The Sunday Times Magazine: Falsely accused of rape: is the justice system biased against men?


I noticed his hands shook as he spoke. He looked different to how I had expected. More boyish, less confident. But then what should somebody accused of rape look like? He’d suggested we meet for tea in the Delaunay, just off the Strand. He used to come here often, but now he feels self-conscious in the city, nervous about being recognised. The other day in Starbucks the woman making his coffee suddenly realised she knew his face from paparazzi pictures of him walking, head bowed, into court: the man accused of raping a woman at the Houses of Parliament.

For 14 months, during which time he turned 24, Samuel Armstrong stood accused of two counts of rape and two of sexual assault. Then, last December, at Southwark Crown Court, after last-minute evidence was presented that undermined his accuser’s story — evidence that had been withheld from his defence team — all charges were dropped.

His legal case is over, but it is not clear what he has won. “Victims of sexual assault talk about being violated,” he says, “the fact that their autonomy is taken away. One of the things that false allegations do is take autonomy away from accused individuals. Now there is an image of me scarred into the public psyche. I have been robbed of the chance to live a quiet behind-the-scenes life.”

Armstrong’s is one of several recent high-profile rape trials that have collapsed due to the emergence of last-minute evidence — often electronic, from phone and computer records — or evidence not being disclosed correctly by police and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to defence teams. The Oxford University student Oliver Mears lived branded as a rapist for two years after a woman accused him of attacking her at a party in July 2015. Days before his case came to trial, evidence from a diary — which had gone unexamined — revealed his innocence. Isaac Itiary, a 25-year-old father, spent four months in prison on remand after being charged with raping a child under 16 last July. He insisted the girl had claimed to be 19. Crucial texts confirming his story emerged only two days before his trial, causing all charges to be dropped. And the criminology student Liam Allen, 22, spent almost two years on bail and was charged with 12 counts of rape and sexual assault. In the opening days of his trial last December, text messages supporting his case came to light.

In January, after these and other trials collapsed, the CPS announced that every rape and serious sexual assault case in the country was under urgent review. Earlier this month, Alison Saunders, director of public prosecutions, announced she would step down in October, at the end of her five-year contract with the CPS.

In rape cases, police and prosecutors are expected to disclose evidence that could assist the defence or undermine the prosecution, but this evidence is not being shared enough or only at the 11th hour. Such failures of disclosure may be the result of insufficient investigations by police and prosecutors, but there are fears they signal a more worrying trend — an unconscious bias by the CPS in cases of sexual assault. Where once the police and criminal justice system were criticised for their treatment of alleged victims — often not believing their stories or subjecting women to heavy-handed cross-examinations about what they had been drinking, how they dressed and previous relationships — now the pendulum has swung the other way.

When Saunders became head of the CPS in 2013, she promoted a focus on female victims. In rape cases where the complainant is known to have been drunk, Saunders put the onus on men to prove explicit consent. She advised prosecutors to examine alleged rapists’ previous sexual behaviour and encouraged women to seek advice from a rape counsellor if they woke up in a man’s bed with no memory of the previous night.

Meanwhile, those accused of such crimes continue to be named, but their accusers remain anonymous.

On Saturday, October 15, 2016, an unnamed woman told police that Samuel Armstrong had raped her the previous night. Three officers handcuffed him on the pavement outside his shared Clapham flat that day, as people watched.

“I just felt a real sense of shame,” he tells me. At Brixton police station a “big group of police officers” watched him strip, took swabs and gave him a grey prison uniform. It was a “wholly dehumanising” experience that left him feeling profoundly alone. By the time he was allowed to call his parents he was “very, very upset. My dad’s in the construction business and we’re not really the sort of family to get emotional. That was probably the first time since I was a teenager we had an emotional conversation.”

We meet again at his family home, in Danbury, Essex, where roads weave through woodland, past fields of sheep and red-brick cottages. Armstrong answers the door in beige jeans, white shirt and pink socks. He has pale-blue eyes, neat hair and awkward, fumblingly English mannerisms. As he says himself, he is geeky and shy. “I’m relatively boring, quiet, reserved.” He is so slight that when he sits on the sofa and crosses his legs, his body folds over itself.

It sounds romantic, the way he recalls that Friday night in 2016. He was working as chief of staff for the South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay and had gone out in Westminster with friends. Eventually, he says, only he and the woman who would later accuse him of rape were left. They had been out drinking together before. It was “quite a flirtatious relationship”. She would send him late-night messages, “uninitiated, about her bikini wax or Brazilian — I don’t know the difference. It did seem that she was flirting.”


The Sunday Times Magazine: Losing The National Trust?

In the oak-panelled Great Chamber at Sutton House, beside a rare example of an original carved Tudor fireplace, a party has exploded. A drag queen dressed as Margaret Thatcher wearing red stripper heels and giant fake pearls is grinding against a young man in a leather jacket to Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Relax. As the crowd throws shapes under disco lights, Sir Ralph Sadleir, a prominent courtier of Henry VIII who built Sutton House in 1535, looks down from his gilt frame unamused.

In the gift shop of the oldest residence in Hackney, east London, beside the National Trust tea towels, jam and chintzy English biscuit tins, are posters for the Gay Liberation Front. Next to the lemon curd, two men in matching leather jackets chug prosecco and snog.

Somewhere in the Tudor drawing room where courtiers once dined, the author Alan Hollinghurst bops amid the throng. This party, themed on his Booker prize-winning book The Line of Beauty, explores the period of 1980s British history when Thatcher introduced Section 28, banning schools and local authorities from “intentionally promoting” homosexuality. It forms part of the National Trust’s Queer Stories in Britain series, marking half a century since the decriminalisation of male homosexuality. It also represents something else: the controversial new face of the National Trust.

You cannot be British and not have a soft spot for the National Trust. Spending a day being dragged around one of its properties should be part of the citizenship test — it’s as British as a Sunday roast. I hear its name and am transported to a childhood in Wales spent sitting in rainy car parks of castles.

It holds a place in the British psyche no other charity does. “For ever, for everyone” is its motto, and with it a commitment that began in 1895, later underpinned by an act of parliament, to preserve lands and buildings of beauty or historic interest for “the benefit of the nation”. With more than 300 properties and 247,000 hectares of land, it is one of the UK’s biggest landowners. Last year, it played host to an estimated 224m visitors. We love the National Trust — but we also love to be angry with it.

In recent years, rows have erupted like pimples on the trust’s beautifully preserved visage. Stirrings began in 2010 when visitors interested in English Renaissance architecture arrived at Hardwick Hall, in Derbyshire, to be greeted by staff wearing period fancy dress. Accusations of “Disneyfication” were revived in 2015, when the director-general, Dame Helen Ghosh, introduced a programme of “decluttering” houses and installing interactive exhibitions.

As I write, outrage has erupted over how cream teas are served at Lanhydrock House in Cornwall. The staff there have been accused of constructing their scones incorrectly — the Cornish way is to have the cream on top of the jam; vice versa belongs over the Tamar in Devon, apparently.

For traditionalists, such transgressions are the tip of the iceberg. Far fiercer battles are afoot, reflecting the culture wars raging in society at large. Last year, trust members including Sir Ranulph Fiennes campaigned for a vote to stop National Trust land being used for trail hunting — where an artificial scent is laid and no animal is supposed to be captured or killed. This has long been viewed by animal rights campaigners as a way of circumventing the hunting ban. “These hunts are still killing foxes, hares and stags,” Fiennes said. The traditionalists won out; the trust voted against a ban last October.

The charity’s attempts to modernise are regularly met with derision by those who accuse them of “pursuing an obsessively politically correct social agenda”. The focus on LGBT issues last year saw “outraged” volunteers at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk forced to wear rainbow lanyards or be relegated to backroom jobs. As part of a drive to introduce “queer stories” to properties, Felbrigg Hall’s last lord of the manor, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, was “outed”, angering his family. The former squire, who was described as “intensely private”, died in 1969, aged 63, just two years after homosexuality was decriminalised. At Kingston Lacy, in Dorset, an installation featuring 51 ropes suspended from the ceiling recalls men who were hanged because of their sexuality. It was labelled “totally inappropriate” by the Tory MP Andrew Bridgen.

This year, the trust’s Woman and Power initiative is proving similarly divisive. In an article for the National Trust Magazine, Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, described being groped on a bus, infuriating some commentators who questioned whether this was “what trust members really want to read”.

Ann Widdecombe has declared “the National Trust has lost its way completely”. Sir Roy Strong believes it is beginning “to alienate its own public”. Sir Max Hastings has cancelled his membership. Even Ghosh, who has departed for a post at Balliol College, Oxford, admits “some of our more traditional visitors have felt they are not being catered for as they once felt they were”.

“I couldn’t disagree more with those sentiments,” Tim Parker, the trust’s chairman, tells me, shaking his head.


Sunday Times: Home: Rapper Professor Green’s Home




A perfect path of monochrome tiles runs between two neat squares of box hedging to a pair of beautiful stained-glass doors. The red bricks are smart, the paintwork is swanky and there is a weather vane perched on the roof. Yet the man who opens the door of this house is no dandy: he has “Lucky” tattooed on his neck below a scar from a bottle attack, and is attempting to control a pack of dogs. “People probably wouldn’t expect this of a rapper’s house,” says Stephen Manderson, aka the rapper Professor Green, “they’d probably expect gold taps.” Yet his southeast London home reflects who he is: a gentleman from a different kind of estate.


The Sunday Times Magazine Interview: Annie Lennox

The face is instantly recognisable. The cruel cheekbones and soft blue eyes. The masculine jaw and finely arched brows topped by a peroxide pixie crop. It is a face whose melancholy beauty has launched six solo albums and countless tours, won an Oscar, Grammys, Brits and Ivor Novellos. Now, at 63, it is framed by horn-rimmed glasses and is, according to its owner, wrinkled. But that is not what looks so different about it. It is that Annie Lennox is laughing. She hasn’t written a pop song in years. Instead, she is happy.

I do wonder, fleetingly, if she’ll be the Diva her debut solo album proclaimed. But right from the start, she is warm, sincere and so modest that at one point she starts talking about what she’d do “if I was, like, some real A-lister person”. She has always “tried to avoid red carpets, tried to keep my head down. This whole world of celebrity they talk about now, it’s completely vacuous. I can’t stand the star bullshit. I’ve realised over the years just how uncomfortable it makes me feel.”

These days, she spends much of her time in a cottage by the sea in South Africa, “a very good place to just tuck in”. But tonight she will perform at Sadler’s Wells in London. It will be her first gig in the UK for more than a decade and, of course, it sold out in seconds.

Lennox has stated she may never compose more music. “Oh, years ago the muse left me,” she says. And with that, she has shed a profound sadness. “I don’t know that I had to be unhappy to write, but I often was unhappy and the feelings were predominantly painful, sad and melancholic. There is a beauty in that, without question.”

In the 1980s, Eurythmics specialised in bittersweet, effervescently tormented pop — a juxtaposition that makes Sweet Dreams the perfect pop song. Or Here Comes the Rain Again. Or a whole back catalogue of masterpieces. After Lennox’s relationship with Dave Stewart disintegrated, her lyrics as a solo artist in songs such as Why and No More I Love Yous addressed her pain even more explicitly. Music has never been about entertainment for her, but “expunging, really coming from a sad place … I was expressing an angst that women especially have lived with.”

She grew up an only child in a working-class family in Aberdeen. “That time and that place, people were very formal with each other. There wasn’t hugging and kissing. Life was tough so they had to be stoic. There was stress and tension in our house, but I think the whole of Scotland was stressed and tense.”

She felt isolated in childhood. She felt pain in adulthood. When I ask what finally helped overcome her depression, she smiles. “I’m married to a wonderful man.” She wed her third husband, Dr Mitch Besser, who runs a leading South African HIV charity, in 2012. This despite vowing — after her first year-long marriage to a German Hare Krishna devotee, Radha Raman, then a 12-year union with the film producer Uri Fruchtmann — never to wed again. “He [Besser] loves me and tells me that he loves me every day. I feel seen, heard and understood. Throughout the majority of my life I don’t think I found that kind of unconditional love from anybody.”

Was it hard to meet a man not threatened by her success? “It was. Men find it difficult, yes. I think it is intimidating.” She also changed when she became a mother — she had her first daughter, Lola, in 1990, then Tali in 1993. “It was so profound. I had never experienced that feeling like that. I think that’s what it’s been all about — seeking connection.”


The Sunday Times: Katie Glass: want to lose weight and cure heartbreak? Start weightlifting

Fed up with binge-eating and gaining weight, Katie Glass reluctantly signed up for a 12-week boot camp where you train with a group. Could she stay the course?

How did I get so fat? Where do you want to begin? The comfort eating? The yo-yo diets? The operation last year that trapped me in bed for two months? After which, comatose on morphine and watching The Sopranos, I felt my last muscle wasting to fat. Then, recently, I broke up with my boyfriend and started a new relationship with Häagen-Dazs. Whatever my excuse, here I am: overweight in my thirties and in need of a fix.

I have done diets before. Boy, have I done diets. I’ve done more of them than Bruce Forsyth did tap-dance routines. I have tried boot camps, paleo, keto, LighterLife, vegetarianism, Slimfast (and fags). I’ve flown to the Mayr clinic in Switzerland and spent a week living on Epsom salts and colonics. I hope this fitness journey might involve a luxury resort where I can spa myself thin. Unfortunately, my editor has other ideas.

Evolve Fitness is a strip-lit basement gym in London’s financial district. It is an area buzzing with City boys who aspire to look like Brad Pitt in Fight Club. Evolve specialises in 12-week muscle-building body transformations. In three months, they can (possibly) get me ripped.


Image: James Cannon

Evolve’s gym has one treadmill, one rower and one bike. The rest of it bangs with men pumping iron and making sex noises. The course I’m enrolled on, Evolve’s Warrior Tribe programme, promises “one of the toughest experiences of your life”. “Can you eat, sleep and train like a warrior?” the blurb in their brochure asks. I find myself answering out loud: “No.” Absolutely worst of all, it is a group programme. If there is one thing I hate more than working out, it’s doing it with other people.

At the first session, I meet my group. I’m one of 10 “warriors”: Chris, Alex, Tim, Rob, Hasnain, Minjoo, Emma, Javier and Jojo. Most of them work in the City and already look suspiciously fit. Our trainer, Lee, who looks like Kit Harington on steroids, gives us a name: the Spartans. We are put on a fancy machine that hums lift music while scanning your body to measure weight, muscle density and fat percentage. I am too ashamed to tell you the results. Lee takes my “before” pictures and I cannot look. Then we are issued with our diet for the first two weeks: there will be no booze, no carbs — and therefore no potatoes, pasta, bread or grains — and no sugar, including fruit. We will eat only lean protein (chicken, turkey, tuna), occasional fatty protein (steak, salmon, nuts) and leafy greens. Anything that adds taste, such as mustard, is verboten. Rob asks what he can put on a stir-fry and Lee suggests “air”. Days will consist not of breakfast, lunch and dinner but meals one to five. Meal one might be two steaks and eggs. Meal three, a protein shake. “Food is fuel,” says Lee, who is the anti-Nigella. “Not everything has to taste good.”

Our first week involves three hour-long sessions, each taken by a different expert beefcake. Workouts revolve around a weightlifting programme that comprises compound exercises that work multiple muscle groups — such as squats and deadlifts, which simultaneously work the glutes, quads and core — and exercises that focus on specific muscles, such as triceps dips, or walking lunges for hamstrings.

Everyone in my group is fitter than me and worryingly enthusiastic. Emma, Javier, Rob and Jojo have done the programme before (which feels like cheating). Minjoo runs triathlons. Still, during the first session I keep up through a series of push-ups, sit-ups, biceps curls and squats. After, I am sweating profusely, but full of energy and feeling smug. This is going to be easy!

My entire body hurts. My arms are agony, my legs torture. My ass, in particular, is killing me, presumably because I’ve never moved it before. My stomach twinges in a place where my abs must live.


Feature Image: James Cannon

The Sunday Times: The Magazine interview: pianist James Rhodes on his childhood sexual abuse and why he’ll always speak out about mental health

If you have read James Rhodes’s memoir Instrumental, you will not have forgotten it. If you have not, do so now. I cannot write anything about Rhodes more affecting than he has written himself.

Instrumental is his harrowing account of the horrendous sexual abuse he suffered for years as a child, at the hands of a PE teacher at his north London prep school. The book never shies away from discussing the graphic physical and mental fallout: the serious spinal injury it left Rhodes with, requiring three bouts of surgery; his depression, OCD, self-harm, alcoholism, breakdown, drug addiction and suicide attempt in a psychiatric hospital. It is a book filled with anger, sadness and torment, yet also, wonderfully, it is the story of how Rhodes transcended trauma through a profound love of classical music.

Shortly after Rhodes’s ordeal began, aged six, he heard Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin in D minor and was transported: “It was like magic. It suddenly made sense of things.” Later, this passion led him to carve out a career as a concert pianist, despite having no formal academic musical education. The first classical pianist to be signed by Warner, his unpretentious style has seen him called the “Jamie Oliver of the grand piano”. Alongside six albums, he also produced a campaigning Channel 4 series, Don’t Stop the Music, addressing the importance of music education in schools.

Instrumental sold more than 150,000 copies and found Rhodes legions of fans (75,100 on Twitter). After his first wife tried to get the book banned, it also landed him a £2m court case that cost him his second marriage and almost his sanity. His new book, Fire on All Sides, chronicles his mental state since. The title, a stage direction from Don Giovanni, describes Rhodes’s feelings about life most of the time. That it is “hot and dangerous and my world is either about to melt or collapse”. Yet rather than let those thoughts consume him, the book explores his struggle to change, ricocheting between optimism and crippling self-doubt. At times, Fire can feel self-indulgent — not to mention foul-mouthed. (It opens with Rhodes saying if he met Bach, “I don’t know if I’d punch him or blow him”.) Yet it’s also a brilliant, jangling opus to Rhodes’s frantic mind, his writing more powerful because men are rarely so emotionally candid.

Given the turmoil of Rhodes’s internal life, he seems surprisingly chipper in the flesh, springing along the street to the Ivy Cafe, ordering a hearty shepherd’s pie. His hair is wiry and wild, as if he’s been electrocuted, which suits his frenetic personality. He’s fun company: in scruffy jeans, a grey hoodie and a coat, when the photographer asks him to unbutton it, he quips: “Aren’t you at least going to buy me a drink?” But as we eat, I realise he’s checking himself out in a mirror over my shoulder — he is a self-confessed narcissist.

He appears to have a wonderful life — shuttling between London’s Maida Vale and Madrid: “f****** paradise”. He’s dating a beautiful Argentinian actress, Micaela Breque, who is “gentle, calm, kind” and, at 28, 14 years younger than him. (Like all complicated men, women throw themselves at him. He gets through two wives and two girlfriends over the course of the books.) She’s a fan he met via Instagram a few months ago. He’s shortly off to Argentina to meet her parents.


The Sunday Times: The Interview: the rapper Professor Green on his marriage to Millie Mackintosh and Britain’s problem with class

You wouldn’t want to meet Stephen Manderson in a dark alley: a looming 6ft 2in of stubble, covered in tattoos that stamp his knuckles and climb his neck.

On one side of his face runs an angry, jagged red scar, the relic of a knife attack. His accent, like his image, was hardened on the streets of east London in an area of Clapton known as “murder mile”, where his teenage parents left him to be raised by his grandmother: six of them in a three-bedroom council flat. It’s an upbringing that gave him the street swagger to forge a rap career where, as Professor Green, he has become one of the most successful voices in British pop, drawing inevitable comparisons with America’s most famous white rapper, Eminem.

Green erupted onto the scene in 2010 with a catchy INXS-sampling single, then a duet with Lily Allen and a profusion of awards. Three albums later, he’s built a hardcore base of fans (and some 2m Twitter followers) through his music, and more recently his BBC documentaries exploring society and subjects including his father’s death, dangerous dogs and the legalisation of cannabis. If some are surprised by this pivot from rapper to documentary maker, he shrugs — “It’s all social commentary.”

His tough image belies a fragile, sentimental soul — one of those tattoos displays the name of his great-grandmother, Edie. On Instagram, he posts about scented candles between pictures of him cuddling his girlfriend, the model Fae Williams. “I’m not nasty, I’m not rude or abrasive, I like to be quite gentle,” he grins, when I tell him I’d be scared to meet him at night. “Humans have a really bad habit of just joining the dots.”

Green’s aura was softened, too, when he made a profound documentary discussing his father’s suicide, when he was 43 and Green just 24. “I didn’t know if I wanted people to see me that vulnerable. Everyone said, ‘That must have been so cathartic.’ It f****** wasn’t. It was just painful.” His other BBC programmes revealed his skill for drawing out other people’s vulnerabilities. Now he’s back, exploring the prejudice and lack of social mobility facing working-class white men, this time for Channel 4. “When you talk about what you know, that’s when you have a voice of authority, innit,” he says. That “innit” is important: the way Green speaks, like the way he looks, are all relevant to the classism we’ve met to discuss.

This was the year people from backgrounds like his were supposed to be given a voice; now Green’s voice seems to be one of the few cutting through. Theresa May had promised, in her maiden speech as prime minister, to “help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you”. Those ambitions lie in tatters, following Alan Milburn’s resignation earlier this month as chairman of the Social Mobility Commission. Milburn quit because he said the government lacked “the necessary bandwidth” to ensure their “rhetoric of healing social division is matched with the reality”. This rift seemed, in part, to fuel the Brexit vote: 70% of people who live in council houses and 78% of those with no formal qualifications voted to leave Europe, according to a study by the social research institute NatCen.

Green is perfectly positioned to comment on class and social mobility, finding himself in that rare territory usually inhabited by footballers. He has earned enough to mingle with the rich kids — he was married to the Made in Chelsea star and Quality Street heiress Millie Mackintosh — but remains an outsider among the Establishment. When I suggest he’s now middle-class, he baulks: “I can’t be!” He still has the “same anxieties and insecurities” as all working-class boys. He can reel off examples of the classism he’s faced, such as the dinner party when someone went around shaking hands, then got to him and threw him a “Safe” and a fist-bump. “I said, ‘Would you bark at a dog?’ ” He’s had the Pretty Woman treatment in upmarket shops, where “people do look at you as if you’re going to steal something when you walk in wearing a tracksuit”.

In the documentary, Green follows six boys. Among them are a Del Boy entrepreneurial type, an ex-convict dad, a builder turned model and a maths genius — the son of a manicurist — dreaming of Cambridge. Green knows the struggles they face. Classism, he says, “is still acceptable. You couldn’t use a racist or homophobic slur on the front page of any newspaper in this county, but you will see ‘chav’.”

He’s equally critical of the fetishisation of working-class people. “You walk through Shoreditch and it’s, like, how much money can we spend to look poor? It’s crazy. It does my nut in.” He’s angry about the widening class gap in the area where he grew up — Clapton is now full of hipster coffee shops — and he feels it all the more because of his own new-found wealth, which is estimated at £3m. “It’s just exclusion,” he says. “I go to the shop every morning and pay £3.50 for a flat white, but there’s a lot of people in the area who can’t afford to do that.” He knows what it’s like to grow up on a council estate staring at an unreachable City lifestyle. “It’s like having your face pushed up against a window — it’s a dangling carrot, it’s the life you’re never going to have.”

He observes that when such areas improve, it’s often at the expense of locals, who “seem to get moved on and moved out. Things get privatised and you don’t have guaranteed rent . Then it becomes social cleansing.”

His view of the class divide is perhaps more acute having been married to Mackintosh for almost three years. While Green was becoming a weed dealer in east London, she grew up in a £1.4m Bath townhouse and attended Millfield, a £12,000-a-term boarding school. Their relationship gave him a searing insight into class, “in the same way it would if you married someone from a different county, because you learn about their culture, their ways, their history”.

Is it that extreme?

“Yes, because things that are normal to them are completely foreign,” he says. “I’ve been in places and felt a bit like a novelty. Meeting certain people’s family members and almost having to prove myself.”

When he lived with Mackintosh in Chelsea, Green says he had “nothing in common with anyone apart from the old eccentrics, who I loved — you know, passing me their spliff outside the pub. And parents who’d actually worked for their lot.”