INDEPENDENT 2024-02-13 00:04:09


First ever person in England and Wales convicted of cyber-flashing

A man has become the first person in England and Wales to be convicted of the new offence of cyber-flashing

Cyber-flashing became an offence on January 31 this year as part of the Online Safety Act.

Nicholas Hawkes, 39, from Basildon in Essex, sent unsolicited photos of his erect penis to a 15-year-old girl and a woman on February 9, the CPS said.

The woman took screenshots of the image on WhatsApp and reported Hawkes to Essex Police the same day.

Hawkes admitted at Southend Magistrates’ Court to two counts of sending a photograph or film of genitals to cause alarm, distress, or humiliation, the CPS said.

He was convicted at Monday’s hearing and was remanded in custody to be sentenced at Basildon Crown Court on March 11.

Sefer Mani, from CPS East of England, said: “Cyber-flashing is a grotesque crime and the fact we were able to deliver swift justice for the two victims shows the new law is working.

“Everyone should feel safe wherever they are and not be subjected to receiving unwanted sexual images.

“I urge anyone who feels they have been a victim of cyber-flashing to report it to the police and know that they will be taken seriously and have their identities protected.”

Victims of cyber-flashing and image-based abuse receive lifelong anonymity under the Sexual Offences Act from the point they report the offence.

Hawkes is a registered sex offender until November 2033 after he was convicted and given a community order for sexual activity with a child under 16 years old and exposure last year at Basildon Crown Court, the CPS said.

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill comes under fire from Tory and Labour peers

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda deportation bill faced fresh opposition from Conservatives and Labour in the House of Lords.

Tory and Labour peers warned of their belief that the Safety of Rwanda Bill would set a dangerous precedent for Britain.

The PM’s bill, which aims to overcome a Supreme Court ruling blocking the government from deporting asylum seekers to Rwanda, is making its way through the upper chamber.

After Mr Sunak’s deportation scheme with the east African nation was ruled unlawful, based on judges’ assessment that Rwanda is not a safe country for asylum seekers, the prime minister introduced a bill deeming the country safe in British law.

It has passed the House of Commons, but is likely to face amendments in the Lords which could threaten the government’s ability to put asylum seekers on planes before the general election expected this autumn.

On Monday Lord Cameron, the foreign secretary, warned peers it would be “wrong” to frustrate the bill, arguing that “we need to get this Bill through Parliament”.

But, debating the bill on Monday evening, peers from across the upper chamber tore into the bill’s implications.

Tory peer Lord Tugendhat said: “I have been a member of Parliament for a very long time on and off, and I have been a member of the Conservative party for some 66 years when I counted it up, and I do have to say that I find it quite extraordinary that the party of Margaret Thatcher should be introducing a Bill of this kind.”

The Conservative grandee, whose nephew is security minister Tom Tugendhat, claimed the Bill could have an impact on the UK’s perception as a “marvellous place to do business because of our great respect for the rule of law”.

Lord Tugendhat added: “What we are being asked to do really represents the sort of behaviour that the world associates with despots and autocracies, not with an established democracy, not with the Mother of Parliaments. It is a Bill we should not even be asked to confront, let alone pass.”

Meanwhile Tory peer Viscount Hailsham said it was “manifestly untrue” to claim parliament believes Rwanda is a safe country for asylum seekers.

“It is simply untrue to state that it is the judgement of Parliament that Rwanda is a safe country. That maybe the opinion of the House of Commons”, the peer said, noting MPs can come under pressure from party whips, and adding “but what is absolutely certain is that it is not the opinion of this House.”

It came as peers debated the merits of amendments to the asylum bill. Those put forward include measures that would include a “sunset clause” into the bill and require the government to restate that Rwanda is a safe country every six months.

It is likely that if the bill returns to the House of Commons with any amendments attached, the government will seek to strip them out. The bill would then be sent back to the House of Lords in a process known as ping-pong.

During the debate, Labour peer Baroness Chakrabarti warned the bill “threatens both the domestic rule of law, especially the separation of powers, and the international rules-based order”.

The barrister and human rights activist led calls for the Government to heed advice from the UN about whether Rwanda is safe before beginning deportations, adding: “I will assume that the Government does not want to put the executive of the United Kingdom on a collision course with our Supreme Court or our international legal obligations.

“So amendments in this group seek to offer a way through the stalemate for people of good will from all sides of your Lordships House.”

Former justice secretary Lord Falconer told peers that the bill, in its current form, could open the door to corrupt prime ministers overruling the courts to help their cronies.

He said: “Suppose the prime minister has a friend or a crony in the House of Commons who is convicted in a court of corruption of some sort, and then the prime minister presents a bill to Parliament saying it it the judgment of Parliament that ‘Snooks MP’ actually wasn’t able to present this new evidence to the criminal court that convicted him, so it is the judgment of Parliament that Snooks MP is innocent.

“That is the route that this particular Bill takes Parliament down.”

Kyiv develops army of deep strike drones as Kremlin builds mega defensive line

Ukrainian troops have captured up to 25 Russian soldiers in the past week as the Kremlin builds a 19-mile metal defensive line behind occupied territory.

General Oleksandr Tarnavskyi said around half of the troops were captured on Sunday, with the majority taken in the Zaporizhzhia region.

It comes as Ukrainian open-source intelligence tracker claimed that Russia was building a 19-mile mega metal defensive line behind the frontline in occupied territory.

Blogger DeepState said the defensive line is made up of around 2,100 train carriages and has been slowly built up since July 2023. It has been nicknamed the “tsarist train”.

“It can be considered a separate line of defence,” DeepState wrote. “It is extremely difficult to damage, move or blow a 30-kilometre mass of metal.”

Meanwhile, Ukraine will produce thousands of long-range drones capable of deep strikes hitting Moscow and St Petersburg, Kyiv’s digital minister has said.

Mykhailo Fedorov, who has championed Ukraine’s wartime drone industry, said they already have up to 10 companies making drones that can reach hundreds of miles into Russian territory.

Double child rapist and murderer to have fresh parole hearing

A grieving mother has called for the government to “throw away the key” after it was announced that double child murderer Colin Pitchfork has been granted a fresh parole hearing – as the Justice Secretary seeks an urgent meeting over the decision.

Pitchfork, 63, was jailed for life with a minimum term of 30 years – later reduced to 28 – for raping and strangling 15-year-old schoolgirls Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth in 1983 and 1986.

In December, the parole board said he was too much of a risk to be released – but he is making a fresh bid for freedom after he successfully challenged their decision.

It comes after the killer, who was the first murderer to be convicted using DNA evidence, was briefly released in 2021 but recalled two months later after approaching young women in the streets.

In a statement on Monday, the parole board said the rapist’s application for his case to be reconsidered had been granted because the 2023 panel had failed to take his prison offender manager’s recommendation into account or give adequate reasons for disagreeing with them.

He will now face a fresh panel of three parole board members who must decide if he will be freed in a “complete re-hearing”.

“This panel will complete its own review of Mr Pitchfork’s case, including hearing oral evidence and will decide whether he meets the legal test for release,” the parole board said.

“Release can only be directed by the parole board if the new panel is satisfied that it is no longer necessary for the protection of the public that Mr Pitchfork remain confined in prison. Mr Pitchfork has, and will continue to, remain in prison until this case has fully concluded.”

But the heartbroken mother of one of his victims has hit out at news of the fresh hearing, expressing her anguish that he has been granted another bid for freedom.

Dawn Ashworth’s mother Barbara said: “Words fail me now. He seems to want to fight no matter what.

“I just don’t know where to go next to be honest. He’s killed two schoolgirls. I know what I’d do, I’d throw away the key.”

Meanwhile, justice secretary Alex Chalk is seeking an urgent meeting with the parole board in the wake of the decision.

A government source said: “It is deeply concerning that having made one flawed decision, the parole board have made another, causing immense distress to the families of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth.

“They are again left with no certainty and the lord chancellor has sought an urgent meeting with the parole board.”

Conservative MP for South Leicestershire Alberto Costa, who has been campaigning to keep Pitchfork behind bars, blasted the parole board for the “irrational decision” – adding that Pitchfork is a “dangerous man”.

He added: “Once again, the parole board is demonstrating its utter inability to appropriately deal with this dangerous man who we must never forget brutally raped and strangled two young women.”

Mr Costa said the parole board rules are “so opaque” that in effect Pitchfork has a “limitless” amount of appeals on every decision. Every time the parole board rules against him, Pitchfork can appeal, Mr Costa said, claiming this was “getting to the point of madness”.

The MP plans to apply for Pitchfork’s hearing to take place in public in a bid to ensure proper scrutiny of the parole board decision process.

However, parole board chairwoman Caroline Corby rejected a request for his previous hearing to be held in public and it was heard behind closed doors.

A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “Our heartfelt sympathies remain with the families of Lynda Mann and Dawn Ashworth at this difficult time.

“This government is reforming the parole system to add a ministerial check on the release of the most dangerous criminals and are changing the law so that for society’s most depraved killers, life means life.”

Birmingham-London main line blocked and all trains cancelled

Amid a cacophony of cancellations at London Euston station on Monday night, dozens of passengers sprinted to platform 12. They were desperate to catch the final train to leave the capital for Birmingham before the line was closed indefinitely.

Fortunately for them, the train left 15 minutes late.

With all subsequent trains cancelled, the Avanti West Coast 8.40pm was standing room only – with first class “declassified” to allow as many passengers as possible to get a seat.

The cause: a landslip on the track between Rugby and Coventry.

Throughout Monday, London-bound trains were delayed or cancelled as Network Rail staff worked at the site.

The infrastructure organisation opted to close the line completely on Monday night, hoping to fix the problem by Tuesday afternoon.

The late departure was itself a problem, since it obliged Network Rail to delay the “possession” that would allow staff to tackle the landslip.

Tens of thousands of travellers on Tuesday morning will facing severely disrupted journeys.

The Birmingham-Coventry-Rugby line is normally extremely busy, shared between Avanti West Coast intercity trains linking London with the West Midlands as well as local and regional services on London Northwestern Railway and West Midlands Trains.

Phil Barnes, operations director for Network Rail, said: “A plan is now in place to remove soil before checking the track to allow services to run.

To do this safely, we are closing both lines overnight on Monday (12 February) and Tuesday (13 February) morning.

“We are working to reopen both lines on Tuesday afternoon. Our team is working around the clock to get trains running again as soon as we can, and we are sorry for the disruption to journeys this is causing.”

Rail replacement buses will run half-hourly between Coventry and Rugby.

Avanti West Coast tickets will be valid on Chiltern trains between Birmingham Moor Street and London Marylebone, and on CrossCountry/GWR services from Birmingham via Reading to London Paddington.

Unmissable New York State experiences

Time’s up, Mr Netanyahu – the war in Gaza cannot go on like this

According to NBC News, the president of the United States is running out of patience with the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu. Citing no fewer than “five people directly familiar with his comments”, Joe Biden is said to have called his counterpart an “a**hole”.

It is entirely believable, given the president’s salty way with words, and understandable, given Mr Netanyahu’s refusal to listen to Israel’s most loyal and powerful allies. Mr Biden has reportedly had enough of his “inability to persuade Israel to change its military tactics in Gaza”. He is not alone.

The question now is: what can the world do to make Mr Netanyahu think again, and to do so before a certainly horrific assault on Rafah? When it comes, it promises to be even more devastating than the levelling of Gaza City. Perhaps it will prove the most deadly of all the many tragedies in this merciless conflict.

What is happening in the Rochdale by-election?

The already heated battle for Rochdale (the parliamentary by-election to be held on Thursday 29 February) has been thrown into disarray by sensational allegations made against the Labour candidate, Azhar Ali, when remarks he made some months ago came to light at the weekend. Ali told a private Labour meeting after the attacks that the Israeli government had removed its border security to enable the Hamas atrocities: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier… Americans warned them a day before [that] there’s something happening… They deliberately took the security off, they allowed… that massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.” He also attacked Keir Starmer: “A lot of the MPs I’ve spoken to, non-Muslim MPs, feel that on this issue, he’s lost the confidence of the parliamentary party.” Ali has since apologised and retracted his remarks, indicating he fell for an internet conspiracy theory. But despite his apology, the Labour Party has withdrawn its support for Ali.

A parallel controversy has enveloped the Green Party candidate, as their candidate has stood down on account of Islamaphobic tweets from a few years ago. The energetic and divisive presence of George Galloway has only added to the chaos, with the controversial politician running an anti-Labour protest campaign as a candidate for the Workers Party of Britain. The irony is that, distressing as it may be, it may have little impact on electoral politics…