The Telegraph 2024-02-24 10:30:32

Health Secretary set to back decriminalisation of abortion

The Health Secretary has indicated that she would back the decriminalisation of abortion, as MPs prepare to vote on the first major changes in the law for more than three decades.

In an interview with The Telegraph, Victoria Atkins said her voting record – she has previously supported decriminalisation, and backed buffer zones for abortion clinics – “speaks for itself.”

It comes as MPs will next month vote on two amendments that would change abortion law. One would decriminalise abortion after 24 weeks and the other would lower the legal time limit from 24 weeks to 22 weeks.

Diana Johnson, Labour chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, has tabled an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill that would mean women would no longer be prosecuted if they ended their pregnancies beyond the 24-week legal time limit. It has so far gathered cross-party support from 20 MPs.

The second amendment, tabled by Conservative MP Caroline Ansell, would represent the first lowering of the time limit since 1990, when MPs backed reducing it from 28 weeks to 24 weeks. Her proposal is supported by a cross-party group of 25 MPs.

On Friday night, Downing Street indicated that MPs would be free to vote according to their consciences. “Abortion has always been a free vote for MPs,” a No 10 source said.

Ms Atkins said: “I’m very conscious as Health Secretary that whatever the House decides if there is a vote, my department will be the one to either maintain the status quo or to deliver change.

“And so at this stage, I’m not going to say anything publicly because I just want to see how the debate develops. But my voting record speaks for itself.”

The Telegraph understands that as the vote is a matter of conscience, the Health Secretary does not want her status as the minister responsible to influence other MPs.

A source close to the minister said: “She wants to respect the rights of MPs to make up their own minds but does not think it right in her capacity as Secretary of State to push debate in a particular direction when it’s a matter for Parliament.”

Misguided inclusivity

In her interview with The Telegraph, Ms Atkins speaks passionately about the rights of women – accusing the NHS of too often “writing women out of the conversation”.

Urging the health service to use the words “woman” and “mother”, she accused the health service of making misguided attempts at inclusivity.

Ms Atkins said it was “extraordinary” that the health service was promoting terms such as “chestfeeding”, in favour of breastfeeding, and using gender-neutral terms such as “people who have given birth” to refer to new mothers.

Last week, an NHS trust provoked fury after saying that breast milk produced by trans women who were assigned male at birth is as good for babies as that produced by a mother who has given birth.  “I’m a mum – I find it extraordinary that a trust thought this was an appropriate use of their time,” she said. “We need to be making this robust case to refuse to wipe women out of the conversation.”

“I’m very comfortable and clear that I am a woman and I would like my rights as a woman to be protected. And they will be protected by the Conservatives.”

She added: “Half the population are women. Of course the NHS should use the word ‘woman’.”

In 2018, as junior minister for women, Ms Atkins voted in favour of decriminalisation of abortion. An analysis by The Telegraph found 17 of the 22 members of Rishi Sunak’s Cabinet have previously voted for measures that favour greater liberalisation of abortion.

The MPs backing reducing the time limit to 22 weeks say the current 24-week abortion time limit is based on an outdated understanding of the viability of premature babies.

In the past decade, the survival rate for extremely premature babies born at 23 weeks doubled from two in 10 to four in 10. Some 261 babies born alive at 22 and 23 weeks in 2020 and 2021 survived to be discharged from hospital, according to research by Leicester University and Imperial College.

Twenty-two weeks is now recognised by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine as the point of viability outside of the womb and the point at which doctors are enabled to intervene to save premature babies.

Britain’s 24-week limit contrasts with most European countries where abortion is only legal on demand or social grounds up to 12 weeks of gestation. A ComRes poll in 2022 showed 60 per cent of the general public and 70 per cent of women supported a reduction in the time limit to 20 weeks.

Ms Ansell said: “The increase in survival rates for babies born at 22 and 23 weeks gestation is one of the great success stories of medical progress in recent years. More and more babies born at these ages are able to survive thanks to the hard work of neonatal teams.

“As in 1990, when our laws were last changed to reflect similar increases in survival rates, it is time our abortion time limit was updated. Our current time limit is an outlier compared with our European neighbours and my hope is this amendment will command widespread support across the House.”Her amendment is backed by Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former Commons leader, Maggie Throup, former health minister, Rachael Maskell, former shadow cabinet minister, Marie Rimmer, a former shadow minister, and Miriam Cates, co-chairman of the New Conservatives group of MPs.

Professor John Wyatt,  emiritus professor of Neonatal Paediatrics at UCL, said medical advances allowing the survival of babies born at 22 or 23 weeks put politicians in the same position as 1990s when they backed reducing the limit from 28 to 24 weeks.

He said his own personal experience as a neonatal doctor had convinced him that the law needed to be changed.

“I have first hand experience that on the one hand we are able to keep babies alive from 22 to 23 weeks gestation and many of them survive and live normal and healthy lives, yet at the same time the current abortion act allows abortion to be carried out effectively at maternal request at 24 weeks gestation,” he told The Telegraph.


Speaking about the amendment that would decriminalise abortion, Ms Johnson said: “It is quite a limited amendment. It is just taking women out of the criminal justice system. One of the reasons I am really concerned about this is that there are a number of women being investigated because their pregnancies ended later on after something terrible has gone wrong.”

It is backed by MPs including Caroline Nokes, Tory chairman of the women and equalities committee, Harriet Harman, the former deputy Labour leader, Dehenna Davison, former levelling up minister, and Tracey Crouch, a former sports minister.

Abortion is still a criminal offence in England and Wales under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, with a maximum sentence of life in jail. However, the 1967 Abortion Act provided exemptions to the 1861 act allowing abortions in certain circumstances – with the authorisation of two doctors and before 24 weeks of pregnancy except in exceptional situations.

The two doctors must be in agreement that having the baby would pose a greater risk to the physical or mental health of the woman than a termination.

Women can be jailed under the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act if they have an abortion outside those circumstances. Last year a mother of three was sent to prison for an illegal abortion, and about 100 women have faced police investigations since 2019.

Under the amendment, the 1861 law would no longer apply to women ending their own pregnancies although they would still have to abide by the requirements of the 1967 abortion act including the 24-week limit.

It would bring England and Wales into line with Northern Ireland, where abortions were decriminalised in 2019. It is backed by the Colleges of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, of GPs and of Midwives and the British Medical Association. A YouGov poll showed 55 per cent of MPs also supported the change.

The last attempt to cut the time limit on abortion was led by former Cabinet minister Nadine Dorries in 2008 with an amendment to lower it to 20 weeks. It was defeated by 332 to 190 votes with most of Gordon Brown’s Cabinet voting for the status quo. A proposal of 22 weeks debated at the same time was defeated by a narrow margin of 304 to 233 votes.

Catherine Robinson, of Right To Life UK, said: “At the moment, a baby at 22 or 23 weeks gestation could be born prematurely and have a dedicated medical team provide expert care to try to save his or her life, while another baby at the same age could have their life deliberately ended by abortion in the same hospital at the same time. This is a contradiction in UK law.

“Polling demonstrates widespread public support for a time limit reduction, with support for this reduction strongest among women”.

Remote appointments for early medical abortions were introduced as a temporary measure at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In February 2022, Sajid Javid, then health secretary, announced that the “pills by post” system would be dismantled in England. But an amendment by a Tory peer calling for the system to remain was won. Although a free vote was held, the Government made it clear that it wanted the system abolished.

Ms Atkins was among MPs who defied government attempts to bring an end to home abortions

Victoria Atkins: ‘The Labour Party is writing women out of our vocabulary’

Read more

Prince Harry book ‘not proof he took drugs’, US visa court case told

Prince Harry’s memoir is not “proof” he took drugs and could have been embellished to “sell books”, a lawyer for the Biden administration argued on Friday.

‌It came as a DC court began hearing a case on whether to compel the US government to release Duke of Sussex’s visa application stemming from revelations about his illegal drug use.

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, has for months been challenging the Department for Homeland Security (DHS), arguing the documents should be made public as a result of confessions he made in his bestselling memoir Spare.

They contend that the Duke’s past drug use should have disqualified him from entering the United States under federal law and that releasing his application is of “immense public interest”.

But John Bardo, a lawyer for the DHS, told the court that “the book isn’t sworn testimony or proof” that the Duke of Sussex did in fact take drugs.

“Saying something in a book doesn’t necessarily make it true”, he said.

Nile Gardiner, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, said the suggestion the Duke had fabricated his drug taking was a “ridiculous argument”

“This is Prince Harry’s book”, he said following the hearing

“He has never denied anything in his own book… including the extensive widespread drug use.”  

There are three possible ways the Duke had entered the US, the court heard. He either lied on his immigration form about taking drugs, applied for a waiver or entered on a diplomatic visa.

During the hearing at E Barrett Prettyman Courthouse, Mr Bardo said it was “certainly plausible” the Duke entered the US on a “category A” visa, which is reserved for diplomats and foreign government officials visiting the US for official duties.

“He’s still a member of the British Royal family and has the title Duke of Sussex… he’s still a government official in the UK by his birth and title”, he said.

‘Absurd and preposterous’

Diplomatic visa holders are only permitted to carry out work for their respective governments while in the country.

Samuel Dewey, a lawyer for the Heritage Foundation, said the suggestion that the Duke was on such a visa was “absurd” and “preposterous” given the nature of his relationship with the Royal family when he entered the US.

He said such a situation would be “entirely anomalous”.

“Absent the King himself, you can’t come here and work”, he said, adding that it would be an “abuse” of the visa.

He told the court it would be a “huge red flag” had a government agent admitted the Duke on a class A visa “when the whole world knows he’s not a working royal”.

Speaking outside the court after the hearing, Mr Dewey said if the Duke is or had been on a diplomatic visa it raises serious questions for the British government.

“I think that would also implicate questions in Parliament to the extent if he had a valid visa and tried to use it… how would the Foreign Secretary and Home Secretary have authorised that?”

Mr Gardiner said it was “highly unlikely” Prince Harry was classified as a diplomat as “he had no official role on behalf of British people, his own relationship with the Royal family, that was at a low point as the judge himself actually referenced in his remarks.”

The Heritage Foundation previously argued the former royal waived his right to privacy when he “sold every aspect of his private life for, in some estimates, over $135 million”, adding that his claims of his right to privacy have been “met with widespread public ridicule”.

During Friday’s court session Mr Dewey referenced the Duke’s recent interview on breakfast television show Good Morning America earlier this month, during which he said he had considered applying for US citizenship.

Judge Carl J Nicholas also raised concerns that referring to the Duke as Prince Harry was too informal.

He said it felt “very uncomfortable” to refer to him as such, before deciding the Duke of Sussex was more appropriate.

Favourable treatment

In Spare, the Duke of Sussex sparked controversy when admitting to taking cocaine, marijuana and psychedelic mushrooms.

‌Questions have been raised over whether the Duke lied on his US visa application or if he was shown favourable treatment by officials because of his high profile status.

The foundation has sought “all records within Prince Harry’s Alien Registration file” including “any applications for immigration benefits” and “all records relating to any requests for waiver by Prince Harry”.

‌In a court filing, the Heritage Foundation argued: “[The case] comes about in the main because HRH [His Royal Highness] voluntarily – and for immense profit – admitted in writing to the elements of any number of controlled substance violations. (Indeed, some say HRH has approached the point of bragging and encouraging illegal drug use).

‌“The Duke of Sussex did so despite the fact that it is widely known that such admissions can have adverse immigration consequences for non-citizens and despite employing preeminent legal advisors on both sides of the Atlantic.”

In April 2014, Nigella Lawson, the celebrity chef, was banned from flying to the US after confessing to taking cocaine and smoking marijuana.

A spokesperson for the DHS at the time said that foreign citizens who had admitted to drug offences could be deemed “inadmissible” under US law from entering the country.‌

The ban was later lifted in June 2014 so she could travel to the US and film a new series of her cookery contest The Taste USA.

Prince Harry said in February that he had considered becoming a US citizen.

‌In the interview on Good Morning America, the Duke said he had “no idea” what was stopping him from doing so.

‌He added: “The thought has crossed my mind but is not a high priority right now.”

Renounce his title

However, he runs the risk of being denied citizenship as the drugs he has admitted to taking are banned or under strict control in the United States.

According to policy published by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, any application would require him to renounce his title.

The Sussexes left the UK in October 2019 and stayed at a friend’s house in Canada for an extended family break. They then flew to California and, in January 2020 announced they would be stepping back from the working Royal family.

They have since bought their own home in Montecito, with a mortgage, where they live with their two children.

The Duchess is understood to have begun the process of applying for UK citizenship during her short time in Britain, but she did not complete it. She remains a US citizen and the children are reported to have dual citizenship.

US immigration policy states that “any applicant who has any titles of heredity or positions of nobility in any foreign state must renounce the title or the position”.

‘I hit the bomb with a spade’: How Plymouth resident sparked biggest peacetime evacuation

What started as a simple home extension spiralled into one of the biggest peacetime evacuations in British history when a spade knocked an unexploded Second World War bomb.

Thousands were forced to leave their homes after a father assisting his daughter sparked a major incident when he found the 500kg explosive dropped by the Luftwaffe 83 years ago in his Plymouth garden.

Three days after it was found in the Keyham area of the city, the Nazi explosive was detonated at sea on Friday night following a carefully planned operation which brought parts of the city to a standstill.

Residents living within 300 metres of an exclusion zone were evacuated as the bomb was taken on a military convoy along a 1.6-mile route towards a ferry slipway.

The explosive was taken by boat to Plymouth Sound, beyond the breakwater, and detonated at 9.51pm.

The evacuation was described by the MoD as “one of the largest UK peacetime evacuation operations since WW2”, with officers working round the clock to make safe a 500kg unexploded bomb.

The operation prompted the Government to use its new emergency alert service for the first time, although some residents complained they did not receive the warning.

Plymouth city council said that 10,320 people and 4,300 properties from 35 streets were affected after a major incident was declared when the bomb was found at a home near a Navy base hit during the war.

Trains, buses and ferries were diverted or cancelled and the NHS in Devon declared a critical incident as a “precautionary measure” for the aftermath of any potential explosion.

Schools and nurseries were also forced to close to allow the operation to take place as emergency services went door to door evacuating residents, some of whom herded up cats while others chose to camp out in local pubs.

Police were alerted to the bomb, which experts say was dropped in April 1941, on Tuesday when a resident realised the object he had hit with a spade at his home in St Michael Avenue a week earlier may be an explosive.

The man said he and a builder were preparing for an extension at the back of the terraced house belonging to his daughter and that after several days of digging and rain they realised what the object was.

“By this point my wife said we really should just call the police and alert them,” he said. “I took photos and sent them off and a sergeant in Exeter rang me… saying he needed to send them off to explosive ordnance disposal.

“Five minutes later there’s a knock on the door and police officers asking to have a look. The next minute they’re suggesting a cordon.”

“My daughter and her two neighbours were brought together for a meeting where they were effectively told to prepare that all three houses were going to be destroyed,” he said.

Devon and Cornwall Police said that it became clear that if the bomb was detonated where it was found, there would be too high a risk of significant damage, including the destruction of homes.

Supt Phil Williams said the military had “identified this as being the least impactful, and the element of risk is the lowest”.

St Michael Avenue lies around 800 metres west of the HMNB Devonport, which was a major Luftwaffe target during the war and is the biggest naval base in Western Europe.

More than 2,500 high-explosive bombs were dropped on the city during the war and it is estimated that around 10 per cent of those dropped on the UK did not explode.

During the carefully planned operation, the bomb was removed from the garden before being transported by road in a military convoy.

At around 5.15pm a large military flatbed truck carrying the bomb surrounded by sandbags drove slowly through the empty streets escorted by police cars.

It was then loaded by crane onto a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (rhib) and driven out to sea as locals watched on from the waterfront.

Residents were finally allowed back into their homes at 5.30pm, more than three hours after the exclusion zone came into force.

Police officers, firefighters, the Royal Navy and council staff used The Ford Inn, a pub as a refuge during the operation, which was the first licensed premises to be rebuilt following the war after it was destroyed by the Germans.

As the city waited in anticipation of the disposal, officers admitted some had chosen to ignore requests to evacuate, with one resident claiming to be taking shelter in their bath.

“As has been the way throughout this, we’ve not forced anyone to leave their home. All we can do is urge them to and offer them the best possible advice that we can,” Supt Williams said.

At the Plymouth Life Centre where evacuated families were given food and shelter, Rodney Whitford, 75, was sceptical about the damage the bomb could cause.

“How bad can this bomb be?” he asked. “It will probably only pop a couple of windows, it won’t blow a building down, but I can understand why they are being careful.

“They were desperate to get the people out. I’m just looking forward to going home.”

Others were just excited to make it home for a drink after a long week including Matt Wake, 36, a delivery driver.

“It has been a real worry,” he said. “But when things get tough people can pull together and sort things out. I am really excited about getting home. I have got a bottle of white wine in my fridge which is crying out for a Friday night drink.”

Confirming the operation had been successful on Friday evening, Chief Supt Ian Drummond-Smith said: “The bomb has gone to sea! Thank you to everyone for your patience and good spirits.”

Army wives accuse MoD of ‘utter betrayal’ over new military accommodation plan

The Ministry of Defence has been accused of an “utter betrayal” over a new military accommodation plan that will no longer allocate houses based on rank. 

A group of Army wives has launched a campaign calling on the Government to rethink its new housing policy that will mean many families are moved into smaller living quarters

Servicemen and women are, along with their families, provided with accommodation on or near military bases. Staff have historically been rewarded with larger homes as they progress through the ranks.

But from next month, the MoD will change the rules across the Army, Navy and RAF so that for the first time houses are allocated on the basis of how many children a serviceman or woman has, not their rank.

The policy, called the Modern Accommodation Offer (MAO), means officers risk having their living space reduced, with the biggest loss incurred by those with smaller families.

‘Dismantling access to decent housing’

The move has sparked outrage from the families of officers who are often forced to move around the country every two or three years and often have little to no choice over where they live. 

Rosie Bucknall, the wife of an Army captain, told the defence select committee in written evidence that the “social contract” that exists between the military and its personnel will be “eroded” if the plans go ahead.

She said: “The offer, as those serving call it, has been persistently degraded over recent decades, and now they are dismantling our access to decent housing.  

“For officers and their family members, who have made personal and financial sacrifices for 10 or 20 years, this is utter betrayal.” 

Mrs Bucknall waived her right to anonymity when giving evidence to the select committee to express her concerns about the new model but many spouses have refused to speak publicly, fearing the impact on their partner’s career.

A petition set up by the Army wives urging a “review” of the policy has received 16,000 signatures. It warns: “If the policy is implemented as it currently stands, we believe that Armed Forces retention rates are likely to fall to even lower levels than those at present.”

Drop in recruitment and retention

The military is suffering a huge recruitment and retention problem, with the number of people leaving the Armed Forces having jumped by almost a fifth at the end of last year.

Lord Dannatt, the former head of the Army, has warned the new model could prove a “tipping point” that forces officers to go into the private sector, further impacting the already diminished size of the military.

A record 792 Army officers left the service early in the last quarter, compared with roughly 450-550 per quarter over the past decade, according to the quarterly service personnel statistics. 

The poor quality of military accommodation has been raised as problematic for recruitment and a 2023 survey found the most frequently cited reason for leaving the military was the “impact on family and personal life”.

A recent poll conducted by the military officers’ families found that 78 per cent of the 342 respondents said that if the new offer does come into effect, they will leave.  

Under the MAO, military families will not be forced to move immediately, but will be allocated housing at their next posting under the new rules. 

The military currently gives guidance on the size of homes, by square feet, that different ranks are entitled to. 

However, under the rules, warrant officers with one child or no children are set to lose 10 per cent of their living space.

Brigadiers with the same family set-up are set to lose 45 per cent of their living space.

It means a captain with two children currently living in a three-bed house could be moved into a three-bed house in soldiers’ accommodation, which is around 20 per cent smaller for the same number of bedrooms. 

Work together, live apart

Mrs Bucknall, 32, told The Telegraph: “Family accommodation for soldiers is in desperate need of improvement. Why not bring up the minimum standard of accommodation for everyone?”

She also said in her written evidence: “It is abundantly clear that Army officers are the worst affected cohort, given the Army is expected to be more nationally mobile than the Navy or RAF, given that commanders rightly place a premium on accompanied service in order to enhance the morale, cohesion and fighting power of their units, and given that officers are expected to move much more frequently than soldiers who can remain with their unit for up to 12 years.”

The pilot for this policy only engaged those who opted in because they would benefit, it was claimed.

The Telegraph understands no effort was made to survey military personnel and their families at large, despite this being hailed as the biggest change to accommodation in a generation.

Just 69 people were interviewed about the impact of this policy. 

Lord Dannatt said the military had always functioned on hierarchy, where soldiers and officers worked together but lived apart.

“There has always been married quarters and soldiers quarters,” he said. “They work together but socialise separately and it’s the same for married accommodation. Officers should live amongst each other, and non-commissioned officers and soldiers should live together, to avoid the difficulties of your next-door neighbour being your boss or one of your subordinates.”

An MoD spokesman said: “Our Armed Forces personnel make extraordinary sacrifices to protect our nation, which is why our Modern Accommodation Offer puts fairness first.

“We’re now allocating housing based on need, rather than rank, and modernising accommodation by recognising for the first time those in established long-term relationships and parents with non-resident children.”

“We will of course look into any individual case raised with us to ensure we are meeting our aim to provide the best possible accommodation to our personnel.”

Watch out MoD, you take away an Army wife’s home at your peril

Read more

Murderer who mutilated cat copied Netflix killer’s scheme

A murderer copied a Netflix killer by mutilating a cat then attacking a stranger and blaming someone else for encouraging them, a court has heard.

Scarlet Blake, a 26-year-old transgender woman, was found guilty on Friday of killing Jorge Carreno in July 2021, having hit him on the back of the head with a vodka bottle before strangling him and pushing him into the River Cherwell, where he drowned.

Blake had previously said how she had killed a cat and put it in a blender four months earlier, on the instruction of a former girlfriend, inspired by a Netflix documentary about a man who filmed himself killing kittens before murdering a student.

But during a two-week trial, Blake denied attacking Mr Carreno – a stranger who was on his way home from a night out – saying that the same girlfriend, Ashlynn Bell, had encouraged a graduation from killing animals to a human.

“She was wanting to make me do this thing and I was pretty much… well at a limit after going through with the killing of the cat,” Blake told the court.

“She was conditioning me to obey what she wanted me to do.

“I wasn’t interested or willing – it was an awful thought to me.”

The trial revealed disturbing details about Blake’s relationship with US-based Ms Bell, with the pair meeting on a forum for people who were interested in “gore”.

Blake’s attack on the cat – in which the pet was skinned and put in a blender – was live-streamed online to Ms Bell, who the court heard “wanted” to watch.

The video was set to the New Order song True Faith, which featured in the Netflix documentary Don’t F— with Cats, chronicling the case of Luka Magnotta.

Magnotta, who played the song himself while killing kittens, uploaded videos of his grisly attacks before going on to film himself murdering a university student.

Magnotta, now 41, initially claimed he was coerced into the 2012 murder by a friend called “Manny” but police found no evidence this individual ever existed.

In the summer of 2023, Ms Bell told police that Blake had confessed Mr Carreno’s murder to her.

However, Blake attempted to convince jurors that this was a false confession, by claiming Ms Bell wanted her to kill someone after making her live-stream the cat killing.

“In the interest of keeping her happy, because I wanted her to kill me one day, because it’s sexually stimulating for me, that idea,” the court heard.

“She was quite obsessive over how apparently, I killed someone for her, and how now she’s dating a murderer. She seemed to enjoy it.”

The relationship between Blake and Ms Bell is thought to have broken down some years ago but the pair were still in contact.

A video shown to the jury showed Blake putting a ligature around Ms Bell’s neck and squeezing it until she lost consciousness.

A text message sent by Blake to Ms Bell offered further insight into their warped relationship. It read: “I would murder my mum for you…I also want to kill my dad one day…maybe when they are old I can just put a respirator with pure nitrogen on their faces while they sleep.”

Murderous messages were not the only disturbing things found on Blake’s phone.

One “meme” – a term for visual online jokes – showed an image of a rope, tape, a gun and knife, with the caption “first date with me”.

Another photo showed a bed strewn with rose petals spelling the message “bruise my oesophagus”.

An image of a woman wearing a T-shirt with an image of two speech bubbles reading “you’re cute” and “murder me” was also shown to the jury.

The court heard Blake and Ms Bell had online discussions about choking and death, but Blake told the court this was “role play” and that there wouldn’t be “actual death”.

Blake’s identity as a biological male who came out as transgender aged 12 was first raised by judge Martin Chamberlain at the start of the trial, who informed jurors it would “not be at issue during the trial”.

Jurors later heard that Blake had “always wanted to be a girl” but that the decision to transition caused an “emotional rift” between Blake’s parents, resulting in “unmet parental needs”.

As he summed up the facts on Thursday, Judge Chamberlain told the jury: “The fact she is trans on its own has no particular relevance to this case.

“It doesn’t make it any more or less likely that she is guilty of the offence with which she is charged.” 

Yet he added that jurors were allowed to consider her “stature” and whether they believed she was “physically able” to carry out the attack on Mr Carreno. 

At 69kg (approximately 10 stone 12 lb), the court heard Blake weighed almost two stone more than her 57kg (just under 9 stone) victim and was as tall as Mr Carreno, at around 171cm (5’ 7”).

Jurors were told of this weight difference during the trial.  

Blake, who was born in China and emigrated to the UK in 2002, told jurors that never exercising was a means to avoid “masculine muscle gain”. Jurors heard Blake’s strength was the equivalent of an “unfit female”.

Blake previously went by the name Fangze Wang and later Alice Wang, and spent childhood in a detached bungalow in Marston village on the outskirts of north-east Oxford.

Blake’s mother, Fang Chen, is a clinical researcher at the University of Oxford, whom neighbours described as a “wonderful person” and “very professional”.

They remembered an only child who would spend most of the time tinkering with engines and restoring second-hand cars with friends in the garage.   

Those who spoke to The Telegraph referred to Blake with both male and female pronouns. Describing the Chens as a “very private family”, they added: “We never had any troubles with them. We knew she [the mother] is doing the best for her daughter.

“She was working with cars… working second-hand cars fixing it, trying to keep busy, it was just for fun, activities with friends.”

However, another neighbour remembered how an ambulance attended on one occasion when she was self-harming.

Yesterday, Mr Carreno’s family paid tribute to him. Mr Carreno was one of triplets, who they said was an “exceptional being” who had an “immense desire to live and enjoy life”.

Blake showed no emotion as the guilty verdict was passed on Friday, but smiled while leaving the dock. Blake’s sentencing is due to be held on Monday.

Left-wing anarchist made plan to kill 50 politicians

A Left-wing anarchist wanted to kill at least 50 politicians and government officials “to stand up for working classes”, a court heard.

Student Jacob Graham was convicted of preparing terrorist acts following a five-week trial at Manchester Crown Court.

The 19-year-old was said to be motivated by a “hatred and contempt” for the Government, which he believed “oppressed working people”.

Graham, who described himself online as “Destro” or “Destro the Destroyer”, modelled himself on Ted Kaczynski, the American terrorist known as the Unabomber, the court heard.

He was found guilty by a jury on Thursday of one count of the preparation of terrorist acts, four counts of possession of information for terrorist purposes and two of dissemination of a terrorist publication, between May 2022 and May 2023.

Graham was cleared of one count of preparation of terrorist acts.

He wrote a document called “My Plan” in which he said he wanted to kill at least 50 people by attacking government buildings and politicians’ houses.

The letter outlined his intention to “commit mass murder on those who think it is OK to hide their wrongdoings behind money and power”.

Annabel Darlow, KC, prosecuting, told the court: “He was motivated by a hatred and contempt for the Government, whom he perceived as tyrannical, oppressive of those he termed ‘working class’ people and whom he also appeared to blame for much that was unsatisfactory in his own life.”

She added: “Graham expressed the aim of killing and injuring at least 50 people and said that any more than this number would be ‘a blessing’.”

Under his alias, Graham recorded dozens of video messages from the back bedroom of his mother’s home where he lived in Norris Green, Liverpool, sending numerous manuals and giving instructions on weapons, explosives and poisons.

In the videos, he spoke of a “judgment day” and “standing up for working-class people”.

On the wall in his bedroom, Graham had printed out a picture of a car bomb exploding with the words: “Make politicians afraid to start their cars again.”

The court heard he had also become enraged at the “destruction of forests, global warming and climate change”.

He acquired a large number of instructions needed to construct bombs, firearms and ammunition and sourced and obtained chemicals as well as a 3D printer.

After he was arrested on May 26 2023, police found a number of chemicals, each of which could be used as ingredients in various explosive mixtures, jurors heard.

The 3D printer had the potential to be used to print parts of home-made firearms, including the FGC-9 MKII carbine.

He wrote a guide titled the “Freedom Encyclopaedia” which was dedicated to “misfits, social nobodies, Anarchists, Terrorists (future and present) who want to fight for freedom… against the Government”.

The guide, written between September and December 2022, explains in detail how to make weapons, explosives, fuses, pipe bombs, gunpowder, and nail and car bombs.

Graham came to idolise the Unabomber, the court heard, after watching a Netflix series called Manhunt.

Kaczynski carried out a 17-year mail-bombing campaign targeting academics and people he believed to be advancing modern technology and the destruction of the environment.

The court heard Graham was not about to commit a terror attack but was preparing to act or assist others to commit terrorism.

Superintendent Andy Meeks, from counter-terror policing North West, said: “Online extremism is a growing threat and this case sadly is a prime example; where a young man from Merseyside has become radicalised online, without ever having left his bedroom. He shared extreme content online recklessly and without any regard for who received his instructions or for what purpose.”

He added: “This online activity is dangerous and can rightly carry a heavy prison sentence to ensure our communities are kept safe. If you are engaging in similar behaviour online, know this is not a victimless crime and you could face arrest and many years in prison.”

Graham, who denied the charges, claimed his activities were merely “escapism and fantasy”.

He was remanded in custody and will be sentenced on March 18.

Shamima Begum loses appeal against removal of British citizenship

Shamima Begum, the Isil bride, has lost her Court of Appeal challenge against the removal of her British citizenship.

Three Court of Appeal judges, led by Lady Chief Justice Baroness Carr, ruled unanimously that it was lawful for the Government to strip her of her citizenship on national security grounds after she travelled to Syria as a 15-year-old in 2015 to join Isil.

Lady Carr told the court that they had rejected her appeal on all five grounds lodged by her lawyers. She said: “It could be argued that the decision in Ms Begum’s case was harsh. It could also be argued that Ms Begum is the author of own misfortune but it is not for this court to agree or disagree with either point of view.

“Our only task is to assess whether the deprivation [of citizenship] decision was unlawful. We have concluded that it was not and the appeal is dismissed.”

Ms Begum’s lawyers had claimed the Government had failed to take account of the fact that she was a victim of trafficking to Syria, that the removal of her citizenship was a breach of her human rights and that it would “de facto” have made her stateless.

The rejection of the appeal means that Ms Begum, now 24 years old, will remain in the al-Roj detention camp in north-eastern Syria for the foreseeable future as she is effectively stateless. Although British born, she had Bangladeshi citizenship until at least she was 21 but the country has made clear it will not accept her.

Begum has been backed by nearly £250,000 of legal aid as of August 2021 to bring the action as she has no financial means to support her case, according to a Freedom of Information request.

Begum’s background

Ms Begum, who was born and brought up in Tower Hamlets, east London, travelled to Syria via Turkey and aligned herself with Isil. She married an Islamic State fighter soon after arriving and had three children, none of whom survived.

As the Isil caliphate collapsed, Sajid Javid, the then home secretary, used his powers under the British Nationality Act 1981 to deprive her of her citizenship on the basis that it was “conducive to the public good” as she posed a threat to national security.

She sought to return to the UK in 2019 to challenge the removal of her citizenship but this was rejected by the Supreme Court in 2021. She was therefore forced to lodge her appeal against the revocation of her citizenship from northern Syria without giving evidence in person.

Her appeal was rejected by the special immigration appeal commission (SIAC) in February 2023, a decision that she appealed to the Court of Appeal, which gave its judgement on it on Friday.

Trafficking victim

Lady Carr said Ms Begum had appealed on five grounds, the first of which was that the home secretary had failed to consider whether she had been a potential victim of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation when she travelled to Syria via Turkey.

Her lawyers argued this amounted to a breach of article four of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) that no-one should be held in slavery or servitude.

The SIAC found there had been at the very least “a credible suspicion” that she had been trafficked although it was accepted this was not an “absolute bar” to the deprivation of her citizenship.

However, the Court of Appeal judges rejected the claim that it breached the ECHR, saying there were two obstacles. One was that there was only an “arguable” rather than “actual” breach because of the lack of any conclusive evidence that she had been trafficked.

The second was the “passage of time” between the suspected trafficking in 2015 and the decision to strip her of her citizenship after she had spent four years living with Isil. The judges said there was “a lack of a causal link” between the events of 2015 and home secretary’s decision.

Home secretary’s verdict on trafficking claims

Ms Begum’s lawyers argued that the home secretary had failed to take into account the possibility that she had been a victim of trafficking in breach of common law.

However, Lady Carr said that the home secretary was aware of the circumstances of her departure to Syria and took account of the possibility she had been trafficked. “That assessment was kept under review,” she said.

How far Ms Begum’s decision to go to Syria was a voluntary decision was not binary, said Lady Carr. “Ms Begum may well have been influenced and manipulated by others, but still have made a calculated decision to travel to Syria and align with Isil,” she added.

“The assessment of the national security risk was in our judgement a question of evaluation and judgement and trusted by Parliament to the Secretary of State.”

Making Begum stateless

Ms Begum’s lawyers argued that the home secretary failed to consider that section 40 of the British Nationality Act 1981 barred him from making anyone stateless.

Although she retained Bangladeshi citizenship as of February 2019, they said it would “de facto” make her stateless as there was “no realistic possibility” that she could travel to and live in the country.

However, the Court of Appeal judges said the Home Secretary had taken this into account but was not required by law to consider the concept of “de facto” rather than “de jure” statelessness.

Right to be notified of citizenship revocation

Ms Begum’s lawyers said she should have been notified of the home secretary’s intention to strip her of her citizenship and should have been given the opportunity to make representations.

However, the judges said the British Nationality Act 1981 was designed to protect the public from a threat to national security, which could be frustrated by requirements to invite representations prior to a person’s citizenship being removed.

“Notifying a person abroad of an intention to remove their citizenship could enable that person to make a preemptive return to the United Kingdom and frustrate the purpose of the deprivation decision,” said Lady Carr.

She said SIAC was wrong, in its judgement, to say that Begum should have been allowed to make representations but, notwithstanding that, she noted: “It was inevitable that the Secretary of State would have made the same decision regardless of possible representations.”

Breach of equality law

Ms Begum’s lawyers argued that depriving her of her citizenship also breached equality laws in that such revocation powers had been “disproportionately applied to British Muslims”.

The Court of Appeal ruled, however, that there was a specific exemption under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010 allowing ministers to take action to “safeguard national security”.

“As such, the national security or deprivation decision was exempt from the duties that arose under Section 149,” said Lady Carr.

Summing up the judgement, she said: “In conclusion, for these reasons, we unanimously dismissed the appeal.”

What next?

Ms Begum’s lawyers have said they will “keep fighting” after she lost the challenge over the removal of her British citizenship at the Court of Appeal.

Solicitor Daniel Furner said: “I think the only thing we can really say for certainty is that we are going to keep fighting.

“I want to say that I’m sorry to Shamima and to her family that after five years of fighting she still hasn’t received justice in a British court and to promise her and promise the government that we are not going to stop fighting until she does get justice and until she is safely back home.”

Her lawyers must now seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court, and ultimately, if they fail there, could seek to take it to the ECHR.