A killer close to home

Detectives’ real-life dilemmas engage Joan Smith

Sunday Times, 16 July 2017


Gloomy cops who drink too much and complain about their bosses are ten-a-penny in crime fiction. Inspector Manon Bradshaw, a detective based in Cambridgeshire, has a more unusual set of problems in Susie Steiner’s gripping novel, Persons Unknown (Borough Press £12.99). Manon is heavily pregnant and her adopted son, who was born in a deprived area of London, is being bullied at school.


Manon is supposed to be looking after cold cases but she can’t help taking an interest in the murder of a well-dressed man who’s found dying on a path in Huntingdon, not far from the house she shares with her sister. The victim had only just got off a train from London and his job at a private Mayfair bank creates a media sensation. When he turns out to have a connection to Manon’s sister, her police colleagues close ranks, a situation that gets worse when Manon’s son becomes the prime suspect.


Steiner was a reporter and she understands both police procedure and the media. This, her third novel, is strikingly modern, putting contemporary themes such as racism — Manon’s adopted son is black — and single motherhood at the heart of her fiction. It’s refreshing to see a detective grappling with real-life dilemmas but they never get in the way of the plot, which is clever and original. It is a series to watch from a confident writer who draws even minor characters with care and sympathy.


AA Dhand is another author to keep an eye on. His second novel, Girl Zero (Bantam Press £12.99), is set in his home town, Bradford, and features the same detective as his widely admired debut, Streets of Darkness. Inspector Hardeep (Harry) Virdee is estranged from his Sikh family after marrying a Muslim, but he’s thrown back into contact with his angry father after the murder of his niece, an aspiring journalist.


Tara is the daughter of Harry’s brother, a gang boss whose drug-trade connections continually threaten Harry’s integrity. His unofficial investigation suggests that, when she was killed, Tara was on the trail of a sensational story involving the disappearance of a number of young girls. Dhand is a fearless writer, undaunted by subjects such as sex-trafficking, but also a frustrating one; his plots slide into melodrama and Girl Zero includes torture scenes presented with too much relish.


Hans Rosenfeldt is best known in this country as the creator of the popular Scandinavian TV drama The Bridge. He is also the author, with fellow-screenwriter Michael Hjorth, of a fine series of crime novels starring Sebastian Bergman, a dysfunctional psychologist who works with the Stockholm police. The Silent Girl (Century £12.99), translated by Marlaine Delargy, begins with the discovery that an entire family — mother, father, two children — have been killed in an isolated country house.


Forensic evidence suggests that a fifth person, a 10-year-old girl, was inside and appears to have fled. The missing girl reminds Bergman of his own daughter, who died in the Asian tsunami in 2004, and he is determined to find her. As his police colleagues struggle to establish a motive, Bergman’s involvement with the girl’s family threatens to derail the case. This is a fast-paced novel which doesn’t shy away from the heavy emotional cost of guilt and loss.


Arne Dahl is the pen name of the Swedish author and critic Jan Arnald, whose Intercrime novels were made into a TV series and shown in this country by the BBC. Watching You (Harvill Secker £12.99), translated by Neil Smith, is the first in a quirky new series featuring a smart but wayward detective, Sam Berger. He’s sure an abducted teenage girl is still alive, but his boss isn’t convinced. Quite a few pages are taken up with a huge red herring, but Dahl’s writing is so compelling that it hardly matters.

The seeds of terrorism are often sown in the home – with domestic violence

A strain of toxic masculinity learned in childhood is at the heart of Islamic State’s offer to angry young men in London, Manchester, Paris and Brussels

The Guardian, Monday 10 July 2017

A few days before they murdered eight people and injured many others, the three men who were planning to carry out the London Bridge terrorist attack met late at night outside a gym in Barking, east London. Khuram ButtRachid Redouane and Youssef Zaghba were captured on CCTV just after midnight. They looked like a gang, laughing and joking as they finalised details of the attack.

Following the attack, there was a great deal of comment about the fact that Redouane had reportedly abused his wife, Charisse O’Leary, who had left him in January. He has thus become the latest addition to a list of men whose extreme acts of violence towards strangers were preceded by attacks on women in a less public sphere. The Manchester suicide bomber, Salman Abedi, is another, with acquaintances recalling that he once punched a female classmate in the head for wearing a short skirt.

Obviously Islamist extremists are not the only men with a record of domestic abuse who go on to kill other people, especially in the US, where mass murder is more common. Misogyny exists in all communities, but that isn’t a reason for ignoring what appears to be a specific connection between domestic abuse and terrorism.

The link is complex, involving more than one generation. According to senior police officers, there is a striking similarity between young men who are drawn towards organisations promoting terrorism and those who join gangs in the UK’s big cities. Gang members are generally younger, but both groups tend to come from unstable backgrounds, often involving mental illness either in a parent or themselves. Domestic abuse comes up as a factor, time after time.

Boys who witness a father or stepfather beating their mother are known to be at risk of becoming abusers when they become teenagers and adults. They grow up habituated to violence and with a secret fear of it, leaving them terrified to show weakness; hence they are likely to replicate the same controlling and abusive behaviour in their own intimate relationships.

“Every day, my officers go into homes where a three-year-old boy has seen his mother being beaten up,” one police officer whose area of expertise is gangs and knife crime told me recently. “And I know that we will probably be involved with that boy in 10 or 15 years’ time.” The police recorded just over a million domestic abuse-related incidents in England and Wales in the year ending March 2016. The extent of the damage, to adults and children, is terrifying.

For young men with fragile identities, membership of a gang offers confidence, security and a sense of belonging. Sexual violence is endemic – rape is used in initiation ceremonies and to punish members of rival gangs through their girlfriends – and that is one of the clearest parallels between gang culture and terrorist organisations such as Islamic State.

Isis is led by a known rapist, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and the opportunity to rape female captives is one of the lures it has held out to young men thinking of travelling to war zones in the Middle East. A species of toxic masculinity is at the heart of the organisation’s offer to angry young men in London, Manchester, Paris and Brussels.

It makes sense, in fact, to think about Islamist terrorist organisations as gangs, even if their weapons are different. It’s true that some home-grown terrorists don’t seem to have had direct connections with Isis and end up being described as “lone wolves”. , given that the ideology of IS is so steeped in male dominance. But what they need by identifying with the ideology – joining the gang, in effect – via cyberspace. Isis rewards them – and encourages others – when it subsequently “claims” the attack.

The implications of all this are far-reaching. We don’t have sufficient refuge places for all the abused women who need them, let alone the resources to offer long-term help to children who have witnessed prolonged violence. I am not trying to excuse boys who grow up to become abusers, but it is clear that the government has, over a long period, failed to recognise the long-term impact of domestic violence.

The events of the last few weeks should concentrate minds. After the Manchester bombing, we found out that the UK security services are severely stretched, with 3,000 individuals suspected of posing a terrorist threat and another 20,000 who have come to their attention but aren’t actively being investigated.

It may be that a history of domestic abuse is common among would-be jihadis, given that the ideology of IS is so steeped in male dominance. But the link has come up so often that men who support Islamist ideology, and have a record of violence against women, must surely be of particular concern.

Domestic violence ruins lives and creates dangerous vulnerabilities in the next generation. Now it appears that contempt for women and an extremist ideology have come together with lethal results on British streets. Terrorism, like other manifestations of toxic masculinity, appears to begin in the home.


Gayle Newland tricked her friend into having sex – but there could be two victims here

Daily Telegraph, 30 June 2017

It’s hard to think of another court case as baffling as that of Gayle Newland. The 27-year-old was convicted yesterday at Manchester crown court of impersonating a man to trick a female friend into sex. When the verdicts were announced, Newland broke

The highly charged atmosphere in the courtroom is understandable. It was the second time Newland had faced a jury, after her original conviction in 2015 was quashed on the grounds that the judge’s summing-up was neither fair nor balanced. Her sentence of eight years was overturned but she has been told to expect a ‘significant immediate custodial sentence’ when she returns to court next month.

“I can’t go back to jail,” Newland cried when she was found guilty of three counts of sexual assault and cleared of another. Reporting restrictions were lifted, allowing the bizarre facts of the case to be reheard in public for a second time.

The first trial had already captured the public imagination. Female sex offenders are rare, especially one who targets another adult woman. The public has old-fashioned ideas about sex offenders, picturing them as seedy men who lie in wait for strangers. A woman who preys on another woman confounds expectations.

The facts of the case are thus: Newland adopted a male persona to seduce a fellow student at Chester University in 2011. She claimed to be a half-Filipino man called Kye Fortune and developed an online relationship with the woman. ‘Kye’ made excuses to explain why they couldn’t meet, claiming he had been ‘badly injured and disfigured’ and had a brain tumour. The complainant accepted these – ‘perhaps naïvely, on reflection’, according to the prosecution.

In a particularly unusual twist, ‘Kye’ told the woman that he had a friend called Gayle, also at Chester University, and the two women became friends. The complainant confided in Newland about her relationship with ‘Kye’ - who eventually agreed to a meeting. In the guise of her fake male persona, Newland laid down a series of conditions, insisting that the complainant wear a blindfold during their encounters because ‘Kye’ was ashamed of his injuries. She proceeded to have sex with the complainant on 10 occasions, wearing a prosthetic penis.

On the final occasion, in June 2013, the woman ripped off her blindfoldand discovered the truth – that ‘Kye’ was in fact her female friend.

Whatever we think about Newland, her behaviour does not fit easily into sentencing guidelines. There is no framework for crimes such as these

If the public is disturbed by the case, the same seems to have also been true of the jury. They brought in majority verdicts and one woman appeared close to tears when Newland broke down.

The prosecution described Newland as a ‘manipulative, deceitful and very crafty young woman’. In her defence, Newland claimed she was a lesbian but had struggled with her sexuality, creating the ‘Kye’ persona to make friends with other young women.

She claimed to have met the complainant at a gay night in a club in Chester, and insisted that she was open about the fact she sometimes pretended to be a man. She claimed that the complainant also had problems acknowledging her sexuality and was embarrassed about being in a relationship with a woman. The victim denied this, insisting on her heterosexuality and describing her shock when she discovered ‘Kye’s’ true identity.

It is not always easy to come out as gay, even in our more enlightened times. But it is also hard to avoid the conclusion that Newland groomed her victim, like any number of online conmen. There are many instances of savvy, intelligent women losing thousands of pounds to men who spent months drawing them into their fantasies, only to discover that the whole ‘relationship’ was a carefully planned fraud. Then there is the scandal of women who were deceived into sexual relationships by undercover police officers.

It may be that the complainant in the Newland case was naïve, but the fact that she was tricked into sex by a woman doesn’t make what happened to her any less distressing. Indeed, one of the most disturbing aspects of the whole case is the treatment of the victim, whose sex life was scrutinised at the retrial as harshly as any rape victim. Intrusive questions were widely thought to have been banned in rape trials and there was widespread shock last year when the footballer Ched Evans, who was cleared of rape, based his defence on the behaviour of the complainant with other men.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that Newland groomed her victim, like any number of online conmen

Complex and baffling though this case is, in the end it boiled down to an argument around consent. The complainant insisted she did not know that ‘Kye’ was a woman, and the jury believed that she had been the victim of a cruel and elaborate deception.

Yet Newland’s distress is also clearly genuine. As a female sex offender, she should not be treated more severely than a man – the public tends to have more punitive attitudes to women offenders but the law is rightly neutral on such matters.

But anyone convicted in such circumstances can expect to end up with a custodial sentence. What that should be is a matter for debate, given that the case falls so far outside the litany of behaviour normally described in courtrooms.

Whatever we think about Newland, her behaviour does not fit easily into sentencing guidelines. There is no framework for crimes such as these, where an offender is convicted of a physical assault but the crime is more accurately one of deception. Nor can the judge take into account mitigating factors, such as the defendant’s fragile mental state, unless there is evidence of actual mental illness.

Sadly, this appears to be a case involving two vulnerable women. That’s why the outcome is bound to leave a number of troubling questions.