INDEPENDENT 2024-02-11 18:03:51

Two bodies found in search for Ezedi as officers return to Thames

Police are returning to search the River Thames for the man suspected of carrying out the Clapham chemical attack after two bodies were found in the water.

A police boat circled between Vauxhall and Chelsea bridges on Saturday morning, one day after the Metropolitan Police revealed their belief that Abdul Ezedi, 35, may have jumped or fallen from Chelsea Bridge.

A body was recovered near HMS Belfast just after 10am and another was found around 30 minutes later along the river in Limehouse.

The force said neither of the discoveries are linked to Ezedi and the search efforts resumed at around 10am on Sunday.

Ezedi was last seen on CCTV pacing up and down Chelsea Bridge and leaning over the railings four hours after the attack on January 31.

Detectives say his death is the “most probable outcome”, but officers warned it may take months for a body to be recovered – or it may never be found.

MP says anti-abortion activists targeting her with ‘persistent’ harassment

US-funded anti-abortion activists have begun a campaign of harassment of high-profile Labour campaigner Stella Creasy, targeting her in a “persistent and sustained” pattern, accusing her of killing babies.

Speaking to The Independent in an exclusive interview, Stella Creasy said she is facing “a bonfire of abuse” from anti-abortion ideologues on social media in punishment for campaigning on abortion rights.

The Labour MP for Walthamstow said protesters have harassed nearby residents and leafletted her constituency with graphic imagery.

It comes after anti-abortion activists staged a protest against pregnancy terminations in the town square in Walthamstow in east London at the end of January where they brandished graphic images of foetuses.

Ms Creasy, an outspoken campaigner for abortion rights, said: “Some of the commentary is all about me being held to account by a god, and having my day in hell.

The protesters “are connected to American protest groups. And we have seen what American protest groups do and the violence and intimidation they use there.”

Ms Creasy said the anti-abortion activists targeting her area appear to have a lot of money as she warned they are ignoring electoral law.

“Who do I hold to account for the fact that they have gone around Walthamstow telling local residents that I want to kill babies at birth?” Ms Creasy asked.

It comes after an advertising company was forced to remove a “disgusting” anti-abortion billboard campaign levelled at Ms Creasy back in 2019 when she was pregnant.

Ms Creasy previously said the billboards, which were emblazoned with the words “Stop Stella” and featured an image of a foetus, had left her “physically sick” and constituted a form of “harassment”.

The UK arm of an American-based anti-abortion organisation called the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform was behind the advertising campaign, which saw six posters spring up around Walthamstow directly targeting her.

Ms Creasy said the current protests are being organised by a coalition of different anti-abortion groups which include the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, Abortion Resistance, and Christian Concern.

Discussing the current wave of protests, she said: “I feel like they’ve got more money than they had in 2019. And that’s the thing that makes me wonder what else they might be capable of doing.

“The stuff they did at the last election and the stuff they are doing now should not be part of a thriving democracy, because it is not a way of having a debate. If they want to participate in the democratic process, they need to be accountable, so they need to tell us who is funding them.”

She said protesters are currently falsely linking her to killing babies as she explained residents reported that the activists sought to give an anti-abortion leaflet to a four-year-old.

Ms Creasy added: “The irony to me is where we have a government that is cracking down on protest in all sorts of other areas but feels it is fine for women to be subjected to persistent and sustained harassment as part of a political debate. It’s not consistent.”

Ms Creasy said the anti-abortion protests will not “deter” her from tabling amendments and proposing legislation about access to abortion. “Fundamentally I think it is a human right to choose,” she added.

Current UK laws only allow abortions in restricted circumstances – with pregnancy terminations still deemed a criminal act in England, Scotland and Wales under the 1967 Abortion Act.

Legislation passed in 1861 means any woman who ends a pregnancy without getting legal permission from two doctors, who must agree that continuing with it would be risky for the woman’s physical or mental health, can face up to life imprisonment. Any medical professional who delivers an abortion out of the terms of the act can face criminal punishment.

Abortion providers, charities, medical bodies and MPs have spent years demanding abortion be decriminalised in the UK.

Penelope Wiles, a local Walthamstow resident, told The Independent she thinks she overheard a protester spreading lies and disinformation about Ms Creasy during the recent protests.

“I stopped to listen to what this woman was saying; she said ‘she thinks it is alright to just rip it out like it’s nothing, like it’s a piece of rubbish and chuck it in the bin’,” Ms Wiles added. “She was saying this to a group of two or three women. I cannot say ‘I heard her say Stella Creasy said that’ but I can assume that.”

A Walthamstow council spokesperson said: “The council was made aware by the police of a planned protest in Walthamstow town square on the morning of Wednesday 24 January, the same day that the event took place. The MP’s office also made contact to alert us that morning and we shared the information we had with them before the protest started at 1pm.

“We can only act within the law. The police, who are responsible for managing and monitoring protests, attended the event to ensure public safety. In a free society people have the right to lawfully express opinions that we may not agree with.”

British Army looks ‘to ease security checks’ for foreign recruits

The British Army is reportedly looking overseas to boost diversity and inclusion as it seeks to relax security clearance vetting.

The UK’s Armed Forces wants to boost ethnic minority representation as bosses have consistently failed to hit recruitment targets, according to The Sunday Telegraph.

It is according to a document titled The British Army’s Race Action Plan, which describes security checks as “the primary barrier to non-UK personnel gaining a commission in the Army”.

The guidance reportedly vows to “challenge SC [security clearance] requirements” to increase representation in the intelligence and officer corps, roles which have access to “secret assets”.

Twelve former senior servicemen have written to Grant Shapps to complain about the plan.

The defence secretary said he was ordering a review of diversity and inclusion policy at the Ministry of Defence in response to the newspaper’s report, adding there would be no “lowering of security clearance requirements under my watch”.

Mr Shapps said: “We want people from all backgrounds to serve in our military but some policies appear to be more about a political agenda than practically improving the lives of our dedicated soldiers and military personnel.

“There will certainly not be any lowering of security clearance requirements on my watch.”

Meanwhile, fellow Cabinet minister Michael Gove said political correctness should not “impair our ability to defend our borders”.

The Housing Secretary told Sky’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips: “Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, has been looking at the specific policies we have in the Ministry of Defence in order to ensure that we strike the right balance, that we provide protection for individuals in our armed forces, that we make sure that we draw all the talent available in this country to ensure that we have a strong and diverse military.

“But also to make sure that these policies operate in such a way as to ensure that political correctness, or some of the more – what’s the word? – ‘out there’ approaches that people take towards diversity, equity and inclusion don’t impair our ability to defend our borders and to make sure that this country is secure.”

As the army struggles to recruit, Chief of the General Staff Gen. Patrick Saunders said last month that a “citizen army” would be needed to fight a future war with a country like Russia.

Saunders, who has long argued for more military spending and is due to leave his job this year, said that “within the next three years, it must be credible to talk of a British Army of 120,000”.

An MoD spokesman said: “Our priority is protecting the national security of the United Kingdom and ensuring the operational effectiveness of our armed forces.

“We take security extremely seriously and ensure that all personnel have the appropriate security clearance, which is reviewed on a case-by-case basis.”

Right wing opposition to UAE takeover of Telegraph is below contempt

Britain used to pride itself on its openness to foreign investment. For decades it has allowed foreigners to build its infrastructure, provide its services and buy its leading companies. While the French declared yoghurt a strategic sector, Britain boasted of the Wimbledonisation of the City of London in which all the top players were from overseas.

Yet Britain’s taste for open markets may have finally found its limits in, of all places, the newspaper industry. A bid by an Abu Dhabi-backed entity for the Telegraph newspapers and Spectator magazine has turned some of Britain’s most fervent free marketeers into frothing protectionists. A ferocious campaign is underway in parliament and the media to convince the government to block the deal.

Of course, those calling for the deal to be blocked insist there is no contradiction. They argue that what they object to is not the nationality of the bidder, but the fact that the bulk of the money is coming from International Media Investments (IMI), a fund controlled by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family and deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. That, they say, is tantamount to a takeover by a foreign government – and an undemocratic one at that. It is one thing Mansour owning Manchester City football club – quite another taking a 75 per cent stake in a newspaper, where he might try to influence its editorial coverage, as he has done at other media brands that he owns.

If this is what lay in store for the Telegraph and Spectator, the critics might have half a point. Of course, a true free marketeer might argue that the British media is competitive enough to withstand such a takeover given that a wide range of global news providers, broadcasters and new digital entrants are fighting for audience share. They might argue that the rest of the media would quickly call out evidence of censorship, while providing alternative sources of reliable information. Others might question how much editorial freedom in any case currently exists at the Telegraph or indeed many other British newspapers, where coverage of important issues is often skewed by the political and commercial interests of their owners.

Nonetheless, all this is beside the point, since there is no prospect of Abu Dhabi getting editorial control of the Telegraph and Spectator. That is because what is being proposed is a private equity deal in which Mansour’s IMI would be a purely passive investors. There is nothing unusual about that. In a private equity deal, there are two classes of investor: the private equity firms, which are known as general partners (GPs), whose job is to identify targets, negotiate deals and oversee operations and for which they receive a management fee plus carried interest, typically the first 20 per cent of any profits on the deal; and limited partners (LPs), typically pension funds, insurance companies and high net worth individuals, with no rights other than to decide whether to participate in future capital calls or agree to a sale.

In this transaction, the original plan was for the GP to be RedBird IMI, a joint venture between RedBird and Mansour’s fund. That gave spurious credibility to the idea that Abu Dhabi might influence over operations. In reality, this made ono sense. The whole point about private equity is that these are not long-term investments. Given that RedBird will not get paid until it has sold the Telegraph and Spectator at a profit, it is hardly likely to allow the value of the brands – and its own reputation as a deal-maker – to be destroyed by allowing IMI to meddle with operational decisions from which it is legally excluded. Nonetheless, the deal was restructured so that Redbird, not the joint venture, is now the GP, according to someone familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile RedBird has committed to establish an independent trust consisting of senior industry figures who will have legally binding powers to guarantee editorial independence and approve the appointment of an editor. Yet this has been dismissed by critics as not worth the paper it is written on. In a punchy interview on Newsnight last week, Andrew Neil, the current publisher of The Spectator, claimed that a similar arrangement at The Times and The Sunday Times, where he was once editor, had failed to constrain Rupert Murdoch. He neglected to mention that a powerful editorial trust has played a valuable role over the years in preserving the editorial independence of another publication where he once worked, The Economist.

But Neil was wrong about the Times board too. In 2012, the independent directors delayed John Witherow’s appointment as editor for months, amid concerns about his independence. In fact, those fears proved unfounded. Not only was Witherow a brilliant editor of The Times but he was the only Murdoch editor with the courage to resist intense corporate pressure to back Brexit. What’s more, when I was at The Times, senior executives used to continually complain that the directors were thwarting efforts to adapt to a changing media landscape. That obstacle was finally removed in 2022 after the directors advised the government to release News Corp from the undertakings given by Murdoch in 1981. As someone close to the process said to me, “If the Times thinks the answer is to turn itself into the Daily Mail, why should the board stop them?” Many Times readers may take a different view.

But if there is no threat to editorial independence, why is there so much opposition to the deal? Part of the answer is a lack of understanding of how private equity works. So too is commercial rivalry which has played a role in how the deal has been reported. Sir Paul Marshall, the billionaire owner of GB News which provides lucrative employment for a stable of influential Telegraph commentators and Tory MPs, was considered the frontrunner to buy the titles until Redbird circumvented the auction by agreeing to pay off the £1 billion debt owed by Barclay family, the current owners, to Lloyds Bank in return for an option to buy the publications. The Daily Mail was also a bidder for the Telegraph, while Rupert Murdoch has long coveted the Spectator. RedBird was never going to get a fair hearing from much of the British press.

But the real opposition to RedBird is clearly ideological. Neil gave the game away on Newsnight when he embarked on a bizarre ad hominem attack on Jeff Zucker, the former chief executive of American TV network CNN who is leading the bid for Redbird. The American, he said, had no knowledge of Britain, or newspapers, or magazines. What’s more, Neil insisted, Zucker is a left-wing Democrat (though Zucker has never revealed how he votes), who dragged CNN to the left and was bound to do the same to the Telegraph and Spectator. As such, Neil declared, Zucker was not a fit owner of “these two vital centres of mainstream centre right thought”.

Leave aside the effrontery of Neil, who reacts with fury whenever anyone on social media dares to suggest on the basis of his journalistic record that he is a right-wing Brexiteer, claiming to know how another journalist votes. What Neil and his allies in the right-wing media who have devoted their careers to arguing for the bracing effect of free market capitalism for everybody else appear to be saying is that an exception should be made for the Telegraph and Spectator because without it the delicate flower of right-wing thought in Britain would wither. Perhaps he fears that without government protection, right-wing thought in Britain would disappear like Marxism to the margins, left with only the Daily Mail and The Times to sustain it.

A government with a genuine commitment to open markets would treat this special pleading with the contempt it deserves. Instead, ministers seem determined to kick the bid into the long grass, binding it in regulatory weeds, too terrified to stand up to right-wingers who are already plotting to bring down the prime minister. The irony is that RedBird may be the first owner of the Telegraph in decades that genuinely cares about editorial standards, rather than pursuing a political agenda. In the midst of a global media bloodbath, with even the billionaire owners of the Los Angeles Times and Washington Post cutting their losses, here is a deep-pocketed investor willing to bet the other way. Anyone who really cares about journalism would bite its arm off.

Simon Nixon is a former chief leader writer and financial columnist for the Times. He currently runs a substack newsletter called ‘Wealth of Nations’ on international economics

Aston Villa vs Man Utd LIVE: Latest Premier League updates

Aston Villa host Manchester United in the Premier League this afternoon in what is a key battle in the top-four race. Unai Emery’s side have been one of the surprise packages of the season and sit eight points and one place above Erik ten Hag’s team, who lie in sixth.

However, United’s storming comeback against Villa in the reverse fixture on Boxing Day, when the hosts came from two goals down at half-time to win 3-2, has impacted the momentum of both teams.

Villa have won just once in their last five and have been beaten at home two games in a row – against Newcastle and Chelsea in the FA Cup – while United come into this fixture on the back of consecutive Premier League wins against Wolves and West Ham.

United have not won three Premier League games in a row all season and this tricky trip to Villa Park could determine if they are able to close the gap to the top-four over the second half of the campaign.

Follow live updates from Aston Villa vs Manchester United below and get the latest odds and tips on the game, here.

Unmissable New York State experiences

The Tories’ incompetence has made a mockery of our justice system

In this government’s effort to have as many public services as possible break down simultaneously in an election year, the backlogs in the criminal justice system are often overshadowed by NHS waiting lists, a dysfunctional asylum system, bankrupt local councils, overcrowded prisons, stretched universities and labour shortages in teaching, policing and social work.

But the delays in the courts are reaching crisis point. The Independent reports that criminals are now gaming the system by pleading not guilty, calculating that trial delays mean that they are likely to escape justice.

This is the opposite of the way incentives are supposed to operate in the system. Perpetrators are encouraged to plead guilty at an early stage in return for a lighter sentence and an earlier start to rehabilitation. This is better for them and for the rest of us, saving the cost of a trial and making reoffending less likely.

After the great U-turn, what exactly is Labour’s green policy now?

As the smoke clears from the burning rubber of Labour’s U-turn in its plans to deal with the climate crisis, a more robust set of policies has emerged.

The party put out a statement on Thursday that said: “As part of the party’s finalisation of policies for a general election campaign, Labour has reconfirmed its commitment to the policies announced through the Green Prosperity Plan, to create jobs, cut bills and unlock investment.”

This is striking for two things: one, its pretence, almost worthy of Theresa May, that nothing has changed; two, that it doesn’t mention the climate crisis or net zero or anything to do with the environment apart from the word “green”.