Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 12 November 2021

The unsolved disappearance of a six-year-old girl reverberates across the decades in Heather Young’s haunting novel The Lost Girls (Verve £9.99). Emily is the youngest of three sisters, spending the summer of 1935 on the shore of a remote lake in Minnesota, when she vanishes without trace. Emily’s middle sister, Lucy, spends the rest of her life in the house on the lake, unable to tear herself away from its painful memories. After her death, the house passes to her great-niece, Justine.

The unexpected inheritance enables Justine to leave a controlling boyfriend and flee to Minnesota, where she finds Lucy’s journal and begins to understand the family secrets that led to a tragic event. Lucy’s father, a Bible-thumping descendant of Welsh coal miners, is one of the most vivid characters in this terrific mystery, which shows the corrosive impact misplaced loyalty has on generations of women.

RV Raman’s hugely engaging novel A Will to Kill (Pushkin Vertigo £8.99) is set in modern-day India, but its origins lie in the golden age of crime fiction. The story takes place in a misty valley in the Nilgiri mountain range, where a wealthy art collector, Bhaskar Fernandez, is holding a family party. Among the guests is a private detective, Harith Athreya, invited as an observer after several attempts on Fernandez’s life. Athreya has only just arrived when the valley is cut off by a landslide, an event quickly followed by a murder in the family mansion. Raman makes the most of his version of a locked-room mystery, endowing Athreya with an omniscience rarely seen in today’s jaded detectives.

Simon Beckett’s The Lost (Trapeze £14.99) opens with a scene of stomach-churning carnage. A firearms officer, Jonah Colley, gets a frantic phone call from another cop, someone he hasn’t seen for years. The man sounds desperate, asking Jonah to meet him at a sinister-sounding location, Slaughter Quay, on the River Thames. Jonah arrives to find four bodies, but is attacked and injured before he can call for back-up. When he wakes up in hospital, he discovers that the chief suspect in the murders is a man who was investigated and cleared after the disappearance of Jonah’s young son ten years earlier. It’s an intriguing set-up, but the violence is unrelenting, and it is hard to believe that Jonah can take so many beatings while pursuing his one-man quest for justice.
Camilla Grebe is one of those authors who demonstrate the continuing inventiveness of Scandinavian crime fiction. The Hideout (Zaffre £8.99), translated by Sarah Clyne Sundberg, has a teenage boy on the run from a drug dealer. Arriving in a quiet seaside town, he takes a job as companion to a boy who is paralysed after a road accident. Meanwhile the police in Stockholm are puzzled by the discovery of the bodies of several young men washed up from the sea, an investigation that seems entirely separate until Grebe brings them together in a plot of dazzling originality.

Arrest the chest

The Critic, Friday 12 November, 2021

In the nineteenth century, the fashion for small waists was widely criticised by doctors. It was achieved by “tight lacing”: a practice blamed for compressing the ribs, forcing internal organs out of position and leaving fashionable women short of breath.

In 2021 you might think no one would encourage impressionable girls to compress their chests and put their health at risk. Well, think again. In a sign of the times we live in, when “gender identity” apparently trumps good sense, a cosmetics company has teamed up with a trans clothing company to offer breast binders to young women.

The Paddington branch of Lush announced on Instagram this week that it has joined G(end)er Swap to offer a “binder collection point”, inviting girls to book their binders online for a donation as low as £7. As a lawyer quickly pointed out, the booking form does not ask about age, allowing girls under the age of 16 to make an appointment without parental knowledge or consent.

Breast binding, in case you haven’t come across it, is the practice of compressing the breasts to make them appear less visible; it’s often used by girls who believe themselves to be transgender. But the risks are obvious: a study of 1,800 individuals who wore binders, carried out by researchers at Boston University, found that 97 per cent reported at least one negative outcome, including back and chest pain, overheating, itching and shortness of breath. “Transgender community resources commonly discuss symptoms such as pain and scarring,” the authors noted.

Breast binding is a distant cousin of breast ironing — an even riskier (and illegal) practice imported into the UK from Africa. Breast ironing involves massaging a pubescent girl’s chest with hot stones to slow down or prevent normal development of the breasts, supposedly to protect her from unwanted sexual attention. It has disastrous consequences, such as preventing some women from breast feeding, and is a form of child abuse.

When I chaired the Mayor of London’s Violence Against Women and Girls Board, I heard anecdotal evidence that this practice was taking place in the UK, carried out within the family in conditions of great secrecy, something it has in common with female genital mutilation. Some campaigners believe at least a thousand women and girls have been subjected to it in this country.

No doubt Lush would deny any link between breast binding and breast ironing; but the motivation — fear and denial of the natural female body — is similar. For girls who want to be boys, who have swallowed nonsense about being “born in the wrong body”, wearing binders is sometimes the first step on a road that leads to double mastectomy. The removal of healthy breasts is rightly controversial and a cause of great regret among detransitioners, who have since discovered that having surgery and taking male hormones has not cured their gender dysphoria.

Why on earth would any company effectively encourage girls to reject their perfectly healthy bodies? It is not hard to discern a bandwagon effect, driven by the way in which breast binding is being normalised — glamourised, even — by celebrities such as Emma Corrin, who played Princess Diana in The Crown. Diana famously suffered from an eating disorder associated with body dysphoria, a parallel that seems to have been lost on Corrin when she posted black and white photos of herself wearing a home-made binder on social media. “Very intimate, very new, very cool,” Corrin declared, apparently unaware that denying or disavowing the female body is as old as the hills. She was hailed not just for the photos but for changing her (their?) pronouns to “she/them”.

It’s clear that extreme gender ideology has penetrated celebrity culture, commercial companies, government departments and charities, leading them to compete for the accolade of “trans ally” even if it means pushing harmful ideas onto impressionable teenagers.

Until very recently, no one wanted to fall foul of the LGBTQ+ organisation Stonewall, fearing an accusation of transphobia above all else. Indeed, Lush seems to be trying to atone for making a small donation to a feminist organisation, A Woman’s Place UK, which has repeatedly been smeared by trans activists. “To trans people and allies, we wish to say sorry for some past mistakes in our choice of donation recipients,” the company grovelled in a statement last December.

The Lush donation was only £3,000, but no one can apologise enough for offending gender extremists. One of the company’s main rivals, The Body Shop, highlighted its transgender credentials by trolling the author J K Rowling; in the summer of 2020 when Rowling published an open letter describing her experience of domestic abuse, The Body Shop Twitter account responded by offering to send her a “vegan bath bomb” and a book on trans rights. Now Lush’s Paddington store is encouraging girls to acquire a product designed to hide the fact that they have female bodies.

Lush is easy to mock, boasting about its ethics as though its primary function is much more than selling soap with fancy names. “Our ability to create a warm and welcoming home, a safe environment where difference is accepted and fostered, is maybe our single greatest strength,” it claims. How breast binders fit into that ethos is unclear, but a bit more acceptance of the natural female body would be welcome. What can we expect next, a nicely wrapped foot-binding kit?

‘My colleague compared me to a racist uncle at the dinner table for my views on gender’

Daily Telegraph, Thursday 4 November 2021

Jo Phoenix is a widely respected academic. Since 2016, she has been professor of criminology at the Open University, where her focus is on vulnerable women in the criminal justice system. Phoenix does not think of herself as vulnerable and she certainly never expected to be where she is now – diagnosed with acute PTSD and suing her employer for failing to protect her after what she describes as two years of harassment from colleagues.

“I’m exhausted,” she tells me – and she sounds it. Phoenix, 57, is highly articulate and speaks with only a trace of her original American accent. But there is no doubt that her experience has left her hurt and shaken – “overwhelmed” is the word she uses.

Her voice breaks at some points in our conversation, as she describes how she became a hate figure, metaphorically put in the stocks by colleagues who accuse her of that contemporary catch-all offence, “transphobia”.

It is the charge hurled at anyone who believes in the reality of biological sex or questions the right of transgender individuals to access women-only spaces, even though “gender critical” views are protected in law following a landmark decision in the case of Maya Forstater by an employment appeals tribunal earlier this year.

No one should be in doubt about the threat an accusation of “transphobia” poses to academic freedom: after masked protesters gathered on the campus of Sussex University, demanding the dismissal of Professor Kathleen Stock, another gender critical academic, she stepped down from her role at the university last Thursday.

In a powerful interview with BBC Woman’s Hour, Stock described the “medieval experience” and suggested the views of a small number of academics had inflamed the student protests by “radically misrepresenting my views”, saying: “I don’t know if the student activity would have been there if the colleague activity hadn’t already been there,”

The “intense” student activity came at the end of “three-and-a-half years of low level bullying, harassment and reputation trashing” by colleagues, which began, she says, when she first started to write about gender identity policy and escalated after she recently published a book questioning the idea that gender identity is more “socially significant” than biological sex.

At the end of last month, somewhat late in the day, the OU seems to have finally woken up to the fact that one of its own staff might also be at risk. “While we are not aware of any current issues at the OU”, an email from a senior figure informed Phoenix, the university’s head of security would be happy to discuss “any concerns” she might have and conduct a risk assessment.

This, despite the fact that Phoenix has become a pariah at work. The OU Gender Critical Network, which she founded, has been denounced as “fundamentally hostile to the rights of trans people” in an open letter signed by no fewer than 360 colleagues. “The signatures came from across the university, including people I directly work with,” Phoenix tells me. “I received threatening emails from anonymous senders.” When I ask her to elaborate, she says she was told that activists “were out to get me” and “I ought to watch myself”.

What has exposed her to this torrent of abuse is her argument that transwomen – male-bodied individuals who identify as women – should not share intimate spaces with female prisoners. It is a view widely shared by feminist organisations, who point to the fact that a transgender inmate sexually assaulted two women while on remand at a women’s prison in West Yorkshire in 2017.

Even so, Phoenix has been pilloried. A couple of years ago, after she gave a talk for the campaigning organisation A Woman’s Place UK, a colleague got in touch to express disappointment that she had disrupted the “smooth family functioning” of their workplace. What does that even mean, I ask? Her reply is staggering: “I was told I was like the racist uncle at the Christmas dinner table.” When Phoenix started to cry, the colleague gave her the number of the OU counselling service.

It is one of many examples Phoenix gives me of decidedly uncollegiate behaviour. In December 2019, Essex University suddenly cancelled an invitation to speak at a seminar, claiming it was necessary because of the threat of protests against her. In fact, the only person who was at risk was Phoenix herself, via a flyer bearing an image of a cartoon character with a gun and the words “shut the f— up terf” (a common slur used against feminists).

A report on the university’s handling of the incident by a barrister, Akua Reindorf, concluded that Essex had breached the rights of Phoenix and another gender critical academic, Prof Rosa Freedman of Reading University, to freedom of expression. The vice-chancellor, Prof Anthony Forster, duly apologised – but then appeared to change his mind, issuing a bizarre second apology about the “very negative impact” of the Reindorf report on “trans and non-binary staff and students”.

“We know now that was an unlawful cancellation,” Phoenix points out. “But relations [at the OU] soured significantly from then on.” The hostility did not let up even when she found herself on sick leave after surgery on her spine. “My mother had just died,” she says. “I had just had my spine fused. A senior colleague called to check in on me. During the course of the conversation, she said one of her regrets was that she was never able to deal with the toxic environment at work.”

It was a classic piece of victim-blaming – and hard to imagine how Phoenix has managed to carry on working in such a hostile atmosphere. She is frank about the effects of the last two years. “I was struggling with extreme anxiety, sleeping less than two or three hours a night. The doctor prescribed sleeping pills. I found it difficult to sustain conversations. Looking back, I was barely functioning. I am still awake most nights every couple of hours. This morning I woke at 4am.”

Some people at the OU have been in touch to offer support, she says, but they dare not say anything publicly. Senior academics from across the country have told Phoenix they would like to be on the mailing list of the Gender Critical Network but, again, they dare not be open about it. It is not hard to understand why, after what has happened to Phoenix and Stock. In a surprise intervention, the latter received support from Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, who endorsed freedom of speech for academics in a message to a recently-founded charity, the LGB Alliance.

Phoenix is now back at work, but allowed to do “research duties only – I was advised not to go into my office”. It is clear that her “dream job” at the OU has become a nightmare, her life made impossible by strident accusations of “transphobia” at every turn.

It is all the more galling, she says, because of her background. “I’ve been an out lesbian since 1979. I’ve never in my life been transphobic. The word is meaningless.” She says she is happy to support people expressing any sense of gender identity they choose. “Why wouldn’t I do that? I have tattoos. I have short hair. I ride a motorbike.” What she does not support, she says, is the idea that if you criticise the LBGT organisation Stonewall – widely criticised for giving incorrect advice about the law to a number of organisations – you must automatically be transphobic.

When I ask her why she thinks universities have been so slow to speak up on behalf of their staff, she suggests that managers “do not want to come down on one side or the other. People like myself are left to slug it out at the individual level. It’s a tactical choice.”

Now she has had enough. On 17 October, she announced that she was crowd-funding legal action against the OU at an employment tribunal, in the hope the case will force universities to “protect female academics from the vicious bullying perpetrated by those who disagree with our beliefs in sex and gender”. After only four days, she had raised more than £60,000 – on Tuesday, she “cried with relief” as she hit her £80,000 target and her case against the OU was filed with the employment tribunal yesterday.


Jo Phoenix

A spokesman for the OU said it was “open to any member of our community to raise concerns under our internal processes and these will be investigated in line with our procedures”. It is not hard to imagine what Phoenix makes of that, but she has already survived more than most. In the preamble to her crowdfunder, she discloses that she was raped by two men when she was a teenager in Texas.

“I dropped out of school with nothing – and I suspect many thought I would not make 21. I am not a victim, capital A, capital V,” she insists. But she says that if there is a hill she has to die on, it is the protection of vulnerable women in prison – and the right to freedom of expression at British universities.

“How can this happen at the OU?” she demands, recalling that it was a female MP who was the driving force behind the founding of the university in the Sixties. “The OU has a history,” she says sadly. “Jennie Lee would be turning in her gr

What happened to Sarah Everard is a scandal – and the fall in rape convictions only makes things worse

As data show that rape reports are higher than ever and convictions at new lows, women still seem to be paying the price for sexual violence

Daily Telegraph, Friday 5 November 2021

In the eight months since the rape and murder of Sarah Everard, in spite of protests and promises that the police will do better to protect women, the number of rapes reported has soared to a record high. Meanwhile, the proportion being solved has fallen to a historic low.

In the 12 months ending in June this year, 61,158 offences were reported to the police in England and Wales – almost 1,200 every week, up 9.6 per cent on the previous year and the highest since records began in 2010. The scandal of Sarah’s killing at the hands of a serving officer has now been compounded by another, which illustrates what many already knew – that no case, even a highly public one, can be enough to fix the police’s rape conviction problem.

The rise in reports may have come from women so disturbed by Sarah’s case that they felt compelled to come forward about their own. But it’s also possible that sexual predators know that the arrest and imprisonment of her killer, Wayne Couzens, was a very rare event. The latest statistics show that only 1.4 per cent of reported rapes resulted in a charge or summons in the year to June – the lowest on record.

Let’s be clear about what this means. The vast majority of men who commit sexual offences will never be charged or convicted; on the contrary, they may be emboldened and attack more women. It is a colossal failure on the part of everyone involved – police, prosecutors and a whole series of government ministers.

The usual response is to call for a report; the most recent, an “end-to-end” rape review, was published in June this year. It was accompanied by a grovelling apology to rape victims, with ministers admitting they were “deeply ashamed” about the way women had been let down.

It all sounded good, but we have been here before. Ten years ago, the then-Home Secretary, Theresa May, welcomed an independent report carried out by Baroness Stern and promised it would “improve the way rape complaints are handled at every stage of the process”. It didn’t.

There is no mystery about why this has happened. The Government’s reviews are always unambitious, with the latest proposing only to restore the conviction rate back to what it was in 2016 when the system was already in crisis. It will take almost two decades to reach even that miserable target, if “improvements” continue at the present tortoise-like rate. There is without doubt a problem of resources, leading to delays that some victims find unbearable.

The central problem, however, is that the criminal justice system does not understand sexual violence. Since the abduction of Sarah Everard, the lengths women go to every day to protect themselves from assault have finally begun to emerge. We avoid certain areas, make arrangements with friends, carry keys in our hands – and what happened to Sarah is a reminder that these precautions are not always enough. We know that those 60,000 recorded rapes are nothing like the real total, if all the unreported attacks are taken into account.


Police, prosecutors and ministers don’t understand this – or they resist knowing it. They continue to treat rape – “real” rape as it’s sometimes called – as a rare and aberrant event committed by a handful of bad men. The entire criminal justice system is set up on the premise that women lie about rape, putting innocent men at risk of being convicted.


The focus of a rape investigation is flawed from the outset, often seemingly more concerned with undermining the credibility of complainants than catching out the lies of predatory men – even after the scandal of Jimmy Savile, who told barefaced lies to the police and got away with hundreds of sexual assaults.


There is a way to address this scandal. It requires police, prosecutors and the public to ditch the mindset which claims, without evidence, that women lie about rape. The focus of rape investigations needs to be where it belongs; on perpetrators, not victims. It’s all too evident that everything else – reports, reviews, ministerial apologies – has failed abysmally.



Kathleen Stock deserved better, Thursday 28 October 2021

The professor has now left Sussex University — how did it come to this?

There is no other way of putting it: a distinguished academic has been driven out of her job at a British university. For insisting on the reality of biological sex. A belief protected in law. Scarcely believable, and a terrible commentary on the poisonous atmosphere at some educational institutions. How could it come to this?

First, no one should be in any doubt about what Professor Kathleen Stock has gone through. ‘This has been an absolutely horrible time for me and my family,’ she writes on Twitter, announcing her decision to leave. ‘I’m putting it behind me now. On to brighter things soon, I hope.’

Many of us who saw the posters and masked protesters targeting Stock at Sussex two weekends ago will share that hope. But what has ended so badly for her has much wider implications. The Vice-chancellor, Adam Tickell, has written to all staff at Sussex, insisting that the university ‘has vigorously and unequivocally defended [Stock’s] right to exercise her academic freedom and lawful freedom of speech, free from bullying and harassment of any kind’.

Stock has responded by saying that the university leadership’s approach ‘more recently has been admirable and decent’, leaving open the question of what it did when she was first targeted. Because Stock and other gender critical academics, such as Professor Jo Phoenix of the Open University, have faced slurs and bullying for at least two years — so much so that Phoenix is raising funds to take the OU to an employment tribunal.

For too long, other academics have looked the other way, afraid of being targeted themselves, or in some cases even joined in the harassment. Who could forget the posters around Sussex demanding that Stock should be fired? Yet those of us who denounced the gender extremists behind the bullying of feminists, after our meetings to defend women’s rights were picketed by screaming trans activists, have been primly told that the issue is ‘toxic on both sides’.

It is hard to sustain this nonsense when you have seen the venom with your own eyes. Earlier this month, when women from all over the country gathered in Portsmouth to discuss violence against women, we had to walk past trans activists bearing posters that threatened us with sexual violence in the most obscene language imaginable.

On the ‘other side’ are lesbians like Stock and Phoenix, who simply ask to do their jobs — to ask awkward questions in a polite manner — without threats. On the ‘other side’ are women who highlight the conflict between the rights of vulnerable women in prisons and men who demand the right to be housed with them.

What has happened to Stock is indefensible — and it is shocking that the situation at Sussex was allowed to reach the point where she feels she has to leave. But it should also be the biggest red flag for people, including far too many academics and MPs, who have tried to keep their heads down.

Misogyny is rampant among gender extremists, and Stock’s resignation is the direct result. If you really care about women, now is the time to speak.