Who’s Watching Her?

Sexual predators stretch detectives to the limit in Joan Smith’s round-up

Sunday Times, 12 February 2017

In real life, the police are still catching up with new oppor­tunities for crime provided by the internet. Sexual predators are now able to target their ­victims online, a development that plays a key role in Stav Sherez’s chilling new novel, The Intrusions (Faber £12.99). The plot goes way beyond online harassment, opening up a nightmare world where young women can be observed at home by teenage boys and men via their computers.

Sherez’s likeable detectives, DI Carrigan and Sgt Geneva Miller, have no idea that such com­munities of voyeurs even exist. Carrigan is facing an internal inquiry into a case that featured in an earlier novel, and he’s ­distracted when a young woman reports the abduction of her friend from a bar in West London. Both girls suddenly felt unwell and staggered outside into an alley, where the witness saw her friend being helped into   the backof a van by a man she initially thought was a paramedic. That was three days ago and she’s heard nothing since.
The best crime novels are often at the cutting edge of rapid social change. The Intrusions forces Carrigan and Miller to catch up with sinister developments in internet surveillance, leading them to a sadistic killer. But it also demonstrates how easy it is for girls to disappear in a milieu where violence against women isn’t always taken as seriously as it should be. Sympathy for victims is one of Sherez’s trademarks, and he is becoming one of the most humane and original voices in crime fiction.
Nuala Ellwood’s memor­able first novel, My Sister’s Bones (Viking £12.99), is about damaged people who fail to see what’s in front of them. The story is set largely on the Kent coast, where a war reporter, Kate, has returned to her childhood home following her mother’s death. Kate is suffering flashbacks to her dreadful experiences in Syria but she gets no respite in England, finding an alcoholic sister who has no contact with her grown-up daughter. Her brother-in-law seems to be at his wits’ end, offering support but revealing a neediness that makes Kate uncomfortable.
Sorting her mother’s effects brings back painful childhood memories of Kate’s father’s violence. As she takes pills to deal with insomnia and PTSD, she glimpses a child in the next-door garden where no children are said to live. No one believes her but Kate persists in asking questions, with jaw-dropping consequences. This is harrowing fiction that skilfully draws parallels between the effects of civil war and domestic violence.
The long-term impact of conflict is central to A Thousand Cuts (Bloomsbury £12.99), the latest in Thomas Mogford’s fine series of crime novels set in Gibraltar. His protagonist, Spike Sanguinetti, is an introspective lawyer whose habit of helping waifs and strays means his practice isn’t exactly thriving. In the new book, he takes on a particularly unappealing client, an alcoholic accused of harassing a local GP, and is reluctantly drawn into investigating the man’s troubled history. It seems to be connected with an incident in 1940, when a bomb was planted in the Rock’s naval dockyard and two British ­servicemen died in the blast.
A young Spaniard, who was known to have connections with supporters of Franco and Hitler, was tried and hanged. Sanguinetti begins to think the man was framed but his inquiries are interrupted by a series of brutal murders, one of them targeting the owner of his favourite ­restaurant. Gibraltar is a small place and Sanguinetti finds ­himself with a number of elderly suspects, including a close friend of his family. This is a traditional and ­thoroughly satisfying crime novel.
E O Chirovici is a journalist, originally from Romania, who lives in Brussels. The Book of Mirrors (Century £12.99) is his first novel written in English and it has been snapped up in almost 40 countries. The book is teasing and artfully constructed, telling the story of an unsolved murder from different perspectives. The victim, a preening psychology professor at Princeton, was blud­geoned to death in his isolated home back in 1987. Now a literary agent has been sent early chapters of a book, written by one
of the people most closely involved and promising to reveal the identity of the killer. But this is only the beginning in a twisty novel full of unexpected developments and untrust­worthy characters.

By ignoring sex education, ministers are risking children’s safety

Lessons at school can protect children from online threats, but politicians would rather bury their heads in the sand

The Guardian, Friday 27 January 2017

It’s a long time since Theresa May and most of her cabinet were at school. When she was doing her O-levels, no one was sexting and teenage boys weren’t goggling at violent porn on smartphones. I think it’s unlikely that the future prime minister had to wear shorts under her school skirt to protect herself from being groped, as some teenage girls have taken to doing. But that doesn’t mean May and her colleagues have any excuse for ignoring what’s going on in schools today, from sexual harassment to homophobic bullying.

They’ve been warned by MPs on the women and equalities committee, in an excoriating report that revealed the “shocking scale” of sexual harassment in schools. They’ve been told by the campaigning organisation Stonewall, which published a survey three years ago in which 86% of secondary teachers said they had encountered bullying of gay pupils. They follow the news, like the rest of us, and they must know about dreadful cases in which girls and boys have been tricked into meeting paedophiles who disguised themselves as teenagers online.

They have also been told by just about everyone that the best way to keep children safe is to insist that every school in the country teaches high-quality sex and relationships education (SRE) and the broader subject of personal, social, health and economic (PSHE) education – no ifs, no buts, and no exemptions for faith schools. Teachers’ or parents’ embarrassment is not a reason to deny children absolutely essential information about how to avoid sexual predators, online or in real life.

After the “grooming” scandals in Rotherham, Rochdale, Oxford and other cities, you might think this was a no-brainer. Yet ministers have done everything but stand on their heads to avoid it. Last week Conservatives in the House of Commons were accused of filibustering a bill sponsored by Green co-leader Caroline Lucas, calling for PSHE to be made compulsory in all state-funded schools, by making lengthy speeches about the bill that preceded it. A change in the law isn’t necessary, ministers have claimed, because Ofsted is checking that the subject is being covered and will pick up any inadequacies during inspections. Just over a year ago a Home Office minister, Lord Bates, said: “We expect sex and relationships education to be taught in all schools. In fact, it is inspected by Ofsted as such.” A similar point was made last year by Lady Evans, then a government whip and now leader of the House of Lords.

Presumably they had in mind Ofsted’s latest inspection framework, introduced in 2015, which made considering the effectiveness of PSHE “more crucial than ever” to the judgments made by inspectors. Now, though, that argument (like all previous ones) has been blown out of the water. It turns out that Ofsted is barely looking at SRE when it inspects schools, according to a detailed analysis by the British Humanist Association.

The headline finding, from a study of more than 2,000 primary and secondary school inspection reports for 2015-16, is that sexual health, safe sex and related subjects were almost entirely absent. Sexual harassment and sexual violence were not mentioned at all, while sexting appeared in just 17 reports, despite having been identified as an area of major concern by the government. Porn was mentioned in a single report, as was HIV/Aids, which appeared in relation to “emerging economies” in a geography lesson. Only one in seven reports referred to LGBT issues.

Back in 2013, Ofsted said that the provision of PSHE was “not yet good enough” in 40% of schools. It is hard to believe there has been a massive improvement in the meantime, yet fewer than 1% of the inspection reports examined by the BHA made any criticism of schools’ coverage of the subject. To be fair to Ofsted, it should never have been given the job of making up for the government’s failure in this area. If SRE isn’t compulsory, some schools will say they don’t want to divert scarce resources from other subjects or that they can’t find room in the timetable. Others will use it as an excuse to avoid topics, such as homosexuality and safe sex, that they find uncomfortable for religious or ideological reasons.

What all this means, in blunt terms, is that the government is coming up with one excuse after another to avoid doing one of its most basic jobs: protecting the next generation. We know girls are being sexually harassed at school, pressured into posing for photos that may be used to threaten or humiliate them, and suffering abuse from boyfriends whose expectations have been warped by online porn. We know that gay kids are being bullied, and children of both sexes are vulnerable to predatory sex offenders.

For several years now, senior police officers in London have been telling me that compulsory sex education is vital to keep children safe. A few months ago, I heard a senior civil servant talk about the staggering number of crimes against children that are being facilitated by the internet. This is not the cosy world May grew up in, when sex and reproduction were covered in biology lessons and mobile phones didn’t exist.

It is not even the world of 17 years ago, when the government published its outdated official guidance on SRE. Children are encountering sex at a much younger age than in earlier generations, but a head-in-the-sand government is refusing to make sure they are well-informed and safe.

Murder in the outback

Sunday Times, 1 January 2017

During the worst drought to affect Australia in years, the bodies of a young family are found in a rural community. At first sight the murders in The Dry (Little, Brown £12.99) by Jane Harper, appear to be a classic example of familicide, sending shock waves through the small town of Kiewarra. No one realised things were so bad for a young farmer, Luke Hadler, that he would decide to murder his wife and son before turning a gun on himself.

These events come as devastating news for Luke’s old friend Aaron Falk, now a detective in Melbourne, who left town hurriedly years ago. Aaron gets a rough reception when he returns for the funerals, not least because he is one of the few people who doubts Luke’s guilt. It is hard to believe that this accomplished piece of writing, which returns again and again to the savage beauty of the landscape, is Harper’s first novel.

A convicted murderer is the prime suspect in What Remains of Me (Arrow £7.99), a clever, twisty mystery by the American writer A L Gaylin. Back in 1980, 17-year-old Kelly Lund was convicted of the murder of a film director, John McFadden. Thirty years later she’s out and married to the son of McFadden’s best friend, a Hollywood actor. When her father-in-law is shot dead, Kelly has no alibi for the night of the murder. Switching between different time periods, Gaylin places the contemporary murder investigation side-by-side with Kelly’s back-story, revealing a dramatic tale of exploitation and incest.

Simon Kernick’s new novel, The Bone Field (Century £12.99), starts promisingly. Just over 25 years ago, a British couple on holiday in Thailand had a row and the young woman stormed off, never to be seen again. Now her ex-boyfriend wants to talk to a detective, DI Ray Mason, and it’s clear he has something to confess. But before Mason can hear his story, things go badly wrong and the woman’s bones turn up not in Thailand but the grounds of a boarding school in the Home Counties.

It’s a tantalising set-up but what begins to unfold is a mind-boggling conspiracy involving a mysterious assassin, Satanism, sex trafficking and a fast-rising body count. Kernick seems to have taken Raymond Chandler’s advice )when in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand) too much to heart. The result is breathless and improbable.

Adrian McKinty has come up with an unforgettable title for the latest novel in his superb DI Sean Duffy series, which is set in Northern Ireland. Police at The Station and They Don’t Look Friendly (Serpent’s Tail £12.99) is a line from a song by Tom Waits, and it perfectly sums up the paranoid atmosphere at Carrickfergus CID in the late 1980s. The murder of a small-time drug dealer doesn’t obviously have political implications but it leads back to the activities of notorious police unit, the B Specials, in 1968. McKinty moves seamlessly between action and reflection, and his sardonic tone is a delight.

Europe is failing to help a generation of traumatised children

Eight million child refugees is a mental health time bomb. Ignoring it now would be a terrible mistake

The Guardian, Wednesday 28 December 2016

Everyone knows there’s an international refugee crisis. But there is a vital issue that’s in danger of being missed – the terrible psychological damage that’s being done to millions of children. Such harm is less obvious than physical wounds, but most European countries haven’t had to deal with childhood trauma on this scale since the end of the second world war.

There are now 8 million of these children, according to Unicef, and they make up nearly half the world’s refugees. It’s hard to make sense of such huge numbers, but they break down into heartbreaking individual stories. Earlier this year Stephen Cowan, a council leader from west London, visited the makeshift camp in Calais, hoping to be able to bring a number of unaccompanied child refugees to England. On a mild autumn day, he spotted a young Afghan boy who was shivering and sweating as though he had a fever. “Is he ill?” asked the councillor. The interpreter shook his head. “No,” he said, matter-of-factly, “he’s been in the camp for two months and it’s driven him mad.”

This anecdote will strike a chill into the heart of anyone who knows about the importance of steady attachments for healthy childhood development. Babies recognise faces at a very early stage, and the adverse effects of disrupting relationships with trusted adults – anxiety, insecurity, self-harm, aggression – have been well documented since British psychoanalyst John Bowlby’s research on children, following the second world war.

In the care system, where resources are already stretched, social workers go to great lengths to try to avoid children from broken families being moved between a number of carers. We know a great deal about the impact of being separated from parents, even in countries that aren’t war zones. But unaccompanied child refugees are among the most vulnerable people on earth, and falling into the hands of traffickers is just one of the hazards they face.

In Afghanistan, some families can afford to pay for one child to make the hazardous journey to Europe, often sending a teenage son to travel on his own. Syrian refugees may start out in family groups, but crossing the sea from Turkey or Libya is so dangerous that some children are rescued only after seeing parents or siblings drown. Syria and Afghanistan account for half of the child refugees under protection of the UN refugee agency, demonstrating the destabilising impact of conflict even on those who survive without physical injuries. They are more or less guaranteed to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder, something that’s hard to treat in over-crowded refugee camps.

Is it really credible that ministers in the British government don’t understand how much damage these children have already sustained? Or don’t they care? This month it emerged that hundreds of child asylum seekers from the Calais camp who were expecting to come to the UK have had their claims rejected, being told instead to apply in France. Only 750 children have been brought over, even though 1,900 were registered after the camp was demolished. And they are only a fraction of the traumatised children already in or on the borders of Europe.

This is shameful behaviour, even if the British government is afraid of headlines in right-wing papers. The tabloids have no qualms about demonising refugees of any age, along with a kneejerk tendency to reject any theory suggesting that childhood damage has far-reaching adult consequences.

But the sight of middle-aged men in the UK breaking down on TV while talking about being raped as children should leave no doubt about long-term consequences, including broken relationships and alcoholism. There have been repeated calls to wind up the accident-prone inquiry into child sexual abuse, as if its failures of process discredit the claims of thousands of victims. Of course they don’t. And recent claims about systemic child abuse at football clubs have revealed another area of life where it appears to have gone unreported for years.

Sexual assault, of boys as well as girls, is such common practice among people-smugglers that British social workers who started assessing children in the Calais camp discovered that many, if not most, were rape victims. They desperately need foster parents who are used to dealing with children who have been sexually abused, and even then it will take years of hard work before they are able to trust adults.

Instead, country after country is trying to shift the problem on to someone else, ignoring obligations under international treaties and conventions. They are also storing up trouble for the future. Boys (who according to some estimates outnumber girls nine to one among child refugees) and girls react differently to horrific childhood events, with boys more likely to become aggressive, fail at school and get involved in petty crime. In the worst-case scenario, they may be vulnerable to radicalisation by extremists.

Organisations dedicated to helping displaced people have been overwhelmed by demand and are struggling to provide for basic needs, such as shelter and medicines. As a continent, we barely seem to have grasped that we have a generation of severely traumatised children already in our midst, and the catalogue of loss they have suffered is unparalleled since 1945.

I know that resources are severely stretched, but the consequences of ignoring the problem are too awful to contemplate. For their sakes and our own, we need to identify these children and gently seek to teach them that the world is not always as evil or frightening as it presently seems.

 

Rillington Place captivates us because it exposes how little abusive men have changed

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 13 December 2013

Why did she stay with him? It’s a question often asked when a woman is badly beaten or killed by a violent partner. Ethel Christie, wife of John Reginald Christie, whose crimes transfixed the country in the 1950s, appears to have known or at least suspected that her husband was a serial killer.

The couple lived at a rented flat at 10 Rillington Place in Notting Hill, then a run-down area of west London. The address became so notorious that the street was eventually demolished. Christie abandoned Ethel for nine years early in the marriage, a detail highlighted in the BBC’s chilling new three-part drama series, Rillington Place.

The first episode began with Ethel, played by Samantha Morton, visiting her husband, an eerily convincing Tim Roth, in prison after finally managing to track him down. ‘Do you want a divorce?’ she asks nervously, immediately exposing her sense of powerlessness.

Of course Christie doesn’t because he is a dyed-in-the-wool misogynist who has already begun attacking women. His behaviour is escalating and he goes on to murder at least eight women and the baby daughter of one of his victims. Ethel is useful to him, providing cover and disarming potential victims who might be suspicious of a seedy man living on his own.

She is also undemanding, an essential trait for a man who appears to have been impotent, and able to have sex with women only when he felt in complete control. His modus operandi was to rape victims whom he’d first rendered unconscious, using gas or strangulation.

The Rillington Place murders were extraordinarily bleak, going unnoticed for years because Christie chose his victims as carefully as he chose his wife. Some worked as prostitutes, leading absolutely dreadful lives, and were unlikely to be missed.

Beryl Evans (played by Jodie Comer in the TV series) was a young mother who lived in the upstairs flat with her husband Timothy (Nico Mirallegro). He would now be described as having learning difficulties, and when Beryl became pregnant again she couldn’t face having a second child in such squalid surroundings.

Christie, who often pretended to have medical training, persuaded Evans he could perform a safe illegal abortion. He used the opportunity to strangle Beryl and blame the murder (and that of her daughter, Geraldine) on her confused and frightened husband. Evans was convicted of killing the baby and hanged in what turned out to be a notorious miscarriage of justice. He did not receive a posthumous pardon until 1966, while it took until 2003 to formally clear his name.

Christie went on to murder Ethel and his crimes were discovered only after he moved out of Rillington Place, when a new tenant discovered the corpses of three women behind a false wall. He was convicted of Ethel’s murder and hanged at Pentonville prison in 1953.

These events happened more than 60 years ago, yet they still fascinate. That’s because the themes resonate in the modern world, whether it’s Christie’s cunning manipulation of his wife or the desperate measures women are driven to when they can’t get legal terminations. The idea of Beryl entrusting her life to the creepy Christie is horrifying.

Yet in the US, Donald Trump’s election as President has emboldened opponents of abortion, with a new law passed in Ohio last week which would ban terminations after six weeks. At that point, many women don’t even realise they are pregnant.

The other issue raised by the Christie case is what we now call coercive control. There are similarities between Christie’s treatment of his wife in the TV series and the fictional relationship between Helen and Rob Titchener in The Archers, Radio 4’s long-running soap.

Listeners asked exactly a similar question – why doesn’t she leave him? – as Helen succumbed to Rob’s bewildering combination of charm and menace, a pattern similar to Christie’s behaviour in Rillington Place.

Superficially, the relationships could hardly be more different, especially as wartime London is so beautifully recreated in the TV series. But abusive men haven’t changed much and Christie doesn’t need modern technology – mobile phones and so on – to bring Ethel under total control. A miscarriage shortly after their reconciliation may have left her uninterested in sex, making her the ideal wife for a man chiefly interested in hurting women.

The drama shows Christie undermining her self-esteem, offering little presents at one moment and suggesting she has mental problems the next. He is calculating, praising his victims while they’re still alive so Ethel sees them as rivals, not targets of male violence.

Did she realise that her own life was in danger? It seems likely that she did, especially as a scene in the film shows Christie strangling her until she blacks out. In the 1950s, however, few people understood the dynamics of abusive relationships.

Now we know that some men deliberately set out to demoralise their partners until they have no will of their own. But even in our more enlightened times, coercive control only became a criminal offence at the very end of last year. It’s true that we are better equipped to recognise signs of abuse these days, but the poignancy of Rillington Place is rooted in how easily women can understand Ethel’s situation – one that, even now, never seems like too distant a possibility.

 

Stop calling the football child sexual abuse scandal ‘bigger than Savile’

Daily Telegraph, Friday 2 December 2016

One of the worst things that can happen to a child is being sexually abused by a trusted adult. Football is at the heart of the latest historical allegations, with police forces up and down the country revealing they have been inundated with claims stretching back decades.

The scandal is already being described as ‘bigger than Savile’, something that may turn out to be true in pure numbers of victims and perpetrators. A joint report on Jimmy Savile by the NSPCC and Metropolitan Police identified 450 victims, including 328 under-age children. In the last week alone, police investigating claims involving football clubs say they have received allegations about attacks on 350 people - almost all of them men who say they were assaulted as children or teenagers.

We don’t know the final number yet, but it’s becoming clear that boys were abused by a whole series of perpetrators at different levels of the game, from professional clubs to amateur teams. Greater Manchester police, which is one of 17 forces now involved in the investigation, say they have identified 10 suspects after being contacted by 35 victims.

Some former football players have waived their anonymity to talk openly about rapes and sexual assaults that happened on a weekly, and in some cases daily, basis. Their accounts are harrowing and some men have broken down in tears. Many have praised the bravery of the former player, Andy Woodward, whose description of being abused encouraged others to come forward.

It is a very good thing that the taboo on men talking about rape and sexual abuse is finally being broken. For too long, victims stayed silent because they couldn’t face explaining what happened to them – something that applies equally to women and girls, of course. At the same time, comparisons with Savile are uncomfortable to listen to and risk setting up an undignified competition between victims, all of whom are equally deserving of sympathy.

There are similarities between the two scandals, not least the way in which the allegations have multiplied over a short period. Within days of an ITV documentary broadcast in 2012, revealing claims against Savile by several women, the number of his victims had risen into the hundreds. Something similar has happened since Woodward came forward and many people are genuinely shocked (as they should be) by the scale of what is being uncovered.

There is no doubt that sexual abuse ruins lives. Former footballers have talked eloquently about an inability to trust, substance abuse and other lifelong consequences. But child sexual abuse is a painful enough subject without ranking it in terms of numbers and outcomes - as if there is a ghoulish desire for one to be worse than another. It must be hard for Savile’s victims to hear casual claims that this latest scandal is worse than their own.

There is another difference which may be hard for his victims (and women raped by less famous men) to hear. As soon as Savile’s crimes were revealed, people rushed to his defence. They complained that a much-loved entertainer and charity campaigner was being maligned after death, when he was no longer around to clear his name.

They accused his victims of lying, claiming they were publicity-seekers who had made up stories to get attention. Men from the 1960s and 70s entertainment industry, including a couple who are now serving prison sentences, accused under-age girls of ‘throwing themselves’ at DJs and pop stars.

Every tiresome rape myth was recycled, from blaming the victim to outright disbelief. It is easy to forget, now that Savile is known as a serial sexual predator, that some people were so reluctant to let go of their perceptions of him that they were prepared to traduce his victims.

What we are seeing now is very different. As far as I know, no one has accused the former players who have spoken publicly of lying, or having shady motives. Interviewers have behaved with sympathy, understanding and care not to re-traumatise men who have been through horrific experiences.

This is as is should be. All victims of rape and sexual assault should be treated the same, regardless of whether they are men or women; part of a sweeping historic scandal or an individual attack. I really hope it sets a precedent for the next time something like this erupts. We should never forget that the handful of victims who were brave enough to go to the police during Savile’s lifetime were not believed.

This really is too serious a subject for comparisons. Next time you hear someone claiming that the scandal around football clubs is ‘bigger than Savile’, please remember that the last thing we want is a contest in suffering.

Raped and then arrested for having ‘extra-marital’ sex – how one British woman is facing jail in Dubai

Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 16 November 2016

It is a well-known fact that different countries have very different legal systems. But many women travellers don’t understand what it actually means until something terrible happens, such as a rape. According to reports from Dubai, a British woman is facing charges – and a possible prison sentence – after telling the police she was gang-raped in a hotel last month.

The woman’s relatives say she told the police she had been lured to a hotel room by two British men who raped her and left the country shortly afterwards. They claim that instead of investigating the allegation, the police arrested her and charged her with having extra-marital sex. She has been released on bail but the authorities have confiscated her passport and she faces a £24,000 bill to cover her legal fees. ‘She is staying with an English family but she is absolutely terrified’, said a friend.

If these claims are accurate, it would not be the first time a victim of an alleged rape has been prosecuted in Dubai. It is one of the biggest cities in the United Arab Emirates and a popular tourist destination, but it also has some of the strictest laws in the world about sex and alcohol. Three years ago, a 24-year-old Norwegian woman went to the police in Dubai, claiming she had been raped during a business trip, only to find her own conduct under suspicion.

The woman was charged with having extramarital sex, drinking alcohol and perjury, and given a 16-month prison sentence. She was pardoned by the vice-president and allowed to leave Dubai only after she withdrew the rape claim. She insisted she retracted it because she had been warned that no one would believe her.

In 2008 two British tourists were jailed for three months for having consensual sex on a beach in Dubai, although the sentence was later suspended. Few people in this country would approve of such behaviour but the treatment of alleged rape victims in some Middle Eastern countries should and does cause outrage.

It is difficult enough to report a rape in the UK, where the conviction rate remains scandalously low. But UAE is one of a number of states where rape is regarded not as sexual violence but an offence against laws banning sex outside marriage. It is a reflection of the low status of women, affecting local women even more than foreigners although cases involving the latter are more likely to cause an outcry.

The UAE is not the only country where such laws exist, although the Foreign Office has previously said that Britons are proportionately more likely to be arrested there than anywhere else in the world. It says it is aware of the case and is working to support the woman and her family.

The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has yet to comment even though he made reducing violence against women one of his priorities in his previous job as Mayor of London. Johnson has talked to victims of sexual violence and he understands the damage it inflicts. So did one of his predecessors at the Foreign Office, William Hague.

It may be that the British government is still trying to get a clear picture of the case – the FCO has reportedly said it is aware of the case and is providing support to the woman and her relatives as well as remaining in contact with local authorities.

Sometimes there is an anxiety that ministers publicly criticising other countries’ treatment of their citizens will make matters worse. At the same time, the UK is publicly committed to observing and promoting equal rights. As we wait for more details of this latest arrest in Dubai, the Foreign Secretary should reflect that his job gives him a rare platform to speak up for victims of sexual violence – and to call out laws which by any modern standards are a disgrace.

Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 13 November 2016

Elly Griffiths is best known for her crime fiction featuring a forensic archaeologist in Norfolk. But she is also the author of a quirky series of novels set in the 1950s that bring together a stage magician, Max Mephisto, and a young police inspector, Edgar Stephens, who worked together in an army intelligence unit during the Second World War. The Blood Card (Quercus £16.99) is set in 1953, just days before the Coronation, which is going to be televised for the first time.

When Mephisto and Stephens receive a summons to Whitehall from a mysterious general, they discover that their former commanding officer has been murdered. Clues from the victim’s flat suggest he was worried about an anarchist plot to disrupt the Coronation, but it sounds far-fetched and all the suspects seem to be former music-hall stars. No one takes it very seriously until Griffiths pulls a truly startling rabbit out of the hat, demonstrating that this is more than the cosy mystery it initially appears.

Over half a dozen novels, Belinda Bauer has staked a claim to the gruesome, spectacular and bizarre. In The Beautiful Dead (Bantam Press £12.99) she serves up a serial killer so convinced of the rightness of his actions that he wants wall-to-wall publicity. When he spots a television reporter at the scene of his latest murder, he decides to make her an ally; the reporter, Eve Singer, is under pressure from her boss and a scoop matters to her more than anything. Bauer is scathing about the morals of television journalism, but it is a familiar critique. The more affecting passages are about Eve’s home life in suburbia, where her father has dementia. This isn’t Bauer’s best book but it has flashes of her trademark ingenuity.

John Rebus retired ages ago, but Ian Rankin keeps on finding reasons to bring his popular detective back. In recent novels Rebus has worked as a civilian support officer, and in Rather Be the Devil (Orion £19.99) he can’t resist getting involved when gang warfare erupts in Edinburgh. The gang boss who took over from Rebus’s old sparring partner, Big Ger Cafferty, is in hospital after a vicious attack and Rebus wants to know if Cafferty is behind it. The adversarial relationship between the two men is well-worn territory by now, and the inclusion of an unsolved murder from 40 years ago underlines the sense that Rebus’s moment has passed.

Carl-Johan Vallgren is a Swedish musician who writes extraordinarily dark crime fiction. The Tunnel, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles (Quercus £14.99), opens with a gang of nervous robbers planning to hold up a security van, but behind the heist lies a murder mystery of labyrinthine complexity. A private detective, Danny Katz, is trying to find out who killed a small-time drug dealer when he discovers that the victim’s missing girlfriend worked in the porn industry. His investigation reveals a conspiracy involving sex trafficking, with an unexpected connection to one of the robbers. Chilly and compelling, this is crime fiction without redemptive illusions.

 

Why are we obsessed with teen girl killers?

Daily Telegraph, Wednesday 19 October 2016

They are not glamorous bank robbers. They are not ‘Bonnie and Clyde’. They are a teenage girl and her boyfriend, who are awaiting sentence for a brutal double murder in an English market town.

The killers were 14-years-old at the time of the ‘cold and calculated’ attack, in April this year. The boy, we are told, was encouraged by his girlfriend to stab a 49-year-old woman, Elizabeth Edwards, and her daughter Katie, aged 13, to death as they slept in their beds. The girl was convicted of murder after pleading guilty to manslaughter, while the boy admitted murder earlier in the trial

That is horrific enough to contemplate, without trite comparisons that get in the way of understanding this highly unusual case. But the ‘guilty’ verdict on the girl had barely come back when the sensational response began.

Some called them ‘evil’. Others compared the pair to outlaws and made much of the fact that the girl and her boyfriend took a bath after the murders, had sex and watched the vampire film Twilight. One report, in the Mirror, managed to get both references into a headline: ‘Teen “Twilight” killers who murdered a mum and daughter compared to Bonnie and Clyde’.

In fact, there are very few similarities between the two 14-year-olds and Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who died in a shoot-out with police in 1934. They were adults, members of a gang which committed crimes during the Great Depression, holding up shops and gas stations. There is little evidence that Parker killed anyone, but Barrow and other members of the gang shot police officers and members of the public who got in their way.

The comparison was made during the trial by an expert witness, forensic psychiatrist, Dr Philip Joseph, who mused: ‘Bonnie and Clyde…that sort of intense attraction, emotional closeness – them against the world. It’s that sort of thing that led on to this’.

He was right to highlight the toxic relationship between the teenagers but almost everything we ‘know’ about Bonnie and Clyde comes from a successful 1967 film, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, which presented a highly romanticised version of their desperate lives and sordid deaths. Such comparisons do nothing to help us understand why two British children, living in a Lincolnshire town, would plot and carry out the brutal murders of a mother and daughter. They only serve to fuel our enduring fascination with young female killers; indeed, so much attention has been paid to the girl’s part in this horrific crime that the boy’s role is in danger of being overlooked.

We are more accustomed to thinking about girls as victims of crime, rather than perpetrators. A recent series of harrowing trials, involving men accused of sexually abusing underage teenagers in towns such as Rotherham, has driven that message home. But while it’s true that teen girls are more likely to be victims of violence, there are cases (albeit a relatively small number) where they are actively involved in crime. In cities with a gang problem, for instance, teenage girls are sometimes horribly abused and then used to draw other young women into the gang’s clutches.

Perversely, the expectation that girls are usually victims means that the rare exceptions are guaranteed the kind of sensational coverage we have just seen in the Spalding case. Describing a teenage girl as ‘evil’ tells us nothing about her; it is a distancing mechanism, employed to reassure the public that no one needs to think too hard about what happened before she committed such a terrible crime.

Even the fact that the girl watched a vampire film – one which is also hugely popular with teenagers who have never so much as dropped a piece of litter – has been used to suggest that she’s not quite human.

Such incidents, we are being asked to believe, simply defy understanding. This is almost never the case and the mythologising that follows is very damaging – disastrously so in some instances. A recent Netflix documentary showed how the investigation into the savage murder of a British student in Italy, Meredith Kercher, was derailed by the demonising of her American flatmate, Amanda Knox, who fought for years to clear her name after being paraded in the press as ‘Foxy Knoxy’.

Both the teenagers in the Spalding case had displayed disturbed behaviour before the double murder. In diaries, the girl described herself as an ‘emotional train wreck’. They appear to have hated themselves and adults, had suicidal thoughts and had initially planned to kill themselves after the murders.

That they ever met was a disaster. But so too was the lack of stable emotional attachment in their lives – a common factor in the backgrounds of young people who take part in extreme violence. But it’s far easier to attach labels than look at why no one spotted their problems or intervened.

It doesn’t excuse their horrific crimes, for which they are now paying the price. But calling them ‘Twilight murderers’ – almost fictionalising their actions – does nothing to help us make sense of the tragic events that have shaken an English market town to its core.

Ched Evans verdict: why we should all feel anxious about high-profile rape cases

Daily Telegraph, 14 October 2016

The judge who presided over the second trial of the footballer Ched Evans got it right: ‘This case has been conducted out in the public gaze,’ Mrs Justice Nicola Davies said as she discharged the jury. They had just cleared Evans of rape after deliberating on their verdict at Cardiff crown court for three hours.

Few cases have attracted as much attention as that of Evans. His conviction for raping a 19-year-old woman in 2011 was quashed by the appeal court earlier this year, leading to a retrial. Applause was heard from the public gallery following the ‘not guilty’ verdict and Evans sobbed as he embraced his girlfriend, Natasha Massey, who was involved in a high-profile campaign to clear his name. The jury at the retrial was not told that Massey sent a Facebook message about a £50,000 reward to a key witness, signing it with a kiss.

Evans has always denied rape, saying that he walked into a hotel room in Rhyl where his friend, the footballer Clayton McDonald, was having sex with the complainant. He said that McDonald asked ‘Can my friend join in?’ The prosecution claimed that the woman was too drunk to consent but Evans insisted that she replied ‘yes’.

He admitted in court that he lied to get a key for the hotel room and did not speak to the woman before, during or after having sex with her. His lawyers argued that the prosecution case was ‘built around the myth’ that the woman was too drunk to agree to sex.

His legal team asked for and was given permission to question the complainant at his new trial about her sexual behaviour with two other men, arguing that it was ‘so similar’ as to be relevant. That is one of a number of respects in which the Evans case is unusual - not least the fact that it has been going on for more than five years.

It comes at a moment when the subject of rape and the criminal justice system is rarely out of the headlines. Less than two decades ago, it was routine for complainants in rape trials to be questioned about their sexual history. But it was widely accepted that fear of being cross-examined about other, consensual relationships deterred women from giving evidence.

The law has since been changed in several respects, based on a recognition that complainants in rape trials are often vulnerable witnesses. Many people believe that the 1999 Youth and Criminal Justice Act outlawed questioning on these lines, not realising that the act contains significant exceptions. Some campaigners are uneasy that such evidence is allowed in some cases but not others, which means that a woman who makes a complaint to the police has no idea whether her sexual history will become an issue.

We already know that some of the protection put in place for complainants has not proved as effective as it should. They are entitled to lifetime anonymity but social networking platforms have been used to reveal their identity in some cases and even where they live, in defiance of the law. The abuse they have received, regardless of the verdict in an individual case, is an issue that the criminal justice system urgently needs to address.

No doubt the Evans case will also prompt renewed calls for anonymity for defendants in rape trials as well as complainants. It is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of rape, which is almost always a serial offence. Conviction rates in rape cases are low and falling, but what makes a difference is when more than one woman gives evidence. Often other women only come forward when a man is arrested and charged - and they realise it has happened to someone else. Granting anonymity to defendants would actively obstruct the process of getting justice for victims.

Critics of the present system also argue that cases take too long to get to court and complainants don’t get sufficient support. They say that the focus should be whether the complainant consented to sex with the defendant, not how she behaved in sexual encounters with someone else in different circumstances.

They also worry about opinion polls showing that sizeable numbers of people have harsh attitudes to women, blaming them if they danced with a defendant before the alleged rape or had been drinking, for instance.

The balance between the rights of defendants and complainants has been the subject of fierce debate for many years, and no doubt will continue to be so. But there is a legitimate anxiety about the effect of lurid publicity around high-profile cases. Justice will not be served if future victims fear the trial process so much that they are deterred from going to the police.