INDEPENDENT 2024-02-22 22:34:13


White supremacist brothers who killed their parents resentenced

Two Pennsylvania brothers sentenced to life in the murder of their parents and younger brother almost three decades ago have been resentenced to terms that may offer them a chance at parole.

A Lehigh County judge sentenced 46-year-old Bryan Freeman and 45-year-old David Freeman to terms of 60 years to life.

Both have served just under three decades in prison for their murder convictions and would be in their 70s before they would be eligible for parole.

Bryan Freeman wept as he expressed remorse and took responsibility for what he called “a terrible crime,” The (Allentown) Morning Call reported. “Everyone deserves to live a safe, happy life free of violence and pain and I took that away from my family and my community. … I would give anything to have my family back and take away all the trauma,” he said.

He also said his religious faith gave him the belief that he would “be able to see my family again and apologize to them and beg their forgiveness.”

David Freeman’s attorney, Matthew Rapa, argued that his client was acting under his brother’s orders.

Bryan and David were 17 and 16, respectively, and authorities said they were affiliated with a white supremacist skinhead movement at the time of the February 1995 slayings of Dennis and Brenda Freeman and 11-year-old Erik Freeman in Salisbury Township. They and an accomplice fled to Michigan, where they were captured three days later.

Both brothers have Nazi slogans tattooed on their foreheads.

A recent US Supreme Court ruling barring life without parole terms for juveniles has resulted in resentencing hearings in such cases.

The Morning Call reported that a defense psychiatrist testified about troubling circumstances during their upbringing that she said helped lead to drinking and drug problems. Another psychiatrist called by prosecutors, however, said some of the language used by the brothers during their assessments seemed designed to minimize their culpability.

Author Wendy Mitchell announces her own death with powerful open letter

Author Wendy Mitchell has died after battling dementia for years and left a final message announcing her own death.

Mitchell, 68, became a best-selling writer after being diagnosed with early onset dementia and Alzheimer’s in July 2014, while working as a rota manager in the NHS.

In a posthumous post shared online, the author revealed how she had taken the decision to refuse to eat or drink any more.

She wrote: “If you’re reading this, it means this has probably been posted by my daughters as I’ve sadly died.”

“In the end I died simply by deciding not to eat or drink any more,” Mitchell wrote. “The last cuppa tea … my final hug in a mug, the hardest thing to let go of, much harder than the food I never craved … This wasn’t decided on a whim of self pity as you’ll discover by reading on.

“Dementia is a cruel disease that plays tricks on your very existence. I’ve always been a glass half full person, trying to turn the negatives of life around and creating positives, because that’s how I cope. Well I suppose dementia was the ultimate challenge.

“Yes, dementia is a bummer, but oh what a life I’ve had playing games with this adversary of mine to try and stay one step ahead.”

Mitchell lived in Walkington, East Yorkshire, and authored the acclaimed 2018 memoir Somebody I Used To Know and, four years later, What I Wish I Knew About Dementia. Her third book, One Last Thing: Living With The End In Mind, is due to be published in paperback next week.

She added: “Sadly assisted dying isn’t an option in this country. With something that will affect 100 per cent of the population, regardless of wealth, intelligence or ethnicity, it’s amazing how such little value is placed on the act of dying.

“For those that have read my book, One Last Thing, you will understand why I feel so strongly about assisted dying. The only legal choice we shouldn’t have in life is when to be born; for everything else, we, as humans, should have a choice; a choice of how we live and a choice of how we die.”

Mitchell wrote that she had not wanted her dementia to “take me into the later stages” in which she would be reliant on others for her daily needs, saying: “The Wendy that was didn’t want to be the Wendy dementia will dictate for me.”

She added: “I wasn’t depressed, I wasn’t forced or cajoled in any way whatsoever, it was solely down to my choice. I was ready. You may or may not agree with what I’ve done, how and when I’ve chosen to leave this world, but the decision was totally mine.”

Anna Wharton, who was a ghostwriter on Mitchell’s bestselling memoir, described the letter as “the last powerful words from my friend Wendy Mitchell.

“As desperately sad as I am to lose her, I’m so proud of all that she achieved and for choosing the death she wanted. Her greatest fear was dementia stealing her as a mum. It didn’t. Wendy beat dementia,” said Ms Wharton.

Charities including Alzheimer Scotland and the Lewy Body Society were among those to pay tribute to the “fearless” campaigner, while former Guardian journalist David Brindle hailed her for making “such a huge contribution to the greater understanding and social acceptance of dementia”.

UK’s cod and haddock under threat as Putin pulls out of fishing deal

Russia is pulling out from a landmark fishing deal struck with Britain in 1956 as a response to further sanctions imposed by the UK.

The deal allowed British vessels into the rich fishing grounds of the Barents Sea, the coast of the Kola Peninsula and along the coast of Kolguyev Island.

The agreement was made in London by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in May 1956 at a turning point in the Cold War.

In the same year, he denounced Joseph Stalin, proposed peaceful coexistence with the West and even visited Britain in April.

Vyacheslav Volodin, speaker of the State Duma lower house of parliament, said in a statement: “When Nikita Khrushchev accepted this deal in 1956, it is difficult to say what guided him but it was definitely not national interest.

“The British need to study some proverbs: ‘Russians harness the horse slowly, but ride it fast.’”

It comes as Britain on Wednesday imposed sanctions on six individuals in charge of the Arctic penal colony where Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny died last week.

Since the invasion began, Britain has repeatedly placed sanctions on Russia with increasing severity. The sanctions were declared as economic war by the State Duma, despite the country’s economy growing by 3.6 per cent last year.

“When people ask if we can respond to sanctions, the answer is: we can,” Mr Volodin said, adding that British vessels caught thousands of tonnes of cod and haddock in Russian waters.

The close Putin ally repeated the current orthodoxy of the Kremlin which views the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union as a tragedy and Mikhail Gorbachev as a failure who was tricked by a deceitful West intent on humiliating Russia.

“With Gorbachev, we lost our country, and with Putin we got it back,” he said.

Dentist locked up after threatening to kill Labour MP Barry Gardiner

A disgruntled dentist who made a treat to kill his local MP, suggesting he would be “stabbed, shot, beheaded”, has been locked up.

Amit Kerai, 34, was handed a hospital order after he pleaded guilty to making the threat in August 2022 against Labour’s Barry Gardiner, who is MP for Brent North in London.

Mr Gardiner was sent a tweet by Kerai which suggested he would be “stabbed, shot, beheaded”, after contacting the MP’s office on August 4 2022, the Old Bailey heard on Thursday.

In a victim impact statement read in court Mr Gardiner said he is “aware Members of Parliament are increasingly being threatened and two of my colleagues have been murdered in the course of their work”.

He added: “I consider the level of security offered to MPs to be lamentably poor.

“I refuse to allow these threats to reduce my accessibility to my constituents and I still hold surgeries and take public transport and attend other public meetings, but I feel that the job of being a Member of Parliament now places a much greater strain on my staff and family than when I began in Parliament 25 years ago.”

Kerai also admitted two charges of putting other people in fear of violence by harassment in abusive and threatening emails, tweets and telephone calls between 2019 and 2022.

The defendant, of Crundale Avenue, Barnet, north-west London, sent an electronic communication with intent to cause distress or anxiety in August 2022 to call centre staff at the General Dental Council.

The court heard he had a grudge after being made subject to an interim suspension by the General Dental Council, which later was made permanent.

Fellow dentist Keith Percival, from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight dental council, was also a victim of his hate campaign.

Mr Percival said in a victim impact statement that the hundreds of personal tweets sent by Kerai “occupied his daily thoughts”.

He was more worried about the impact on his daughter Emily Vidovic and her safety, as she had an administrative role for the same organisation.

She received calls of a “threatening and sinister nature”, and Kerai had accessed her Instagram account so concerns were raised he might be seeking her home address, the court heard.

Kerai has “destroyed” Mr Percival’s day-to-day health and well-being, he added.

Ms Vidovic described in her victim impact statement how she has dealt with Kerai’s behaviour for a number of years.

Summarising her statement, Sally Mertens, prosecuting, said Ms Vidovic “has a young family and is afraid because of the threats to kill and threats of violence towards her”.

She has been made to feel “uncomfortable, anxious and nervous” and it has had a “major impact on her”.

Ms Vidovic found the images posted online “highly distressing”.

She was starting out her career and “already feels her reputation has been ruined”.

A call from Kerai to Ms Vidovic was played to the court in which he said “I might actually come to your house and cut off your head”.

Kerai sent an estimated 10,400 tweets which included graphic images of the war in Ukraine, sexual violence and death.

Kerai also admitted charges of possessing cocaine and cannabis found during his arrest on August 5, 2022.

Judge Mark Lucraft KC said Kerai has been diagnosed with a “persistent delusional disorder” and sentenced Kerai to a hospital order under section 37 of the mental health act as well as a restraining order.

He said: “Over a four-year period you carried out what can only be described as a campaign of harassment.

“Not only was it deeply offensive, threatening, abusive and unpleasant, it also had a significant impact on all those affected by it.”

Kerai made “many baseless accusations” which included criminal activity and alleged the victims were “racists and fascists”, the judge added.

The harassment included making demands for money, defamation, intimidation, blackmail and coercion, the court heard.

Kerai had appeared at the Old Bailey by video link from a secure mental health unit.

Space telescope spies neutron star in supernova to solve mystery

Astronomers have found evidence that a neutron star exists at the centre of the only exploding star – supernova – visible to the naked eye in the last 400 years, solving a 30-year-old mystery.

Although Supernova 1987A – located in a neighbouring dwarf galaxy – has been observed for more than three decades, scientists have not seen the compact object expected to have been produced during the explosion.

Until now it has not been known whether the neutron star persisted or collapsed into a black hole.

Neutrinos, tiny sub-atomic particles, were produced in Supernova 1987A and detected on Earth 37 years ago, the day before the supernova was seen, indicating a neutron star must have formed.

In the new study, researchers used two instruments on the Nasa/European Space Agency/Canadian Space Agency James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) to observe the supernova at infrared wavelengths.

They found evidence of heavy argon and sulphur atoms whose outer electrons had been stripped off close to where the star explosion occurred.

The experts suggest this can only be explained if there is a bright source of ultraviolet and X-ray radiation from a neutron star, either directly or indirectly.

If this was the case, the surface of the neutron star would be about a million degrees, having cooled down from 100 billion degrees or so at the moment of formation at the core of the collapse more than 30 years earlier.

Co-author Professor Mike Barlow, of the physics and astronomy department at University College London, said: “Our detection with James Webb’s MIRI and NIRSpec spectrometers of strong ionised argon and sulphur emission lines from the very centre of the nebula that surrounds Supernova 1987A is direct evidence of the presence of a central source of ionising radiation.

“Our data can only be fitted with a neutron star as the power source of that ionising radiation.

“This radiation can be emitted from the million degree surface of the hot neutron star, as well as by a pulsar wind nebula that could have been created if the neutron star is rapidly spinning and dragging charged particles around it.

“The mystery over whether a neutron star is hiding in the dust has lasted for more than 30 years and it is exciting that we have solved it.

Supernovae are the main sources of chemical elements that make life possible – so we want to get our models of them right.

“There is no other object like the neutron star in Supernova 1987A, so close to us and having formed so recently.

“Because the material surrounding it is expanding, we will see more of it as time goes on.”

Supernovae occur when stars more than eight to 10 times the mass of the sun collapse, and are the main sources of chemical elements (such as carbon, oxygen, and iron) needed for life.

The collapsed core of these exploding stars can result in much smaller neutron stars, composed of the densest matter in the known universe, or black holes.

The study, published in the journal Science, involved researchers from the UK, Ireland, Sweden, France, Germany, the United States, the Netherlands, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Spain and Denmark.

How to help create a smokefree generation

“Some people can just stop and then never smoke again, but for most it’s hard,” says Tim Eves a 45-year-old father of three from West Sussex.

“It’s just getting through those initial tough few months. Once you do the benefits hugely outweigh the stress of giving it up.”

Tim was a smoker for around 12 years, but gave up with help from a local support group who introduced him to nicotine patches and gum.

“I won’t pretend it isn’t hard,” he adds. “The first few months, you have it in your head that you’d love to have just one cigarette. But now, if we happen to be in the pub it doesn’t even enter my head.”

Taking the first step to go smokefree may sound daunting, but quitting smoking offers significant health benefits – and can save you money.

Tobacco is the single most important entirely preventable cause of ill health, disability and death in this country, responsible for 80,000 deaths in the UK each year.

It causes around 1-in-4 cancer deaths in the UK and is responsible for just over 70 per cent of all lung cancer cases.

Smoking also substantially increases the risk of many major health conditions throughout people’s lives, such as strokes, diabetes, heart disease, stillbirth, dementia and asthma.

Smoking increases the chance of stillbirth by almost half and makes children twice as likely to be hospitalised for asthma from second-hand smoking.

And a typical addicted smoker spends £2,400 a year.

Jo Howarth, 52, from St Helens, Merseyside, finally kicked her addiction after 20 years of on-and-off smoking.

“I was quite anti-smoking as a young teenager, but I started when I was 16 because I wanted to fit in with the cool crowd,” she says.

“I knew it was bad for me, but it was so hard to give up. I tried cold turkey, hypnotherapy and at one point I had a staple in my ear, but I never lasted more than about six months.

“After I got married, I wanted to conceive so I cut down to one a day but the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, I stopped.

“As soon as the reason outweighed the addiction, I found a reason to stop and as a hypnotherapist I know that pinpointing why you’re addicted is the key to stopping.

“I used to think that smoking calmed me down, but now I realise that’s a myth – it was just the deep breaths I was taking while I did it. Without it I’m so much healthier and I’m determined to stay smokefree for my kids.”

Smokers lose an average of 10 years life expectancy – around one year for every four smoking years.

Smokers also need care on average 10 years earlier than they would otherwise have – often while still of working age.

‘’Smoking is based on addiction and most people wish they had never taken it up,” says Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer.

“They try to stop and they cannot. Their choice has been taken away. As a doctor I have seen many people in hospital desperate to stop smoking but they cannot.”

The government is now working on creating a smokefree generation.

The new proposals give citizens more freedom. Smoking is not a choice, it is an addiction, and the large majority of smokers and ex-smokers regret ever starting in the first place.

Creating a smokefree generation will be one of the most significant public health measures in a generation, saving thousands of lives and billions of pounds for our NHS and the economy, and levelling up the UK by tackling one of the most important preventable drivers of inequality in health outcomes.

New laws will protect future generations from ever taking up smoking as well as tackling youth vaping by:

Alongside the Bill, there will be new funding to support current smokers to quit by doubling the funding of local ‘stop smoking services’ (to nearly £140 million) as well as £30m of new funding to crack down on illicit tobacco and underage sale of tobacco and vapes.

The Lindsay Hoyle fiasco highlights the need for reform in the Commons

If the Wednesday night fiasco in parliament was a shameful sight, then the Thursday hangover has been scarcely more edifying. The public, with better things to do than study Erskine May and weigh the merits of standing order 31 of the House of Commons, have witnessed how what was supposed to be a debate on the situation in Gaza – which people do care about – plunge into a procedural quagmire.

By accident, a Labour Party amendment on Gaza – that probably shouldn’t have been accepted, let alone proposed for a vote, and would never ordinarily have been passed – became the formally adopted and unanimous view of the British House of Commons on the Middle East conflict. Absurd. This was not our parliamentarians’ finest hour.

The descent of what ought to have been a serious but low-key debate on an SNP motion, with appropriate time given to a minority party, was a disgrace. It was in fact painfully reminiscent of the worst days of the parliamentary Brexit permacrisis before the 2019 general election. As Geoffrey Cox MP, then attorney general, told the chamber at that time of chaos, any voter observing their proceedings would protest in dismay or despair: “What are you playing at? What are you doing? You are not children in the playground, you are legislators.”

What are the threats to MPs that Sir Lindsay Hoyle is referring to?

Facing MPs to explain himself and to apologise for the chaos that resulted, the speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, elaborated on his previous references to MPs’ safety being a factor in his recent decisions. Once again visibly emotional, Sir Lindsay said that he never again wants to pick up the phone “to find a friend has been murdered”. He added: “I made a mistake – we do make mistakes, I own up to mine.”

His apparently sincere apology and expression of honourable intentions seems to have helped his case with some MPs, especially Conservatives, who’d been angry about the break with convention during the SNP’s Opposition Day debate on Gaza – the SNP now say they have no confidence in Sir Lindsay. The latest remarks by the leader of the House of Commons, Penny Mordaunt, set the tone for many in her own party, though, by switching blame towards Labour and Sir Keir Starmer: “We have seen into the heart of Labour’s leadership. Nothing is more important than the interests of the Labour Party. The Labour Party before principle, the Labour Party before individual rights, the Labour Party before the reputation and honour of the decent man that sits in the speaker’s chair.”

For now, the “decent man” seems secure, but what is the nature of the violent threats to MPs’ safety he referred to – and are they being allowed to influence and distort democratic debate?