The Telegraph 2024-02-26 22:30:30


Tory MP claims Birmingham and London have ‘no-go’ areas amid Islamophobia row

A Tory former government minister has claimed that there are religious “no-go areas” in Birmingham and east London, sparking a fresh row over Islamophobia.

Paul Scully, an MP who ran to be the Conservatives’ London mayoral candidate, made the remarks during a discussion about allegations of anti-Muslim sentiments within the party.

It comes as Rishi Sunak is under pressure over his handling of comments by Lee Anderson, who was stripped of the Tory whip after claiming that “Islamists” have “got control” of Sadiq Khan.

In an interview with BBC London, Mr Scully, the London minister from 2021 to 2022, made reference to parts of the capital and Birmingham with high Muslim populations.

He said: “The point I am trying to make is if you look at parts of Tower Hamlets, for example, where there are no-go areas, parts of Birmingham Sparkhill, where there are no-go areas, mainly because of doctrine, mainly because of people using, abusing in many ways, their religion to… because it is not the doctrine of Islam, to espouse what some of these people are saying. That, I think, is the concern that needs to be addressed.”

There was an immediate backlash, with Andy Street, the Tory West Midlands mayor, urging “those in Westminster to stop the nonsense slurs”.

He posted on X, formerly Twitter:

Labour’s Jess Phillips, whose Birmingham constituency includes part of the Sparkhill area, said: “As one of the MPs for Sparkhill, I am expecting an apology for this utter drivel.

“My kids hang out in Sparkhill day and night, never had a moment’s worry, I go there weekly and live literally a five-minute walk from there and used to live there myself.”

Ali Milani, the chairman of the Labour Muslim Network, told BBC London that Mr Scully was perpetuating an “Islamophobic myth” and said: “There are no Muslim ‘no-go’ areas in this country… this is not true, it’s Islamophobic.” 

A previous row over “no-go areas” was sparked in 2015, when Donald Trump said during the US presidential race that there were places in London “so radicalised” that police were “afraid for their own lives”.

Boris Johnson, then the London mayor, mocked the idea that officers would stay away from some neighbourhoods as “ill-informed” and “complete and utter nonsense”.

Scotland Yard broke with convention to issue a statement, with a spokesman saying: “We would not normally dignify such comments with a response. However, on this occasion we think it’s important to state to Londoners that Mr Trump could not be more wrong.”

The same year similar claims were made by Fox News, which later issued an apology and was criticised by Ofcom.

Earlier in the interview on Monday, Mr Scully said he did not think the Tory party had a problem with Islamophobia. He added that he did not “like the term”, preferring to use “anti-Muslim hatred” where appropriate.

Asked whether he thought there was a Tory problem with Islamophobia, he said: “No, I don’t think there is. I think there are people who are fearful that they’re trying to represent. It’s a sense of populism in certain parts of the country where… you see what’s happening, unravelling in Rochdale at the moment and during the by-election and those kinds of things.

“It tends to be soaked up partly as a political thing – you’ve had the anti-Semitism in the Labour Party over the last few years, you’ve got people concerned about their neighbourhoods changing, in parts of the North in particular, not especially in London, and I think they’re trying to reflect that but in a really, really clumsy way.

“We’ve got to have a sensible use of language so that we can have a constructive, adult debate about this.”

Transgender cat killer to be jailed in men’s prison for murdering stranger

A transgender cat killer who murdered a stranger will be sent to a men’s prison as a judge said the attacker used a transitioning story to “shift responsibility to others”.

Scarlet Blake, 26, was sentenced to life in prison with a 24-year minimum term at Oxford Crown Court on Monday.

Prosecutors said Blake hit Jorge Martin Carreno over the back of the head with a vodka bottle in July 2021 and choked him before pushing him into the River Cherwell, where he drowned.

Mr Carreno, who did not know Blake, had been coming home from a night out when he encountered his killer.

The murder came just four months after Blake killed a cat before placing it in a blender, on the instruction of a former girlfriend.

In his sentencing remarks on Monday, Judge Martin Chamberlain said Blake had derived “pleasure” from killing the 30-year-old and that a Netflix documentary, Don’t F–k With Cats, had “played a part” in cementing in the murderer’s mind the killing of a person and a cat.

Blake, who is a transgender woman, previously spoke of how coming out to relatives at 12 years old led to an “emotional rift” within the family.

Judge Chamberlain highlighted this complaint, along with unsubstantiated claims of mental illness, as an attempt by Blake to “rationalise” the crime.

Addressing Blake in his sentencing remarks, the judge outlined Blake’s claims of not wanting to “kill a living creature, let alone a person” and the blame the murderer on Ashlynn Bell, a former girlfriend based in Colorado, who is also a trans woman.

Judge Chamberlain said: “You attributed your morbid interests to a split or dissociative personality, using the language of psychiatry or psychoanalysis.

“You adopted the persona of a cat. You talked about the difficulties you had had since transitioning in childhood to live as a woman and about your troubled relationship with your parents.

“All this was part of an elaborate attempt to rationalise what you had done and shift responsibility to others.”

Judge Chamberlain stressed that the murder was “not the fault” of Blake’s parents and whatever role Ms Bell played in “encouraging” an “interest in killing”, it was the murderer’s ultimate decision.

“She did not control or direct you,” Judge Chamberlain said.

“Even if the decision was motivated in part by a desire to please her, the decision to kill was entirely yours.”

Blake’s mother, Fang Chen, a clinical researcher at the University of Oxford, gave no reaction when Blake nodded at her on the way out from the dock.

Judge Chamberlain previously told the jury, who sat on the two-week trial, that the fact Blake was trans “on its own has no particular relevance to the case”.

“It doesn’t make it any more or less likely that she is guilty of the offence with which she is charged,” he added, as he summed up the evidence heard during the trial.

He added that jurors were allowed to consider Blake’s “stature” and whether they believed the defendant was “physically able” to carry out the attack on Mr Carreno.

At 69kg (approximately 10 stone 12lb), 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”).

Blake, who was born in China and immigrated 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”.

‘A void impossible to fill’

Giving evidence in court, Blake claimed Ms Bell had been a driving force behind the killing.

“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 jury.

In a victim impact statement read in court by Gerardo Carreno, one of Mr Carreno’s triplet brothers, the family described how the BMW plant worker “radiated kindness and humour among all those lucky enough to know him”.

In a statement that Blake listened to with a frown, Gerardo Carreno continued: “We miss Jorge every day, thinking, ‘What would life look like if he hadn’t met Scarlet that night?’

“This loss feels like a traumatic, devastating blow, leaving a void impossible to fill.”

The judge remarked that Blake’s crime was “very much more serious” than most cases of its category and that there was a “clear sexual motivation” for the murderer, with the Oxford resident telling a former girlfriend of killing “because my lover said it’d be hot”.

Judge Chamberlain gave Blake a 24-year minimum term with a life sentence for Mr Carreno’s murder.

Two concurrent sentences of four months and two months for causing unnecessary suffering to an animal and criminal damage were also handed down in respect of the cat incident.

Blake gave no visible response as the sentence was handed down.

Speaking outside court, Det Supt Jon Capps, the senior investigation officer, said: “This defendant showed calculated cruelty. The acts Blake has been convicted of are barbaric and chilling.

“The murder was premeditated with total disregard and disdain for life.”

Army wives force MoD about-turn over housing

A Ministry of Defence plan to change the way Army accommodation is allocated has been shelved amid a backlash from military wives, The Telegraph can reveal.

The controversial proposal – which would have allocated housing by the number of children a serviceman or woman has, rather than their rank – was paused by Grant Shapps days after The Telegraph revealed growing anger at the scheme.

The Defence Secretary halted the rollout and ordered a review amid fears the Modern Accommodation Offer (MAO) plan was so unpopular that it could have led to an exodus of officers.

A source close to Mr Shapps said: “The Secretary of State is right to get to grips with this. He will pause the family accommodation part of the new policy while we consult and evaluate the policy and make sure it is fit for purpose.

“Some concerns have been raised from senior officers, and we are confident that we can make changes so that this is a policy which will work for everyone.”

A group of Army wives had started a campaign against the plan, warning that it would harm retention rates and lead to an “irreversible effect” on the capability of the Armed Forces.

Staff have historically been rewarded with larger homes as they progress through the ranks of the Army, Navy and RAF, and the new system had been set to begin next month.

Rosie Bucknall, the wife of an Army captain and one of the women who launched the campaign, said: “This development is exactly what we have been hoping for. 

“We are thrilled the Defence Secretary has stepped in to apply common sense to such a drastic change and represent the interests of the people for whom he is responsible.”

However, she added: “The proof lies in what happens next, and how serving families are engaged.”

On Saturday, The Telegraph revealed the backlash against the scheme, with Mrs Bucknall accusing the MoD of an “utter betrayal”.

On Sunday, it was revealed that Gen Sir Patrick Sanders, the Chief of the General Staff, had told former generals that the plan presented a “risk to the social fabric of the Army”.

The MoD is understood to have been taken aback by the scale of the anger. One senior Army source told The Telegraph that he had officers threatening to quit over the proposals, and said that on Monday he had been receiving updates “on an hourly basis” about how to manage the fallout.

The families of officers are often forced to move around the country every two or three years, and often have little to no choice on where they live.

However, servicemen and women had previously been entitled to a home of certain size, decided by their rank. Under the new plan, a junior ranking person with one or more children would be entitled to live in a larger house than an officer of higher rank with no children.

The decision to pause the MAO plan came amid fears about its effect on recruitment and retention at a time when the military is increasingly under pressure. The number of people leaving the Armed Forces jumped by almost a fifth at the end of last year.

In January, the chairman of the Nato military committee warned of war with Russia within 20 years, and British forces are currently taking part in a Nato exercise representing the largest deployment of land forces to Nato since the height of the Cold War in 1984.

The Telegraph also understands that the MoD will not get extra funding in the Budget next month, despite military figures warning about the state of the Armed Forces.

A government source said the concerns about rank-based housing allocation would be the key area that the MoD would review, noting that it could impact the hierarchical nature of the military’s chain of command.

“By pressing pause, we are recognising the fabric of the military and the pressures and tensions of it,” said the source. “We need to make sure we work out the bits people aren’t happy about so that we can find some solution.”

The source said more research would be conducted with officers, as well as their families, after just 69 people were originally interviewed about the impact of the scheme.

They added that other parts of the plans would be continued with, including providing help when military personnel were moved to another base and with legal fees for first-time home-buyers.

“These people make the sacrifices they make and we are keen that they have a good standard of places to live – we don’t want people to be so unhappy they are leaving,” said the source.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We are committed to widening entitlement to those in established long-term relationships and parents with non-resident children. 

“But we have listened to feedback and are therefore pausing the rollout of the elements of the policy related to service families’ accommodation, including the move to needs-based allocation and, in the short term, the widening of entitlement.”

RAF’s top man in Pentagon hid £20k ‘housing fraud’ from MoD and wife, court hears

The RAF’s most senior officer at the Pentagon hid a £20,000 housing fraud from the Ministry of Defence and his wife, a court has heard.

Wing Cdr Alex Drysdale is accused of squirrelling away the cash in a secret bank account when he was seconded to a role at the Department of Defense in Washington.

After taking up a senior post with Air Force warfighting integration capability (AFWIC), Mr Drysdale, a military strategy specialist, allegedly arranged for an overseas rent allowance (ORA) of £2,408 a month to be paid into a new bank account that only he knew about.

A military court sitting in Catterick, North Yorkshire, heard how Wing Cdr Drysdale had told his wife, who was studying to become a nurse, that they would no longer be receiving the ORA into their joint account.

But it is alleged that, unbeknown to her, he continued to claim the cash and had it paid into his own account.

Wing Cdr Drysdale, who began his RAF career as a search-and-rescue pilot in Moray, Scotland, in 2006, denies defrauding the Ministry of Defence of £19,502 in ORA, claiming his failure to tell them of a change in circumstances was “an oversight”.

But the court was told he submitted a false document in support of his claim, which amounted to “a lie intended to conceal a deliberate fraud”.

‘Use funds for himself’

Cdre James Farrant, prosecuting, told the court: “He opened a new bank account to conceal these matters from his wife.

“He transferred the allowance payments from their joint account to a bank account that was his and his alone.

“He told his wife that he expected the allowance to cease and he knew that she was under that impression. She did not know he was still claiming it. He did this because he intended to keep and use the funds for himself.”

The hearing was told that British service personnel working overseas are entitled to ORA if they rent property during their posting, however, if they buy their home the allowance will stop.

Mr Drysdale and his family had been in the United States since 2011, with him working mostly in the Nevada area.

The family rented a property in Las Vegas, paying the rent but claiming it back from British Defence Services, who also paid them a fuel and lighting allowance.

However, in 2021, Wing Cdr Drysdale and his wife decided to buy their home but he did not declare the sale and secretly continued to claim back the rent money.

Cdre Farrant said the fraudulent behaviour began soon after Mr Drysdale was promoted from squadron leader to wing commander in March 2021.

It meant he was told he would be leaving his role at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for a new post with AFWIC based 2,400 miles away at The Pentagon.

‘Secretly continued to claim’ 

Wing Cdr Drysdale decided to leave his family behind in Las Vegas because his wife had started a nursing degree, choosing to rent a property in Washington, DC and return home to Las Vegas whenever work allowed.

Around the same time, following the promotion, he decided to buy their home in Las Vegas, with the sale going through in February 2022.

He explained to his wife that as a result they would no longer be receiving ORA, but secretly continued to claim it, the court heard.

Cdre Farrant said: “The prosecution case is that Wing Cdr Drysdale deliberately and dishonestly concealed the fact he purchased his home from British Defence Services in order to continue claiming the allowance.”

The court heard when the fraud was discovered, Wing Cdr Drysdale broke down in tears and claimed he did not know what he had done wrong and repaid the money.

Wing Cdr Drysdale denies fraud by false representation and the trial, expected to last a week, continues.

Children in tears as ‘damp squib’ Willy Wonka event is cancelled and police are called

In the beloved children’s story by Roald Dahl, the golden ticket holders who won a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory were promised – and experienced – “a world of pure imagination”.

But children hoping for a similar magical experience at a £35-a-head event in Glasgow instead found what their parents described as an “incredibly underwhelming” damp squib.

Some of the children who had travelled from across Scotland and the north of England to Willy’s Chocolate Experience in Glasgow ended up in tears. The all-weekend event was abruptly cancelled only halfway through its first day, and police were called as anger grew.

Organisers House of Illuminati promised visitors a “journey filled with wondrous creations and enchanting surprises at every turn” and a day “where dreams come to life”.

The advertised attractions included an “enchanted garden” with giant sweets and an “imagination lab” that promised to transport the viewer into “the realm of creativity”.

But parents expecting the experience to recreate the magic of Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were hugely disappointed.

Visitors said the event took place in a venue that was little more than “an abandoned empty warehouse” sparsely decorated with plastic props, a small bouncy castle and backdrops pinned to walls.

The furious reaction from parents prompted the organisers to close the event midway through Saturday, only hours after it had opened.

Police Scotland confirmed that officers were called to the event at the Box Hub Warehouse in Whiteinch, and said “advice was given” following complaints from unhappy visitors. House of Illuminati published an apology on its Facebook page and promised refunds over the coming days.

Visitor Shirley Bell wrote: “We had tickets for 1.15pm and didn’t even get in. They have shut it down as so many complaints. Apparently a few props and a couple of people dressed up and then wait for a packet a sweets and a wee lolly.

“Kids all dressed up and crying waiting for what they thought was going to be a magical experience. The organisers should be ashamed of themselves.”

Stuart Sinclair, 29, from Douglas, South Lanarkshire, took his two sons and four-year-old daughter to the attraction.

He told the Courier newspaper: “There was a guy wandering around apparently dressed as Willy Wonka but he didn’t seem interested. You then got inside and there were a couple of props and a plastic chocolate thing.

“In the next room, they had test tubes with jelly babies. I said to the kids at least they would get a bag of sweets but they gave them one single sweet each.”

Another parent posted on Facebook: “What an absolute farce, two upset kids. Cowboys.”

Eva Stewart, of East Kilbride, told BBC Scotland: “It was basically advertised as this big massive Willy Wonka experience with optical illusions and big chocolate fountains and sweets.

“But when we got there, it was practically an abandoned, empty warehouse, with hardly anything in it.”

A Facebook group was set up by those left angry and disappointed by the experience.

The Box Hub venue said it had only hired out the space and was not responsible for the exhibition.

Matthew Waterfield, the operations manager, told The Scottish Sun that House of Illuminati approached the venue a few weeks ago with a plan that “sounded great on paper” but “looked incredibly underwhelming”.

He said visitors “were very unhappy with the amount of money House of Illuminati had been charging for admittance”, adding: “Things started to get quite aggressive.”

In a post on Facebook, a House of Illuminati spokesman said: “Today has been a very stressful and frustrating day for many and for that we are truly sorry.

“Unfortunately, at the last minute we were let down in many areas of our event and tried our best to continue on and push through and now realise we probably should have cancelled first thing this morning instead.

“We fully apologise for what has happened and will be giving full refunds to each and every person that purchased tickets. We planned a fabulous event and it just did not take shape as planned and for that we are truly sorry.”

Glasgow City Council said its trading standards department had received one complaint and people should contact the organiser in the first instance to obtain a refund.

Guardian writer boycotts newspaper for failing to tell readers ‘cat killer’ murderer was transgender

A writer for the Guardian has boycotted the newspaper for failing to tell its readers that a cat killer who murdered a stranger was transgender.

Scarlet Blake, a 26-year-old trans woman, was found guilty last week of murdering Jorge Martin Carreno in July 2021 on his way home from a night out, four months after Blake’s Netflix-inspired killing of a cat.

Louise Tickle, an award-winning journalist who has written for the Guardian for more than 20 years, has accused the newspaper of “deceiving its readers” for using the word “woman” in its headline and omitting the fact Blake was transgender in an article covering the case.

In a letter to Katharine Viner, the newspaper’s editor, Tickle said: “I’ve contributed to the Guardian for nearly two and a half decades, but as a result of an utterly dismaying news piece published on Friday, I cannot do so again until I’m confident that the Guardian is able to demonstrate that its reporters, editors and management understand what constitutes a fact, and stops deceiving its readers.”

Tickle explained that upon reading the article online last Friday, she was left unaware that Blake was a “male killer”.

“How could I,” she asked. “The headline used the word ‘woman’ and nowhere in the piece did I pick up any reference to the killer being transgender.

“My understanding is that I didn’t just miss the word ‘transgender’ – that word was not included in the piece.

“So, as far as I – and as far as any of your other readers were concerned that day – a woman had committed an extraordinarily depraved and sexually motivated murder of a man, after having carried out a hideous act of animal cruelty,” she added in the letter to Viner.

‘It is disgraceful’

The journalist then claims that when she went back to look at the piece again the following day it had been changed; “the headline was altered to remove the word ‘woman’ and the word ‘transgender’ was added in the fifth paragraph (after references to ‘woman’ and ‘she’ in the text above).”

She added: “Many people will not read that far, and so Guardian readers are still being led to believe that a woman has committed this crime.”

Tickle accused the newspaper of “actively deceiving readers into believing that there is a sudden upsurge in women engaged in violent, homicidal and sexually motivated criminality”.

“It is disgraceful. There is no excuse for it. Sometimes people suggest that the anger around this kind of factually inaccurate reporting is overblown, performative, unkind, or petty. It is not,” she wrote.

The Guardian has now included a note under its online article to say the following: “This article was updated on 23 February 2024 to add further details and biographical information, including reference to Scarlet Blake’s transgender identity, which were not included in the agency copy on which our initial version relied.”

It is the latest in a series of trans rows in which the newspaper has become embroiled.

Its deputy music editor sparked criticism last year for using a review of Róisín Murphy’s music to criticise the Irish singer’s views that vulnerable children should be protected from puberty blockers, describing it as “a masterful album with an ugly stain”.

More recently, JK Rowling branded the Guardian’s chief sports writer a “progressive misogynist” with “disdain for women’s sport” after he dismissed concerns that transgender women could compete in Parkrun’s female category.

Blake’s sentencing got under way on Monday at Oxford Crown Court.

Blake was found guilty on Friday of murdering Carreno by hitting him in the back of the head with a vodka bottle before strangling him and pushing him into the River Cherwell, where he drowned.

Oxford Crown Court heard how Blake had killed a cat four months before the murder, placing the animal in a blender, which was inspired by the Netflix documentary called Don’t F—k with Cats, in which a man kills kittens before murdering a human.

The Guardian has been contacted for comment.

Nato and EU states ‘considering sending troops to Ukraine’

The prime minister of Slovakia has claimed that Nato and EU member states are preparing to deploy troops to Ukraine.

Robert Fico, a pro-Russia populist, offered no details of how Western soldiers could be sent to assist Ukraine, and commentators said he was probably just trying to stir up trouble.

He was speaking ahead of a hastily-arranged meeting of European leaders in Paris because of what his advisers say is an escalation in Russian aggression over the past few weeks.

The meeting implies that “a number of Nato and EU member states are considering that they will send their troops to Ukraine on a bilateral basis”, Mr Fico told a televised briefing following a meeting of Slovakia’s security council.

“I cannot say for what purpose and what they should be doing there,” he said, adding that Slovakia, a member of the EU and Nato, would not be sending soldiers to Ukraine.

Mr Fico, who was elected last October, said the move could risk an escalation of the conflict in Ukraine, but could not offer more information.

It was not clear whether he was referring to the prospect of Western troops being deployed to Ukraine while the war is still raging.

Nato allies have spent billions of pounds providing arms to Kyiv and are training Ukrainian forces in the West, but Western capitals have refused to consider boots on the ground to avoid entering a direct conflict with Russia.

However, this has not prevented planning for future training deployments to enhance Kyiv’s military after the war comes to an end.

Before he stood down, Ben Wallace, the former defence secretary, suggested Britain would station more troops in Ukraine than it ever had before.

The UK, Germany, France, the Netherlands and other Western nations have long-term security agreements with Kyiv that raise the prospect of similar training missions.

Asked about the comments, Petr Fiala, the Czech prime minister said: “The Czech Republic certainly is not preparing to send any soldiers to Ukraine, nobody has to worry about that.”

Mr Fico was propelled to office on a promise to halt military aid to Ukraine and oppose Western sanctions on Russia.

The Slovak leader has since performed a U-turn on his central campaign pledge, and private arms exports continue to flow into Kyiv.

His rise to power in a country that neighbours Ukraine was one of the initial signs of a growing fatigue for the war in Eastern Europe.

Slovakia has also been considered a useful asset to the Kremlin as it seeks to make a show of the West’s dwindling support for Ukraine.

Mr Fico will be among Western leaders attending talks in Paris on Monday night to send Vladimir Putin a message of European resolve on Ukraine and counter the Kremlin’s narrative that Russia is bound to win a war now entering its third year

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, will host the leaders of 17 EU countries, as well as ministers and officials from the UK, United States and Canada.

“The first aim will be to contradict any impression that things are crumbling. There is no fatigue,” said an Elysee spokesman. “Europe’s mobilisation and that of its allies is intact and will be reinforced as a result of Russia’s aggressiveness. We are neither doomy nor gloomy.”

The talks are not expected to end in concrete offers of military aid but instead focus on co-ordinating purchases for Kyiv amongst Western allies.

Mr Fico said calling the meeting showed the West’s strategy on Ukraine had failed. He said he was going to take part in a constructive spirit, although the material for discussions sent “shivers down his spine”.

In January, the Slovakian leader said there was “no war in Kyiv” and described life there as “absolutely normal”.