Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 5 September 2021

Imagine being shut up with a dozen strangers in one of the most hostile environments on Earth. That is what awaits an A&E doctor, Kate North, when she arrives at a UN research station in Antarctica in Emma Haughton’s outstanding crime fiction debut, The Dark (Hodder £12.99). Kate has arrived to replace the station’s previous doctor, who died in an accident on the ice, and she walks into an atmosphere of rivalry and suspicion.

Trust is vital to everyone’s survival, but as the season of 24-hour darkness approaches, petty disagreements take on a more sinister aspect. One of Kate’s new colleagues drops hints that her predecessor’s death was not an accident, and there is no way out when a member of the station staff is murdered. Haughton writes vividly about a claustrophobic community where highly trained professionals have to live with the ever-present threat that a piece of vital technology might break down; her novel is really a superlative locked-room mystery, given a contemporary feel by concerns about climate change.

A Line to Kill (Century £20) is the latest instalment in Anthony Horowitz’s series of novels featuring a perpetually anxious crime writer and a taciturn private investigator. Their collaboration on books about the detective’s most spectacular cases has never been easy, and it becomes more fraught when Horowitz sends the pair to Alderney to take part in a hastily arranged literary festival.
There are some delicious comic moments as they encounter their fellow participants, including a loud-mouthed TV chef and a volatile French performance poet. A party thrown by one of the festival’s sponsors ends in murder, but the best thing about this diverting novel is Horowitz’s stream of self-deprecating observations about being a writer.
SR White is a rising star of Australian crime fiction. Prisoner (Headline £18.99) has a startling opening scene in which a young man is found crucified in a swamp. The victim turns out to be a convicted rapist, released from prison only 24 hours earlier, who had been exchanging letters with two sisters who live in the only house for miles. If it sounds sensational, there is much more to this unusual novel than first appears, and White’s account of the murder investigation is gripping.
Ann Cleeves is best known for novels set in Shetland and the north of England, but her Two Rivers series is based in Devon. The first novel in the set, The Long Call, was a bestseller and The Heron’s Cry (Macmillan £20) has the same slightly melancholic atmosphere. The plot revolves around the murder of a retired doctor, who is killed with a shard of glass from a vase created by his daughter, a talented glassblower — one of several melodramatic touches in an uneven novel. The chilliness of the central character, DI Matthew Venn, spreads through the pages, and his relationship with his husband feels very much observed from the outside.
The new novel by Paula Hawkins, A Slow Fire Burning (Doubleday £20), is pure melodrama. The author of the bestselling The Girl on the Train has come up with a set of highly emotional characters who live in a diverse neighbourhood around Regent’s Canal in north London, each of them bursting with disappointment, grief
and resentment. The starting point is a murder on a canal boat, but the plot spreads out to encompass long-ago events, including the apparently accidental death of a toddler and the abduction of two schoolgirls. The novel is fast-paced, highly charged and carried off with so much confidence it is hard to resist.


Six months after Sarah Everard disappeared, women don’t feel any safer in Britain

When rapes and murders are called ‘isolated incidents’ and our justice system is suspicious of victims, it’s no surprise nothing has changed.

Daily Telegraph, Thursday 3 September 2021

Six months ago today, the disappearance of a 33-year-old marketing executive, Sarah Everard, shocked the nation. A week later, the revelation that she had been abducted and killed by a serving police officer while walking home in south London caused widespread horror. If Sarah wasn’t safe at 9.30pm in the evening, in a residential area of London, what about the rest of us?

Over the next days and weeks, we stepped up precautions that were already second nature to women up and down the country. We checked in on each other, texting to make sure our friends had got home safely and avoided routes where we might feel vulnerable. 

We talked among ourselves about what happened to Sarah, scarcely able to contemplate her final hours, while some male friends began to acknowledge that a woman’s experience of being out alone at night is entirely different from a man’s. But we also had to point out that many women live with violent men and don’t even feel safe at home.

“Surely this will lead to change?” I was asked by people who wanted to feel that something good would emerge from this terrible case. I didn’t think it would – and I was right to be sceptical. Almost half of women (48 per cent) feel less safe than they did in March, according to a new survey conducted by Bauer Media, despite the fact that so many people felt that Sarah’s rape and murder was a watershed moment.

If more of us feel unsafe these days, it is because we are sick of being told that rapes and murders are “isolated incidents” – and being given patronising advice such as not wearing headphones when walking alone.

Why would we feel safe? Reported rapes in London increased from 698 in April to 847 in June, and the rolling 12-month total reached 8,182 a month later. That is more than 20 every day in the capital alone, but we know that most rapes are never reported. Those that do rarely lead to a suspect being charged – fewer than one in 60, according to figures released in May – and the conviction rate is even lower.

A criminal justice system that allows more than 50,000 rapists to remain free each year in England and Wales is a threat to women. Earlier this year, the Home Office received more than 180,000 responses to a consultation on a new violence against women and girls (VAWG) strategy, giving some indication of how strongly people feel about this shameful failure of the state to protect half the population. Not everyone, however: last month a sculpture set up in a Sheffield park to draw attention to VAWG was razed to the ground in an arson attack.

The government’s VAWG strategy was published in July and one of its innovations, a pilot scheme that allows women to make anonymous reports about areas where they feel unsafe, goes live today. It all sounds well-meant, but do police have the resources to put more officers into areas flagged up in the pilot? Cuts to police budgets have had a catastrophic impact on their ability to respond even to serious crimes, and it doesn’t seem likely that anonymous reports of harassment will be a priority. Another innovation, a £5million safety at night fund, doesn’t even amount to £1 for every woman who doesn’t feel safe.

The most pressing problem is a criminal justice system that is imbued with suspicion towards victims. Nothing highlights the imbalance more than the practise of asking women who have been raped to hand over their phones, rather than alleged perpetrators. The Government has made noises about placing limits on what officers can look at, but it is a long way from reversing the hugely damaging focus on the credibility of victims.

Women were anxious about trusting the police before Sarah’s murder, but rising VAWG rates – and thwarted expectations in its wake – have made everything worse. How many more women have to be attacked before murders and rapes become the priority they should already be? 

It could not be clearer that crimes against women escalate, starting from offences such as indecent exposure – yet warning signs about her killer, PC Wayne Couzens, did not lead to disciplinary action. When he was working in Kent, colleagues nicknamed him “the rapist” because of his attitude to women, yet he was able to transfer to a job as an armed officer with the Metropolitan police. Hundreds of allegations of domestic abuse have been made against serving officers, yet measures to identify predators in the force appear to be wholly inadequate.

The harsh reality is that nothing will change until sexual predators fear arrest, conviction and losing their liberty. And right now, we are no nearer to that than we were when Sarah Everard began her last walk through the streets of south London, half a year ago.


Is Richard Osman a one-trick pony?

Sunday Times, 29 August 2021

The Man Who Died Twice (Viking £18.99)

Richard Osman’s first novel, The Thursday Murder Club, was last year’s publishing sensation — and a mystery in its own right. It was simultaneously the fastest-selling crime debut since records began, shooting to No 1 in the bestseller charts, and a novel so flawed that it is hard to believe it would ever have been published without a celebrity’s name on the cover. Now his second, The Man Who Died Twice, looks set for success on the same scale.
Osman has stuck to a winning formula with his new book, setting it in the upmarket retirement village in Kent he invented for the first. It has, too, the same central characters, a quartet of sparky elderly people who amuse themselves by trying to solve cold murder cases. This time the plot revolves around the sudden reappearance of the ex-husband of Elizabeth, the retired MI5 agent who is always making oblique references to her colourful past. (Think a female James Bond, stuck in a retirement home in the home counties, and you get the idea.) The ex is on the run after stealing diamonds worth £20 million from a money launderer, a plot so hackneyed that it is hard to read without yawning.
Like the earlier novel, The Man Who Died Twice is an easy read. Osman is a familiar, engaging face from TV, and he has also benefited from an accident of timing that might explain much about his success, making his crime fiction debut last September at a moment when people had endured months of lockdowns and painful separations from relatives. The news might be full of grim stories about elderly people dying in care homes, but both books offer an idealised vision of old age. The central characters are in their seventies or eighties, but retain all their faculties and do not appear to have any financial problems as they run rings around the police.
Readers of the first novel will remember Ron, the fiery former trade union leader who has mellowed under the influence of his new friends. Ibrahim is a psychiatrist and the group’s intellectual. Finally there is Joyce, a former nurse and the most self-deprecating member of the group. With her endless digressions into trivia, she is also the character whose antecedents in crime fiction are most immediately recognisable.
In 1927 Agatha Christie introduced what would become one of her best-loved characters, Miss Marple, in a short story that later evolved into The Thirteen Problems. The book has a group of upper-middle-class friends gathering every Tuesday evening to discuss an unsolved murder; the American edition, published in 1933, is actually called The Tuesday Club Murders. Christie describes Miss Marple as “a pink and white pretty old lady who, although having led the most sheltered and Victorian of lives, nevertheless always appeared to be intimately acquainted with all the depths of human depravity”.
Osman’s Joyce is a modern-day equivalent of Miss Marple, as unshockable as Christie’s original but with some knowing and slightly anachronistic contemporary touches. At one point in the new novel she wishes there might be a gay affair in the retirement village: “We haven’t had one of those at Coopers Chase yet, and I
think everyone would enjoy it.” Osman seems strikingly keen on ticking all the diversity boxes, but it sits oddly in what can only be described as a tediously old-fashioned caper.
What is clear after reading both novels is that Osman is a very much a one-trick pony, whose chief device is subverting expectations about the elderly in a series of attention-grabbing asides. “She has heard all sorts over the years,” he writes of Elizabeth. “A snippet of conversation in a Berlin bar, a loose-lipped Russian sailor on shore leave in Tripoli.” Don’t expect to find out what the sailor said, though, because I doubt whether Osman knows himself.
He is essentially writing soap opera, and there is nothing wrong with that, but his characters are paper-thin. Ron is the only working-class character in the club and he turns out to be a bit of a thug, while Ibrahim might as well be called John for all we discover about his background. Most striking of all, however, are the murders, which hardly matter, acting as little more than devices to keep the whole thing going.

The most paradoxical thing about Osman’s success is that he is not really a crime writer at all. The Thursday Murder Club would not feature in my top 50 crime novels for 2020, let alone the top ten, and the new book is even weaker. Osman does not take murder seriously, dispatching characters with careless abandon, and both novels lack the underlying moral seriousness that is an essential ingredient of the best crime fiction.
There is no doubt that Osman is a phenomenon, but that says more about
the relationship between celebrity and publishing than it does about his writing. I suspect these are novels for readers who do not normally like crime fiction — and there appear to be plenty of those.


Why did Sadiq Khan’s office fire me?, Friday 20 August 2021

Back in 2013, when Boris Johnson was Mayor of London, I was surprised to get a message from City Hall. One of Johnson’s deputies, Stephen Greenhalgh, wanted to know if I would be willing to join him as Co-Chair of the Mayor’s Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG) Board — the body that draws up policy to tackle domestic and sexual violence in London. Johnson and Greenhalgh wanted to bring in an independent expert and decided to invite me on the advice of a number of women’s organisations.

I jumped at the chance, even though I am a member of the Labour party, and we worked amicably together for the next three years. Fast forward to 2021: Johnson is prime minister, Lord Greenhalgh (as he now is) is a government minister and I am out. More than that, I am in a peculiar situation: I have voted Labour all my life, yet was brought into City Hall by a Conservative administration — and sacked by its Labour successor.

The dismissal arrived last Friday afternoon, as I was writing and giving interviews about the dreadful murders in Plymouth less than 24 hours earlier (I have written a book about the relationship between misogyny, domestic abuse and terrorism). The last thing I expected, in the middle of such horror, was to be sacked by email.

After eight years of unpaid work on behalf of women and girls in London, it seems reasonable to expect that Sadiq Khan or Sophie Linden, the deputy mayor who replaced Greenhalgh, would have wanted to tell me themselves. But I have not heard a word from Khan and I only had a call from Linden yesterday after the Times published a story about the incident. Before that, all I had received was a series of diary notifications from her office, cancelling all the meetings I was supposed to have with her over the next twelve months.

The news was delivered in an email from Diana Luchford, a former civil servant at the Home Office, who is now CEO of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. I had to read it twice before the meaning sank in: I am out, thus removing independent scrutiny at a moment when the behaviour of the Metropolitan police towards women has been fiercely criticised

Take the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer, followed the force’s callous handling of a vigil to commemorate her. Or its failure to investigate when two murdered sisters, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, were reported missing last year. If ever an outside voice were needed to raise women’s anxieties at City Hall, it is surely now.

My sacking has been attributed to a “governance review”, even though I made it clear months ago that I wanted to stay on as Co-chair. Luchford’s email did offer a sop: that I could remain on the board as an “advisor”. But that would remove my influence over the agenda and access to important meetings behind the scenes.

As Co-Chair, I was able to make sure that vital issues raised by recent events were discussed. For example, I argued that we needed to know what the Metropolitan Police intend to do to improve the way they identify sexual predators in their own ranks, and to make sure that complaints of domestic abuse against serving officers are handled properly. I also expressed my concern, privately, that the Mayor’s focus on issues such as knife crime risked diverting attention from crimes against women, including black women in London who suffer disproportionately high levels of rape and sexual assault.

At the end of March, just weeks after the abduction of Ms Everard, the number of rapes reported in London reached a ten-year high. The figures are shocking, and I thought they would be discussed at the most recent meeting of the London Crime Reduction Board, which is chaired by the Mayor. When I asked why we were not talking about the rape statistics, I was told they would be on the agenda of the next meeting — in October.

Linden has insisted that the sacking has nothing do with my attempt to protect women-only spaces in refuges, which receive key funding from City Hall. Last year I became aware that some women’s organisations were becoming alarmed by tweets from the Mayor’s official Twitter account. They felt under growing pressure to admit male-bodied trans women — men who have not undergone surgery but “identify” as women — to spaces currently reserved for female victims of domestic violence. No one is suggesting that trans women who suffer domestic abuse don’t need services, but they should be provided without affecting the principle of women-only spaces.

“Trans women are women, trans men are men,” Khan declared in February, repeating the mantra of trans activists. “Trans people deserve the dignity and safety of being recognised as their gender,” he tweeted a few months later when it was reported that the government had dropped plans to allow people to self-identify as the other sex. “I’m dismayed that the Govt has made a U-turn on its own consultation to make the Gender Recognition Act more straightforward.”

It didn’t matter that trans activists were demanding almost total deregulation of the legal process of “changing” sex, which would make it less onerous than adopting a child or getting a driving licence. Or that self-ID has huge implications for women, most obviously for vulnerable women who need spaces away from men in refuges, hospitals and prisons. Sadiq Khan was fully on board — and had ignored requests from women’s organisations, including the Labour Women’s Declaration, for a meeting.

I discussed the Mayor’s tweets with Karen Ingala Smith, indomitable CEO of nia, the organisation that provides services to victims of sexual and domestic violence in east London. We decided to write to Linden, warning her about the impact Khan’s statements were having on organisations that depend on City Hall for funding: “How can it have anything other than a chilling effect when the Mayor publicly takes sides with a group of activists on such a contentious issue?” we asked.

We received an equivocating reply, repeating the Mayor’s view that “trans women are women” and making the dubious claim that the “basic human rights [of trans people] remain unmet”. Linden told us that the Mayor’s approach to providing services “is led by the needs of victims and survivors on a clear principle of non-discrimination”, a puzzling statement since women’s organisations are highly unlikely to discriminate on grounds of age, race, religion or disability.

They might exclude someone with male genitals from a women’s refuge — but that would be a lawful use of the exemptions in the 2010 Equality Act. We wrote again, seeking an assurance that no women’s organisation supported by the Mayor would be penalised financially for doing so. Linden did not reply.

Then, last October, we wrote directly to Khan, reminding him that he voted for what is now the Equality Act when he was a Labour MP in 2009. “If you no longer support the Act in full, including the provision to restrict access on the ground of biological sex in certain circumstances, we believe that such a significant shift should be publicly acknowledged and debated,” we wrote. Ten months later, we are still waiting for a response.

Now I’ve been ousted. Yesterday, Linden took to Twitter to deny claims that I had been sacked after raising concerns about transwomen in refuges. She reiterated: “This is simply not true. The structure of all our boards at City Hall is being changed. [My dismissal] has nothing to do with any views Joan has expressed.” In response, all I can say is that I’ve spent years advocating for the safety of women and girls — and having an outside expert at City Hall seems to me as important as ever.


If extreme misogyny is an ideology, doesn’t that make the Plymouth killer a terrorist?

The Observer, Sunday 15 August 2021

To track the ‘incel’ diatribes uttered and read by Jake Davison, murdering women can seem like the logical conclusion to their seething hatred

The hours after a fatal attack on members of the public are harrowing. Confusion reigns, rumours swirl and anxious people try to contact loved ones to make sure they are safe. Last Thursday evening, as reports of gunfire and possible fatalities on a housing estate in Plymouth began to circulate, the question of whether it was a terrorist incident was at the forefront of everyone’s minds. When Devon and Cornwall police announced it was not terrorism-related, I wondered how they could be so sure – and their judgment has been called into question by everything that has emerged since.

We now know that 22-year-old Jake Davison was a misogynist who shot dead his mother, who had recently been treated for cancer, before taking the lives of four others. There are parallels between Plymouth and the Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut in 2012, when Adam Lanza shot his mother five times before going to a primary school where he killed 20 children and six adults, all women. Not for the first time, the significance of extreme misogyny in the genesis of a fatal attack on members of the public seems to have been missed.

It is hard to see how Davison’s actions fail to meet the government’s definition of terrorism, which includes “the use of threat or action… to intimidate the public”. Examples include serious violence against one or more people, endangering someone’s life or creating a serious risk to the health and safety of the public: tick, tick and tick. But here is the get-out clause. The definition stipulates that terrorism must be “for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause” and it is often argued that even the most extreme misogyny does not meet that test.

It seems that its deadly interaction with other forms of extremism is poorly understood, something that struck me forcibly after the Manchester Arena bombing in 2017. Five years earlier, Salman Abedi was already showing signs of being radicalised, but the significance of his assault on a young Muslim woman at college was not recognised. Abedi punched her in the head for wearing a short skirt, almost knocking her out in front of witnesses. It was an act of staggering brutality, displaying a toxic combination of misogyny and allegiance to Islamist ideology, along with a low threshold for violence. Yet Abedi was not charged. Greater Manchester police dealt with the incident through restorative justice and Abedi owned up to anger management issues, avoiding a referral to the Prevent counter-terrorism programme. In what seems to be an example of history repeating itself, it has been revealed that Devon and Cornwall police recently restored Davison’s firearms licence, which he lost in December, after he agreed to take part in an anger management course.

Yet Davison made no secret of his seething resentment of women, posting hate-filled diatribes on YouTube. He compared himself to “incels” – involuntary celibates – angry young men who blame women for their inability to get sex and revealed an obsession with guns. In a video uploaded three weeks before the shootings, he came close to justifying sexual violence. “Why do you think sexual assaults and all these things keep rising?” he demanded in a 10-minute rant, claiming that “women don’t need men no more”. One of the questions Devon and Cornwall police need to answer is if they were aware of the content of Davison’s social media posts when they returned his licence.

In North America, incels have been linked with white supremacy, as well as being held responsible for the murders of around 50 people. In Canada, their ideology has been designated a form of violent extremism following an attack on a Toronto massage parlour last year in which a woman was stabbed to death by a 17-year-old man. It was the second such attack in the city in two years, after a self-described incel drove a van into pedestrians in 2018, killing 10 people.

In the UK, however, misogyny is not even widely recognised as the driving force behind violence against women. Time and again, we hear about men who supposedly “just snapped” and killed their female partners in what the police describe as “domestic” and “isolated” incidents. Not so isolated, given that 1,425 women were killed by men in the UK between 2009 and 2018, but we are expected to believe that such homicides could not be predicted or stopped. In fact, it is rare for a woman to be murdered by a current or former partner without a previous history of domestic abuse.

Hatred of women is normalised, dismissed as an obsession of feminists, even when its horrific consequences are staring us in the face. In June last year, two sisters, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, were murdered in a north London park by a teenager. Danyal Hussein, now 19, had been referred to Prevent after using school computers to access rightwing websites, but was discharged after a few months with no further concerns. What seems to have been missed is his virulent misogyny, which led him to make a “pact” with a “demon” to kill six women in six months.

Five years ago, I began to notice how many men who committed fatal terrorist attacks had a history of misogyny and domestic abuse – practising at home, in other words. No one would listen so I wrote a book about it, listing around 50 perpetrators who had previously terrorised current and ex-partners. It was published in 2019 and inspired groundbreaking research by counter-terrorism policing, showing that almost 40% of referrals to the Prevent programme had a history of domestic abuse, as perpetrators, witnesses or victims. Project Starlight has produced a number of recommendations, arguing that counter-terrorism officers need to look for evidence of violence against women when they are assessing the risk posed by suspects.

That is a welcome development, but we need to go further. We are all in shock after hearing about the horrific events in Plymouth, while the grief of the victims’ families is awful to contemplate. But Davison’s murderous rampage demonstrates that our understanding of what constitutes terrorism is too restrictive. Extreme misogyny needs to be recognised as an ideology in its own right – and one that carries an unacceptable risk of radicalising bitter young men.

 Joan Smith is the author of Home Grown: How Domestic Violence Turns Men Into Terrorists


What do so many terrorists have in common? They abuse women

The Guardian, Friday 6 August 2012

Groundbreaking research shows that extremist attackers are often united in their violent misogyny, whatever their ideology

Five years ago, I began to notice that the perpetrators of some of the worst terrorist attacks had something in common. A high proportion shared a history of assaulting wives, girlfriends and other female relatives, sometimes involving a whole series of victims, long before they attacked total strangers.

In the summer of 2016, for example, when just two terrorist attacks in Florida and the south of France left 135 people dead and hundreds injured, both perpetrators claimed to be Islamists. But I was struck by the fact that each had a horrific record of domestic violence.

A year later, there were four fatal attacks in the UK and all six perpetrators turned out either to have abused women or, in one case, to have witnessed his father abusing his mother and sister. There were striking similarities between the histories of Darren Osborne, the rightwing extremist who drove a van into worshippers leaving a mosque in north London, and Khalid Masood, the Islamist who staged an attack on Westminster Bridge. Both men had criminal records for violent offences – and both had abused women.

I thought these cases challenged conventional wisdom about terrorism, which holds that it is all about ideology. Many fatal terrorist attacks actually appeared to be an escalation of violence that had been going on, sometimes for years, against members of the perpetrator’s family. I was convinced that the police and MI5 needed to change the way they assessed the risk posed by suspects, treating a history of domestic violence as a very significant red flag.

When I raised this with the authorities, however, I encountered scepticism and disbelief. So I decided to write a book, using published sources to piece together a woeful catalogue of men who had humiliated, beaten and sexually assaulted women long before they became notorious as terrorists. It was published in 2019 and this time senior figures at counter-terrorism policing and the Home Office listened.

They commissioned groundbreaking research using data on just over 3,000 referrals to the Prevent programme in England and Wales in 2019 – adults and children who had caused concern to teachers, social workers and family members because of a possible vulnerability to radicalisation (V2R). The results of what came to be called Project Starlight have not yet been published, but I have been given access to them – and they are stunning.

Almost 40% of adult referrals had a history of domestic abuse either as perpetrators, witnesses or victims – or a combination of all three. This is likely to be an underestimate, given that domestic violence is one of the most under-reported crimes, but it provides some idea of prevalence for the first time. The comparable figure for children is 30%, another likely underestimate because under-16s were not routinely questioned about domestic abuse in the home.

There were many more men than women among the sample and the research showed another significant difference between the sexes: male referrals were more likely to be perpetrators of domestic abuse, while the women were more likely to be victims. But what is really shocking is the extent and seriousness of the violence disclosed in family histories. “Incidents recorded ranged from children witnessing domestic abuse in their households to people being convicted of the attempted murder of their partner.”

As I expected, the link is visible across ideologies, from Islamists and rightwing extremists to the fifth of the sample where no known ideology was identified. This confirms my theory that terrorism is at least as much about male violence as ideology, suggesting that angry young men are attracted to extremist ideas that appear to “justify” their grievances. The route from victim to perpetrator is not inevitable but it is well known, and the research reveals that almost 16% of adult V2R referrals had been victims of domestic abuse, nearly three times higher than the estimated national figure.

Take the tragic case of the Deghayes brothers from Brighton. After enduring years of violence at the hands of their father, 18-year-old Amer Deghayes fled to Syria where he joined a terrorist organisation, the al-Nusra Front, in 2013. Two younger brothers followed and were killed within months of their arrival. Another brother, who had remained in Brighton, was convicted of drugs offences and stabbed to death in 2019. The cost of violence in the home is unacceptably high.

Another reason why extremist organisations appeal to aggrieved men is, I’m afraid, their misogyny. When the Project Starlight researchers looked for a link between V2R referrals and hate crime, they did not find it – but they did find one with woman-hating. Indeed so-called incels – bitter young men who blame women for their inability to get sex – have carried out fatal attacks in the US and Canada.

A recent horrific case suggests that counter-terrorism officials need to be alert to the possibility that extreme misogyny is in itself a form of radicalisation. Last month a 19-year-old man was convicted of the murders of two sisters, Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, in north London. At his trial, it emerged that Danyal Hussein had been referred to Prevent in 2017 after using school computers to access far-right material.

He appeared in front of a Channel panel, the statutory body that assesses the risk posed by individuals, but was discharged a few months later with no continuing concerns in relation to extremism or terrorism. Yet Hussein would later draw up a “contract” with a “demon” in which he promised to kill six women – and only women – in six months in return for winning the lottery. He refused to give detectives his passwords, so it is impossible to confirm a suspicion that he may have accessed incel sites on the web. But in a note that echoes the incel obsession with not feeling sufficiently attractive to women, he pledged to “offer some blood” in exchange for making a girl fall in love with him.

All this demands a revolution in how we think about terrorism, domestic violence and misogyny. The Project Starlight report rightly includes a raft of recommendations, calling for much wider awareness of the link between violent extremism and a history of domestic violence. “All counter-terrorism case officers should consider checking for potential links to a domestic abuse-related incident,” it says.

But this may not be straightforward when so few incidents lead to convictions. A recent report revealed that three-quarters of domestic abuse cases reported to the police in England were closed without the perpetrator being charged. Some organisations have come up with welcome innovations – Croydon in south London, for instance, has a specialist social worker sitting on Channel panels, leading to the disclosure of previously unsuspected domestic abuse in the history of V2R referrals.

But the Cinderella status of crimes against women can no longer be tolerated. The connection between private and public violence is now crystal clear – and the cost of continuing to ignore it is way too high.


It’s not up to neighbours to look for signs of domestic abuse – the hidden coronavirus crisis

Daily Telegraph, Monday 30 March 2020

Staying at home for days on end is a new experience for many people. Some of us are getting to know neighbours for the first time, discovering a community spirit we’ve heard about from older generations – and now it appears we’re expected to police them as well. We’re being asked to look out for signs of domestic abuse, listen out for arguments and check for bruises when we glimpse neighbours over the garden all.

The call comes from a leading light in the Local Government Association, the organisation that represents councils in England, and is a response to fears that the coronavirus lockdown has already prompted an increase in incidents. It’s a well-known fact that reports of abuse shoot up over Christmas and the summer holidays when angry, impulsive men find themselves at home with their families. MPs and campaigners fear it will be much worse if women are shut up with abusive men for weeks because of COVID-19 but government ministers, who ordered the lockdown, has taken no steps to protect them.

Enter Cllr Simon Blackburn, who chairs the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board. ‘Tackling domestic abuse is an issue that councils take extremely seriously and we are all too aware that vulnerable people may be affected due to the impact of the coronavirus response,’ he says. He is asking neighbours to watch out for rows,  shouting and signs of controlling behaviour, always assuming they know what to look for.

No doubt his intervention is well-meant, but it’s fraught with problems. How many ordinary people could describe coercive control or know how to spot it, especially at a time when we’re supposed to be limiting contact with people outside our own households? Most police officers certainly don’t, judging by the low number of prosecutions that have been brought since it became a criminal offence in 2015.

Of course neighbours should call the police if they hear screams or sounds of violence from next door. But many people will already be consumed by their own problems, whether it’s how to pay the rent or having to isolate because someone in the family has symptoms of COVID-19. And if they do spot abuse and report it, no extra resources have been given either to the police or women’s refuges to deal with the expected surge in domestic violence.

Make no mistake about it, this is a growing scandal. A number of police forces are already reporting an increase in reported incidents, including in Somerset and Avon where there was a 20.9 per cent increase over the last couple of weeks. In South Wales, a man has been charged with murder after Ruth Williams, 67, was found unresponsive at her home in Cwmbran on Saturday morning. She later died in hospital.

It isn’t as though Boris Johnson’s all-male ‘war cabinet’ of ministers hasn’t been warned. A former home secretary, Amber Rudd, rightly complained about the exclusion of women from the inner circle of decision-makers, to no effect. Ministers know perfectly well what the risks are, admitting as much in a mealy-mouthed message at the weekend.

‘The government acknowledges that the order to stay at home can cause anxiety for those who are experiencing or feel at risk of domestic abuse,’ it says, before going on to direct victims to existing services, such as women’s refuges, which were unable to cope with demand before the pandemic. Advice that victims should dial 999 also raises questions about whether the police, whose numbers are rapidly being depleted by sickness and the need to self-isolate, have anything like the numbers needed to respond to a sharp increase in what is already an incredibly common crime.

Common but by no means universally condemned, as we were reminded at the weekend. What on earth possessed a boxer and self-professed Christian, Billy Joe Saunders, to make a video of himself showing men how to beat up female relatives during lockdown? The advice was to be used ‘if your old woman is giving you mouth’, Saunders said, invoking a deservedly forgotten era of Andy Capp cartoon strips. The WBO Super Middleweight Champion, who is clearly not so super after all, has now been suspended by the Boxing Board of Control until a future hearing.

The harsh truth is that women are paying the price for years of neglect of a serious and pervasive offence. It is frankly astonishing that a crime that affects 1.6m women each year, according to the Office of National Statistics, is so far back in the queue when it comes to attention, public outrage and resources.

Pleas to neighbours and people who work in shops like pharmacies to look out for signs of domestic abuse are little more than a sticking-plaster. They speak volumes about the government’s priorities – and what happens when women are excluded from life-or-death decisions during a national emergency.

Pity the women locked in with their abusers, Friday 27 March 2020

Go home! Stay home! Don’t go out unless you have to! It is sound and welcome advice most people in a global pandemic. But there’s one group in whom it will have inspired nothing but despair — all those at risk of domestic violence.

Why do 999 calls shoot up at Christmas and in the summer holidays? Because abusive partners find themselves at home with their families for a few days. Imagine, then, what’s going to happen when these angry, frustrated and violent men are shut up inside for weeks on end because of the coronavirus. The nation’s pubs are closed and there isn’t even any live sport to distract them.

According to the ONS, an estimated 1.6 million women suffer domestic abuse in England and Wales in a normal year. (Men are at risk, too, but the statistics show that women suffer more repeat incidents and more severe injuries.) With the lockdown, all those women will have even fewer opportunities to ring for help or go online for advice. In some places, they can’t even escape to the park to make a discreet phone call for help or support, because they have been shut. Thanks Hammersmith and Fulham. But this council isn’t alone in its short-sightedness. Very little has been done to address the problem. In fact, it has barely even been acknowledged by Government.

It’s as though ministers live in a rose-tinted world where home is the safest place to be, oblivious to the mass of statistics that tell a different story. We know that domestic abuse — the type that gets reported to the police, at any rate — is linked to deprivation, insecure employment and over-crowded housing. And those in the least secure jobs, the cab drivers and construction workers who are mostly self-employed, are the immediate losers amid the pandemic. They’ve had to wait 10 days longer than employees to find out what the Chancellor proposes to do for them. Frustrations and tensions will have been ratcheting up.

We also know that anxious, depressed men are likely to turn to drink, with a quarter of victims of domestic violence reporting that their abusers were using drugs or alcohol at the time of an attack. During lockdown, a spike in alcohol abuse is inevitable — and people are already drinking more. Off-licences are being allowed to remain open, following reports that some supermarkets can’t cope with increased demand for beer, wine and spirits.

It’s not as though we don’t know what to expect. In China, a police station in the worst-affected province received three times as many reports of domestic abuse in February, compared with the same period last year. Some governments, notably those of Germany and Spain, have acknowledged the probable impact of coronavirus lockdowns. The German family ministry has posted emergency phone numbers for anyone experiencing ‘conflicts arising at home’, offering counselling to teenagers, pregnant women and victims of domestic abuse. In Spain, the government has set up an instant messaging service and an online chatroom to provide immediate support to victims. Such measures are welcome, even if they fall short of providing desperately-needed emergency accommodation.

When Boris Johnson was asked about the risk of a surge in domestic violence a couple of weeks ago, he replied with his usual combination of bluster and bragging, insisting that he had just put “record funding” back into councils even though the money wasn’t earmarked for — and is unlikely to be allocated to — services for victims of abuse. But the truth is that organisations trying to help women escape violent relationships were in dire straits before the coronavirus sent the country into quarantine. It was already the case that two-thirds of women in need of a refuge place were being turned away, forcing them to move in with relatives, risk becoming homeless or stay with a man who had beaten and raped them.

Some of these women may now end up being killed in their own homes. Domestic homicides were already at a five-year high before the epidemic broke out. The latest Femicide Census makes sombre reading, listing 149 killings and demonstrating once again that that women are most likely to be killed by a current or ex-partner; in cases where perpetrator and victim were known to each other, more than half of the deaths occurred in households with a history of domestic abuse.

Perhaps Boris Johnson’s masculine War Cabinet should flick through it. The statistic that should really worry them is the fact that 68% of such killings took place in or immediately around the family home – the very place where they’ve told women to isolate.

In Greater Manchester, there have already been reports of abuse linked to the lockdown, according to Beverley Hughes, deputy mayor for policing and crime. Avon and Somerset police, too, reported a 20.9% increase in domestic abuse incidents in the last two weeks, from 718 to 868. And police in Cumbria have asked postal workers and delivery drivers to look out for signs of abuse.

But thus far, despite an array of individuals and organisations — including Women’s Aid and the recently-appointed Domestic Violence Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs —pleading for some sort of Government provision, little seems to have been done.  The only concession the Government has openly made is to exempt those fleeing a violent relationship from lockdown enforcement fines.

But there’s absolutely no mystery about what the ministers could and should do. They urgently need to provide extra financial support for victims’ organisations to help cope with increased demand; they should instruct the police to check on households with a known history of domestic abuse; they should use domestic violence protection orders (DVPOs) to get the worst abusers out of their homes; and they should use empty hotels to provide emergency accommodations for women and children. They should also do everything within their power to promote the services that are already available for these vulnerable women.

As the scale of the pandemic was starting to become apparent, the Prime Minister boasted in the House of Commons that his Government has an “outstanding record in tackling violence against women and girls”. It was a dubious claim before coronavirus changed the landscape of the UK, emptying the streets and sequestering the population behind closed doors. It looks even more suspect now as thousands of vulnerable women look forward to the next few weeks not just with the anxiety we all feel during a global pandemic, but outright terror.


Here’s the problem with telling women in abusive relationships to self-isolate

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 17 March 2020

How many times do we have to say it? Home is not a safe place for thousands of women who live with abusive men. Yet the government’s latest response to the coronavirus epidemic – advising whole swathes of the population to isolate themselves at home – appears to have been drawn up without considering the potentially devastating consequences for vulnerable women.

According to its own figures, an estimated 1.6 m women in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse in the year to March 2019. We already know that reports of domestic violence shoot up in the summer and over the Christmas period, when men have time off work and spend longer with their families. In Northern Ireland, police recorded ‘a significant increase in reporting’ over the Christmas and new year holidays in 2018.

Now, though, individuals at higher risk of contracting Corvid-19, including those aged 70 and over, are being told to stay at home for up to 12 weeks. Younger people with underlying health conditions have received similar advice, while families where a member displays symptoms of the virus are expected to isolate themselves for two weeks.

This is no doubt sound medical advice, judging by the alarming rise in infections (and fatalities) in Italy. But ministers seems to have given no thought to the impact on women and children of being forced to stay at home for lengthy periods with angry, impulsive men. In London alone, the police recorded just over 145,000 incidents of domestic abuse last year, with spikes in June and December.

Most victims were aged between 25 and 34 but four per cent were aged 65 and above, and most experts think that domestic violence against older women is under-reported. According to the latest Femicide Census, 23 of the female fatalities recorded in 2018 were aged 66 or older – the very age group that’s been asked to bear the heaviest restrictions over the next three months. They aren’t just at risk from husbands or partners, either; seven women in this age group were killed by a son, son-in-law or grandson

Also according to the report, domestic homicides had reached a five-year high before the coronavirus epidemic broke out. Women are most likely to be killed by a current or ex-partner and 68 per cent of such killings took place in or immediately around the family home, in places such as a garage or garden. Overall, more than half of the killings in 2018 occurred in households which already had a history of domestic abuse.

If abusive men can’t even cope with the summer holidays without turning on their female relatives, how are they likely to react to the added pressure of financial insecurities – being laid off or losing a job altogether? With sports fixtures being cancelled left, right and centre, they won’t even be able to distract themselves by watching football or rugby, and some will be unable to resist the temptation of drinking heavily.

In China, there have already been anecdotal reports of an increase in domestic abuse in areas worst affected by Corvid-19. ‘The epidemic has had a huge impact on domestic violence’, according to Wan Fei, the founder of a domestic abuse charity in Hubei province. Incidents reported to a local police station are said to have tripled in February, compared to the same month in 2019.

In this country, organisations that offer support to victims of abuse are braced for a big increase in the volume of calls at a time when resources are already stretched to breaking point. Providing emergency accommodation and making sure women know how to access it could literally save lives over the next few months, yet the government has put nothing in place.

On the contrary, Boris Johnson reacted with astonishing complacency when he was challenged to increase funding for victims of domestic violence at prime minister’s questions last week. ‘We’ve just put record funding back into councils to support them in all their responsibilities’, he boasted.

There’s no extra money to deal with fallout from the coronavirus epidemic, in other words – and local authorities faced with a raft of competing demands might not use the cash that’s already been allocated to provide more refuge places.

Instead, Johnson seized the opportunity to highlight the government’s domestic violence bill, a piece of legislation that’s already been criticised for its failure to provide desperately-needed resources. And it may well be delayed if Parliamentary business is interrupted by the epidemic.

In the midst of a national emergency, it is vital that the most vulnerable members of society are not left to fend for themselves. Helplines and refuges urgently need extra resources to cope with higher demand, and the police could be asked to check on households with a known history of domestic abuse. Friends and relatives need to be on the lookout for signs of distress that might be evidence of abuse, especially among the over-70s.

This is the worst crisis the UK has faced since the Second World War. Many families are going to be forced into exactly the kind of conditions in which frustrated, angry men lash out. Let’s not make it worse by leaving thousands of women to cope with a silent second epidemic of abuse on their own.