Category Archives: Sunday Times

The Sunday Times Magazine: Every year young British tourists fall to their deaths from hotel balconies. Are the all-you-can-drink party packages to blame?

 

The poolside bar opens at 11am, signalled by an eruption of music, and the BH Mallorca hotel the epicentre of holiday hedonism in Magaluf, blinks to life. On balconies littered with last night’s debris, girls in acid-bright bikinis and groggy boys who look as though they’ve barely left school start to emerge. From now until night, the all-inclusive drink flows. At pool parties with limitless alcohol, girls down cocktails and dance to Beyoncé, as lads with reddening six packs high-five over beers. One boy, dressed as a mermaid, passes out on a sunlounger near the stage where DJs play and former Love Island contestants parade in swimwear to launch their after-show careers.

As evening falls, these balconies become disco boxes. Sounds clash in air ripe with Lynx. Grime meets Come on Eileen, football chants compete with shouted pop lyrics, punctuated by smashed glass and screams. On one balcony, two lads lean over the railings and pour beer on unsuspecting passers-by. I watch them over my balustrade, where a sign reads: “Balconies are the main cause of death and accidents on holidays.”

In 2016, Alexander Forrest, a 20-year-old Scottish charity worker on holiday with friends, fell to his death from his third-floor balcony at this hotel. In May this year, another young man, thought to be 25, fell from another third-floor balcony. His friends tried to grab him as he dropped. He survived, but suffered serious injuries. A month later, a 22-year-old man fell from a balcony on the floor below, breaking a leg and his jaw and losing several teeth.

This year, tens of thousands of British teenagers will embark on package holidays. Tour companies such as Thomas Cook promise them #legendaryholidays, with the motto “Go hard or go home”. So far this season, there have been reports of 16 British people falling from balconies abroad. Eight have died from their injuries.

In June, Conor Morgan, a 19-year-old from Ireland, was found dead after falling from a hotel balcony at the party resort of Aiya Napa, in Cyprus. He had arrived on the island only hours before. The exact circumstances of his death are not yet known. As I write, Tolga Aramaz, a 23-year-old Labour councillor from north London, lies in an intensive-care ward, critically injured after falling from a second-floor balcony in Ibiza.

I began to monitor the growing number of British people dying from balcony falls abroad in 2012, following the inquest into the death of Gethin Williams, an 18-year-old from north Wales. Williams had died nearly a decade earlier, in 2002, at a hotel in the same location as BH Mallorca, then called Fiesta Jungla. He had been one of a group of 15 teenagers from Ysgol Tryfan school, in Bangor, who had been celebrating the end of their A-levels. After a night out, he tried to climb into his room via the balcony, slipped and fell.

In 2013, I saw reports of 12 fatal balcony falls. Seven in 2014. Six in 2015. Ten in 2016. Nine in 2017. This year, I watched horrified as the season began, noticing again that, in most cases, the deaths involved young people, alcohol and package holidays.

Each fall haunted me. These were groups of friends going abroad on their first holidays together. Young people, on the cusp of adulthood, testing boundaries; allowed their first taste of freedom by anxious parents. A modern rite of passage, both scary and exciting, echoed across cultures. In Australia, Aborigines have their walkabout. In America, students go on spring break. For the Amish, it is called rumspringa, from the German verb springen, literally meaning “to jump”.

Williams grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Bangor, near the mountains of Snowdonia, a world away from the vibrant chaos of Magaluf. It is so quiet here, you can hear the wind in the grass, sweeping up the field past the church where Gethin’s ashes are buried.

“It’s very, very vivid,” Nerys Williams says of the day she learnt her son had died. It was early morning. Her husband, Emrys, and their older son, Dafydd, were in the fields milking the cows, so Nerys was alone when she opened the door to two police officers, faces drawn and pale. “They said, Gethin … Oh …” She starts to cry, the pain still fresh, “… and I knew.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE SUNDAY TIMES: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/every-year-young-british-tourists-fall-to-their-deaths-from-hotel-balconies-are-the-all-you-can-drink-party-packages-to-blame-68qkz030c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Sunday Times Magazine: Why did Anna Campbell, a young feminist from Lewes, die on the battlefields of Syria?

 

 

It was the first bright morning there had been in a while. The air was clean and sharp. Spring had come late this year to Afrin, a district in northern Syria, and the endless rolling fields were still lined with the stubs of last season’s wheat stalks. At night, the cold wind bit and was thick with the smell of burning wood and plastic. Anna Campbell, a 26-year-old woman from Lewes, East Sussex, sat in an abandoned house waiting for the order to fight.

The date was March 15, 2018, and Campbell had been in the house for a week with three other soldiers: Comrade Siyar, Comrade Sara and Comrade Serhilan. They knew Campbell as Comrade Helin Qerecox, the nom de guerre she had picked when she arrived in Syria as a would-be fighter the previous year. The others were Kurdish and, like Campbell, belonged to local militias that were trying to halt the Turkish-backed advance on the Kurdish-majority district of Afrin. The house would be their base during the battle. Outside, mortar fire whistled in the air and erupted on the front line about a mile away.

For Campbell, this deployment was the culmination of a year’s campaigning. Since she had arrived in Syria, she had pleaded with her commanders in the all-female Kurdish Women’s Protection Units (YPJ) to send her into battle. They hadn’t wanted her to go. Campbell, though deeply committed to the Kurdish cause, was not an experienced soldier. After a year with the YPJ, she had learnt to fire a Kalashnikov and had practised throwing grenades and shooting a machinegun, but had received no heavy weapons training. To dissuade her, her commanders told Campbell her blonde hair made her look “too western”.

For them, her role was obvious: her value as a fighter was negligible, but her value as a propagandist — recruiting others like her to the YPJ cause — was enormous. Much as young idealists from London and New York were drawn to the trenches and mountain hideouts of the Spanish Civil War, hundreds of westerners, including dozens of Britons, have flocked to join the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the YPJ since 2014. They were drawn to an organisation that claimed to stand for anti-imperialism, women’s rights (particularly in the fight against Isis) and a true revolution.

As the Afrin operation intensified, several male British recruits were reported killed. Eventually, Campbell’s commanders relented. On March 8, she was assigned to a position on the outskirts of Afrin’s Mahmoudiyeh district, alongside the three Kurdish fighters.

As she prepared to leave, her hair dyed black, her face covered with a maroon scarf, she spoke in a video of her duty to fight. “If you love your own people enough to fight for them and die for them,” she said, “you also love people far away enough to fight for them and die for them.”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE IN THE SUNDAY TIMES: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/why-did-anna-campbell-a-young-feminist-from-lewes-die-on-the-battlefields-of-syria-pqsj9rw3f

The Sunday Times News: Alesha MacPhail death: Bute grieves for its innocence

In the burning summer heat the ferry from Wemyss Bay, Inverclyde, to the island of Bute heaves with tourists. Older visitors in comfortable shoes and children with backpacks lean over the railings watching the water as the boat pulls out. Sitting on the deck are four young policemen, their faces impassive, holding their hats and looking solemnly out at the waves.

Locals travelling home speak in hushed tones about the events that are unfolding. “You put them to bed and you think they’re safe,” one woman says to her friend. “Imagine waking up one morning, coming down the stairs and she’s gone.”

Last Monday at 6.25am six-year-old Alesha MacPhail was reported missing from her grandparents’ home on Bute. Less than three hours later her body was found nearby in the overgrown woodland of a former hotel. On Tuesday the police launched a murder investigation. By Wednesday an arrest had been made. In that short time this peaceful island had changed for ever.

Bute lies in an archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. It is not a remote island (Glasgow is barely 90 minutes away), but the waves washing the ferry across the Firth of Clyde seem to carry it to another world. To a world that is not wealthy but is rich in natural beauty and the warmth of a 6,500-strong community.

On the seafront in the town of Rothesay, where the ferry docks, stone cottages breathe the sweet-salty smell of the sea. Behind them dense woodland becomes majestic hills, which turn blue as the sun fades.

During the day seagulls, their bellies fat with chips, skim the water in the bay and perch on mossy rocks. In the evening the water glows silvery gold.

Bute was once a thriving destination. It still attracts tourists in the summer months. They head to the seaside at Rothesay, with its amusement arcade and bucket-and-spade shops. But it is also a place of tranquil pleasures: a moated castle, a putting lawn on the front, prettily planted flower gardens.

The town feels old-fashioned in a friendly, genteel way. Shops with hand-painted signs are named after locals: Jess May’s florist, Liz’s cupcake heaven, Elle’s hair and beauty salon. “Everybody knows each other,” one woman says. Doors are left unlocked.

“My mum wouldn’t even know where her keys are,” she grins.

Alesha lived with her mother, Georgina Lochrane, 23, in Airdrie, north Lanarkshire, but often came to the island on her school holidays. She stayed with her father, Robert MacPhail, 25, who is separated from Georgina and lives in his parents’ seafront house on Ardbeg Road, north of Rothesay.

Alesha was known by locals and often played with their children. “I saw her on the bus,” one woman told me. “I remember — she had such blonde hair.”

This summer Alesha had come for a three-week stay. One parent, whose daughter was to have a playdate with her on Thursday, described how her grandparents had recently created a bedroom for the little girl on the top floor.

It says something of the island’s close-knit community that when Angela King, 46, and Calum MacPhail, 49, discovered their granddaughter was not in her bed, they first turned to friends.

On Monday at 6.43am King posted on Facebook: “Alesha has gone missing from our house please help look for her.” Worried neighbours shared the post, offering support and help in looking for her, or suggesting where she might be.

That morning, in the Bonnie Clyde cafe in Rothesay, Raymond Yost heard helicopters whirring overhead. He assumed they were taking somebody to hospital on the mainland — their usual job.

At about 9am one of his customers received a text message to say “a wee lassie” was missing. Yost immediately logged on to Facebook to see if he knew who it was. “We’re all one big family here,” he said. “Most of us grew up together, we went to school together, then we came back.” That’s when he saw Angela’s post.

It was amid this social media activity that it seems Georgina learnt her daughter had disappeared — and later discovered that she had died. In a series of increasingly desperate posts, she wrote, “Someone tell me what’s happened that’s my daughter”, and, “Angela answer me now”.

Alesha MacPhail‘s body was found on the Isle of Bute last week
Alesha MacPhail‘s body was found on the Isle of Bute last week
By Tuesday bouquets were piling up outside the house from which Alesha had vanished. Flowers with cards reading “Sleep tight beautiful girl” and “You’re with the angels now” lined the whitewashed garden wall facing the sea, along with fluffy toys and purple balloons floating in the breeze.

Georgina travelled to the island, escorted by police, and visited the memorial. Bending down to read the messages, she sobbed. Beside her, police vans guarded the house.

As police launched a murder investigation, they warned the islanders to secure their homes, to “be vigilant and look after each other”.

One mother spoke about how she had moved her three children here from Glasgow nine months ago because it felt so safe. “We could let our children run free outside. Now we won’t let them out of our sight,” she said.

“My kids used to play in the woods where they found her [Alesha]. The thing that’s so wonderful about it here — the fact you can be all alone — now that’s what’s so terrifying.”

In the bookshop in Rothesay, Alesha’s death was being reported on the local radio news bulletins. In the post office her photograph was on the front page of all the newspapers. Many locals, unsure about speaking to the media, asked not to be named. But when they came together, the case was the only thing they were discussing.

In the pubs and cafes and on the seafront, groups gathered, sharing their grief. “The whole island is in shock,” said one local woman in the pub. “Nothing like this has ever happened before here. It doesn’t feel real.”

It is an island with little serious crime: it is rare for residents even to see police officers on Bute, one resident, Janet Vernal, told me. Now officers were drafted from the Argyll & Bute and West Dunbartonshire division, driving round roads in marked and unmarked vehicles, dotting the coast in their yellow jackets, conducting 24-hour high-visibility patrols.

At times the contrast between the tranquil island and the police activity was so jarring that it felt surreal. Blue-and-white police cordons fluttered across leafy lanes, running between stone walls and ivy hedges. Police vans rolled heavily along the seaside lanes while officers in black uniforms combed the beach near rocks where seals lazed, overturning sun-bleached rowing boats. At night the still, quiet bay was pierced by the shriek of sirens and flashing of blue lights.

Stranger than the police presence was the eerie silence. Last Wednesday night the streets were empty. Residents peered out from behind windows. Although the summer holidays had started, the beach and children’s park were empty.

 

“It’s a lot quieter than it usually is,” one resident told me. “A lot of the children are being kept in.”

One local claimed his children were so terrified that they would not sleep in their own beds.

“Everyone is so shocked. No one can believe something like this has happened here,” said another resident, Elizabeth Taylor.

“It will change it for a while,” Vernal agreed. “Especially for parents with children. They’ll feel it longer and be scared to let their children out.”

Last Thursday a 16-year-old boy was charged in connection with Alesha’s death. It is said that he is known to her family. Police have not released details of how Alesha died.

On Friday the teenager appeared in Greenock sheriff court on the mainland. He was charged with rape and murder. He entered no plea.

Everyone in this small community has their opinion about the tragedy. But nothing will be known until a trial is held.

For now, this once peaceful island and Alesha’s family are left only with questions — and their grief.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/alesha-macphail-death-bute-grieves-for-its-innocence-d8vr256ll

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.

YOU CAN READ THE FULL FEATURE HERE: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/the-national-trust-exposed-has-it-lost-the-plot-75c0vr6nx

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.

YOU CAN READ THE FULL FEATURE HERE: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/rapper-professor-greens-london-crib-ttcv36ll2

The Sunday Times: Interview: Tom Hardy

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I wanted to like Tom Hardy. Who wouldn’t? He is a proper British megastar, on the cusp of nailing Hollywood, with the box-office draw and versatility to be our DiCaprio, Cruise or Travolta. He is magnetic on screen, with a rare ability to combine masculinity with vulnerability. He is Derek Jacobi in Jason Statham’s body. As a result, he makes cartoonish characters such as Mad Max and the super-villain Bane in The Dark Knight Rises compelling and lends heinous men such as Charles Bronson and the Kray twins humanity. It is a credit to his ability to shape-shift that he is soon to star in an array of biopics, playing the war photographer Don McCullin, the explorer Ernest Shackleton and Elton John. It’s hard to think of another actor who could manage all three. So, I admire him as an artist. My boyfriend is in love with him. And everyone I know fancies him.

I did wonder if, in real life, Hardy might be … difficult. One interviewer suggested that “interviewing Tom Hardy is not an entirely comfortable experience … One cannot help being slightly wary about what he might say or do next.” Another journalist claimed in a Twitter rant — after missing out on an interview — that he had “seen Tom Hardy make publicists cry”. There was an incredibly awkward interview on Jonathan Ross, when Ross screened footage of a 20-year-old Hardy winning a Big Breakfast modelling competition, and Hardy seemed so irritated that afterwards Ross anxiously told the audience: “He is genuinely pissed off with me.” Hardy later said he was just winding Ross up.

Apparently George Miller, wanting to cast him for Mad Max: Fury Road, was so worried that Hardy would be combative on set that he asked other directors for reassurance. And then there was that fight he had while filming Lawless with his co-star Shia LaBeouf. Besides all of which, Hardy himself has admitted: “I have a reputation for being difficult. And I am. I am, actually.” Fair enough. Perhaps the qualities that make someone a great actor — an ability to dig deep into their guts and wrench out their soul on screen — are the same qualities that, in person, might make someone prickly.

When Hardy arrives, however, he is lovely. We meet in Richmond, at a posh boutique hotel on the banks of the Thames. He tells me they do a fantastic afternoon tea. Perhaps, at 39, he has relaxed. He lives nearby, as does his dad, Edward “Chips” Hardy, a writer, and his mum, Anne, an artist — they raised him just two miles away in East Sheen. I’m meeting both Tom and Chips today, because together they have created a drama, Taboo, the first episode of which aired on BBC1 last night.

Taboo took nine years from conception to completion. The Hardys are enamoured of it — as if it were a child they have brought into the world. And they should be proud: it’s wonderful. Set in 1813 London, Taboo tells the story of James Delaney, an adventurer and outsider who returns from Africa to build an empire after his father’s death. Chips wrote the treatment for it, the Peaky Blinders writer Steven Knight did the script, Sir Ridley Scott produced it and Tom stars in it. The sets are as rich as you’d expect from a BBC costume drama, but it’s not stuffy. Instead, it plays on explosive themes: death, the occult, incest and revolution. Scott has claimed that Hardy’s character, Delaney, “will become iconic”.

Chips arrives first. He looks like AC Grayling in Steve Jobs’s wardrobe: tall and wiry with long grey hair and silver glasses, wearing all black. He looks like what he is: a Cambridge-educated comedy writer, straight enough to have worked as an advertising executive, but hip enough to tell me he spent the 1960s smoking weed. He’s not the kind of dad I’d assumed Hardy would have, but I like him immediately. He folds himself into a chair, orders coffee and starts chatting about Zac Goldsmith, who has just become his former MP after losing the Richmond Park by-election — something Chips doesn’t seem particularly sad about.

By contrast Tom arrives late, in a red puffer jacket, looking like a lumbersexual. He’s bearded and scruffy in cargo pants and a black T-shirt, showing off tattooed guns. I can report that he is even better looking in real life than on screen. And has the same laddish, cocky-but-fun demeanour he had in those MySpace pictures that emerged of him posing in his underpants a decade ago. “I’m starving!” he announces, straddling a pouf. “I’ll get the turkey and chestnuts — let’s have a proper Christmas lunch … We’ve got to have the hats — we need hats!” Chips orders a vegetarian risotto.

Superficially, father and son seem to be opposites. One wiry professor; the other tattooed jock. The way they speak is different, too — Chips’s eloquent tones at odds with Tom’s confused accent: part posh west London, part Danny Dyer. They are aware of how they come across. “I paint with my fingers, like potatoes,” Tom says. “And I read Modiano,” Chips jokes.

 

Read the full interview at: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/before-25-i-dont-remember-anything-i-used-to-be-a-drinker-a-proper-one-tom-hardy-hell-raiser-turned-bafta-winning-actor-r08mxdzl0

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The Sunday Times: ’Tis the season to be legless

Katie Glass joins a group of volunteers in Liverpool who help young clubbers who’ve had many too many.

At 11pm on a freezing Saturday night, a small group gathers in Church Street, Liverpool. Around them, shop windows are decorated in gaudy green and red tinsel. Star-of-David Christmas lights twinkle overhead. Up the road, carried on the crisp nighttime air, comes the drunken wail of someone murdering Abba’s Dancing Queen. The city is already swinging, but for the city’s five street pastors the night is young.

Street Pastors began in 2003, as an experiment in Brixton. Based on a community outreach project in Jamaica, its aim was to tackle gang culture and gun violence. Since then, the group’s focus has changed. Now — apparently in response to an age of binge drinking, student benders, “2-4-1” drinks promotions, cheap shots and 48-hour weekends — the pastors concentrate on containing the fallout from drunkenness and antisocial behaviour, especially among young people, at night. In the past 13 years, their numbers have swelled: 20,000 volunteers nationwide — whose efforts have been praised by David Cameron and Boris Johnson — patrol the streets of busy cities and towns.

Street Pastors is a Christian group, but its volunteers don’t evangelise. They stand alongside other community groups supporting the police, such as the Cheltenham Guardians, who came to national attention recently when they wrote an open letter on Facebook, addressed “Dear friends of Emily”. In it, they berated the friends of a girl whom they had found abandoned after she had been sick in the back of a taxi. The guardians explained how they had waited for several hours in the cold and rain to put Emily into an ambulance. The letter was accompanied by a picture of an apparently unconscious girl slouched on the kerb at 4am, huddled under a silver space blanket.

In Liverpool, every Saturday until 4am, the Street Pastors’ little team patrols 1.2 squares miles — an area filled with 100,000 people partying. Overseeing the teams is Mark Latham, a marketing manager and sometime actor. Heading up this particular team is Tony Laverty, a jolly giant in his sixties. They are joined by Pauline, a retired nurse; Marie, a middle-aged mum; and Debbie, from nearby St Helens, who is shadowing the team with a view to starting her own.

Stuffed into their van are supplies: a first-aid kit, bottles of water, baby wipes for cleaning blood and vomit off people, space blankets to keep people warm; flasks filled with coffee and Bovril, and — incongruously given the icy weather — flip-flops. They also carry Spikeys, little neon stoppers to prevent open bottles from being spiked, which they give out to women.

 

Tony, with a grin as broad as his shoulders, walks around chatting cheerily to people. We pass down Stanley Street and Tony calls out, “You look lovely!” to a drag queen in fake fur. “We do patrol the gay district,” he says, “but, to be honest, it’s the safest part of town.”

It’s still early, and for now the pastors busy themselves clearing away smashed glass, which people might tread on or use in fights, and checking on rough sleepers. We head to Mathew Street, an area thick with clubs, where people spill onto the pavement. From out of Flares bar, the strains of Whigfield’s Saturday Night compete with Starship’s We Built This City from the neighbouring Sgt Peppers bar and bistro. On the pavement sits a girl, perhaps 20, huddled under a coat. Tony gives her a coffee. “It’s difficult,” he tells me afterwards. “You can’t help everyone. I stopped because that was a young women, if it was someone older and a man I might not have.”

The pastors are dressed in so many layers, they look like Michelin men. By contrast, the young clubbers are hardly dressed at all. The lads wear thin shirts, the girls look like members of Little Mix, in strappy tops, flimsy dresses, bum-skimming miniskirts, bare legs and towering heels. As the night unfolds, women everywhere are being crippled by their shoes. We see them crashing over cobbles in 5in stilettos, some getting piggybacks from boyfriends, others in bare feet padding over pavements wet with vomit and urine, littered with discarded fast food and shattered bottles.

A girl in her twenties, stumbling in heels, calls out: “Please can I have some flip-flops?” Marie reaches into her bag and pulls some out. “No, not yellow — pink!” the girl trills. Up the road, another drunk girl in bare feet is given flip-flops. She wobbles off the pavement as she pulls them on and Debbie has to haul her back as a car skids past. Later, I watch a whole hen party change into the pastors’ flip-flops and pad off gratefully. Last year, they gave out 3,500 pairs in Liverpool.

 

After 1am the atmosphere changes. Now people are more trashed than merry. I see girls trying to remember their phone numbers to give to boys, some huddled in pairs crying, others collapsed on cobbles or crashed out in doorways, shoes off, sharing chips. “This is when we start seeing a lot of vulnerable young women,” Tony says. Many groups of girls choose to start drinking at home while they’re getting ready together. By the time they leave the house to hit the clubs, they’re already well on their way. But the problems really start when they lose their friends. “It’s not unusual for women to go out in groups but end up alone,” Mark explains. “They’ve given everything to a friend — their money, card and phone — and then lost them on a night out.”

As we turn the corner into Concert Square, a girl in a white jacket wobbles over holding out a hand covered in napkins and blood. She’s drunk, she’s lost her friends and can’t remember how she got cut. Tony gets out the first-aid kit. Marie checks she has a way to get home. They often find lost students. “We’ve come across freshers in tears, men and women, because they’re new to the city, they’ve lost their friends and don’t know where they’re going,” Mark says. Pauline once found a girl alone on the street so cold she was hypothermic.

We carry on up Fleet Street and see a pair of tanned legs in high heels sticking out of a doorway. A girl in a thin dress, hiked over her thighs, has crashed to the ground. She has a mark on her leg from where she’s fallen. Tony and Debbie get down to chat. It turns out she’s celebrating her 19th birthday. “I’m so drunk,” she keeps saying, rubbing a hand over fake lashes. It seems she was ejected from a club after she threw up. Now she’s trying to call her friend, who is still inside but presumably can’t hear her phone. It’s not very responsible of a club to kick her out in this state, I suggest. Tony shrugs. “You get people who’ve collapsed and get dragged out by their feet.”

Available: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/tis-the-season-to-be-legless-qsnzwbjbw