How Britain misses the spirit of 1967

New York Times, Thursday 10 August 2017

LONDON — Countries, like the people who live in them, go through periods of anxiety and depression. Right now, Britain is pessimistic and demoralized, so much so that 2017 promises to be an “annus horribilis” more profound than the one famously described by Queen Elizabeth II nearly a quarter-century ago. She was referring to events in her own family, principally the separation of her eldest son, Prince Charles, from his wife, Diana. But the Windsors’ marital woes in 1992 are as nothing compared with the country’s current low spirits.

The sense of a nation mired and stalled is only more acute because Britain celebrates the 50th anniversary this year of the passage of what was arguably the most socially progressive legislation in its history: the partial decriminalization of male homosexuality in July 1967 and the legalization of abortion in October. Both acts, brought to Parliament by a Labour government led by Harold Wilson, had their flaws, but they marked the moment when our elected representatives decisively redrew the boundaries between the individual and the state in a series of remarkable legislative reforms. A half-century on, 1967 looks like an annus mirabilis when Britain became, briefly at least, a world leader in liberal values.

Compare and contrast, as they say, with the state of Britain in 2017. Two general elections and a bruising referendum have left the country exhausted, angry and unsure of itself. A Conservative prime minister, Theresa May, is clinging to her position with the support of a small religious party, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists, who spent years denouncing the liberalizing legislation of 1967. Thanks largely to the Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom where same-sex marriage remains banned.

Fifty years ago, the new laws were shepherded through Parliament by Roy Jenkins, one of the most liberal home secretaries in British political history. Jenkins, the son of a coal miner from the Welsh valleys, was relentlessly mocked for his love of fine food and wine (Britain’s right-wing press is always looking for an excuse to denounce someone as a champagne socialist). What newspaper editors really hated, of course, was Jenkins’s staunch support for progressive causes and his passionate belief that Britain’s destiny lay in Europe.

Jenkins belonged to a remarkable group of Labour cabinet ministers, many of them from working-class backgrounds, who got to know one another and started exchanging ideas at Oxford University. They had a clear vision of what Britain at its best could be, but the nation they inherited when they came of political age, as Wilson led Labour to victory in 1964, was creaking, class-ridden and strangled by anachronistic legislation.

The state retained far-reaching powers over every aspect of its citizens’ lives. As well as banning homosexuality and abortion, it could put them to death, prevent unhappy couples from divorcing and even decide what the public could see on the stage.

The lord chamberlain, a Ruritanian-sounding officer in the royal household, had no qualms about banning work by the country’s leading playwrights. In 1965, the lord chamberlain refused to license a stage production of John Osborne’s play “A Patriot for Me,” which told the true story of a homosexual officer in the Austro-Hungarian Army in the 1890s.

Jenkins and his Labour colleagues believed that the British government interfered too much in the lives of its citizens and at the same time failed to protect vulnerable groups from discrimination. Many of the reforms they set about putting into law had been outlined by Anthony Crosland, an Oxford don who became education secretary in Wilson’s government. In his influential 1956 book “The Future of Socialism, Crosland had argued that breaking down class barriers and promoting equality should be the goal of Labour governments. Crosland and Jenkins were friends long before they found themselves seated around the cabinet table, but few people knew that they had had a short but intense affair after meeting at Oxford in 1938, when male homosexuality was still punishable by a prison sentence (there was no law against lesbianism).

The scale and speed with which the Wilson government set about modernizing Britain was breathtaking. Ministers abolished capital punishment in 1965 and passed the Race Relations Act, which outlawed discrimination on the grounds of color, race or ethnic origin, in the same year. Abortion and homosexual law reform made 1967 the standout year but ministers also ended theater censorship in 1968, liberalized divorce law in 1969 and passed the Equal Pay Act in 1970. Labour lost a general election that year and had to wait until 1975 — when Jenkins was back at the Home Office — to pass the first Sex Discrimination Act and set up the Equal Opportunities Commission.

Unlike their Conservative opponents, Labour’s leading thinkers understood that postwar society was changing fast, driven by the expansion of higher education, a decline in religious observance — the Vatican had damaged its moral authority by giving its blessing to fascist regimes like Franco’s Spain — and a horror of authoritarianism in the wake of World War II. Emboldened by the ’60s atmosphere of intellectual freedom and excitement, this reform movement improved the lives of millions of people.

The contrast with public life in Britain today is stark. Amid the divisive campaigning before last year’s Brexit referendum, the assassination of a Labour member of Parliament, Jo Cox, by a right-wing extremist still casts a long shadow. Personal abuse and death threats were so common in the run-up to this year’s general election that Mrs. May has ordered an inquiry into intimidation of candidates.

The specter of Brexit hovers over everything, sucking the energy out of political debate while Conservative ministers and the parliamentary opposition feud over questions that should have been answered before the referendum. Few people seriously believe that all the problems caused by Brexit will be resolved by Mrs. May’s self-imposed deadline of March 2019, but ministers and civil servants are nonetheless preoccupied with them at a time when the country faces deep-seated social problems.

One event after another confirms that the government is drifting, divided and unsure of itself. Only days after the election, the horrific spectacle of at least 80 people burned to death in a government tower block in one of the most affluent areas of West London became an unforgettable symbol of inequality. Yet Mrs. May couldn’t bring herself to talk to residents when she made her first visit to the scene of the disaster.

A few weeks later, the prime minister made the surprise announcement that the National Health Service would fund abortions in England for women from Northern Ireland, where terminations are banned. This happened not because she suddenly rediscovered the spirit of Roy Jenkins, but simply because she feared losing a crucial vote in the House of Commons.

No wonder we’re depressed. The public is angry and distrustful of politicians, a situation reflected in the outcome of the June election, when Mrs. May lost her parliamentary majority, yet the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was more than 60 seats short of being able to form a government. This summer’s marches and documentaries celebrating the decriminalization of homosexuality are inspiring, at one level, but they are also a painful reminder that 1967 was a very long time ago. The days when British governments embraced the future with confidence are receding into the past. Who can say when it will be glad, confident morning again?

Joan Smith (@polblonde) is a novelist and the author of “Misogynies’ and “The Public Woman.”

Don’t think marital rape exists? Ask the woman who found videos of her husband raping her while she slept

Daily Telegraph, Thursday 3 August 2017

It is hard to imagine a greater betrayal: a young woman picked up her husband’s phone, spotted an app she didn’t recognise and opened it. Imagine her shock when she discovered videos that showed him raping her while she was asleep. This week, at Newcastle crown court, that husband was jailed for nine years.

Such a long sentence was clearly justified. The wife, who came across the footage by chance when her husband forgot to take his phone to work, has to live with both the shock of what was done to her and a catastrophic loss of trust.

The couple can’t be named for legal reasons but they had been married for more than 10 years, and had children together, when he started making the videos in September last year.

Twenty-six years ago, when the law in this country was changed to make rape in marriage a criminal offence, no one envisaged the arrival of mobile phones with a video facility. But the law lords who voted to change the law understood that what happens in some marriages is a great deal darker than outsiders realise. They rightly took the view that a legal ruling dating back to 1736, which said that a man could not rape his wife, was ‘anachronistic and offensive’.

The change in the law was greeted, in some quarters, by derision and howls of outrage. But yesterday’s case, and others that have come before the courts in the intervening period, are a stark reminder of why the change was necessary. We know far more about domestic violence now than we did in the 1990s, including the fact that it often involves rape and other forms of sexual assault.

Some local authorities have set up ‘sanctuary’ schemes – basically a safe room where a woman can hide with her children until the police arrive – to protect separated wives from rape and assault by their husbands. But the striking thing about this latest case is that the victim didn’t even know she was being abused until she found the images in her husband’s phone in March this year.

Curious about an app called Video Locker, she found a way to open it and discovered the videos; her husband had zoomed in to film himself raping her and performing other sex acts while she was asleep. In a state of shock, she contacted him and said ‘I’ve just watched videos of you raping me on your phone’. She then went to the police, who told her that her husband had already handed himself in.

The recordings, which lasted between 30 seconds and two minutes, have been destroyed. But one of the most frightening features of the case is that once they existed, the husband could have shared them with other people if he felt so inclined. There is no evidence that he did so, but he was caught only six months after he started filming the rapes.

The victim told the court that her life, and that of her children, had been ‘completely turned upside down’ by her discovery of the videos. ‘I never thought he would be capable of doing what he did,’ she said. ‘He has completely fooled me. I never want to see him again’.

This series of events may seem outlandish to some people. But it is important to recognise that the husband made no attempt to deny his behaviour, pleading guilty to a catalogue of offences: three counts of rape, one of assault by penetration, one of attempted rape and one of sexual assault. The judge said he had taken advantage of the fact that his wife was a heavy sleeper, treating her as an object for his sexual fantasies.

Earlier this year, some viewers were shocked by a wedding-day rape in an episode of the TV soap Emmerdale. Last year, the long-running Radio 4 series, The Archers, addressed the issue of marital rape when Helen Titchener stabbed her abusive husband, Rob; she revealed the rapes during her trial and was cleared of attempted murder.

A subject that was once taboo is now being discussed in popular culture, helping real-life victims to come forward. This is a very good thing: it is undeniable that rape in marriage exists, and does tremendous damage.

Yesterday’s horrific court case demonstrates that it can happen, in the most extreme instance, in a marriage where the wife has no suspicions. Rape by a current or former partner is far from uncommon and wives, like every other woman in this country, deserve the full protection of the law.

 

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.

Theresa May’s weak and unstable leadership

New York Times, 12 June 2017

The Opinion Pages | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

By JOAN SMITH

LONDON — Just under a year ago, a referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union ended the career of a Conservative prime minister, David Cameron. Now a general election called to strengthen the position of his successor, Theresa May, has brought her to the brink. Mrs. May is clinging on, but a country already reeling from three terrorist attacks in as many months has the most fragile government in living memory.

Some supporters of the opposition Labour Party are cheering, buoyed by the fact that their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, ran a more effective campaign than had been predicted. But no one should crow over last week’s extraordinary results, which have precipitated a deep political crisis.

The nation is divided, but not on traditional party lines. People who had previously voted for the U.K. Independence Party, the right-wing nationalist party that campaigned on the Leave side in the Brexit vote, went all over the place, producing freak results in this general election. During the referendum, Mrs. May and Mr. Corbyn were on the Remain side, nominally at least, but they have both said that its result must be respected. That hasn’t satisfied passionate feelings in either camp, and the electorate responded with the message that it didn’t want either of the two main parties in government.

Mrs. May believed her popularity ratings, but it turned out they were based on years of not saying very much. Voters barely knew her, and when they had a closer look during the Tories’ abysmal election campaign, they didn’t like what they saw. She will be able to govern only with the support of one of the most extreme parties in British politics, Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists. The D.U.P. has softened its stance since the late 1970s and early ’80s, when its founder, a hellfire preacher named the Rev. Ian Paisley, campaigned against gay rights under the memorable slogan “Save Ulster From Sodomy.” But only a bit: The party opposes gay marriage, and also abortion, which remains illegal in Northern Ireland even in cases of rape or incest.

The Democratic Unionists have only 10 members of Parliament, and few Britons outside of the province had even heard of the party’s leader, Arlene Foster, who holds a seat in the Northern Ireland Assembly but has never been elected to Parliament in Westminster. Though recently re-elected to the Assembly, she had faced calls to resign as Northern Ireland’s first minister earlier this year after a scandal over a green energy scheme. Yet Ms. Foster will now wield disproportionate influence over Mrs. May’s government.

The D.U.P. is keen for Britain to leave the European Union, but the party also wants to maintain a “seamless and frictionless” border with Ireland. Good luck with that, Mrs May.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party’s widely touted electoral success is not what it’s cracked up to be. If voters weren’t keen on Mrs. May, they didn’t see Mr. Corbyn as a viable alternative, either. Despite the hype, Labour is nowhere near being able to form a government, falling far short of a parliamentary majority. Indeed, the party’s tally — 56 seats behind Mrs. May’s chastened Conservatives — was a result that would, in normal circumstances, have led to angry calls for the resignation of Labour’s leader.

Expectations of Mr. Corbyn were so low that, for the moment, he is safe. But some Labour members of Parliament, who watched him speak at huge election rallies this month, wonder why he didn’t put so much energy into last year’s campaign to keep Britain in the European Union.

Public displays of unity won’t change the fact that Labour is just as split as the Tories are. Mr. Corbyn has a huge following, especially among people in their 20s who like what he’s saying about equality, social justice and a fairer society. He has been in Parliament since 1983, before they were born, and for them, his back story, which includes a record of staggering disloyalty to previous Labour leaders, is ancient history. He represents hope after years of public spending cuts, and anything that doesn’t sit easily with their rosy view — his friendly relations with Hezbollah, Hamas and former leaders of the Irish Republican Army, for instance — is dismissed as a smear by the hated mainstream media.

It isn’t just Britain’s rampant right-wing press they hate; suspicion of unbiased journalism is something Mr. Corbyn’s most enthusiastic supporters share with Donald Trump’s fan base in the United States. There are strains of anti-Semitism among Mr. Corbyn’s followers, as well as misogyny — as some female BBC journalists have discovered.

His critics concede that he’s changed his tune in recent weeks. After the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, Mr. Corbyn criticized Mrs. May for cutting police numbers, a law and order issue that is not a traditional concern for his section of the party. Whether he has changed his underlying views is another matter: Until he became leader, Mr. Corbyn was best known for a reflexive anti-Western rhetoric that led him to soft-pedal on regimes with terrible human rights records, including Cuba, Iran and Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

Among people with longer memories, these unsavory connections mean Mr. Corbyn is, and always will be, outside the Labour mainstream. The presence in his office of former members of fringe parties, including a key aide who left the Communist Party of Britain only a few months ago, supports the view that the Labour leadership is in the hands of a hard-left cabal. In an indication of trouble ahead, pro-European Labour members of Parliament who defied Mr. Corbyn’s instructions to vote with Mrs. May’s Tories in favor of triggering Article 50, the formal mechanism to begin Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, scored some of the most impressive results in last Thursday’s election. The two wings of the party are stuck with each other, but it’s a stalemate, not a truce.

Mrs. May has been punished for her colossal misjudgment in calling an unnecessary election, but anyone who is enjoying her humiliation needs to consider some sobering facts. Next week, according to a timetable established before the election, the prime minister is due to begin negotiations on Britain’s departure from the European Union. She never had a strong hand, but now she looks fatally wounded. As the country faces a moment when the security services are struggling to monitor the roughly 3,000 people suspected of posing a terrorist threat, having a prime minister who has lost her authority is little short of catastrophic.

Another election later this year must be a real possibility. Whether it would produce a clearer result is far from certain. Britain’s relationship with Europe has been a toxic issue for the Conservatives for years, which is why Mr. Cameron gambled on a referendum — and lost. Now the contagion has spread far beyond the Tory Party. Divisions over Europe are tearing the country apart, leaving it weak and unstable in the eyes of a horrified world.

Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 11 June 2017

Just over a decade ago, a young Iraqi-Kurdish woman was murdered in this country by professional killers. The hit men were hired by the father and uncle of the victim, Banaz Mahmod, after she left an abusive marriage and fell in love with a man who hadn’t been chosen by her family. This real-life tragedy is the inspiration for Mark Billingham’s ground-breaking novel Love Like Blood (Little, Brown £18.99), which confronts the phenomenon of “honour”-based killings.

For many readers, what Billingham is writing about will be unfamiliar and troubling territory. In recent years, the police have set up units to tackle “honour”-based murders, but they remain under-reported and difficult to investigate. Billingham has chosen a scenario very much like the Banaz Mahmod murder for his novel, putting his detective, DI Tom Thorne, on the trail of a pair of hit men responsible for a series of contract killings. When a couple of students of Bangladeshi origin are reported missing from a college in north London, Thorne has to decide if they are the latest victims — and whether their parents were involved in the disappearance.

These are precisely the challenges facing real-life detectives who work in this area. Billingham is acutely aware of the cultural sensitivities connected with such a controversial subject, but he doesn’t shy away from the horrors inflicted on the victims, whose deaths he characterises as hate crimes. His hit men have elements of the pantomime-villain, but Love Like Blood is a gripping, unsensational take on a type of crime that is happening more frequently than many of us realise.

Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson, translated by Maxim Jakubowski (Orenda £8.99), also has roots in real events. Gustawsson is a French journalist who lives in London, and her prizewinning novel is the first in a series featuring a true-crime author and a Canadian profiler. It begins with a young designer, Linnea Blix, failing to show up for the launch party of her new jewellery collection at the Cartier showroom in London. A few days later, Blix’s body is found in a snow-bound marina in Sweden, bearing mutilations similar to those on the corpse of a boy discovered in Hampstead.

Most of the novel is set in 2014, but there are flashbacks to 1944 when a German medical student, Erich Ebner, arrives at Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Ebner is subjected to unspeakable brutality before being put to work with the sadistic camp doctor, Horst Fleischer, who is carrying out gruesome experiments on the corpses of children. Gustawsson’s aim is to highlight the role of resistance organisations inside Buchenwald but bringing the two strands of the novel together is a challenge, and the solution she comes up with is far-fetched.

Abir Mukherjee’s first novel, A Rising Man, was a Sunday Times crime book of the month. His second, A Necessary Evil (Harvill Secker £12.99), returns to colonial India where his detective, Captain Sam Wyndham, is still trying to recover from his experiences in the First World War. Wyndham is a widower who lost his wife in the great flu epidemic of 1918, and he is trying to blot out painful memories in the government offices of Calcutta. The assassination of an Indian prince takes him to the wealthy kingdom of Sambalpore, where his ignorance of Indian customs soon has his investigation floundering. Wyndham is an appealing character, reckless and self-aware by turns, and the contradictions of the Raj are beautifully invoked.

Volker Kutscher’s wonderfully atmospheric crime novels are set in Germany at the end of the 1920s. The Silent Death (Sandstone £8.99), translated by Niall Sellar, is the sequel to his critically acclaimed Babylon Berlin, and features the same bad-tempered detective, Gereon Rath. As communists and Nazis clash on the streets of Berlin, Rath does his best to stay clear of politics, concentrating on his investigation into the bizarre death of a silent-film actress. Betty Winter is crushed on set when a live spotlight falls on her, plunging Rath into the brittle, back-stabbing world of Berlin’s rival film studios. When other actresses disappear, Rath finds himself hunting a serial killer in a novel that offers vivid insights into the cultural upheavals of the late Weimar republic.

 

Catching a Killer exposes the mind of an abuser for the first time – and you need to watch it

Daily Telegraph, Friday 2 June 2017

It isn’t easy to leave a manipulative man. It’s a simple thing to say but the harsh reality is exposed in a ground-breaking documentary made for Channel 4, Catching a Killer, which follows a real-life murder investigation. The victim, 31-year-old Natalie Hemming, was killed last year by her ex-partner when she finally made up her mind to leave him after enduring years of abuse.

‘Cold and calculating,’ 42-year-old Paul Hemming then tried to persuade detectives that someone else was responsible for her disappearance. The murder inquiry began with a call to Thames Valley police from Natalie’s distraught mother, Margaret. Her daughter had disappeared after her first date with a new man, which she had tried to keep secret from her former partner. From the outset, Natalie’s mother feared that Paul Hemming was responsible.

Detectives took the unusual step of allowing a documentary-maker, Anna Hall, to film their inquiry. The 90-minute film, which airs tonight, is a rare opportunity to see how an unrepentant abuser operates.

Under questioning, Hemming uses exactly the same techniques – dishonesty and tears – that he used on women. He lies from the moment he is woken up by police officers investigating Natalie’s disappearance, even refusing to hand over his mobile phone in case his former partner – who is in reality already dead – should call him.

When he’s arrested the following day, he wipes away tears and comes up with a story Natalie has gone away because she was raped by another man. According to Hemming, they were on good terms when she left the house and had agreed to ‘start afresh’.

Not a word of it is true, but Natalie’s mother and sister go through hell before her body is found in a wood in Hertfordshire three weeks later.

Even then, Hemming does not confess. On the first day of his trial, he changes his story, admitting manslaughter and claiming that he ‘accidentally’ killed Natalie by throwing a jade egg at her head during a row. The jury aren’t taken in and convict him of murder. He’s currently serving life with a recommendation that he should be locked up for a minimum of 20 years.

This is believed to be the first time that a murder investigation has been filmed from start to finish. Home Office figures show that two women are killed by a current or former partner every week. What is going on is sometimes known by family members – Natalie’s sister Jo tried on many occasions to persuade her to leave Hemming – but less often to the authorities.

Research carried out in London by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime suggests that most victims of domestic homicide are not previously known to the police, suggesting either that they keep hoping for the best – or don’t know what help is available.

That’s one of many reasons why the documentary is so important, showing the determination of Thames Valley Police, led by Superintendent Simon Steel, to gather the evidence they need to convict Hemming. While it is true that some police forces are more effective than others, the film confirms that official attitudes to domestic violence have changed out of all recognition in recent years.

Natalie’s story is familiar, but no less tragic and compelling for that. She was a 21-year-old single mother, struggling with post-natal depression, when she met Hemming. He was 11 years older and already on file for violently assaulting a previous girlfriend. But men like Hemming target vulnerable women and he swept Natalie off her feet, presenting her with a £2,500 engagement ring.

They never married but went on two have two children together, despite escalating violence on Hemming’s part. On one occasion, he injured her so badly that she had to go to A&E and gave a statement to police. Hemming bombarded her with tears and promises that he would change, and Natalie eventually withdrew her complaint.

When a woman is murdered by a partner, outsiders often ask why she didn’t leave him years ago. Now viewers can see for themselves the techniques used by an accomplished liar and abuser, offering unusual insights into the mentality of such men. Last year, Radio 4 soap The Archers was praised for a plotline depicting domestic abuse in real time. This film is the next logical step in our education.

Women are most at risk when they finally find the courage to leave – something that murder detectives know all too well. The general public doesn’t, and that’s why documentaries like this one perform an important public service.

The Yorkshire Ripper was not a ‘prostitute killer’ – now his forgotten victims need justice

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 30 May 2017

The Yorkshire Ripper is not a criminal mastermind. Peter Sutcliffe, who is now 70 and serving life at HMP Frankland, was convicted of 13 murders and seven attempted murders in 1981. At the time, police believed he had only begun attacking women in 1975 – but now a different picture may be emerging.

Officers from Operation Painthall have recently interviewed him about offences stretching back to 1964, including seven unsolved attacks on women and girls. This weekend, it emerged that he is also reportedly being investigated about the murders of two women in Sweden, in 1980.

These revelations don’t tell us that Sutcliffe hid his tracks brilliantly. It’s a stark reminder of how badly police mishandled the original case – and how long some of his victims have had to wait for justice.

I covered the case as a young reporter. It never seemed plausible to me that the so-called Ripper suddenly attacked several women within six months in 1975, having never done anything like it before.

But what is jaw-dropping, in retrospect, is how inept Sutcliffe was. He made mistakes, left behind evidence and didn’t care about being repeatedly spotted in red light districts, which were crawling with squad cars. He was interviewed about the Ripper murders on nine occasions, yet West Yorkshire police didn’t even search his house and garage.

At the time, I didn’t know any of this. But it didn’t take long for me to get the feeling that something was very wrong. ‘They’re never going to get him,’ I thought despairingly as I trudged from one police press conference to another. I was very nearly right – Sutcliffe was finally caught when he was stopped for a traffic offence by officers from another force, who had no idea who he was.

Detectives told the press they were looking for a man motivated by a deep loathing of prostitutes, but that theory didn’t even fit the facts of the case. I interviewed two of Sutcliffe’s earliest known victims, Anna Rogulskyj, who was 37 and lived in Keighley, and Olive Smelt, 46, who was assaulted near her home in Halifax. Neither of them had links with prostitution and both of them survived, albeit with terrible injuries. Ms Rogulskyj seized my hand and placed it on her head, where I could feel the damage to her skull caused by Sutcliffe’s hammer.

It’s been known for years that there was almost certainly a third victim during that summer of 1975: 14-year-old Tracey Browne from the small town of Silsden, near Keighley. She gave police a description of a man who looked just like Sutcliffe but she was the ‘wrong’ sort of victim – too young, and still at school – and she never even made it onto the ‘official’ list of victims.

After three ‘failed’ attacks against women, the killer moved to Leeds to commit his first known murder in October 1975. Wilma McCann was 28 and had no convictions for prostitution, but she had a chaotic lifestyle and Chapeltown was a red light district.

And so the theory of a prostitute killer was born, with catastrophic effects. The police excluded evidence from attacks on women who weren’t connected with the sex trade, even if they shared characteristics with the Ripper murders. And they relied on forensic evidence from the murder of a prostitute in Preston, which hadn’t been committed by Sutcliffe.

I watched this disaster unfold. I was at a press conference in 1979 – the only woman in the room, which wasn’t unusual in those days – when the police played a tape made by a man with a strong Wearside accent who claimed to be the Yorkshire Ripper.

Misogyny, not some half-baked ‘mission’ to kill prostitutes, was always at the heart of this case

I could see that the contents spoke to the police’s prejudices, taunting the senior officer on the case and confirming his idea that the killer craved publicity. We were told that it could only have come from the murderer because the tape and letters from the same man contained information that wasn’t in the public domain.

I’d read enough to know that wasn’t true and said so, making myself very unpopular. But who was going to listen to me?

The entire Ripper inquiry than hared off in search of ‘Wearside Jack’, a hoaxer who convinced them that the killer wasn’t from Yorkshire. Olive Smelt told me (and the police) that her attacker said something about the weather in a strong Yorkshire accent before striking her head with his hammer. She told me another crucial detail, saying that the same man had made a crude and deeply misogynist remark to her in a pub in Halifax earlier in the evening. But the police didn’t listen to her, either.

Misogyny, not some half-baked ‘mission’ to kill prostitutes, was always at the heart of this case. The oldest unsolved incident being examined by officers from Operation Painthall happened in 1964, when a 12-year-old girl was attacked on two occasions. Sutcliffe has denied it, saying he would never have targeted such a young victim, but he had no scruples about targeting Tracey Browne when she was only 14. He has already admitted that he may have been responsible for an unsolved attack in 1969.

Forensic science has improved out of all recognition since those days, and computer analysis means it is unlikely that such an obvious suspect as Sutcliffe would go undetected for so many years.

But the fact remains that the original investigation was a fiasco, and women died as a result. Every woman who was attacked by Sutcliffe has a right to know what happened to her, and why the cases weren’t connected at the time. Until that happens, the tragedy of the Yorkshire Ripper case won’t have reached its final act.

Why Myra Hindley was easy pickings for a psychopath who needed a female accomplice

Daily Telegraph, Tuesday 16 May 2017

They look like a young couple on a day out in the country, his arm slung casually over her shoulders. They’re obviously working-class, the man in his shirtsleeves, the woman with peroxide-blond hair and a fashionable full skirt. The 1960s are in full swing and they could be anybody, enjoying the new freedom that’s arrived with the Beatles, Twiggy and the decline of deference.

But the man is Ian Brady, the notorious serial killer who died on Monday at the age of 79, after spending 51 years in prison. With his accomplice Myra Hindley, he tortured and murdered five young people, ranging in age from ten to 17, in a series of crimes so horrific that they ripped a gaping hole in the optimism of post-war England. The scar remains to this day and the death of this elderly serial killer, while hardly unexpected, still made headlines.

Back in 1966, when the details that emerged at their trial shocked the nation, things were supposed to be getting better after a long period of austerity. A Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson, had come to power two years earlier promising a ‘new Britain’ forged in the ‘white heat’ of technology. Yet the actions of this apparently unremarkable couple from Greater Manchester exposed a human capacity for savagery that people didn’t want to think about after the horrors of the Second World War.

The couple made a recording of the screams of their youngest victim, ten-year-old Lesley Ann Downey, as she pleaded for her life. They became so cocky that they tried to enlist Hindley’s brother-in-law, David Smith, in the axe murder of their final victim, 17-year-old Edward Evans. The traumatised young man – Smith was the same age as the butchered victim – went to the police, leading to the couple’s arrests in October 1965.

A police mug shot of Hindley, with dyed blond hair showing dark roots above fierce black eyebrows, has become one of the most instantly recognisable images of the 1960s – the face of ‘the most evil woman in Britain’. The direct gaze, and the full lips that speak of a kind of sensuality, invite endless speculation. Perhaps most disconcerting of all, Hindley looks recognisably modern, a woman of her time, yet her crimes hark back to the calculated cruelties of the Marquis de Sade.

The 1960s were a turbulent decade, in which class barriers and traditional sexual morality were both breaking down. Many people thought that was a good thing but the Moors murders stopped them in their tracks. What kind of society had produced this amoral young couple, whose flouting of social norms had turned into an unprecedented killing spree? It is important to remember that when Brady and Hindley were arrested, serial killers were a relatively new phenomenon. Everyone had heard of Jack the Ripper but most of the notorious cases, such as Peter Sutcliffe or Dennis Nilsen, were some years in the future. Nor did serial killers feature in traditional crime novels.

This was a new type of crime, involving child victims and killing for the sake it, and it caused a sensation. The idea of a female serial killer went against every notion of womanhood, and that police mugshot, with its pitiless stare, appeared to confirm that the woman had been the dominant partner.

In reality, this goes against every bit of evidence we have about the relationship between Hindley and Brady, which shows conclusively that he was the prime mover. But within no time at all Hindley had been pushed into the foreground, so much so that a huge painting by Marcus Harvey, based on the mugshot, was the controversial star turn in the ‘Sensation’ exhibition by Young British Artists in London in 1997.

Of course the fact that Hindley was the junior partner does not excuse her or reduce her culpability in these terrible murders. But if, as seems likely, the killings would not have happened had Brady and Hindley never met, it is vital to understand the dynamics of their relationship. That is true of Fred and Rose West as well, and in both cases the evidence suggests that the man was the instigator.

Hindley was only 18, four years younger than Brady, when they met in 1961 at the firm where she was a typist. She came from an impoverished background in Gorton, a working-class area of Manchester, and a household where domestic violence was rife. Conditions were so cramped that she initially had to share a bedroom with her abusive parents, including a father – an alcoholic ex-soldier – who regularly beat her.

We know now that children who grow up with extreme domestic violence are at risk of becoming victims or perpetrators themselves. Hindley would become both. With a predator’s instinct, Brady seems to have recognised her vulnerabilities, understanding her need for affection and manipulating it. ‘I am in a bad mood because he hasn’t spoken to me today,’ she wrote in one of many naïve entries in her diary.

She wanted him to marry her but he had other ideas, introducing her to two of his obsessions, the Marquis de Sade and accounts of atrocities committed under the Third Reich. She was too unworldly to see through his crackpot theories about cruelty and the master race, becoming drawn into a sado-masochistic relationship in which she would do anything to please him. Photographs exist of Hindley kneeling on the floor, naked, with the marks of a whip visible on her body.

Brady needed an accomplice and it had to be a woman; he couldn’t drive and he knew that his victims were more likely to get into a car if they saw a woman in the driving seat. Once he had Hindley entirely under his control, they abused the trust of vulnerable children, presenting a monstrous inversion of the normal parental relationship. Decades later Rose West, who also witnessed domestic violence as a child, would play a similar role, reassuring young women who were uncertain about accepting a lift in her husband’s car.

At the Moors murders trial, Brady was convicted of three murders, Hindley of two. He didn’t admit the full extent of their crimes until 1985, when he confessed to the murders of 16-year-old Pauline Reade and Keith Bennett, aged 12. Brady died this week without ever revealing where on Saddleworth Moor they buried the body Keith Bennett, prolonging the ordeal of his family. Greater Manchester police say that while they are not actively searching the moor, the case remains open.

Brady’s death means that two of the most notorious murderers of the 20th century are no longer with us. At the time of their trial, people knew little about either of them, and their instinct was to focus on Hindley. She and Brady had done unimaginably awful things and deserved no sympathy, but the public reaction to Hindley was skewed by beliefs about how women should behave.

Now they’re both dead and we have the gift of perspective. Myra Hindley grew up in a violent household where she witnessed and experienced beatings, and that made her easy pickings for a psychopath who wanted an accomplice. Perhaps it’s time to re-assess that original analysis, putting aside the notion of Hindley as some kind of demon.

Heaping most of the blame on the woman in such relationships is the easy option,but it doesn’t make much sense. It is vital to recognise the pattern – and the key role played by domestic violence. It took two people to set this terrible train of events in motion, and the clear light of history tells us that Brady needed Hindley – and they were as culpable as each other.