INDEPENDENT 2024-02-27 04:34:37

Taylor Swift’s father accused of assault in Sydney

Taylor Swift’s father has been accused of assaulting an Australian photographer on a wharf on the Sydney Harbour early on Tuesday after the singer’s final concert, according to the police.

Local media identified the paparazzo as Ben McDonald, the chief executive of Matrix Media Group, who was photographing Swift as she got off a yacht at the Neutral Bay wharf around 2am following a late-night cruise on the Sydney Harbour.

“Police have been told a 71-year-old man allegedly assaulted a 51-year-old man,” the New South Wales Police said in a statement, without naming Swift’s father, Scott.

“The younger man reported the incident and inquiries are now underway by officers attached to North Shore Police Area Command. The man did not require medical treatment,” according to the police.

Swift was with her father at the time but had entered a car when the alleged assault occurred, according to state broadcaster ABC. “He’s charged in and punched me in the face,” McDonald told the outlet.

“In 23 years of doing this I’ve never been assaulted, let alone been punched in the face by a father,” he said.

“I didn’t realise it was her dad at the time,” he told The Guardian. “It was a bit of a shock but I’ll leave the police to do their job.”

A spokesperson for Taylor Swift told the Rolling Stone two people were acting “aggressively” towards Swift and her entourage when the incident occurred.

“Two individuals were aggressively pushing their way towards Taylor, grabbing at her security personnel, and threatening to throw a female staff member into the water,” the spokesperson said in a statement.

The ABC reported the photographer said Swift‘s entourage used umbrellas to try and prevent him taking photographs and in the alleged altercation Swift‘s father became involved.

Swift‘s Australian leg of her record-breaking Eras tour wrapped up on Monday evening.

Children left in tears at ‘shocking’ Willy Wonka experience

Children burst into tears as angry parents rounded on the ringleader of a Willy Wonka experience which turned out to be a sparse Glasgow warehouse decorated with a rainbow and a bouncy castle.

Furious parents shelled out £35 for the world of pure imagination promising a “delectable” chocolate fountain and “whimsical” Oompa Loompas who in reality were actors struggling to recite scripts hastily handed to them the night before opening.

Organisers House of Illuminati apologised for the “stressful and frustrating day” and offered 850 refunds before closing the experience to guests on Saturday.

Aileen Butcher, who had taken her daughter, told the Daily Record it was an “absolute disgrace”.

She said: “We went inside and there were some posters, a visual display including a rainbow, toadstool and a gobstopper.

“There also appeared to be a table strewn with jelly beans and a bouncy castle at the back. It took us a minute to walk through.

“Some families were very, very angry and had little children who were crying.

“It was a tense atmosphere and new families were arriving looking bewildered.”

Stuart Sinclair travelled two hours to attend the experience with his family said on Facebook: “It was nothing short of shocking.

“It was described as a full Wonka Experience with chocolate fountains, but the kids received two jelly babies and a quarter of a can of Barrs limeade.”

Actors complained on social media they were given just one night to learn a script before it was torn up and they were told to improvise around items that weren’t even there.

Mr Sinclair told The Independent: “All the cast that were there did their absolute best. Unfortunately, they were all sub-contractor actors hired by Illuminati and haven’t been paid either.

“They were in as much shock as us. But it was probably worse for them because this is their job and made them look bad when it wasn’t their fault.”

He added: “All the parents rounded on the guy running it. He was there and everyone was at him trying to get answers. It was that bad it was just laughable.”

Police Scotland said officers issued guidance to crowds building up outside the closed venue.

A House of Illuminati spokesperson 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, we are devastated at how this has turned out and understand people’s anger and frustration that everyone has had, refunds have already started being issued and the rest should be over the coming days, again we are truly sorry to everyone.”

Charlotte Church denies ‘River to the Sea’ song is antisemitic

Charlotte Church has denied the song “From the River to the Sea” is antisemitic after she belted out a rendition at a pro-Palestine concert.

The Welsh musician was recorded singing the divisive song, which can be interpreted as a direct call for the state of Israel to be destroyed, during a pro-Palestine fundraising concert at a village hall in Caerphilly, South Wales on Saturday.

In a video posted online, Church, 38, stands behind a banner that reads “Let Palestine Live” at the fundraising event for the Middle East Children’s Alliance charity. She and the choir members wore keffiyeh scarves, which are often worn by pro-Palestine supporters as a symbol of solidarity.

At the event, Church was seen singing the divisive lyrics “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – a reference to the land between the Jordan River, which borders eastern Israel, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism has labelled the song and its central phrase as “antisemitic”, as many British Jews recognise the song as demonstrating a demand for Israel’s destruction.

However, Palestinian activists say the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” is a call for peace and equality after 75 years of Israeli statehood and decades-long, open-ended Israeli military rule over millions of Palestinians.

Broadcasting live on Instagram on Monday, Church denied that the song was antisemitic and that people “who know the history” behind the conflict will know it is “not calling for the obliteration of Israel”.

She said: “Just to clarify my intentions there, I am in no way antisemitic. I am fighting for the liberation of all people. I have a deep heart for all religions and all difference.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful event. But unfortunately the powers that be can’t have that. [They] can’t have such a powerful symbol of resistance as what we worked towards on Saturday.”

She added: “Clearly, if you know the history of it all, [it is] not an antisemitic chant calling for the obliteration of Israel. It is not that in any way shape or form. It is calling for the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians.”

Church said “lots of other beautiful songs… of liberation and freedom” were performed at the event, South African songs from the anti-apartheid movement, Welsh songs and Arabic songs “the lyrics of which were adapted to the situation in Palestine”.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism told The Independent that Church was using her “voice to fan the flames of hatred”.

“At best Charlotte Church has been tone deaf, but at worst she is using the voice for which she is so well known to fan the flames of hatred.”

It labelled the lyrics as “extremist”, and added: “You cannot stoop lower than using your stardom to teach kids to sing extremist lyrics in a village hall.

Jewish MP Andrew Percy blasted the incident as “deeply concerning”, saying all who joined in Church’s sing-along “should hang their heads in shame”.

The Independent has contacted Church’s representatives for comment.

A spokesperson for the CAA continued: “The genocidal chant ‘From the River to the Sea’ refers to the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea, and only makes sense as a call for the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state – and its replacement with a Palestinian state. It is a call for the annihilation of half the world’s Jews, who live in Israel.

“Since 7 October, when Hamas committed their barbaric terrorist acts, we have heard this chant on the streets of Britain during anti-Israel marches, accompanied by all manner of anti-Jewish racism,” it said.

But like so much of the Middle East conflict, the phrase’s meaning depends on who is telling the story, and what audience is hearing it.

In 2021, the Palestinian-American writer Yousef Munayyer said the phrase expresses a desire for a state in which “Palestinians can live in their homeland as free and equal citizens, neither dominated by others nor dominating them.

“The claim that the phrase ‘from the river to the sea’ carries a genocidal intent relies not on the historical record, but rather on racism and Islamophobia,” he wrote for Jewish Currents in 2021.

Using the phrase can be costly for public figures and politicians, such as the Labour MP Andy McDonald, who was suspended from the party after referring to the slogan at a protest in London organised by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

“We won’t rest until we have justice. Until all people, Israelis & Palestinians, between the river & the sea can live in peaceful liberty,” he tweeted.

He then explained: “These words should not be construed in any other way than they were intended, namely as a heartfelt plea for an end to killings in Israel, Gaza, and the occupied West Bank, and for all peoples in the region to live in freedom without the threat of violence.”

At the time, Downing Street expressed concerns over the chant, describing it as “deeply offensive” to many, amid growing controversy surrounding the rhetoric used in recent pro-Palestinian demonstrations.

In the US, Representative Rashida Tlaib was censured by the House in November after referring to the slogan.

Defending her stance, Tlaib wrote: “From the river to the sea is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate. My work and advocacy is always centred in justice and dignity for all people no matter faith or ethnicity.”

Police call in Nicola Bulley diving expert to join search for missing toddler

Underwater search experts from a private company will join the operation to find a two-year-old boy who fell into the River Soar, police have said.

A search was launched to find Xielo Maruziva after reports that the little boy, who was with family members, fell into the water on February 18 in Aylestone Meadows, close to Marsden Lane, Leicester.

Leicestershire Police have been supported by specialist diving teams from Nottinghamshire Police and Lincolnshire Police, and forces and search and rescue teams from across the region and country.

From Tuesday, experts from private company Specialist Group International (SGI), who were involved in the search for Nicola Bulley in the River Wyre in Lancashire last year, will join the operation after “further conversations with search specialists and Xielo’s family”.

Peter Faulding, who founded SGI, previously helped with the search for Ms Bulley, 45, after she vanished on January 27 last year.

Assistant Chief Constable Michaela Kerr said: “We continue to be grateful to the support we’ve been shown by the public and colleagues from other forces and agencies.

“We’re in regular contact with Xielo’s family and are continuing to support them in what remains a very upsetting time.

“Our search operation to locate Xielo continues to widen as we know he may have travelled further from where he went into the water, and potentially outside our force area.

“I would like to reassure you that our operation is continuing and our teams will be carrying out co-ordinated searches at various points along the river.”

She continued: “Our decision to involve SGI in the search (is) in liaison with Xielo’s family and having spoken to both the company and independent specialists.

“I’d also like to remind the public that the river is dangerous and that they should not go into the water themselves.”

The search for the boy is in its second week, with the focus on the stretch of river around Watermead Park and Birstall over the weekend, police said.

Xielo’s parents described their son as a “cheeky, funny” boy who is “a bundle of joy”.

Woman loses injury claim after throwing Christmas tree

A court in Ireland has dismissed a woman’s £650,000 injury claim after a photograph emerged of her winning a Christmas tree-throwing competition.

Kamila Grabska, 36, said that her severe back and neck injuries from a car crash in 2017 prevented her from working and playing with her children. She had sued an insurance company, alleging that her injuries put a stop to her normal life for over five years.

However, the high court in Limerick, Ireland, dismissed her claim after the photograph surfaced of her winning the Christmas tree-throwing competition.

The judge found her claims exaggerated, the Irish Independent reported.

Justice Carmel Stewart was presented with evidence of Ms Grabska’s participation in the 2018 event, where she was seen throwing a 5ft spruce. The image, which had been featured in a national newspaper, led the judge to conclude the claims were “entirely exaggerated”.

“It is a very large, natural Christmas tree and it is being thrown by her in a very agile movement,” the judge said.

“I’m afraid I cannot but conclude the claims were entirely exaggerated. On that basis, I propose to dismiss the claim.”

Ms Grabska reportedly also admitted to the judge that she had won the competition. In the Christmas tree-throwing competition, participants compete to see who can hurl a spruce the farthest.

There was further evidence of her being physically active that contradicted her account, according to the paper. The evidence presented to the judge included a video of her training her Dalmatian in November last year in a park.

The judge ruled that Ms Grabska’s post-accident activities were “completely at odds” with her injury claims, leading to the dismissal of her case against the insurance company.

The court was informed that Ms Grabska, from Ennis, County Clare, had left her job and had been receiving disability benefits.

Ms Grabska refuted the idea that she had faked her injuries and told the court that her intention was just to “lead a normal life”.

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 Tory party must open its eyes to the Islamophobia within its ranks

Whatever they choose to call it, the Conservative Party has a problem with Islamophobia, or “anti-Muslim hate”, to use the apparently preferred term. Of course, there are Islamophobes in the Labour Party and, still, antisemitism; and no doubt some Conservatives also harbour some old-fashioned prejudices about Jews. But, at the moment, the focus is on what Lee Anderson’s remarks about Sadiq Khan, and the reaction to it, tells us about the anti-racist credentials of the Conservative Party – and it is not encouraging.

Mr Anderson notoriously said the capital was being “controlled” by Islamists and accused Mr Khan of handing the city over “to his mates”. The comments lost him the Tory whip.

In a slightly bizarre twist in this phobic tale, he has made a supplementary, and welcome, statement in which he declares that “the vast majority of our Muslim friends in the UK are decent, hard-working citizens who make an amazing contribution to our society and their religion should not be blamed for the actions of a tiny minority of extremists”.

Has Labour’s Rochdale debacle gifted George Galloway an open goal?

Voters in Rochdale will head to the polls on Thursday for one of the most controversial by-elections in recent history. What was set to be a straightforward contest to replace the late Labour MP Tony Lloyd, who died of blood cancer in January aged 73, has been mired by a series of scandals, with residents left facing an invidious choice.

Rochdale was considered a safe Labour seat, having been won with a comfortable 10,000 majority in 2019, but it is now anything but. Labour no longer has a candidate in the contest, and the front runner to win, George Galloway, is one of the most divisive figures in British politics.

So, how did it come to this, and what should voters look out for on Thursday?