Stuart Hall got off lightly. Jeremy Forrest’s sentence proves it

Independent on Sunday, 23 June 2013

Had the broadcaster Stuart Hall been in any doubt that he got off lightly after admitting 14 charges of indecent assault, he would have known better by the end of last week. The 15-month sentence he was given on Monday reflected the law, and the assumptions, of the period in the 1960s and 1970s when he began abusing children and teenagers. Four days later, Jeremy Forrest, the maths teacher found guilty of abducting an under-age girl, got five and a half years in total for that offence and five more (which he admitted) of sexual activity with a child.

Forrest targeted the girl when she was one of his pupils at a school in Eastbourne, East Sussex, and began having sex with her shortly after her 15th birthday. He was a married man of 30, perfectly able to calculate the likely consequences of the relationship. The teenager had neither the experience nor the maturity to work out the cost of an unequal relationship with an older man. Whatever she feels at the moment, she may see events in a different light when she looks back on having sex in cars and in the grounds of a crematorium with someone twice her age; I find it hard to regard an adult who exchanges explicit photos with an under-age girl and kisses her in his classroom as anything other than a shameless predator. That was the view of the judge, who said that Forrest’s research into what would happen if he were caught was proof of “the deliberate nature of your behaviour”.

Both Forrest and Hall were sentenced for multiple offences, committed decades apart. Although one of Hall’s victims was only nine, the maximum sentence for most of his offences at the time he committed them was either two or five years in prison. Now it’s 10, reflecting a shift in the way the criminal justice system regards them. His crimes came to light as a result of the investigation into Jimmy Savile, who (like Hall) used his fame and position to get access to victims. Indecent assault and sex with under-age children were crimes in those days as well, but it’s clear that some men believed the law didn’t apply to them. The late John Peel actually boasted in newspaper interviews about girls as young as 13 queuing up outside his studio to have sex with him.

Teachers aren’t celebrities but schools can become microcosms where some individuals consciously cultivate status. Forrest’s friends and family described him as a “talented and inspirational” teacher, but that kind of talent can easily be exploited. His victim’s messages of continuing love suggest that he created a romantic fantasy which hasn’t yet relinquished its hold, but prosecutors regard him as a narcissistic abuser. The
fact that he didn’t even bother to use contraception every time he had sex with the teenager speaks volumes about his character; this is a sordid story of exploitation, not love.


Turkey protests: Government fury at Istanbul protests exposes an authoritarian regime

Independent on Sunday, 16 June 2013

Erdogan’s sneer is clear to see

In the early hours of Friday morning, the Turkish government pulled back – temporarily at least – from the brink. After making apocalyptic noises about a “final” confrontation with protesters who had occupied an Istanbul park, the prime minister suddenly offered talks. With five dead and 5,000 injured, Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to suspend plans to turn part of Gezi park into a shopping mall until a court challenge is heard, defusing an alarming situation which had prompted condemnation of his government’s tactics in the European Parliament.

This is far from marking the end of Erdogan’s problems, however. What began as a protest in defence of one of Istanbul’s few green spaces became a focus for anger against a government which has become nakedly authoritarian. Journalists have been in the frontline, produing a statistic which shame the leader of one of the world’s democracies: last year, more than a fifth of the world’s imprisoned journalists were in Turkish jails. But when the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, raised the jailing of journalists at a joint press conference earlier this year, Erdogan snapped that only a handful had been arrested. “They are not imprisoned for their journalistic work,” he claimed, accusing them of plotting a coup, having illegal arms or working for terrorist groups.

The rhetoric is typical of a politician who habitually sneers at legitimate expressions of disagreement; his language is inflammatory, verging on paranoid. He has compared abortions with air strikes on civilians, describing them as “a sneaky plan to wipe the country off the world stage”. He’s even enraged by Caesarean sections, which he regards as part of a conspiracy against the country. He says every woman should have at least three and preferably five children, plays down Turkey’s huge domestic violence problem and dismisses evidence of a 14-fold rise in “honour” killings between 2002 and

But cities such as Ankara and Istanbul have substantial populations of modern, educated men and women who are robust in defence of their rights. Millions believe that Erdogan imposes his religious views in a way that far exceeds his democratic mandate.
They point to new laws banning the sale of alcohol within 100 yards of a mosque, a prohibition all the more effective because 17,000 new mosques have been built during Erdogan’s premiership. They don’t like his promise to “raise a religious youth”, especially after an official from his AK party tweeted recently that atheists “should be annihilated”.

In the modern world, there is a limit to how much of this stuff reasonable people will
tolerate. In the past couple of weeks, Turkey’s profoundly intolerant prime minister has discovered the limits of trying to govern without consent.


Breaking Taboos

Sunday Times, 9 June 2013

It is a striking fact that disabled people rarely take centre stage in crime fiction. Perhaps authors feel that their books are dark enough without addressing subjects such as the vulnerability of patients who are entirely dependent n other people for their wellbeing. So it feels as if the Icelandic writer Ysa Sigurdardottir is breaking taboos when she sets her new novel in a care hme that is burnt down by a fire in which five of the six residents are klled.

At the beginning of Someone to Wtch Over Me, translated by Philip Roughton (Hodder £13.99/ebook £7.99), te only survivor of the fire is Jakob, a young man with Down’s syndrome. He hs been convicted of arson and is in a secure facility where another inmate, a convicted child abuser, has become convinced of his innocence. The paedophile approaches a lawyer, Thora, who has appeared in ­Sigurdardottir’s earlier novels, and asks her to reopen the case. Thora is shocked to discover that some of the residents were horribly abused before the fire, but she is also astonished by the resilience of the severely disabled people she encounters. This is a tough but moving novel, with an unusual plot and characters.

DA  Mishani is an Israeli historian of crime ­fiction and The Missing File, translated by Steve Cohen (Quercus £16.99/ebook £5.99), is his first novel. Inspector Avi Avraham puts his foot in it in the first chapter, asking the mother of a missing teenage boy why there are no detective novels in Hebrew. His theory is that Israel doesn’t have sufficiently spectacular criminals, but it isn’t what the anxious woman wants to hear. Her eldest son went to school as usual and never came back, her husband is on a cargo ship bound for Trieste and she is on her own with two other children in a small flat in Tel Aviv.

Avraham’s glib reassurance that the boy will return safely turns out to be wrong. Crimes of this type are rare in the neighbourhood — Avraham is at least right about that — and he comes under intense pressure from the close community to solve the case. It is complicated by the behaviour of a neighbour, a teacher with a vivid imagination who believes he has a psychic connection to the boy’s ­disappearance. Mishani’s novel is low-key, avoiding the shocks of popular crime ­fiction, but its vivid characters and ­setting linger in the memory.

The Good Suicides, translated by Laura McGloughlin (Doubleday £14.99/ebook 15.64), is the second of Antonio Hill’s accomplished detective novels set in Barcelona. His detective, Hector ­Salgado, is devastated by the disappearance of his wife, who was living with another woman when she vanished. While one of his colleagues secretly begins her own investigation into the disappearance, Salgado’s official job is to take a closer look at Alemany Cosmetics, a company with a glamorous image and a rash of suicides among senior executives. The deaths started after a team-building exercise in a remote country house that nobody wants to talk about, and the investigation allows Hill to offer more insights into the character of his intelligent and appealing detective.

Two gripping novels set in west London offer very different versions of the police and how they operate. In The Detective’s Daughter (Head of Zeus £16.99/ebook 99p), Lesley Thomson creates a claustrophobic portrait of an affluent area of west London, seen through the eyes of a woman who owns a cleaning company. As a child, Stella Darnell believed that her father cared more about his job as a detective than he did about her, and she knows that he never ­relinquished his obsession with the unsolved murder of a young mother in Chiswick in 1981. She is shocked to ­discover that he was pursuing a new lead at the time of his sudden death, and by the further revelation that she knows most of the witnesses in this strange case. This is a haunting novel about loss and reconciliation, driven by a simple but clever plot.

Stav Sherez’s Eleven Days (Faber £12.99/ebook £7.99) is set not far away from Thomson’s novel in Notting Hill, but his milieu is brutal and impersonal, featuring gangsters who treat their ­victims as commodities. Shortly before Christmas, a fire sweeps through a small convent, ­killing 10 nuns who are found upstairs in a locked room. Another victim, a young woman, is discovered in the basement. Several of the
nuns spent time in Peru at a time when liberation theology was at the height of its influence, and the Vatican’s representative in London does his best to close the investigation down. The novel marks a second outing for DI Carrigan and his equally driven DS, Geneva Miller; Sherez’s novels are strikingly modern and infused with a passionate belief in justice.

Robert Costantini takes on the Vatican in The Deliverance of Evil, translated by NS Thompson (Quercus £14.99/ebook £10.99). This sprawling novel begins in Rome in 1982, with most of the city intent on a televised football match. No one takes much notice when an 18-year-old woman fails to return home, but a few days later her body is found on the gravel bed of the Tiber. The detective assigned to the case, Michele Balistreri, is arrogant, sexist and no match for the dead woman’s employer, Cardinal Alessandrini. Twenty-four years later, Balistreri is worn out, conscience-stricken and troubled by his superiors’ eagerness to pin a spate of sexually motivated murders on illegal immigrants. His failure in the 1982 case returns to give him nightmares in a novel that makes a confused attempt to confront violence against women.

Jenny Mayhew’s first novel, A Wolf in Hindelheim (Hutchinson £14.99/ebook £15.65), is set in rural Germany in 1926. A detective struggles with the war wounds that have left him scarred and nauseous, watched anxiously by his son and ambitious daughter-in-law. When a baby’s body is found in a woodshed, he is ­puzzled by the bereaved family’s ­curious reaction, but then he begins to suspect that the sinister ideas of eugenics have reached even this backwater. ­Mayhew skilfully evokes the atmosphere of between-the-wars Germany, offering ominous intimations of the political upheavals soon to come.


My chance to halt violence against women

Independent on Sunday, 9 June 2013

I’ve spent a great deal of my career writing about violence against women. The first big story I covered was the series of murders committed by the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe, and since then I’ve tackled rape, domestic abuse, prostitution and sex trafficking. So I didn’t think twice when I was approached to become co-chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Panel. It brings together numerous organisations, including the Metropolitan Police, London councils and rape crisis centres, with the ambitious aim of eliminating abuse of women in one of the world’s great cities. I’m not convinced we can get rid of violence completely, but anyone who wonders why such a body is necessary should look at the up-to-date statistics for London.

Reports of serious sexual offences, including rape, are up almost 20 per cent in five years. At a meeting at City Hall last week, chaired by the Deputy Mayor, Stephen Greenhalgh, senior detectives revealed there were 3,043 reported rapes in the year to April 2013. And that’s “at best 20 per cent of what’s happening in London”, according to Deputy Assistant Commissioner Martin Hewitt. Most frequently targeted are women aged 18 to 25, but 11- to 17-year-old girls are not far behind. London has a specific problem with gangs, and gang-related rapes rose by almost 82 per cent in a six-month period during 2012.

Like many cities, the capital has a growing commercial sex trade. New research on prostitution carried out by Eaves Housing found that more than four-fifths of the interviewees had experienced some form of violence. The report identified a group of women who move between the on- and off-street trade, challenging the notion that women who sell sex in flats lead more stable lives, while research by Westminster Council suggests there is an “iceberg” of violence in the off-street market.

I’d never heard of sex trafficking when I wrote my book Misogynies, but the police recorded 447 trafficking offences in London in the financial year 2012-13. That’s a staggering 557.4 per cent increase on the previous year, which detectives say is the result of a specific investigation undertaken with the Polish authorities. Reliable figures on sex trafficking are hard to establish, but the Poppy Project, which supports victims, received 61 referrals from London councils in a recent 12-month period. Other towns and cities have similar problems, but on a smaller scale.

What can the Mayor’s panel do? One of our ambitions is to ensure a consistent service across London for victims of sexual and domestic violence. Another is to look at setting up special courts for sexual offences, to ease the ordeal of giving evidence. Other priorities are getting successful prosecutions for female genital mutilation and supporting women who want to leave prostitution. It’s both daunting and exciting, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have a practical effect on something I’ve cared passionately about all my adult life.


The Mayor’s VAWG Panel

I’m delighted to announce that I’m the new co-chair of the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Panel. I look forward to working with the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Stephen Greenhalgh, to raise public awareness of this very important subject.


The Suffragette Derby

The Times, Saturday 1 June 2013

Exactly a century after Emily Wilding Davison was trampled by the King’s horse at the 1913 Derby, there is still a mystery about why she ran onto the course. Davison had a couple of suffragette flags wrapped round her body but no time to unfurl them, while a return train ticket among her possessions does not suggest a suicide bid. But she was an unusual woman in every respect and something of a loner, leaving behind no evidence of her intentions.

Davison was well-educated, having attended both London and Oxford universities, but her life took a different direction when she threw herself into the increasingly radical campaign for votes for women. She was imprisoned many times and force-fed on 49 occasions, enduring a procedure which supporters of the suffragettes compared to oral rape. Emmeline Pankhurst’s sister, Mary Clarke, died in 1910 of an embolism which was probably caused by force-feeding in Holloway prison; after one bout of force-feeding in Manchester, Davison was so traumatised that she barricaded herself in her cell and was drenched with freezing water by the warders. The incident prompted questions in Parliament and Davison sued, receiving token damages of £2.

Davison’s death from her injuries four days after the Derby provided the cause with a martyr and her funeral cortege brought thousands onto the streets of London. ‘We were making a march of penitence behind a victim we allowed the Government to do to death’, Rebecca West wrote angrily. She is quoted in March, Women, March: Voices of the Women’s Movement from the First Feminist to Votes for Women, an account of almost 150 years of women’s political struggle by Lucinda Hawksley (Andre Deutsch £18.99), which devotes a short chapter to Davison.

In reality, it seems more likely that Davison’s death was a tragic accident. A sports journalist, Michael Tanner, argues in The Suffragette Derby (Robson Press £20) that she positioned herself on a bend of the Epsom race course where she could hear but not see the runners approaching Tattenham Corner; Tanner believes she would have had little time to identify an individual jockey, and that her collision with the King’s horse,
Anmer, was a coincidence. That puts him at odds with Clare Balding, who argued in her recent TV documentary claims that Davison intended to attach suffragette colours to Anmer’s bridle.

Tanner’s attempts to dispel some of the myths about Davison are undermined by his own prejudices, which make their appearance when he describes Davison as looking like ‘a bit of a battleaxe’. She disappears from the text for the next 150 pages, allowing Tanner to write exhaustively about bloodstock and the class-ridden world of owners, trainers and jockeys. His grasp of feminist history is less certain, leading to some dubious assertions, such as his claim that lesbianism ‘was certainly rife among the suffragette sisterhood’.

Tanner’s belief that Davison was probably in a lesbian relationship at the time of her death is contradicted by Maureen Howes, a local historian from the family’s home town of Morpeth, who suggests that she was actually engaged to an unnamed MP. Emily Wilding Davison: A Suffragette’s Family Album (History Press £12.99) reproduces touching post-cards Davison sent home from France and Italy before she threw herself into the suffrage campaign, but it is stronger on family history than politics.

Clearly Davison remains a mythopoeic figure. In 1913 her death was overshadowed, at least for some race-goers, by the contested result of that year’s Derby. ‘The whole thing was a terrible tragedy,’ observed the jockey Steve Donoghue, who was riding Bachelor’s Wedding, ‘and the verdict was a most unpopular one’. He was talking not about Davison’s death but the controversial disqualification of the favourite, Craganour.