The Telegraph 2024-02-17 00:00:33


‘Putin is a murderer’: Protesters smear red paint on Russian Embassy gate in London

Hundreds of people protested outside the Russian Embassy in London on Friday night, carrying placards accusing Vladimir Putin of murdering Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader.

A brass sign by the entrance gate to the embassy in Kensington was covered in red paint and handprints by demonstrators, while a shrine to Navalny, who died in a penal colony in Siberia on Friday, was set up on the opposite side of the road.

Placards on display declared: “Putin is a murderer” and “Kremlin kills”, while protestors chanted: “Putin is not Russia”, “Glory to Ukraine” and “Stop Putin, stop the war” in a mix of Russian and English.

A number of protestors waved the white-blue-white horizontal flag used by the Russian opposition.

The lights remained on inside the Russian Embassy, but no officials made their way out to meet the crowd.

Motorists beeped their horns as they drove past, winning cheers from the demonstrators.

Protesters also gathered in capital cities across Europe. In Berlin, some chanted “Putin to the Hague”, referring to the international criminal court investigating possible war crimes committed in Ukraine.

In Paris, around 100 protesters spontaneously came together close to the Russian Embassy. Many held signs that read “Putin murderer”.

In the Netherlands, hundreds of people gathered on Amsterdam’s central Dam Square, carrying signs reading “Putin is a killer”.

Reform is obliterating the Tories. It’s too late to avoid electoral catastrophe

Yes, Labour won the battle of the by-elections, but it is the war between the second and third place parties that is going to define the future of British politics. 

In years gone by, there would have been no need for Reform UK. Richard Tice’s party preaches the kind of conservatism that was mainstream thinking under Margaret Thatcher: small statism, with low taxes and effective border control.

But all that changed when the Conservatives started co-opting increasing numbers of social democrats into its ranks in a bid to combat the rise of New Labour. The trend was cemented under “heir-to-Blair” David Cameron and his equally centrist sidekick George Osborne, who both seemed to regard people with Right-wing views, to quote the now Foreign Secretary, as “fruit cakes”, “loons” and “closet racists”. 

They appeared to believe that the Conservatives could only win power as a “One Nation” party of Remainers, at least until Boris Johnson achieved the biggest general election win since 1987 on the back of a Ukipesque promise to “get Brexit done”, annihilating the Europhile Liberal Democrats in the process. So much for centrism. If the country wanted that, Sir Ed Davey would’ve been in power by now. 

Granted, net zero loving, pro-immigration Johnson was a bit of a Lefty at heart, but the 2019 Tory manifesto promised no income tax or National Insurance rises and a points-based immigration system. 

The Conservatives have always boasted a “broad church” of views, but Rishi Sunak is now languishing in the polls because his MPs no longer seem to belong to the same congregation. They are not just singing from different hymn sheets but struggling to locate the song book altogether under a leader who preaches Thatcherism but practises the complete opposite: high tax and spend, low growth and porous borders. 

What’s interesting about the election in Kingswood is that combined, the Conservatives (8,675) and Reform (2,578) produced a higher vote than Labour (11,176). In Wellingborough, the combined Tory (7,408) and Reform (3,919) vote wasn’t quite enough to keep Labour out of the seat on 13,844 but might have been with a bigger turn out. So if you look at the ideological battle for No 10 – conservatism isn’t 20 points behind. In fact, it seems the country is neck and neck between Left and Right. 

Yet of these two brands of conservatism, one is collapsing and the other has gone from nothing to 10 and 13 per cent in real elections, not just the polls. 

When you consider that Reform did this without Nigel Farage or nearly the same name recognition that Ukip had, then it tells you a lot about where the Right is repositioning itself. What was once regarded as a fringe political movement is increasingly being seen as a credible alternative not just to the Tories but Labour. 

As Professor Sir John Curtice pointed out, the Conservatives’ double by-election defeats were not driven by a love for Sir Keir Starmer. It has instead been fuelled not only by a collapse in support for the Conservatives, with many voters refusing to turn out, but also defections on both sides to Reform. 

Farage, now a “man of the people” thanks to his GB News and I’m A Celebrity outings, is not wrong when he says “Labour are for the middle classes, as are the Lib Dems. The Tories were lent a working class vote in 2019 but many of those are coming to Reform as they feel betrayed on immigration.” 

Realistically, the party didn’t do well enough to challenge the two major parties, but third place in both by-elections, which saw the Lib Dems pushed so far out they lost their deposits, bless them, suggests Reform may soon become the kingmaker. While that may not win Tice and co any seats at the next general election, it could give them sway over Tory policy making when the party finds itself in opposition.

Yesterday Danny Kruger and Miriam Cates, the Tory MPs who co-chair the New Conservatives group, were among the first out of the traps calling for the Tories to cut income tax and consider leaving the European Convention on Human Rights, taking the fight to Reform and Labour. 

The pair said in a joint statement: “The results in yesterday’s by-elections are unequivocal: Labour are winning because many of the people who backed us in 2019 are staying at home or voting Reform. Voters are not flocking to Labour. They want a genuine alternative to the consensus politics of the last two decades – high taxes, low security, managed decline.” 

Elsewhere, we had Starmer suggesting he can bring the “change the country needs” and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves pledging “change built on the rock of fiscal responsibility and iron discipline”. In language pulled straight out of the Conservative playbook, she suggested growing the economy is Labour’s “number one mission”, before calling for “security” for family budgets. 

Yet the sight of blue Labour and red Tories rushing to steal the other’s mantle is surely only going to make the electorate believe that there is very little difference between them, again benefitting Reform which is the only party that can credibly offer change, not least as it was founded a few years ago. 

Sunak can say: “A vote for Reform is a vote for Labour” as much as he likes, but the truth is that many small-c conservatives are so angry with the Government right now that they actively want to punish them

They didn’t vote Reform in leafy Kingswood (Conservative since 2010) because they agreed with Chris Skidmore’s narrow-minded criticism of his own party’s dash for oil and gas. As Ed Miliband might say: Hell no! They did it because Skidmore is a posterboy for the Tories not being nearly conservative enough. 

They did it because they wake up to news such as the “Lawsonian” Chancellor apparently rowing back on his pledge to cut income tax in the Spring Budget on March 6. They did it in reaction to seeing tables like the one produced this week by Oxford’s Migration Observatory, showing only 1.3 per cent of people who arrived in Britain “irregularly” by small boats from 2018 to 2023 were removed. They did it in response to Britain’s epidemic of worklessness, among other crises. 

Ultimately, the Tories are in this rut because conservative Britons feel conned and betrayed by a party that claimed to be small state, pro-growth and pro-border control. 

For months I’ve said that time is running out for Sunak to turn the ship, but it now seems too late. If, as reports suggest, next month’s Budget isn’t radical in cutting income tax and appealing to an electorate fast running out of patience, what other opportunity will there be? 

Esther Ghey: ‘Brianna’s murder can’t be for nothing – I’ve got to make something good out of it’

Scattered across Esther Ghey’s hands are several finely etched tattoos. She got them in the run-up to the highly publicised trial of her transgender daughter Brianna’s murderers, which ended earlier this month. 

“I chose the lotus flower because it rises from murky waters,” she says glancing down at the delicate inking on her wrist. “These on my index finger are the tails of two arrows – they are Taoist symbols and are my favourites. The first arrow is the pain that comes to us all and is inevitable in life. The second represents suffering and whether you choose to carry it with you. I have decided to leave it behind.” 

If that sounds astonishing then you probably haven’t witnessed Ghey’s television appearances in recent days. Aged 37, the quietly-spoken mother of two-turned campaigner has carried herself with such composure and demonstrated such compassion it has humbled us all. 

“The worst possible thing has happened to our family, and for me, it can’t be for nothing,” she says. “I’ve got to make something good come out of this and create a lasting legacy for Brianna.” 

Ghey, who worked as a food technologist, now has two goals: to introduce mindfulness to schools across the UK – a mission for which she has already raised over £95,000 – and more ambitiously, to reform the internet. 

“This isn’t something I would ever imagined myself doing,” she admits. “I don’t feel comfortable talking to the press. But I want fundamental change, I have another daughter and I want to make society a better place for my grandchildren – for all our grandchildren.” 

The horrifying facts of the case have justifiably made headlines; on February 11 2023,

16-year-old Brianna Ghey was stabbed to death in a park in Warrington, Cheshire in a premeditated attack by then-15-year-olds Scarlett Jenkinson and Eddie Ratcliffe. He was partly motivated by Brianna’s transgender identity, the judge later concluded. Jenkinson was obsessed with torture and deaths she had seen on the dark web and was primarily motivated by sadistic excitement. On February 2, she was sentenced to 22 years in prison and Ratcliffe to 20 years

Ghey’s response has been more than dignified. This ordinary woman said something so extraordinary we collectively held our breath; in December after the pair were convicted, she called for “empathy and compassion” for their families as “they too have lost a child” and “must live the rest of their lives knowing what their child has done”. 

It was a sentiment she repeated after sentencing and has gone down far as to say she would like to meet with Jenkinson’s distraught parents who have extended their heartfelt apologies for what their daughter did.

“I refuse to harbour hate. You can let something like this destroy you or you can get back up on your feet and push forward,” she says. 

By any measure, Ghey is an unlikely activist; she is not instinctively drawn to the spotlight, nor is she a natural orator. In an ideal world we would never have heard of her. But she recognises the platform she has been given, however unwished-for, however absolutely unwelcome, and has stepped up to speak out. 

The first is Peace In Mind, a charity she had set up to introduce mindfulness into Britain’s primary school classrooms. Herself a practitioner of mindfulness for the past eight years, she credits the practice for giving her the resilience and empathy to cope with the terrible loss of her child. 

“Teaching children mindfulness instils them with self-acceptance, compassion and empathy,” she says. “Brianna had mental health issues and I know she would have really benefited if she had been given the skills that mindfulness provides.” 

Ghey’s other focus is online safety for children; like virtually every other teenager in the country, Brianna was “addicted” to social media which fuelled her anxiety. In these past few days, she has met up with fellow crusader Ian Russell. Last September, a coroner ruled his 14-year-old daughter Molly, from Harrow, north-west London, died from “an act of self-harm while suffering from depression and the negative effects of online content” in November 2017.

“I think we will work together, he’s a really nice man,” observes Ghey, as though their paths had crossed on a parents’ evening rather than in the white-hot glare of the media. But make no mistake her mildness belies her tensile emotional strength. Those of us whose family lives are – by the grace of God – untouched by such cataclysmic tragedy, can only wonder how we might react in similar, nightmarish circumstances. Elemental grief has many allotropes. Loss and loneliness affect individuals differently – it is estimated that around 16 per cent of relationships break down after the death of a child. Who among us can be certain how we would react? 

Some parents withdraw from the world, others seek to alter it, a phenomenon the University of Massachusetts professor Chris Bobel calls “accidental activism”? After her 17-year-old daughter Gracie was mown down and killed by a distracted driver, she mounted a research project investigating why some parents become crusaders in the wake of bereavement. 

“They are crafting purpose, searching for meaning,” she writes. “Not seeking a meaning for the death of their loved one, but rather a way to transform their pain into purpose, a process that restores much-needed control for the traumatised.” 

She and her students spoke to ordinary people who, in the wake of their traumatic loss, became experts in suicide, drug addiction, medical errors of various kinds, hospital-acquired infections, natural disasters, car and truck crashes. 

It is a list that invariably generates head-shaking because it captures our worst fears come to life – and death. The shocking load of a child is not just impossible to rationalise, it represents a direct affront to the natural order of things. 

“Through their work, these bereaved parents make their grief legible in a culture that turns away from their pain,” Bobel concluded. “As activists, they can grieve out loud. Their activism is a potent means of survival; when others are pressing them to let go, they use their activism to hold on.” 

Again and again the world gently urges the grief-stricken to find “closure”. For Ghey, it is a journey not a destination. 

“I think there are various stages of closure,” she says. “Watching Brianna’s killers being sentenced was one point of closure. Seeing mindfulness teachers in schools would be another. You can’t cover up the terrible loss at the centre of your life, not would you want to. Instead, you try to build a new life around that huge vacuum.” 

Perhaps we need new language to describe the slow, incremental healing process – it is a reflection of the taboo surrounding child death that there is no word for it. We have widows and widowers – but words fail us when it comes to describing bereft parents. Those who feel compelled to somehow transform their raw grief into action do us all a service. 

As Nicole Hockley, the mother of one of the victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Connecticut once explained: “What happened, the murder of my youngest son, was not something I could control. What happened after? That was my choice.” Hockley, who is now a nationally-recognised expert on school safety, chose to co-found the Sandy Hook Promise foundation to try to prevent further senseless bloodshed. 

Here in Britain, Emma Webber became a vocal campaigner last year after her student son Barnaby was knifed to death along with his friend Grace O’Malley Kumar on the streets of Nottingham by Valdo Calocane, a 32-year-old paranoid schizophrenic. 

Emma had not felt able to return to work at her job in communications for NHS Somerset. Instead, she has channelled her public relations skills into a high-profile campaign to call the authorities into account for the egregious errors in policing and care that left Calocane free to kill. 

“We never ever thought we would be that family, thrust into this catastrophic life-changing event when the world changes on its axis,”, she told The Telegraph, “As the families of the victims, we’re just an afterthought.” Thanks to people like her and Ghey, the public is listening.

But Ghey is careful to point out that her priority is and will always be family; Brianna’s stepfather Wes and above all Alisha, her elder daughter, now 19. “We are as close as best friends and I can see she’s very strong, but also that she is suffering – to lose a sister is appalling,” says Ghey. “I’m really protective of her and I will always carve out time for her before anything else.” 

I wonder aloud what Brianna would have made of her mother’s unexpected activism. Ghey’s reply is a poignant reminder of the force that drives her. “I know exactly what she would say; ‘Oh Mum, you are so embarrassing!” 

And, for the first time in a long while, Ghey, campaigner, smiles a mother’s smile.

Sir Chris Hoy reveals cancer diagnosis

Sir Chris Hoy, the six times Olympic track cycling champion, has announced that he has been diagnosed with cancer…

Migrants carried out of van in oxygen masks at Newhaven ferry port

Migrants were found being smuggled into the UK in a refrigerated van on a cross-Channel ferry on Friday, sparking a major response by the emergency services.

Border Force, police, fire and ambulance services were alerted after the migrants were discovered in the back of the van on the passenger ferry sailing from Dieppe to the East Sussex port of Newhaven.

Six of the migrants were taken to hospital, while the driver was arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal entry. A passenger in the driver’s cabin was arrested on suspicion of illegal entry.

Staff on board are believed to have heard the migrants banging on the sides and back of the van during a routine check of vehicles as the Seven Sisters ferry was about to dock at 9.30am, according to a witness.

“They were hidden by a false wall that had been built into the back of the van. It was only a small space so they must have been practically lying on top of each other. It would have been very cramped and hard to breathe,” said the witness.

“They summoned some other workers, who looked like security personnel and who then physically broke down the wall and let the migrants out. Some were unconscious and some were able to climb out of the van with help.

“The police and fire teams arrived soon after the ferry had docked and they took the seven or so migrants to an ambulance. They were put on stretchers and taken off the ferry one by one in oxygen masks.”

‘Deeply sad’

Martin Sinnock, 70, whose home overlooks the entrance to Newhaven Harbour, said he saw “a lot of activity” and a “large” emergency services presence, including a helicopter landing on the quayside shortly after the ferry arrived. He said he was “deeply sad” to hear migrants were inside the vehicle.

Sussex Police said: “We are currently supporting Border Force, who are the lead agency, and other emergency services after a number of people were found on a lorry on a boat in Newhaven Port.

“A man has been arrested on suspicion of facilitating illegal entry to the UK, and a second man has been arrested for illegally entering the UK. The ambulance service has taken six further people to hospital for treatment.”

The Dieppe-Newhaven route has become a target for migrants seeking to cross the Channel as security at the port of Calais and on the northern beaches has increased.

Pedro Paulra, 44, a lorry driver from Portugal who regularly makes trips to Newhaven port, told The Telegraph: “Four hours before reaching the port in France you cannot stop, even to pee. Migrants jumping into vans is our biggest problem.

“They don’t talk to you or ask if you’ve got money, they just get in the back of the trailer and you don’t know. They don’t pay you, they just infiltrate your trailer and when we sleep they get in at night. They know if they come here your government is obliged to have them.”

English National Opera sacks singers during interval

Singers and musicians at the English National Opera were handed redundancy notices midway through the final performance of its acclaimed production of The Handmaid’s Tale.

Formal redundancy letters, which came following a long-running funding crisis at the company, began to be sent out electronically shortly before the curtain for the final performance of the opera’s run had gone up.

But many of the performers only saw the details of their redundancy during the interval, when they opened the notifications backstage.

Despite this, they went back on stage to finish the performance, winning plaudits from the audience at the London Coliseum.

Critics have pointed to the irony of this happening during an adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel, which depicts a dystopian society where women are barred from working in order to fulfil their sole requirement to give birth.

One described the handling of the redundancies as “cruel, wicked and thoughtless”.

A source told the Slipped Disc classical music news site: “Members of the chorus and orchestra started receiving formal redundancy notices from the ENO ‘director Of people’ Denise Mackenzie this evening – beginning in the hour before curtain-up of the final performance of Handmaid’s Tale, and continuing through the evening.

“Many singers and players first saw their sacking emails during the interval. ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ is one of the most technically and emotionally demanding works in ENO’s recent repertoire.”

The source, described as a “trusted insider”, said: “The conductor, Joana Carneiro, was horrified when she learned what was taking place, and then astonished that the performance showed no signs whatever of the turmoil being inflicted on the performers in real time.”

Performers across the classical music sector have expressed their disbelief at the treatment of the ENO’s choir and orchestra.

Susan McCulloch, a renowned soprano and vocal teacher, said: “I cannot begin to imagine the sad hearts, tight throats, veiled tears and anger at the ENO today.”

Prof McCulloch added: “It’s the most incredible, wonderful company and unthinkable to have the British opera scene without it. That the members were served redundancy notices mid-performance is cruel, wicked and thoughtless beyond belief.”

Hilary Davan Wetton, musical director of the City of London Choir and former professor of conducting at the Guildhall School of Music, said: “The existence of a ‘Director of People’ immediately tells you that you are entering a world of Orwellian DoubleSpeak. The mere fact that redundancy notices can be sent out mid-performance – without any human contact – is a disgrace.”

The redundancy notices were sent out on Thursday, shortly after musicians at the ENO had voted to call off strike action after reaching an agreement with the company over proposed job cuts.

Following negotiations with the Musicians’ Union, the ENO agreed to revise its plans, which had involved making all of the chorus, orchestra and music staff redundant before re-employing them for six months of the year.

Under the new deal, the musicians will still be made redundant, but will be rehired at a later date with an additional month’s guaranteed work, a minimum redundancy payment and “improvements to the proposed contract”.

The ENO has been under pressure since it was removed from Arts Council England’s national portfolio last year, losing its £12.8 million annual grant and told to move outside London to qualify for future grants.

Following criticism of the decision, Arts Council England announced extra money and more time for the ENO to find a new home in Greater Manchester.

William Norris, an Arts and Classical Music consultant, told The Telegraph: “ENO’s management is faced with extremely limited and unpalatable choices, almost all of which result from Arts Council England’s instruction for them to move out of London. 

“The main responsibility of ENO’s management and board is to secure the long-term future of the company for audiences both in London and its new home of Manchester, and it may be that the only option they have is to reduce their ongoing salary costs.”

The ENO was approached for comment.

Skin cancer diagnosis delays caused by lockdowns led to 12,000 years of life lost

Delays in diagnosing skin cancer because of Covid lockdowns led to 12,000 years of life lost in Britain, it has been estimated.

University College London (UCL) analysed records from more than 50,000 patients across Europe, including the UK, and calculated how many people’s cancer would have progressed from one stage owing to delays in beginning or continuing treatment.

Both screening services and treatments were disrupted in 2020 and 2021 by lockdown restrictions, staff shortages, and fear of infection.

The team who worked with the University of Basel, in Switzerland, estimated that around 17 per cent of people progressed to a higher stage of cancer in 2020-2021, owing to delays in diagnosis or treatment of two to three months or longer.

It equates to more than 12,000 years of life lost in Britain and to more than 100,000 years of life lost across Europe.

Dr Kaustubh Adhikari of UCL Genetics, Evolution & Environment said: “As many people missed appointments to detect or treat skin cancer, their cancer progressed to a later stage, which resulted in more expensive care and a greater risk that the treatment would not be successful.

“It’s alarming that for just one disease, there were many years of life lost, a lower quality of life for many thousands of people, and billions of pounds of economic impact – this may be just the tip of the iceberg of the consequences of delayed diagnosis and treatment due to lockdowns.

“While the lockdowns did save many lives by mitigating the toll of Covid-19 itself, it is important that we learn from the experience to ensure that if another pandemic arises, we can effectively balance different healthcare priorities.”

Economic cost

The research team also estimated the additional medical costs associated with treating later-stage cancer, as well as the broader economic impact such as the loss of productivity owing to disability.

They conclude that it cost Britain more than £635 million with a total economic cost to Europe of £6.1 billion.

The authors of the study, which is published in JAMA Network Open paper, say their findings show how vital early detection of cancer can be, while also highlighting the importance of considering unintended side effects in any future pandemic planning.

Dr Elisabeth Roider, co-lead author of the study and professor at the University Hospital of Basel, said: “Our findings show that preventative healthcare always needs to be a top priority, both in normal times and in times of crisis; any plans for potential future pandemics need to consider unintended side effects on a wide range of health conditions and plan holistically.

“Delays to diagnosis and treatment can be devastating to people affected by cancer, so getting prompt evaluation and treatment is vital for people concerned about their health, while screening programmes need to be treated as a priority by healthcare system leaders.”

Data from the National Cancer Registration and Analysis Service shows there was a drastic decrease in skin cancer diagnoses following the first lockdown in 2020.

There were 28 per cent fewer cases of melanoma diagnosed between April and November of the first pandemic year, as well as a significant decrease in the diagnosis of non-melanoma skin cancers such as basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (cSCC).

The problems are still ongoing with recent polling by the Liberal Democrats suggesting that one in eight people has ignored a lump or mole because after being deterred by long waits to see a GP.

The survey found that more than half of people had no confidence they would receive timely NHS treatment if they were diagnosed with cancer.

A recent report by the Medical Defence Union (MDU) showed that some people have waited up to three years for a skin cancer diagnosis.

The study was published in JAMA Network Open paper.