The Telegraph 2024-02-10 00:00:31


‘This is the worst day of Joe Biden’s presidency’, Democrats admit

Joe Biden has suffered “the worst day of his presidency”, an ally said, after a bombshell report found the US President had “significant limitations in his memory”.

Lawyers who interviewed Mr Biden as part of an investigation into his handling of classified documents said he could not remember the years when he was vice president or when his son died of brain cancer.

An ally of the President said it had been “the worst day of his presidency”, telling NBC News: “I think he needs to show us this is a demonstrably false characterisation of him and that he has what it takes to win and govern.”

Another Democratic operative said the report was “beyond devastating” and “confirms every doubt and concern” that voters have about Mr Biden.

“If the only reason they didn’t charge him is because he’s too old to be charged, then how can he be President of the United States?” they added.

Mirror hacking: Prince Harry says Piers Morgan ‘knew perfectly well what was going on’

The Duke of Sussex reignited his war of words with Piers Morgan after accepting “substantial” damages to end his four-year legal battle with Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN).

The High Court heard that Prince Harry, 39, had agreed a settlement with the tabloid publisher rather than pursue a second phone hacking trial.

In December, the Duke was awarded £140,600 in compensation after 15 of 33 articles were found to have been the product of phone hacking or unlawful information-gathering. 

In his victory statement, he singled out Mr Morgan, the former editor of the Daily Mirror, for criticism. He also warned there would be another trial relating to a further 115 outstanding articles if he was not awarded appropriate damages.

But on Friday, David Sherborne, the Duke’s barrister, announced that MGN had agreed to pay “a substantial additional sum by way of damages” and all his client’s costs, which are likely to be significant. He said the publisher would make an interim payment of £400,000.

In a statement read outside the court, the Duke again turned the spotlight on Mr Morgan, insisting that he “knew perfectly well what was going on” regarding hacking.

He suggested that Mr Morgan’s “contempt” for the judge’s ruling only vindicated his decision to take the matter to court. The Duke also reiterated his call for a police inquiry and said that his “mission continues”.

He said: “After our victory in December, Mirror Group have finally conceded the rest of my claim, which would have consisted of another two trials, additional evidence and 115 more articles.

“We call again for the authorities to uphold the rule of law and to prove that no one is above it. That includes Mr Morgan, who as editor, knew perfectly well what was going on, as the judge held.

“Even his own employer realised it simply could not call him as a witness of truth at the trial. His contempt for the court’s ruling and his continued attacks ever since demonstrate why it was so important to obtain a clear and detailed judgment. “

The Metropolitan Police said it was still considering the December ruling.

Mr Morgan, who was not a witness at the trial, has denied wrongdoing. Asked for his response to Harry’s latest claims, he said: “I think that invading the privacy of the Royal family is utterly reprehensible. And on that I share Prince Harry’s opinion. I just wish he’d stop doing it.” 

In December, Mr Morgan accused the Duke of wanting to bring down the monarchy and said he “wouldn’t know the truth if it slapped him around his California-tanned face”.

He called the King’s younger son “ruthless” and “greedy”, adding: “He demands accountability for the press but refuses to accept any for himself for smearing the Royal family, his own family, as a bunch of callous racists without producing a shred of proof to support those disgraceful claims.”

In October 2019, Prince Harry sued MGN over 148 articles he alleged had been obtained illegally. Giving evidence during the seven-week trial last year, he revealed that he was motivated by a desire to protect his wife, Meghan.

Mr Justice Fancourt found that phone hacking was “widespread and habitual” at the publisher’s three titles from 1998 and remained “extensive” from 2006 until 2011, “even to some extent during the Leveson Inquiry”.

He said two MGN directors, Sly Bailey, the chief executive, and Paul Vickers, the group legal director, knew about hacking but “turned a blind eye” and did not inform the board.

But he warned that Prince Harry’s “tendency to assume” that all stories written about him were obtained illegally was misplaced.

He also criticised the Duke for using his witness statement as a vehicle to advance “an argument against the vicissitudes of the press” rather than keep to factual evidence relating to his claim, noting that it “did not remotely comply” with professional guidelines.

The Duke’s claim was heard alongside those brought by Michael Turner, the Coronation Street actor known as Michael Le Vell, the actress Nikki Sanderson and Fiona Wightman, the ex-wife of comedian Paul Whitehouse.

The claims brought by Ms Sanderson and Ms Wightman were dismissed because they were made too late. Mr Turner was awarded £31,650 in damages after his case was “proved only to a limited extent”.

On Friday, Mr Justice Fancourt ruled that Ms Sanderson and Ms Wightman should pay MGN the costs of defending their individual claims. He said Mr Turner should pay costs incurred by the publisher in responding to his claim from March 5 2022, when a settlement offer was made.

The judge expressed concern about the way that such hacking claims were being pursued. He warned that pleadings and witness statements were being “maximised” with scant regard for reality, stating what was needed to advance the claim, rather than what could actually be recalled.

He also criticised the failure to attempt to resolve such claims without trial, warning there was no justification for claimants to “sit tight” rather than negotiate in the hope that something might eventually turn up to support their “more outlandish claims”.

Ms Sanderson’s claim was so “misleading and exaggerated” that the judge suggested the court lay down a marker for the consequences in preventing quick and fair resolution.

Meanwhile, MGN was ordered to pay the “generic” legal costs of all those currently involved in the litigation after the claimants successfully proved illegal conduct.

Other celebrities involved in the case include Cheryl Tweedy, the former Girls Aloud singer, the estate of the late singer George Michael, Ian Wright, the ex-footballer and now television presenter, and the actor Ricky Tomlinson.

The final costs figure is yet to be assessed, but the court heard that the group was seeking payment of around £1.9 million towards the legal costs of bringing those allegations to court.

Last month, it emerged that the Duke faced an estimated legal bill of £750,000 after abandoning a libel claim against the Mail on Sunday concerning an article about his demand for taxpayer-funded security.

Separately, he has been given permission to continue his hacking case against the publisher of the Daily Mail, which denies wrongdoing. His claim against News Group Newspapers, the publisher of The Sun and News of the World, is due to go to trial next year.

Responding to its settlement with the Duke, an MGN spokesman said: “We are pleased to have reached this agreement, which gives our business further clarity to move forward from events that took place many years ago and for which we have apologised.”

Clapham chemical attack suspect ‘likely to have died in Thames’

The suspect in the Clapham chemical attack is likely to have drowned in the River Thames after falling from Chelsea Bridge, police believe. 

Abdul Ezedi, an Afghan asylum seeker, had been on the run after allegedly dousing a 31-year-old woman and her two children, aged three and eight, with an alkali substance in south-west London last Wednesday. 

The the 35-year-old, who suffered significant facial injuries in the attack, was last seen on CCTV peering over the railings of Chelsea Bridge at just before 11.30pm that day. On Friday, police confirmed that there had been no further sightings since, and said Ezedi was not seen walking off the bridge.

A nationwide manhunt was launched after Ezedi, a convicted sex offender, allegedly attacked the woman, with whom he had been in a relationship.

On Monday, a 22-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of assisting an offender, and police raided two Newcastle addresses linked to Ezedi in the early hours of Thursday.

After officers from the counter-terrorism fugitive team spent hundreds of hours trawling CCTV footage, detectives were able to confirm that Ezedi never left London and was likely to have died on the night of the attack.

Immediately after the attack, which took place on Lessar Avenue at 7.25pm, Ezedi fled into the Tube network, travelling to King’s Cross, where he purchased a bottle of water at a Tesco.

From there, he got a Victoria Line Tube southbound to Victoria. He then boarded a District Line train eastbound at 9.16pm before emerging at Tower Hill station.

Detective Superintendent Rick Sewart said Ezedi had walked with purpose after leaving the station and had “essentially hugged the river”.

He added: “When he got to the area of Chelsea Bridge, his behaviour visibly appears to change in so much as he walks up and down the bridge, he pauses in the mid-point of the bridge, and he walks sort of to and from the side of the bridge and can be seen to lean over the railings before there is a loss of sight.”

Officers tracked Ezedi using CCTV for four hours around the Tube network, and for four miles as he walked along the Thames.

DSI Sewart said a behavioural scientist, commissioned through the National Crime Agency, had analysed Ezedi’s manner shortly before he was last seen, and detectives were confident that he had entered the water from the bridge.

Commander Jon Savell said it was possible that Ezedi’s body may never be found, adding: “At this time of year, the Thames is very fast-flowing, very wide and full of lots of snags.

“It is quite likely that if he has gone in the water he won’t appear for maybe up to a month, and it’s not beyond possibility that he may never actually surface.”

He said that until a body was found, the search remained active, adding: “He is a man who had just carried out the most horrific attack and was suffering from significant injuries himself, which must have been causing him an extraordinary amount of pain.”

Cmdr Savell said the Marine Policing Unit would be carrying out boat searches at low tide in the area over the coming days, and that Ezedi’s family had been updated.

A fundraiser set up for the victims has raised over £20,000. A friend of the family said: “Our very dear friend, a generous, sweet, loving mother and her two small daughters were recently the victims of a brutal chemical attack in Clapham. This attack has changed the lives of this wonderful little family forever.”

During the hunt for Ezedi, it emerged that, in 2018, he was convicted of sex offences in Newcastle but was allowed to remain in the UK because the sentence was not severe enough to reach the threshold for deportation.

He was twice refused asylum before being granted leave to remain in 2021 or 2022 after a priest vouched for his conversion to Christianity, arguing that he was “wholly committed” to his new religion.

Prince Harry makes surprise Las Vegas appearance after visiting King Charles

The Duke of Sussex made an unannounced appearance at an NFL award ceremony in Las Vegas last night, barely 24 hours after returning from his transatlantic dash to see the cancer-stricken King.

Prince Harry, 39, presented an award at the event, joking that the US “stole rugby from us and you made it your own”.

It comes ahead of a High Court hearing on Friday morning in which Mr Justice Fancourt is expected to rule on costs incurred during the Duke’s phone hacking claim against Mirror Group Newspapers.

Harry flew from Los Angeles to London on Monday night, before enjoying a 30-minute reunion with his father at Clarence House on Tuesday.

He returned home overnight on Wednesday, having had no contact with his brother, the Prince of Wales, from whom he remains estranged.

His light-hearted remarks at the NFL Honours ceremony at the Resorts World Theatre gave no indication of the worry experienced by the Royal family in recent days, following the King’s diagnosis.

The Duke presented Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward with the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Introducing the award with a joke about the similarities between rugby and American football, he said: “Instead of passing it backwards, just pass it forwards,” he said. “Why not wear pads and a helmet?

“All kidding aside, what you guys do on and off the field is truly remarkable. You are role models for millions in the way you carry yourselves and the way you give back.

“This final award, the highest honour, is all about serving your community, and there is one special man we’d like to pay tribute to now.”

Heyward hugged the Duke, exclaiming: “Prince freakin Harry, I’m just shocked, that’s Prince Harry.”

The award recognises a player who has achieved on and off the field and made a positive impact on their community. The winner is awarded 250,000 dollars (£198,000) to donate to a charity of their choice.

Phone hacking hearing

Meanwhile, the High Court will hear how much each side should pay in costs following the Duke’s successful claim against MGN.

The Duke sued the tabloid publisher over 148 articles he alleged had been obtained illegally, revealing when he gave evidence last June that he was motivated by a desire to protect his wife, Meghan.

He was awarded £140,600 in damages after the judge found that 15 of 33 articles selected for examination at trial were the product of phone hacking or unlawful information gathering. He threw out the remaining 17, branding one of them “hopeless”.

The ruling, handed down in December, prompted the Duke to hail himself a “dragon slayer” as he vowed to continue his crusade against the tabloid press.

Last month, he threatened to pursue a second High Court trial if he was not awarded appropriate damages.

National Trust boots local football team off their pitch in effort to restore gardens

The National Trust is facing a backlash after booting a football team out of the grounds of one of their country homes in order to “restore the land”.

Sudbury Football Club has been told that it will be their last season playing in front of Sudbury Hall, in Derbyshire, leading players to question why the charity is not protecting the “sporting heritage” of the area.

The pitch has been used for sports for 100 years and a petition calling for the charity to reverse their decision has received more than 45,000 signatures in just over two weeks.

Campaigners say that the decision to remove the sports field goes against the wishes of the 10th Baron Vernon, who donated the property to the Trust in 1967.

The Trust has already faced criticism for turning Sudbury Hall into a “children’s country house”, which people have said is more like a “theme park” than a preservation of history.

Joanna Fitzalan Howard, Lord Vernon’s daughter, said at the time it was a “major exercise of dumbing down” which was done “without consultation in the locality or with the donor family”.

The National Trust has said it is taking back control of the land in front of the house at the request of the Parish Council and are “looking at plans to restore the land back to a grade II listed landscape, which will include grassland and the planting of new trees”.

The pitch, which was originally used for cricket and in more recent years has been used for football and lacrosse, is the only one in the village.

A spokesman for the men’s Sunday league team said: “There has been sport played on that pitch for 100 years, The National Trust supports heritage projects and the Sudbury sporting heritage should also be supported and preserved.

“Preserving grassroots football is not just for our team, but for future generations of girls and boys. There are social and economic benefits as well as benefits for people’s health and wellbeing. There is no other place to play team sports in Sudbury.

“The National Trust’s claim to “make sure everyone benefits from the places we look after” but this does not seem to apply to us or grassroots football.”

‘’As a charity club we are also willing to work with the National Trust on conservation projects such as planting trees and other community projects.”

Their calls for a reversal of the decision have been echoed by City of Stoke Lacrosse, which says that their summer training schedule is at risk. A spokesman said that the loss of the ground will put “considerable pressure on the ever-shrinking set of local outdoor pitches within our catchment area”.

Restore Trust, a campaign group led by members who believe the Trust has lost sight of its charitable aims, said: “The playing field is valued not only in the village, but also by the wider community beyond Sudbury. The National Trust has a responsibility to the community to make a playing field available, as Lord Vernon intended when he gave the house.”

Restore Trust said that, despite efforts by the football club to find a compromise with the Trust, the charity “has not yet made a serious effort to resolve the situation”.

A Trust spokesman told the Telegraph: “We are ending the commercial hire arrangements at Sudbury and making the space available to the community for free.

“When the land was bequeathed to the Trust, the donor’s Memorandum of Wishes asked that the land be used for recreational purposes for the foreseeable future. Local people will be able to enjoy this space for activities such as picnics, games and dog walks.

“We are keen advocates for the benefits of sport and exercise. We proudly offer a wide range of activities at our sites, from running events and group walks, to bike hire and badminton, and celebrate historical connections to sport at many places.”

However, it faced criticism for not discussing these plans with the sports clubs.

Zewditu Gebreyohanes, former director of Restore Trust, said: “That this decision has been taken without prior consultation of affected locals is characteristic of the Trust, which under its current management has been failing to uphold its original philanthropic ethos.

“I very much hope the Trust will reconsider this decision, particularly in light of the highly popular petition calling for it to be reversed.”

Five key moments from Tucker Carlson’s interview with Putin

Vladimir Putin began his much-anticipated interview on Thursday night by offering a more than 30-minute, counterfactual history lesson to a bemused Tucker Carlson. 

The former Fox New host’s interjections (how is this relevant, Mr President?) were swiftly shot down by the Russian leader: “Are we going to have a serious talk or a show?” 

Putin’s show, it seemed. Earlier, he seemed to suggest Adolf Hitler was forced to invade Poland, blaming the latter not so much implicitly but explicitly for the start of World War Two. 

He began by claiming Poland, which was invaded by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939, “collaborated with Hitler”.

Putin asserted that by refusing to give over an area of Poland called the Danzig Corridor to Hitler, Poland “went too far, pushing Hitler to start World War Two by attacking them”.

The foray into the Russian president’s own annals of European history was all offered by way of explanation for his invasion of Ukraine. 

In Putin’s telling, it was not Nato – as Carlson had posited, when he asked whether “a physical threat from the West” in the form of the military alliance was his “justification” for starting the war. 

In fact, it was “that Ukraine is an artificial state that was shaped at [Joseph] Stalin’s will”. Much like Hitler with this line of argument, Putin had been forced into action.  

Putin could release Evan Gershkovich in prisoner swap

Elsewhere in the more than two-hour interview, Putin signalled his openness to releasing an imprisoned Wall Street Journal reporter for a Russian prisoner in Germany dubbed the “bicycle assassin”. 

Carlson made a case for releasing Evan Gershkovich, an American reporter languishing in a Russian prison for almost a year. 

Putin, in response, made oblique reference to Vadim Krasikov, currently serving a life sentence for the murder of a Chechen dissident in Berlin in 2019.

His description of a man who “eliminated a bandit in one of the European capitals” out of “patriotic sentiments” seemed to mean Krasikov, who carried out an assassination-by-bicycle on Zelimkhan Khangoshvili. 

Putin signalled backchannel conversations were ongoing, as he said: “special services are in contact with one another”.

“They are talking about the matter in question, he said, adding: “I believe an agreement can be reached”.

Putin threatens World War Three if US puts troops in Ukraine 

Putin accused the US of “cheap provocation” over its continued military aid to Kyiv, and warned Washington against extending that support to deploying troops to Ukraine. 

“If somebody has the desire to send regular troops, that would certainly bring humanity to the brink of a very serious global conflict,” he told Carlson.

He continued that America should focus on its domestic issues. He said: “Don’t you have anything better to do? You have issues on the border. Issues with migration, issues with the national debt. More than $33 trillion. 

“Wouldn’t it be better to negotiate with Russia? Make an agreement. Already understanding the situation that is developing today, realising that Russia will fight for its interests to the end.”

Elon Musk ‘unstoppable’ , says Putin

After a romp through history covering everything from Genghis Khan to the Roman Empire, Putin moved on to offering his thoughts on the future of mankind.

It is clear the Russian leader feels one man is making leaps and bounds towards the creation of a “superhuman”.

Carlson asked: “So when does the AI empire start do you think?”

Putin conceded he was no expert. But suggested Elon Musk might have some thoughts.

He said: “Mankind is currently facing many threats due to the genetic researchers, it is now possible to create this superhuman. A specialised human being. A genetically engineered athlete, scientist, military man. There are reports that Elon Musk has already had the chip implanted in the human brain in the USA.”

Putin went on to say: “I think there’s no stopping Elon Musk. He will do as he sees fit.”

He added that “an international agreement on how to regulate these things” was needed to address the threat “from unbridled and uncontrolled development of AI or genetics or any other field”.

Carlson mocked for CIA application, which Putin blamed for ‘blowing up’ Nord Stream

Putin also claimed that the CIA was behind the sabotage of Nord Stream, the undersea gas pipelines between Germany, Finland and Russia.

The attacks on the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines took place in international waters, with large amounts of gas rising up from the ocean floor.

Russia was initially suspected of sabotage, after Moscow previously threatened repercussions for Finland’s decision to join Nato.

Intelligence reviewed by US officials later suggested a pro-Ukrainian group was behind the attacks.

Asked by Carlson who “blew up Nord Stream”, Putin replied: “You for sure.”

The former Fox News host joked he had been “busy that day”. Putin said: “The CIA has no such alibi.”

Asked whether he had evidence to support his claims, the Russian president said he “won’t get into details” but you should “look for someone who is interested” and who “has capabilities”.

He went on to mock Carlson for his reported failed attempt to join the US intelligence agency as a young man.

“The organisation you wanted to join back in the day, as I understand,” Putin told him, a wry smile playing on his lips. “We should thank God they didn’t let you in.”

A stony-faced Carlson, for once, had no rebuttal.

‘Arrogant’ Boris Johnson is why Ukraine is still fighting, says Putin

Putin repeated claims that Boris Johnson sabotaged a peace deal with Ukraine that was being brokered with the assistance of Turkey in the spring of 2022.

Carlson asked Putin about reports that Ukraine was “prevented from negotiating a peace settlement by the former British Prime Minister acting on behalf of the Biden administration”.

The former prime minister has previously vehemently denied the claims as “total nonsense” and said he merely “expressed concerns” about the nature of the potential agreement during a conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

When Carlson raised the issue, Putin said: “Prime Minister Johnson came to talk us out of it and we missed that chance. Well, you missed it.”

He added: “The fact that they obey the demand or persuasion of Mr Johnson, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, seems ridiculous.

“Where is Mr Johnson now? And the war continues.”

Carlson replied: “That’s a good question. Where do you think he is, and why did he do that?”

Putin said he “did not understand it”. “Because of arrogance, because of a pure heart, but not because of a great mind,” he said.

Mr Johnson later denounced Putin’s suggestion as “ludicrous”. “Nothing and no one could have stopped those lion-hearted Ukrainians from fighting for their country – and nothing will,” Mr Johnson wrote in the Daily Mail.

He went on to attack Carlson as a “stooge” who served as a medium “for the untreated slurry of Putin’s message”, comparing the interview to one Hitler gave to a sympathetic German-American journalist in June 1940.

Joe Biden called it a “ridiculous interview” in which Putin told “a lot of lies about the history of this war” in Ukraine, calling the Russian President’s behaviour “imperialism”.

Sir Chris Bryant: ‘David Cameron used the Gaydar thing against me a couple of times’

As the Georgian era was nearing its end in 1835, Britain was a country that had banned slavery, outlawed the employment of young children in factories and led the world in its legal protection of fair trials. Yet it was also a country in which gay men could be hanged for the crime of having consensual sex in the privacy of their own homes.

In November of that year, two domestic servants, John Smith and James Pratt, were publicly executed after they were spotted by a peeping Tom. They were the last men to hang in the UK for a capital felony so shocking to public morals it could not be named in official records.

Sir Chris Bryant MP, who has raised these cursed lovers from obscurity in his latest book, James and John: A True Story of Prejudice and Murder, might consider himself lucky to live in an age where gay men like him can marry and celebrate their sexuality. But how far have we really come? That is the question that will linger in the mind of any reader, and which Sir Chris ponders as he recounts his recent experiences.

He has said before that he feels less safe now than he did 10 or even five years ago. Homophobic abuse on social media is ‘absolutely endless’. Death threats are commonplace, mainly online but sometimes in person. Hate crimes and physical attacks on gay people are on the increase, he says.

The Labour Member of Parliament for Rhondda fears that Britain has reached a point where so many freedoms have been won that we may be seeing a backlash.

‘The safest place in the world for a gay man in 1930 was Berlin, and then they started arresting them and sending them to concentration camps,’ he adds. ‘I worry that, politically, just because we have won these freedoms doesn’t mean they are guaranteed for ever.’

The cosy living room of his home in Porth, with its wood burner, deep-cushioned sofa and well-stocked bookshelves, feels as safe as anywhere could be, yet Sir Chris has had to take extra security measures on police advice.

‘I had a guy who disrupted my surgery, [he was] very violent,’ he recalls. ‘He came in and started ranting and then I think [he] made death threats, said I was dead meat.’ The police went to the man’s house – ‘He had lots of photos of me on the wall with my face crossed out with a Stanley knife.’ 

He was jailed but is now free. ‘I see him around occasionally because he’s local.’ The murders of MPs Sir David Amess and Jo Cox remain fresh in the memory.

Shortly after our conversation, justice minister Mike Freer announced he would step back from frontline politics at the next election following death threats and intimidation. Violence and threats against MPs are evidently an issue that is as pressing as ever.

Sir Chris is unusually candid for a politician; nothing seems to be off-limits. He is hugely entertaining company, with many stories to tell – occasionally interspersed with name-dropping – like the time, as a young actor, he was invited to watch a production of Macbeth in Valencia, together with another unknown, one Daniel Craig. (‘Daniel then was a completely different person, and of course he smoked back then.’) 

But he also talks openly about his mother’s alcoholism, of contemplating suicide over a semi-naked picture he took for a dating website that became public, and of discovering he had skin cancer five years ago that left him with a 40 per cent chance of living another year. Immunotherapy treatment proved to be his saviour, but he still sports a scar the size of a 50p piece near his left ear. ‘You always hope you are out of the woods,’ he reflects, ‘but you always fear you might still be in a thicket.’

At the age of 62, Sir Chris has a hinterland few politicians, let alone the rest of us, could match. Born in Cardiff, he spent part of his childhood in Spain, was an actor in the National Youth Theatre, a student member of the Conservative Party, a Labour convert, then worked as an Anglican vicar, before being elected to Parliament in 2001, where he is currently Shadow Minister for Creative Industries and Digital.

He shares his homes in Wales and London with his husband, Jared Cranney, 53, a company secretary, who asked him on a date after the MP canvassed him in a pub. In 2010 they formalised their relationship with the first civil partnership ceremony held in the Houses of Parliament.

‘We did it rather quickly, before the general election, because I feared that the Tories would get rid of civil partnerships,’ Sir Chris says. David (now Lord) Cameron was a champion of civil partnerships, I point out, but he replies: ‘I didn’t trust him. To be fair, I still don’t.’

If there is a hint of paranoia in that response, it is understandable for a man who has been let down by even those closest to him.

He was 13 when his mother Anne, a BBC make-up artist who ‘looked after Shirley Bassey’s wigs’, sat on his bed and told him she was drinking too much. He later discovered she was downing two bottles of vodka a day. His father Rees left, and he ended up ‘sort of being the man of the house’. 

On one occasion his mother set fire to their flat, another time she flooded it, and Sir Chris recalls taking her to Marks & Spencer to buy her new clothes, ‘which was stupid, of course’, because she took them back and exchanged them for vodka. She died in 1993, when he was 31.

It was his childhood experiences that brought him to the Church. ‘All the people who’d helped me during the awful teenage years were involved in the Church. In my last year at school, because I couldn’t stay at home any more, I lived with the school chaplain and his wife.

‘I felt I owed something back, and this probably makes me sound very pious, but I had quite a pronounced sense of things being wrong in the world and they needed to be put right, and for quite a while I thought the way to do that was through the Church.’

At Cheltenham College, the public school Sir Chris attended thanks to his father’s well-paid job at IBM, he attended chapel every day, and at Oxford University, where he read English, he went to church on his first Sunday and found ‘a very supportive community’.

He also joined the Conservative Party and was elected as an officer of the university’s Conservative Association. ‘I wore a jacket most days. I think I was just a terribly pompous prick.’

He was yet to fathom his own sexuality, let alone his political allegiance. ‘I had an inkling that I fancied boys but I had an awful lot of girlfriends,’ he says. ‘I did anything to have time with girls, in plays and choirs and concerts. I think I thought I was meant to fancy girls, and a bit of me did. I liked spending time with them.’

It was only when he was training to be an Anglican priest at Ripon College Cuddesdon in Oxfordshire, at the age of 24, that a girlfriend said to him: ‘Chris, you do know, by the way, that you’re gay, right?’

He adds: ‘You have to discover that you’re gay. You don’t come with a marker on your chest that says: “You are one of the gay ones.”’

By the time he was 29, and having spent five years working as an ordained minister, Sir Chris had decided that: ‘OK, you are definitely gay, you would like to have a long-lasting relationship with a man, and you can’t do that if you remain in the Church.’

When he told his bishop, the late Bill Westwood (father of the DJ Tim Westwood), his reply was: ‘But Christopher, if only you’d learn to keep your mouth shut, you could enjoy everything I do. You could become a bishop and have regular dinner with Margaret Thatcher.’ Sir Chris recalls: ‘I didn’t know that was what the Church was all about.’

After preaching his last sermon, he changed out of his dog collar, went to his local gay pub (‘In those days you had to ring on the door and someone would draw back a curtain and say, “You do realise this is a gay pub?” as if you had to show your gay card’) and ordered a pint, only to realise he had left his wallet at home.

‘This guy next to me, a short bald guy, said it was OK, he would pay for it.’ When he looked more closely at his saviour, he realised it was Bronski Beat frontman Jimmy Somerville.

Today Sir Chris appears entirely comfortable with his sexuality, which makes it all the more surprising when he brings up the most publicly humiliating episode of his life, and the pain it caused him.

We are discussing the homophobia he has experienced in the Commons, such as the time he was shouted down in a debate about smacking by an MP who said he had no right to an opinion as he would ‘never have children’, when he says Lord Cameron ‘used the Gaydar thing against me a couple of times’.

The ‘Gaydar thing’ happened in 2003, when a tabloid got hold of a picture he had taken for a dating website, in which he was dressed only in his underpants. ‘I invented the selfie,’ he jokes, half-heartedly, ‘and I increased my majority at the next election so it sort of pays to advertise.’ Then comes the truth about how it affected him.

‘I felt terrible. It is the only time in my life that I thought about ending it. Every ounce of shame many of us felt in the years when we were trying to reconcile ourselves to our sexuality as a child crowded into one great big dollop of shame being poured like ordure over me.’ 

Nowadays, gay MPs happily discuss being on Grindr, a newer app. Much of Sir Chris’s life, it seems, has involved accidents of timing. ‘I am a funny age,’ he says, ‘because gay people who are five or 10 years older are dead because of Aids.

A whole swathe went. So we have been making it up as we go along. Having kids, you know… I think if I got myself sorted much younger and settled down, we would have adopted.’

An accident of timing also sealed the fate of James and John in 1835, it appears. As Sir Chris writes, every other prisoner sentenced to death at Newgate prison in the preceding two-and-a-half years was granted a reprieve, and it had been more than a decade since there had been a hanging for sodomy at the jail. Sir Chris expends much ink in trying to answer the question of why these two men were singled out.

He says: ‘The thing that came across to me in writing the book was, it takes a whole country to hang a man – the crowds, the newspapers, the politicians, the judicial system, everything.’

So, almost 200 years on, have we come as far as we would like to think in snuffing out homophobia? ‘When I was at school, if you were caught with another boy, you were out,’ he says. ‘Now Eton and other schools have gay societies, and last time I was at my old school, they were celebrating LGBT Pride.

‘But only this week a Labour candidate in Gedling was called a batty boy [batty is Jamaican slang for buttocks] by a Tory activist. The president of Burundi was calling for gays to be stoned last week. There are American pastors who think gays should be taken out and shot.

‘I get a lot of homophobic abuse on Twitter [now called X], and Twitter doesn’t take it seriously at all. They just chuck it away, including all sorts of death threats and stuff like that.

‘When you complain, Twitter just says it hasn’t breached any of their rules.’ Since Elon Musk bought the platform, ‘It’s a much worse cesspit than it was,’ he says.

Sir Chris, a long-standing critic of Vladimir Putin, claims some of the homophobic tweets targeting him have been traced to Russia, where he made a ministerial visit in 2010. His husband went with him, paying his own way, and when they arrived at their hotel, staff refused to allow them to share a room, before eventually relenting. The next day Sir Chris was ‘violently ill’ after attending an official lunch. Everyone else ate the same food. He has no doubt that he was singled out and poisoned.

Sir Chris was named Stonewall Politician of the Year the following year for his work supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual people, though he diplomatically says he hasn’t thought about Stonewall for years when I raise controversies over its aggressive stance on trans rights.

He is wary of discussing transgender issues, though if Labour get into power later this year he will struggle to avoid taking a position on the subject. When I press him, he replies: ‘I would hate the idea of a young person being pressured into being trans, just as I would hate the idea of anyone feeling forced to be straight.

‘I’ve never understood why it can’t be possible to protect women’s rights and the rights of the tiny number of people in the UK who are trans. Human rights are a seamless garment. Men have penises, women have vaginas, but there is a very small number of people who don’t fit into that pattern. The word that I don’t like is when people say there is an epidemic.’

Sir Chris could once again be a government minister by the year’s end, and believes Sir Keir Starmer is the right man to lead the country, despite his ‘boring’ tag.

‘I haven’t seen him do a tap dance routine, but I’m not sure people want a tap dance routine from the next PM,’ he says. ‘He has been forensic in prosecuting the case against the Tory party and he is fundamentally decent. Churchill used to joke about an empty taxi pulling up and Mr Attlee getting out, but Clement Attlee was one of the best prime ministers we ever had.’

Labour’s enemy, of course, is complacency. Sir Chris began his political career as election agent for Frank Dobson, and vividly recalls Labour’s 1992 general election defeat. ‘Of course, we expected to win in ’92 and we lost. The day after, we were driving round with a loudspeaker, Frank and I, saying thank you for voting Labour. Frank said, “Can you stop the car?” and we just sat there and cried. In all the debates about the election this year, that is a strong part of my nervousness, my anxiety.

‘And there’s one word I’ve never used in any of my books, which is the word inevitable. Nothing is ever inevitable. You have to earn it.’

James and John: A True Story of Prejudice and Murder by Chris Bryant is out on 15 Feb (Bloomsbury, £25)