’t be many people within rugby circles who don’t think this is just the elephant in the room finally coming out into the open, instead of being in the corner of the room.”