INDEPENDENT 2024-02-15 18:03:59


David Cameron responds after Trump ally Marjorie Taylor Greene tells him to ‘kiss my a**’

David Cameron has denied wanting to lecture Americans after hard-right Republican congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene said the foreign secretary could “kiss my a**”.

Ms Greene rebuked Lord Cameron after he called for the US Congress to grant aid to Ukraine, urging modern-day politicians not to “give in to tyrants” like Russia’s Vladimir Putin as some had done during the rise of Adolf Hitler in the 1930s.

Ms Greene told Sky News: “I think he tried to compare us to Hitler… and if that’s the kind of language he wants to use, I really have nothing to say to him.”

Lord Cameron angered US congressmen with an op-ed published in The Hill on Wednesday, in which he wrote: “As Congress debates and votes on this funding package for Ukraine, I am going to drop all diplomatic niceties. I urge Congress to pass it.

“I believe our joint history shows the folly of giving in to tyrants in Europe who believe in redrawing boundaries by force.

“I do not want us to show the weakness displayed against Hitler in the 1930s. He came back for more, costing us far more lives to stop his aggression.

“I do not want us to show the weakness displayed against Putin in 2008, when he invaded Georgia, or the uncertainty of the response in 2014, when he took Crimea and much of the Donbas – before coming back to cost us far more with his aggression in 2022.”

Lord Cameron, a former UK prime minister, went on. “I want us to show the strength displayed since 2022, as the West has helped Ukrainians liberate half the territory seized by Putin, all without the loss of any Nato service personnel.”

Ms Greene was asked by Sky News if she was “an appeaser for Putin”.

She replied: “I think that I really don’t care what David Cameron has to say. I think that’s rude name-calling, and I don’t appreciate that type of language. And David Cameron needs to worry about his own country, and frankly, he can kiss my a**.”

The congresswoman is a close ally of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and has previously said her name is “on a list” of possible vice-president picks for a Trump presidency.

During a visit to Poland on Thursday, the foreign secretary said that he is not someone who wants “to lecture American friends, or tell American friends what to do”, but he added, “we really do want to see Congress pass that money to support Ukraine economically, but crucially militarily in the months ahead.”

Speaking at a press conference, Lord Cameron said: “We have to do everything we can to make sure that Ukraine can succeed in this year and beyond.

“We must not let Putin think he can out-wait us or last us out, and that’s why this vote in Congress is so crucial.”

He added: “And I say this as someone who is not wanting in any way to lecture American friends, or tell American friends what to do.

“I say it as someone who has a deep and abiding love of the United States – of their democracy, of their belief in freedom – [and] as someone who really believes in the importance of our alliance.”

Pontins used list of ‘undesirable’ Irish traveller surnames to refuse or cancel bookings

A holiday camp operator routinely racially discriminated against Irish Travellers by drawing up a list of “undesirable” names, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has found.

Pontins’ staff were forced to refuse or cancel bookings from holidaymakers whose name, accent or address indicated they were part of the Irish Traveller community, according to a new EHRC report.

The company “deliberately, openly and repeatedly broke the law” by breaching the Equality Act 2010 in its discrimination against this ethnic group, said EHRC chair Baroness Kishwer Falkner.

The holiday park operator has now apologised after it was served a legal notice for engaging in what the human rights watchdog described as “shocking overt race discrimination” towards Irish Travellers.

Have you been affected by this? Email tara.cobham@independent.co.uk

The investigation came after a whistleblower in March 2020 disclosed that Pontins had an “Undesirable Guest List” with 40 names of Irish origin that staff had to follow, with some of this discrimination specifically targeting Irish Travellers, while other discriminatory policies were aimed at Gypsies and Travellers more broadly.

Pontins, owned by Britannia Jinky Jersey Ltd, also introduced a policy in 2018, which required guests to be on the electoral roll, a practice that was found to be discriminatory against Gypsies and Travellers, as people from these communities are far less likely to be registered to vote.

The EHRC has now ordered the firm to issue a public apology to the Gypsy and Traveller communities and introduce equality training, with a deadline for an action plan given as 9 April – otherwise Pontins could face criminal charges.

Commenting on the investigation, Baroness Falkner said: “The discrimination faced by Irish Travellers, and other members of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, has no place in 21st-century Britain. The impact of the discrimination faced by those who were refused bookings at Pontins cannot be overstated. People told us that the experience was ‘painful’ and made them feel ‘dehumanised’.

“As the equality regulator for Great Britain, it is our mission to ensure people are treated equally and fairly. Our investigation, with the help of a brave whistleblower, has shown that Pontins comprehensively failed to treat its customers equally and fairly. At the Equality and Human Rights Commission, we will always challenge such discrimination.

“Pontins broke the law. Pontins must now put right their wrongs. We will continue to hold them, and others who think they are above the law, to account.”

The commission said it was “deeply concerned” about the practices uncovered, but the charity Friends, Families and Travellers said while the findings were “deeply saddening”, they did not come as a surprise.

Chris McDonagh, campaigns officer at the charity, said they are “certain” Pontins are not the only providers operating such discriminatory policies.

A spokesperson for Pontins said: “We are in the process of reviewing the unlawful act notice and investigation report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission. The specific incidents reported by the EHRC are historic issues, pre-dating 2018.

“The call centre where the incidents took place has now closed and the majority of the staff involved have now left Pontins. We apologise to all who may have been affected. Pontins is committed to ensuring ongoing compliance with the Equality Act 2010.”

Kyiv sends more troops into fierce battle for key city Avdiivka – latest

Ukraine has rotated in fresh forces to push back a rapid Russian takeover of a key frontline town in the eastern region of Donetsk.

Ukraine’s 3rd Assault Brigade announced this morning that it had been “urgently redeployed to strengthen Ukrainian troops in the Avdiivka area”.

“The situation in the city at the time the brigade was established was extremely critical,” the statement read.

“Separate battalions of the 3rd Armored Brigade raided the enemy-occupied areas of Avdiivka. The enemy’s forces in our section are approximately 7 brigades.”

Russian forces have pushed into the northeast and south of the city over the past fortnight and look to be accelerating their attack through the area this week.

Ukrainian war tracker DeepState posted an updated map last night of Avdiivka that suggested Russian forces had almost severed the city in two.

It comeas the Russian health ministry claimed that at least six people had been killed in the border city of Belgorod after missiles damaged a shopping centre in the area, regional governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said.

Is having a posh accent a new ick?

There are few experiences more shudder-inducing than having to listen to a recording of your own voice. Something to do with the way we hear vibrations through our bones when we talk, versus the way we hear air-transmitted sounds, apparently. But for Great British Bake Off judge Prue Leith, the exact source of the cringe is more specific: her clipped RP tones. “Oh, I hate my voice,” she recently admitted in an interview with The Times. “It’s too posh. When I replaced Mary Berry on Bake Off someone on Twitter said: ‘Oh no, not that posh b***h,’ and I sort of agreed with her.”

Is it really possible to sound “too posh” in the UK? Has speaking like you swallowed several back copies of Debrett’s become a bit of an ick, to borrow that catch-all term, or even (at a very large stretch) a hindrance, likely to result in the sort of social media vitriol that Leith references? Our attitudes to accents are complicated – probably because they reflect our similarly jumbled feelings about class.

We certainly know it’s something the truly “posh” can get self-conscious about. These days they’re just as likely to drop letters as to carefully enunciate them. A few years ago, a former headmaster of elite public school Harrow (where fees are now just under £17,000 each term) claimed that his pupils would adopt “Mockney” accents in a bid to sound less like, well, public school boys. And Prince William, the heir to the throne, has self-consciously referred to his wife Kate (that’s the Princess of Wales, Duchess of Cambridge, etcetera etcetera) as his “missus”. To make the whole thing even more counterintuitive, Kate has reportedly undergone elocution lessons to become posher; according to royal writer Omid Scobie’s book Endgame, she now sounds even fancier than her princely husband.

In public-facing industries like entertainment, where Leith has found fame, there’s a weird double standard around accents, too. Being upper, or at least upper middle, class is pretty much the norm, because no one else can afford to break in. And, apart from on more formal shows like news broadcasts, presenters often affect a more relatable, less refined way of speaking to connect with their viewers. Think of Dexter, the affluent, privately-educated protagonist of David Nicholls’s One Day, now an equally heartbreaking Netflix series, acquiring a much-mocked “everyman” voice every time he’s in a television studio.

Sometimes the process is a little more gradual: when an old Nineties interview clip of the presenter Claudia Winkleman started doing the rounds on Twitter/X last month, it wasn’t her lack of glowing tan and eye-skimming fringe that surprised everyone, but just how much posher she sounded back then compared to now. At the same time, presenters with actual regional accents are apparently told they sound “too common” for the airwaves, as Steph McGovern (who is from Middlesbrough) has claimed.

The same goes for the world of politics: remember Tony Blair’s estuary English? Or when George Osborne temporarily acquired a bizarre “man of the people” accent? What about when Rishi Sunak was mocked for his “geezer” voice on a trip to Essex? Meanwhile, the likes of Angela Rayner (from Stockport) are criticised for sounding “thick” for speaking with the actual regional accent they grew up with. Make it make sense.

Leith might “hate” speaking like a minor royal, but her accent comes with huge privileges, and it feels silly to downplay them. In 2022, research from the Sutton Trust found that accent bias is still a major barrier to social mobility, with attitudes towards certain accents remaining pretty much unchanged since the late Sixties. RP accents are still the highest ranked by the public in terms of “accent prestige”, while those linked to “industrial cities” like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, as well as ethnic minority accents, were regarded as the lowest. Twenty-nine per cent of senior managers from working-class families, meanwhile, said that they had been mocked for their accent at work.

It’s no wonder that so many people feel the need to smooth out the way they speak in order to get ahead, because they’ve probably absorbed years of snidey remarks and hints suggesting that their voice renders their contribution void. I never forgot the university interview when I had to answer questions on a random passage of literature, and the interviewer randomly suggested that I might prefer “the docks of the Mersey” to the pastoral landscape described in the book (I’m from the Wirral – like Leith’s fellow Bake Off judge Paul Hollywood, coincidentally – so I speak with a very watered-down variant of a Liverpool accent).

If that was their response to a very mild hint of Scouse, then I hate to think how they’d have belittled someone else with a stronger accent. Saltburn, directed by Emerald Fennell (who has, conversely, been ridiculed online for speaking like – checks notes – someone whose 18th birthday photos were published in Tatler) might not be a work of the highest realism, but let’s just say I found Barry Keoghan’s tutorial scenes even harder to watch than all the weird necrophilia stuff.

So sorry, Prue, I find all the squirming a bit of a bore. Why not just own your poshness, and acknowledge all the doors it has probably opened, rather than moaning about it?

Alleged fentanyl killer used app to watch couple die, court told

A man used an app on his phone to watch a married couple dying after he allegedly poisoned them with the opioid painkiller fentanyl, a court has heard.

Luke D’Wit, 34, rewrote a will for Stephen and Carol Baxter making himself the beneficiary a day after they were discovered slumped in armchairs in their conservatory, Chelmsford Crown Court heard.

He denies murdering the couple, who owned a successful bath mat company, at their home in Mersea Island, Essex, last Easter. 

Tracy Ayling KC, prosecuting, said D’Wit had worked for the couple and befriended them, later claiming he was “like an adopted son to both of them” in a police statement.

Jurors were told on Thursday that D’Wit had installed a “mobile security surveillance application” on his phone which allowed him to monitor a camera from another device.

Ms Ayling said that police analysis of his phone revealed images of Mr and Ms Baxter “in their armchairs” on the afternoon of 7 April last year, with one timed at 5.14pm. Two days later, their bodies were found in the same chairs by their daughter Ellie.

“The prosecution case is that he was looking at these images of the Baxters in their conservatory sitting in their armchairs,” the prosecutor said.

“The same chairs they were discovered in by [their daughter] Ellie [Baxter] two days later.”

She said that the couple “did not move at all” after the images were taken, while doorbell camera footage captured D’Wit walking towards the Baxters’ address “looking at a phone” that day.

The trial was earlier told that Ms Baxter had a thyroid condition and a pacemaker.

“If she had moved after those… images were taken, the pacemaker would have recorded it,” Ms Ayling said.

Addressing the jury, she added: “Why was Mr D’Wit watching Mr and Mrs Baxter in the conservatory? Was he watching them die? Both were already incapacitated.

“Was this when Mr D’Wit made everything pristine, cleaning up the cups and not leaving any trace?”

She said D’Wit did not leave the Baxters’ home until 7.55pm on 7 April, when he was again captured by a doorbell camera.

“He was the last person to see them alive,” added Ms Ayling. “He watched them dying on his phone.”

Their bodies were eventually found on 9 April, which was Easter Sunday, when their daughter Ellie arrived and saw them dead inside the conservatory.

In a panicked 999 call played to the court, she wept and told a call handler: “I need an ambulance right now.”

She said “I need to get inside” and is heard banging on the glass of the conservatory, swearing and saying that she thought they were dead.

D’Wit, who lived nearby, is later heard taking over the call, telling the handler: “I’m a friend.”

The court previously heard that Mr Baxter, 61, and his 64-year-old wife ran a company called Cazsplash, after Ms Baxter designed a type of bathmat to go around a corner shower.

D’Wit was the “beneficiary of a very odd will”, allegedly created on his own phone the following day.

The terms included that “our dear friend Luke D’Wit is to be the director and person with significant control” for Cazsplash, adding that “all business making decisions are down to him”, jurors were told.

“He had rewritten their will and stolen Carol’s jewellery, among many other things, to benefit from their deaths,” Ms Ayling told the court.

The prosecution also allege that D’Wit created multiple false identities, including a solicitor who tried to convince family members that the will he had written was real.

Before the couple died, he also posed as a doctor from Florida to give Ms Baxter advice on how to cope with her thyroid condition Hashimoto’s.

The prosecutor said D’Wit made recommendations to Ms Baxter with “no clinical basis”, adding that the identities were “created by Luke on his phone to manipulate Carol Baxter”.

The trial, estimated to last six weeks, continues.

Unmissable New York State experiences

Is David Cameron’s policy on Palestine more progressive than Labour?

Lord Cameron was a controversial as well as surprising appointment as foreign secretary last November. The fact that he’s not directly accountable to the elected House of Commons triggered legitimate complaints, while the Tory right resented someone they thought a dangerous Remainer centrist being brought into government (notwithstanding the fact that it was he who granted them their in/out EU referendum).

In any case, Cameron, as a former prime minister, seemed to have been put in to amplify post-Brexit Britain’s voice in the world, and he has quietly set about that task by starting some radical initiatives. He’s taken a bold message on Ukraine directly to the US Congress, for example. In a remarkable departure, the old smoothie has declared in their journal, The Hill: “I am going to drop all diplomatic niceties. I urge Congress to pass it [an aid to Ukraine bill]…I do not want us to show the weakness displayed against Hitler in the 1930s.” But his emerging diplomacy in the Middle East is more portentous still…

We must throw harsh light and scrutiny on sexual abuse in hospitals

Such is the nature of the crimes, we may never know the true extent of the sexual abuse of vulnerable people in mental health hospitals. But collaborative investigations by The Independent and Sky News do go some way to tracing the extent of the scandal – and it is far wider than previously supposed.

Recently, an exposé by The Independent revealed that there had been almost 20,000 allegations of sexual assault and harassment on mental health wards in the past five years. Now we can add to that grim, almost unimaginable scale of callousness and human misery a further 4,000 such cases – which have been reported by patients and staff in private hospitals. Given that many of the victims are in a poor position to press their complaints, and the usual institutional instinct is to ignore, deny, and then cover up such incidents, it may be safely assumed that this total of 24,000 or so incidents is an underestimate – and quite possibly a grievous one.

The allegations, of which there are so many, seem well corroborated. The clinical negligence firm Leigh Day, a major player in the field, has said that across the cases it sees, NHS trusts are negligent – not only of those in their care, but towards their statutory duties under the European Convention of Human Rights (which would require them to ensure allegations of sexual harm are “coherently investigated”).