Category Archives: Blog

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.”

YOU CAN READ THE FULL FEATURE HERE: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/falsely-accused-rape-men-reveal-deepest-shame-gvxh88f9w

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.”

YOU CAN READ THE FULL FEATURE HERE: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-magazine-interview-annie-lennox-on-depression-feminism-and-why-shes-standing-by-oxfam-rzs89k297

The Sunday Times: Moby interview: “I don’t go on tour. I’m not promiscuous. I’m sober”

Born Richard Melville Hall, Moby was two when his father drove into a wall and killed himself. “My father, who was already a heavy drinker, [would] disappear for days on end, leaving my mother broke and alone in a cold apartment with a wailing newborn. One night she threatened to divorce him and take me away. That night he drove into the base of a bridge and died,” he writes in his new book, Then It Fell Apart.

Moby — said to be distantly related to Herman Melville, hence the nickname — was raised by his troubled, pot-smoking mother, who subsequently moved them to San Francisco. Once there, high times with her new hippie friends often took precedence over looking after her son. When Moby was three, he remembers his mother dropping him at a “low-rent day-care centre” while she went to the beach to take acid. He was woken from his afternoon nap by a male care-worker who sexually abused him. He didn’t tell anyone what happened, but grew up “afraid of men with long hair and a beard”. Unfortunately, there were many men of that description paying visits to his mother during his childhood — some violent, most druggies.

Music was his escape. His first book, 2016’s Porcelain, covered the period between 1989 and 1999, when he was a DJ, riding a modest wave of success. This one picks up where it left off. Aged 34, his career had hit the skids. He’d been dropped by his US record label and assumed his new album, Play, would be his last. Instead it became one of the world’s bestselling records.

Mega-fame, however, sent him into a spiral of alcoholism, drug addiction and depression, which resulted in his 2008 suicide attempt. Today his friends call him “monastic”. “Everything’s changed,” he tells me from his home in southern California. “The things that were important to me 10 years ago are just not important to me now. I don’t care about fame. I don’t go on tour. I’m not promiscuous. I’m sober. I look at some of the things that were important to me then and think, ‘How do I still share DNA with that person?’” Now 53, he’s working on an album of orchestral arrangements because “that’s what musicians do when they get old” and donates 100% of his profits to animal rights charities.

Of the book, he says: “The only thing that makes me worry is the character of my mother. She was a creative, complicated, possibly mentally ill human being and I hope she doesn’t come across as one-dimensional and cruel… that was a small part of who she was.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE SUNDAY TIMES: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/moby-interview-i-dont-go-on-tour-im-not-promiscuous-im-sober-hdx79fp3h

The Sunday Times: Style investigates the illegal teeth-whitening industry

I sit back nervously in the dentist’s chair. “My teeth are pretty sensitive,” I mutter. The cold gel hits my enamel and I gasp. Suddenly, I regret letting my narcissism get the better of me. Again.

The cliché about Brits is that we have terrible teeth. But the Hollywood smile once reserved for celebrities, now sparkles from every screen. The desire for a blinding smile has spawned a dazzling industry in teeth whitening, from at-home kits, trays, pens, serums and stick-on strips to celebrity Harley Street dentists charging thousands. The market research company Mintel values the UK cosmetic dentistry industry at £2bn, and another recent report found that, on average, British men and women spend 11% more a month on their teeth than their skincare. But in this white rush, many consumers are unaware that some of the treatments being offered are not merely dangerous, they are illegal.

Dentist Dr Richard Marques has seen the demand for whitening grow exponentially over the past few years. “It’s the selfies,” he says, flashing his own brilliant grin. “People have never looked at themselves or each other so much.” Now they come in asking for celebrity smiles just as we ask hairdressers for cuts. “I had a patient who said, ‘I want Ross from Friends,’ ” he says.

Not all those trying teeth whiteners are bleachorexics, of course. Most want nothing more than a subtly brighter-looking version of the colour they have. “White teeth are associated with youth, vitality. People trust people with white teeth more,” Marques says. However, he worries that the growing demand for teeth whitening is fuelling a market in unregulated treatments.

In the UK, teeth whitening can be carried out legally only by a dental professional registered with the General Dental Council (GDC). There are two methods available. The first and most expensive is carried out in the clinic and involves a solution of hydrogen peroxide and either a laser or LED. Results are near-instantaneous and prices in London range from £600 to £1,000. The second requires specially moulded trays and a similar, albeit weaker, formula that can be dispensed and administered at home. The best results come after approximately two weeks, and prices start at about £300.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE SUNDAY TIMES: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/style-investigates-the-illegal-teeth-whitening-industry-tvhsnpfqp

The Sunday Times: Former Man United star Rio Ferdinand on his wife’s death, fatherhood and new beginnings

Rio Ferdinand is not an emotional man — which is not to say he is not friendly or kind.

He is sweetness from the moment I arrive: making me coffee in a magnificent kitchen he seems unfamiliar with; worrying where we’ll be comfortable to chat — “Is here OK? Would you prefer there?”; offering me a lift to the train station afterwards, and nattering on the way about his girlfriend’s dog. It’s just that those “touchy-feely kind of soft emotions” have never come naturally to him. As he states plainly in his book: “People have called me cold all my life.”

This makes it especially startling that he has written (with the help of the journalist Decca Aitkenhead) a book that is an achingly raw and emotional account of his grief after losing his wife. Rebecca Ferdinand was first treated for breast cancer in 2013. It returned aggressively in 2015, metastasising to her liver and bones. She died within weeks, aged just 34, leaving Ferdinand behind with their three children: Lorenz, Tate and Tia, who were then nine, six and four.

The BBC documentary that he made about her death, Rio Ferdinand: Being Mum and Dad, was watched by 6m people when it aired in March and has been seen by millions more on catch-up. I imagine, like me, everyone cried. There is something uniquely devastating about watching a man known for his tough sportsmanship howl like a wounded child. The book is equally unbearable at times. Ferdinand recounts how he told his children their mother was not coming home and tears streamed down their faces as they wailed: “Why? Why? Why?” He tells how, paralysed by his inability to help them, he looked out of the hospital window begging the universe: “Could someone please help me?” And how he held his wife in his arms as she died.

Worse is hearing how Ferdinand’s children tackled grief. He buys them bottles of Rebecca’s Hermès perfume, which Tate drenches his bedroom in. When they chose Rebecca’s favourite songs to play at her funeral, they asked if they could dance along in the church, like their mum would have. “If Rebecca’s death had been my loss alone, I think I could have found a way to cope,” he writes, but “when I watched my kids lose their mother, and was helpless to comfort them or know what they needed — that was more than I could bear.” Against his instinct to retreat into himself, he forged his way through the documentary in order “to help me help them”.

The Ferdinand family lives hidden at the edge of London. “A gated community inside a gated community,” the taxi driver says, dropping me off outside a vast modern house worth millions. It is both indicative of the privacy Ferdinand values and testament to the success of a boy who grew up on a Peckham council estate and become one of England’s greatest footballers. He is a former England captain, and was the world’s most expensive defender when Manchester United signed him, at 24, for £30m.

Available: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-interview-former-man-united-star-rio-ferdinand-on-raising-his-children-after-losing-his-wife-to-cancer-6llhrm303

Image: LINDA BROWNLEE/CONTOUR

The Sunday Times: Women combat soldiers: the inside story

Women are finally going into close-combat roles in the British armed forces. About time? Or political correctness gone mad? Katie Glass reports.

The female warrior has always had a mixed reception. GI Jane is both a heroine and joke. In the Middle Ages, Matilda of England commanded armies, but, rather than celebrate her, people complained about her wilfulness. Eleanor of Aquitaine joined the Crusades with her husband, Louis, reputedly leading her women bare-breasted, dressed as Amazons, so chroniclers wrote her off as a slut. Elizabeth I, wise to the problems of being a female commander, pandered to her troops, assuring them she might “have the body of a weak, feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king”.

Now, for the first time, women in the British armed forces will have the opportunity to fight in close quarters with the enemy. And as usual, opinions are divided. David Cameron lifted the ban on women serving in close-combat ground roles last July, after a two-year review by the Ministry of Defence. The report focused on three risk factors: muscular injury, psychological health and impaired reproductive health. Now, women will be able to serve in positions from which they were once excluded: in the infantry, the Royal Marines, the Royal Armoured Corps and the RAF Regiment.

Last November, the Royal Armoured Corps began admitting women interested in the new roles. The first female officer graduated from Sandhurst 10 days ago and will go on to train as an RAC troop leader. All other ground, close-combat roles will be open to women by the end of 2018.

In other countries, women have been fully integrated into the armed forces for years. Norway has had women in all combat roles since the mid-1980s, Denmark since 1988, Canada since 1989, and the United States since 2013. Yet in the UK the move remains controversial.

Colonel Richard Kemp, who commanded British troops in Afghanistan, was among those angry at the decision, which he called “dangerous PC meddling” and a “foolish move” that will be “paid for in blood”. “The infantry is no place for a woman,” said Colonel Tim Collins, a former SAS officer who commanded the Royal Irish Regiment during the invasion of Iraq. “Pure politically correct extravagance. No one pretends that allowing women onto the front line enhances the army’s capabilities. [This] inevitably will cost lives on the battlefield.” But what do women currently serving in the armed forces think?

The corridors of the Royal Naval Air Station at Yeovilton, Somerset, are decorated with endless pictures of men. There are blown-up photographs of Our Boys in action, crouched beneath helicopters, wielding enormous guns. Posters show sweaty chaps pummelling weights, advertising the Royal Marines Ultra-Fit Championships. There are lads in rugby kit promoting the Royal Navy Rugby Union. There are also jokey photos of men wearing dresses or hula skirts on nights out. Down one corridor, frame after frame shows male soldiers assembled proudly in their squadrons.

“I guess it does affect you,” says Lieutenant Natalie Grainger, 28, a pilot in the elite Commando Helicopter Force. “Because you think: why aren’t there more senior women around? I want to change it.

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“What annoys me is when people say, ‘Women are being allowed on the front line,’ ” she continues, sweeping back her blonde fringe (women are not compelled to have short back and sides). “When people were shooting at me in Afghanistan, wasn’t that me on the front line? We have been there a long time.” She has served with 846 Naval Air Squadron through two tours of Afghanistan, providing aviation combat support to the Royal Marines.

About 10% (15,280) of the British armed forces are women. Hundreds have served in front-line roles in Afghanistan and Iraq — as fighter pilots, in submarines, and in ground-support roles as medics and bomb-disposal experts. Four women received the Military Cross for their bravery on those battlefields. Nine lost their lives.

The new positions open to women differ because their primary purpose is to close in on and kill the enemy over short range on the ground. Entry requirements will be the same as for men, which Grainger approves of: “I can pass the boys’ level, so why can’t everyone else?” It is estimated that only 5% of women currently serving in the British Army could meet the basic infantry fitness test, which requires a soldier to march eight miles in under two hours, carrying 25kg of kit.

I shadowed Grainger through a day of exercises, flying her Merlin helicopter around Somerset. As we pulled on our uniforms, she was pragmatic about the one-size-fits-all male kit. “It’s all money at the end of the day,” Grainger shrugs. For women that means ballistic underwear with a flap at the front, waterproof suits with a front-to-back zip underneath — no good if you need to pull down your pants — and specially ordered combat boots, because the standard sizes are too big.

Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/operation-glass-ceiling-qm3lzczzr 

The Sunday Times: The Ghost Factory: bloodshed and banter on the streets of Belfast

Twenty-one years after the Troubles officially ended with the Good Friday agreement, echoes of violence still linger. Wounds are unhealed, and questions remain unanswered. The decision last week by Northern Ireland’s Public Prosecution Service to charge one former British paratrooper — Soldier F — with the murder of two people on Bloody Sunday underlines the fact that this conflict stubbornly refuses to move into the past.

The Ghost Factory, the debut novel by the journalist Jenny McCartney, a frequent contributor to The Sunday Times, is set in Belfast at the end of the Troubles. Growing up in the city in the 1970s and 1980s, McCartney was “attuned to the political weather”: her father, the barrister Robert McCartney QC, set up the small, short-lived UK Unionist Party and was a member of the Northern Ireland assembly. The attitude in their house was “not easily stereotyped” because her father was pro-Union but anti-sectarian.

The families of the 13 people killed during a civil rights march on January 30, 1972, have described the decision to charge only one British veteran as a “terrible disappointment”, but for McCartney it suits the complexity of the situation.

“I support the desire of the families to find out exactly what happened and hold individuals accountable,” she says. “But there are many, many people with information on paramilitary killings, for example, who are now in positions of political power and are not divulging that information. So I think if we are going to have a truthful investigation of the past, then, in all conscience, those people should also speak out and bring closure to other relatives.”

McCartney’s book focuses on the vigilante justice meted out by paramilitaries during the Troubles, a subject she covered as a journalist in the 1990s. Youths were beaten and shot by republican and loyalist groups that “policed” working-class areas. She was horrified: “The victim is left with all these injuries and feelings — and what do they do with it?”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE SUNDAY TIMES: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-ghost-factory-bloodshed-and-banter-on-the-streets-of-belfast-s0wx07wv9