Death in the Raj, serial rapists and adrenaline junkies

Sunday Times, 24 October 2021

Abir Mukherjee’s terrific crime novels are set in India in the 1920s. The Shadows of Men (Harvill Secker £12.99) is vivid and brutal, taking place at a moment when the murder of a Hindu politician in Calcutta risks sparking a religious war. Mukherjee’s detective, Captain Sam Wyndham, is a First World War veteran who has had to overcome an opium addiction to keep his job. He shares digs with his Indian sergeant, Surendranath Banerjee, and Mukherjee explores both men’s misconceptions about each other.

In the fifth in the series, Banerjee becomes the chief suspect in the murder investigation and Wyndham struggles frantically to save him from a death sentence. In a shift from the earlier books, the story alternates between the two men’s voices, giving Banerjee’s view of the Raj for the first time. Mukherjee’s novels are becoming more political, deftly using the conventions of the crime genre to expose the racist assumptions of the period.

The depiction of sexual violence in crime fiction is a controversial subject. The veteran American author Michael Connelly and the multi-award-winning German crime writer Oliver Bottini have both put rape at the heart of their new novels, dealing with the subject with greater sensitivity than some of their contemporaries.


In The Dark Hours (Orion £20), Connelly’s detective, Renée Ballard of the LAPD, is pursuing a couple of serial rapists when she’s diverted to a separate investigation involving the murder of a reformed gang member. It’s a clever device, avoiding the pitfalls of having the rapes centre stage while showing how few resources are put into investigating sexual violence. Ballard’s interaction with the victims is sympathetic, while her investigation into the murder keeps up the tension.

Bottini’s novel Night Hunters (MacLehose £18.99), translated by Jamie Bulloch, is the fourth in his superb Black Forest series. Two teenage boys discover a badly beaten young woman in a barn. Shockingly they do not call the police, but lock the woman inside with the intention of returning at night to inflict further violence.

One of the boys is murdered before they can carry out this plan, but it’s a stomach-churning opening, part of an unflinching commentary on the nature of male violence. Bottini’s main character is a woman, and both novels suggest that the rapists would go free without a female officer determined to secure justice for the victims.

On the Edge (Verve £9.99) is a promising debut by Jane Jesmond. A young woman is in rehab recovering from drug addiction after a free climbing accident in which her ex-boyfriend suffered life-changing injuries. Jenifry Shaw has promised to give up the sport, but when she returns to her childhood home in Cornwall, she wakes from a drugged sleep to find herself dangling from the parapet of a lighthouse. Jesmond explores the adrenaline rush of risky sports in this original mystery.


The Hounding of Kathleen Stock, Tuesday 12 October 2021

It is staggeringly reckless to target a woman in this way


Trades unions are meant to stand up for people who are being bullied at work. But that clearly doesn’t apply to the University and College Union, an organisation so steeped in extreme gender ideology that its Sussex branch has decided to join in the attacks on a philosophy lecturer


Last week, posters appeared around the campus at Sussex University, calling for Professor Kathleen Stock to be fired. Amid a vile collection of slurs, they described her as ‘one of this wretched island’s most prominent transphobes, espousing a bastardised version of radical feminism’.


At a time when violence against women dominates the headlines, it is staggeringly reckless to target a woman in this manner. Not that long ago, union officials and colleagues would have rushed to Stock’s defence, condemning the campaign by a group as a deliberate attempt to frighten her off campus — and an attack on free speech.


Not anymore. So captured is the UCU that its local branch has issued a statement full of high-sounding sentiments — ‘we oppose all forms of bullying, harassment, and intimidation of staff and students’ — before coming down firmly on the side of the people persecuting Stock. It goes on to demand an ‘urgent investigation’ into ‘institutional transphobia’ at the university — a claim made, as always, without a shred of evidence.


It’s a technique familiar to feminists like Stock who have been viciously traduced by trans activists and even, in the case of the writer Julie Bindel, physically assaulted while leaving a meeting at another university. It’s called DARVO — deny, attack, reverse victim and offender — and trans extremists use it all the time to smear their opponents. Now it’s being employed against a woman for whom, all too evidently, the campus is not a safe working environment.


This is the contradiction at the heart of trans extremism: it is no longer safe for women to call for single-sex spaces that protect us from an epidemic of male violence. Gender ideology promotes the lie, too readily accepted by sections of the media, that trans extremists are at risk from feminists, not the other way round. Feminists who write books, like Kathleen Stock and Helen Joyce, hold meetings and wear ribbons in suffragette colours. How terrifying is that?


The results of accepting this lie are now all too obvious. At one of the country’s leading universities, a woman with a distinguished body of work can no longer risk going to her office, while the very institution that should defend her is calling for her to be investigated. This should be a turning point — and whoever is running the UCU, assuming anyone actually is, should hang their heads in shame.

Crime round-up

Sunday Times, 3 October 2021

When a young woman is unexpectedly given a cottage in the Cotswolds by her grandmother, she can hardly believe her luck. Yet Saffron and her boyfriend have barely moved in when their builders uncover skeletal remains, in Claire Douglas’s spine-chilling novel The Couple at No 9 (Penguin £7.99). As detectives realise there are two sets of bones buried in the garden, it becomes clear that Saffron’s dream home is a crime scene.

Her grandmother Rose lived in the cottage four decades ago, when she was on the run from a violent man, and is the only person who might know how the bodies got there. However, Rose has Alzheimer’s and becomes distressed — or evasive — when Saffron asks about the double murder. Douglas writes sensitively about dementia in this heartbreaking novel about how far a desperate woman will go to survive.

Peter Papathanasiou is a new name in Australian crime writing. His debut novel, The Stoning (MacLehose £16.99), is a brutal, unflinching look at the country’s treatment of refugees. The outback town of Cobb is home to a divided community that resents the presence of a vast detention centre on its outskirts, even though many locals depend on it for a living. Feelings are running high when a local teacher is found tied to a tree, apparently stoned to death, in a crude attempt to throw blame on Muslim men in the centre. Detective Sergeant George Manolis, who grew up in Cobb, is sent to lead the investigation and finds himself painfully reminded of his Greek-Australian roots. Not an easy read, but political crime fiction of a high order.

Liane Moriarty writes about a very different section of Australian society in Apples Never Fall (Michael Joseph £20). Joy and Stan Delaney live in an affluent suburb of Sydney, where they have recently retired from running a tennis school. Retirement has intensified strains in the couple’s marriage, and Joy’s sudden disappearance forces the couple’s four grown-up children to confront the possibility that their father might have harmed their mother. Moriarty’s portrait of a tennis-mad family is convincing if over-long, and she keeps a stunning revelation up her sleeve until the final pages.

John Banville’s April in Spain (Faber £14.99) is set in a period that feels like the distant past, even though it’s only the 1950s. In this eighth Quirke novel, the Irish pathologist with a drink problem is on holiday in northern Spain with his wife when he spots a young woman from Dublin whom he believed to be dead. He becomes convinced she is the niece of a prominent politician, living under an assumed identity after a family scandal that resulted in her supposed murder, but his bungling attempts to establish the truth have disastrous consequences. Banville’s sly observations about his characters are a joy to read.

Susan Hill’s crime novels are set in the fictional town of Lafferton, where her detective, Simon Serrailler, struggles to hold back the encroaching tide of big-city crime. A Change of Circumstance (Chatto £20) centres on his investigation into county lines, a headline-grabbing type of crime in which children and teenagers are used to deliver drugs. There are some harrowing moments in this unsparing novel, which shows how easily vulnerable youngsters can be exploited.

Sack Cressida Dick

Someone must pay the consequences for the Met’s failures, Friday 1 October 2021

It’s hard to imagine a more abject admission of failure. Here is Scotland Yard, telling women what to do if stopped by a lone male officer who is behaving suspiciously: we should “seek assistance” by shouting to a passer-by, running into a house or waving down a bus. Waving down a bus? And the Met police commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, is still in her job?

When the country’s largest police force is reduced to advising women to rely on bus drivers and dog-walkers, we really have gone through the looking-glass. The police are paid to protect the public, but now the Met is telling us to throw ourselves on the mercy of strangers because we don’t trust its officers.

And we are right not to trust them. The sentencing of Wayne Couzens, the serving officer who abducted, raped and murdered Sarah Everard, confirms what many of us have been saying for years. It isn’t just that the police are not doing their job — although the vanishingly small conviction rate for sexual predators shows that they aren’t.

They don’t understand the behaviour of perpetrators, so much so that they don’t even recognise dangerous men in their own ranks. Couzens was a firearms officer in the Met, authorised to carry a weapon, despite being reported to colleagues for several incidents of indecent exposure — the most recent while he was planning the abduction that has sent him to prison for the rest of his life.

What about his colleagues? There were 594 complaints of sexual misconduct against Met employees between 2012 and 2018, of which only 119 were upheld. The Centre for Women’s Justice has launched a super complaint, highlighting failures to protect victims of domestic abuse and arguing that women are being let down when they turn to the police for help.

Not just let down: in April, a PC was dismissed from the Met after hitting a teenage girl at least 30 times with his baton. The girl, who was black and had learning difficulties, had approached him for help after running away from an escorted walk. He has not been charged with any offence. The following month, two Met officers pleaded guilty to taking selfies with the bodies of two sisters who has been savagely murdered in a park in north London.

Following Couzens’s conviction, it has emerged that five serving officers, including three from Scotland Yard, are being investigated for sharing racist and misogynistic messages with him on WhatsApp. A probationary officer in the Met, who later helped guard the area where Ms Everard’s remains were found, has been investigated over allegations that he shared a violent graphic on WhatsApp.

This is not just a case of the “occasional bad ‘un’”, in Dick’s repellent phrase. It reveals a culture where too many male officers have contemptuous, misogynistic attitudes towards women. Victims who report serious crimes, including domestic abuse and rape, are treated as though they are the criminals. They have their lives torn apart, while predators like Couzens are free to walk the streets — or check out handcuffs and a gun, in his case.

This week’s revelations have shamed the police. They have got away with failing women for decades, all the way back to those terrible episodes of victim-blaming during the Yorkshire Ripper investigation in the Seventies. The Home Secretary needs to sack Dick and announce a public inquiry into institutional misogyny within the police. Nothing else will do.


Feminism – though not as I know it

Against White Feminism

by Rafia Zakaria (Hamish Hamilton £14.99)

Sunday Times, 12 September 2021
For some time now it has been open season on feminism. It is part of a wider current, driven by identity politics and a willingness to demonise anyone who disagrees. Into this heated atmosphere comes Against White Feminism by Rafia Zakaria, a lawyer and columnist born in Pakistan but now living in the US.

“White feminism” as a derogatory term, caricaturing it as a movement that imposes its preoccupations on women who are not white or middle class, has been around for a while. People claim it is reflective more of a state of mind than skin colour; even Pragna Patel, a founding member of Southall Black Sisters, has been accused of being a “white feminist”.

However, Zakaria goes for the jugular. Building bridges is definitely not what this book is about, and everywhere she finds feminists who accept “the benefits conferred by white supremacy at the expense of people of colour”. Defining people in terms they would not recognise or accept is a key ploy of identity politics, and feminists are lumped together and traduced throughout.

In Zakaria’s sketchy account, the baddies include the suffragettes, although I
am not convinced that Mary Clarke, who died after being force-fed in prison, benefited from what Zakaria describes as “racial superiority”. She is not a generous interpreter of feminism’s founding texts, wondering whether authors such as Simone de Beauvoir, whom she accuses of “underpinnings of white privilege”, should be “eliminated from the story of feminism altogether”.

The book’s most serious flaw lies in its singularly ill-informed account of modern feminism. If the movement has a single unifying feature it is an analysis of the way oppression of women is linked to female bodies, regardless of race, class, age, religion or sexual orientation. Yet this is precisely what Zakaria denies: “An aversion to acknowledging lived trauma permeates white feminism, which in turn produces a discomfort and alienation from women who have experienced it.”

Nothing could be further from the truth. In this country refuges for victims of domestic and sexual violence were built by feminists who insisted they should be open to all women. But then Zakaria makes the equally bizarre claim that “there is an assumption that the really strong women — the ‘real’ feminists, reared by other white feminists — do not end up in abusive situations.” The experience of abuse is what brings many women to feminism — and brings us together.

Identity politics is rife with such facile judgments, designed to make its advocates feel superior. Zakaria appears to have missed the irony of dismissing every species of feminism but her own in the name of a supposedly more egalitarian politics. But when I see feminists being pitted against each other in this mean-spirited way, I can almost hear the patriarchy laughing.



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