INDEPENDENT 2024-02-27 16:34:09


Man shot dead while walking dog on remote path in Scotland

Police have launched a murder inquiry after a man was fatally shot while walking his dog in a remote area.

Brian Low, 65, was shot in the Pitilie area on the outskirts of Aberfeldy, Perthshire, at around 8.30am on Saturday February 17, police said.

Emergency services attended but Mr Low, from Aberfeldy, was pronounced dead at the scene.

Following a post-mortem examination, the death is being treated as murder and detectives are appealing for anyone with information to contact them.

Detective Chief Inspector Martin Macdougall, of the Major Investigation Team, said: “Our thoughts are with Brian’s family at this very difficult time and we are doing all we can to get them answers.

“We have been carrying out extensive inquiries since Brian’s death and detectives are working alongside uniformed officers to establish the full circumstances.

“Our inquiries have so far have revealed that Brian was out walking his black Labrador along a remote track shortly before 8.30am when he was fatally shot.

“Although this is a remote location, we would be keen to hear from anyone who was in the area at the time.

“I am also appealing directly to the local community, who might have information that could help.

“Anyone with any information, no matter how small or insignificant they feel it may be, should come forward and speak to detectives.

“Please do not assume that the police already know the information you have.”

Police Scotland said that a report will be submitted to the procurator fiscal.

The force said there will be a police presence in the area over the coming days and anyone with concerns can make contact with officers.

Local area commander Greg Burns said: “I understand this is an extremely concerning incident for this small, rural community.

“I want to take this opportunity to reassure people that we are working round the clock to find out what happened to Brian.

“We will have additional high-visibility patrols in the area and you will see significant police activity over the coming days.

“Anyone with any concerns can approach these officers at any time.”

Detectives have set up an online portal to encourage members of the public to submit information.

Police can also be contacted on 101, quoting incident number 0884 of February 17, or information can be given anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

Crooked House pub owners ordered to rebuild after inn was demolished

The owners of the Crooked House pub have been ordered to rebuild it after it was demolished following a suspected arson attack.

South Staffordshire Council said it has served the owners of the property with an enforcement notice that “requires the building to be built back to what it was prior to the fire”.

The blaze at the historic pub in Himley, West Midlands – famed for its wonky walls and floors due to mining-related subsidence – broke out on the night of 5 August last year. Its burnt-out shell was then demolished without permission from the local authority within 48 hours of the fire.

The blaze came just two weeks after the 18th-century pub, known as Britain’s wonkiest pub, was sold by brewer Marston’s to private buyers Carly Taylor, 34, and her husband Adam for “an alternative use”. Marston’s Pubs has previously confirmed to The Independent that they sold the pub to ATE Farms Ltd, which records show was owned by Ms Taylor at the time of the incident but is currently owned by Mr Taylor.

By October, six people had been arrested and released on conditional bail in connection with the incident as Staffordshire Police investigates the fire as arson.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, South Staffordshire Council said it had “engaged with the owners” since the destruction of the building, “but has reached a point where formal action is considered necessary”.

The enforcement notice served against the owners requires the building to be rebuilt by February 2027, the council said. If work is not completed within the time limit, the local authority can prosecute for failure to comply with the notice, it added. The owners of the site have 30 days to appeal the notice.

Mayor of the West Midlands Andy Street welcomed the order for the landmark pub to be restored.

He posted on X, formerly Twitter: “Crooked House ordered to be rebuilt. An enforcement notice has been issued against the owners for its unlawful demolition. They have been ordered to rebuild the pub back to what it was before the fire – just as we’ve been lobbying for. Fantastic work from South Staffordshire Council.”

The Crooked House was originally built as a farmhouse in 1765, but one side gradually sank 4ft into the ground due to subsidence from mining works carried out in the 1800s. It was converted into a public house named The Siden House in 1830, ‘siden’ being the Black Country dialect for crooked.

It was renamed The Glynne Arms after the local landowner before coming to be known as The Crooked House in later years. The pub had first been threatened with closure during the 1940s, but was bought by Wolverhampton and Dudley Breweries, who reinforced the walls with girders and buttresses.

It had since become a popular tourist attraction as well as a wedding venue, with thousands of locals mourning its “tragic” loss and signing petitions to have it rebuilt to its former glory.

Emergency services were alerted at 10pm on 5 August that a blaze had broken out inside The Crooked House, with 30 firefighters tackling the smoke and flames. Efforts were hampered however by mounds of mud and dirt in the roads, preventing easy access to the fire.

The building was levelled shortly after investigating fire crews and police officers left the scene after the property was deemed unstable. Footage showed a digger tearing down the remaining walls and reducing the historic landmark to a large pile of rubble.

Roger Lees, leader of South Staffordshire Council, said that planning officers had visited the burnt-out pub on Monday but had not agreed to the demolition. He said at the time: “This council finds the manner in which the situation was managed following the fire completely unacceptable and contrary to instructions provided by our officers.”

Mr Street called for the pub to be “rebuilt brick by brick” in a letter to the council, and stressed that “major questions” needed answering.

Staffordshire Police at the time confirmed that they were treating the fire as arson and would be “speaking to the owners” in a joint investigation with the fire service and South Staffordshire district council.

ATE Farms Ltd had acquired The Crooked House shortly before locals submitted an application to Historic England for the 19th century public house to be given protected listed status. This would have ensured that any physical changes to the building would have required consent from the local council.

Information available on Companies House shows that Mr Taylor is the current director at ATE Farms, and is registered as a person with significant control of the business, holding at least 75 per cent of the shares. Ms Taylor held both of these roles at the time of the fire, but ceased to on 15 December last year.

In 2020, the couple’s company purchased another pub, despite a campaign by villagers who wanted to preserve it. Documents show that in March 2021, Rugby Borough Council approved a request to have the Sarah Mansfield Country Inn, in the village of Willey, protected as an “asset of community value” which was later overturned following an appeal.

More follows on this breaking news story….

‘Turnip Taliban’ accuse Truss of ‘cavorting with pro-Trump extremists’

The leader of the so-called “Turnip Taliban” Tory rebels bidding to oust Liz Truss in her Norfolk constituency has launched a blistering attack on the former prime minister for “cavorting with right-wing extremists in the US”.

James Bagge, who plans to stand against Ms Truss as an independent candidate in her South West Norfolk constituency at the general election, denounced her for “declaring kinship with Donald Trump and Nigel Farage” at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Maryland last week.

And the lawyer and ex-army officer criticised her for using the rally to blame the British “deep state” – her Trump-style euphemism for Whitehall, quangos and other state institutions – for the economic crisis that ended her disastrous short-lived term in Downing St in 2022.

Ms Truss has “little judgement” and has only herself to blame for her downfall, said Mr Bagge.

Far from sabotaging her administration, it is the very institutions she railed against that saved the nation from her reckless policies, he added.

“Ms Truss talks of democratically elected governments unable to enact policies because they have been blocked by the ‘economic establishment’ and of a civil service populated by activists,” he told The Independent.

“Her problem, which she fails to acknowledge, is that she enacted a policy of her own choice, despite warnings, and then immediately tried to pin the blame on her hapless chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng.

“But it was the financial markets, not the establishment, which determined the failure of her completely ruinous mini-Budget – and it was the actions of those she now dismisses that saved the day, namely the Bank of England and the Treasury.”

He added: “She is a woman with little judgement in evidence, and apparently incapable of accepting personal responsibility.”

Mr Bagge, 71, is among prominent local Conservatives who resigned from the party in protest at Ms Truss’s selection as its candidate for South West Norfolk in 2009 after complaints that she had been “foisted” on them by Tory HQ.

They argued she had no links to the area and accused party chiefs of failing to inform them that she had had an affair with a married Tory MP. The episode led to Ms Truss’s critics in the East Anglian agricultural constituency being labelled the “Turnip Taliban”.

Mr Bagge accused Ms Truss of displaying double standards at the US rally, which was attended by thousands of Trump supporters as well as former Ukip leader Nigel Farage.

She “declares her support for Trump” – who is expected to reduce aid to Ukraine in its war with Russia if he becomes president next year – “while demanding assistance for Ukraine”, he said. “She cavorts with right-wing extremists, sharing a platform and declaring kinship with Farage, Trump and others.”

At the CPAC gathering, Ms Truss said conservatives in both the US and the UK need a “bigger bazooka” with which to fight the left.

“Unless conservatives become more active in speaking out, Western civilisation is doomed,” she argued.

Mr Bagge is holding a series of public meetings in Norfolk in an effort to win backing for his challenge against Ms Truss. If he defeated her, it would be one of the biggest election upsets of all time.

I live in a ‘no-go’ area of London – this is what it’s really like

I managed to cycle from the supposed “no-go area” of Tower Hamlets to Westminster this morning. The most shocking thing I saw was a fetching pair of pinstripe leggings overtaking me.

I was surprised when Paul Scully, the former business minister and a Conservative moderate, said to BBC London that “if you look at parts of Tower Hamlets … there are no-go areas”. I have lived in the east London borough most of my adult life and can say that he was talking rubbish.

But then, it wasn’t clear what he was saying. He said there were no-go areas in Tower Hamlets and “parts of Birmingham Sparkhill”, “mainly because of doctrine, mainly because of people using, abusing in many ways, their religion …” He bumbled to a conclusion of sorts: “That, I think, is the concern that needs to be addressed.”

He seemed to be suggesting that in places where a lot of Muslims live, some non-Muslims feel uncomfortable about it, but like many other Conservative MPs in the past few days, including the prime minister and the minister for illegal immigration, the more he tried to explain where he stood on the issue of Islamophobia, the less sense he made.

Personally, I preferred the robust good sense of Boris Johnson (yes, really) when he told Donald Trump to take a running jump over similar comments in 2015. Trump, who was then the Republican frontrunner for the presidency, called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”, claiming police in cities such as London and Paris were “afraid for their lives” because of large Muslim populations.

Johnson hit back, saying: “The only reason I wouldn’t go to some parts of New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump.”

But Trump’s ignorance about London is more understandable than Scully’s. Scully is the MP for Sutton and Cheam, right on the edge of Greater London, but it is still London, and he works in central London.

When Scully’s comments provoked an outraged reaction – including from Andy Street, the Tory mayor of the West Midlands, and Jess Phillips, the Labour MP for next door to Sparkhill – he returned to the BBC studio and tied himself in more knots: “If I’ve spoken mistakenly or created division, then I apologise, but there are a handful of people who will always seek offence and there are people who come in behind that.”

But it still wasn’t clear what he was trying to say: “It’s right that we have a conversation about why a very small minority – whether it’s Muslims, whether it’s gangs … or disaffected people in other areas – are creating fear.”

It looked like he probably realised that this was beginning to sound as if he was endorsing Islamophobia, and tried to back off.

Just as Rishi Sunak wants to avoid using the word “Islamophobia” to describe the comments made about Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, by Lee Anderson, the former Tory deputy chair. The prime minister wants to leave the way open for Anderson to come back to the Tory party – and calling him an Islamophobe would make that harder.

Mind you, it looks as if that battle is a lost cause. Anderson was defiant yesterday, refusing to apologise for saying that Khan was controlled by Islamists, in an interview in which he also said Islamists have “got control of Starmer as well”.

Anderson said he wouldn’t apologise to Khan “while I’ve got a breath in my body”. It sounds as if he has left the Tory party behind and intends to fight the next election as an independent or Reform candidate – which makes sense, as he has almost no chance of holding Ashfield as a Conservative.

Meanwhile, Sunak is left floundering, seemingly unable to identify Islamophobia in his own party. This failure to use plain language meant that Michael Tomlinson, the minister for illegal immigration, had a difficult time on TV this morning when he condemned Anderson’s words for being “wrong” but couldn’t say what was wrong about them.

Let me help him, because to me it’s clear: what Anderson said was Islamophobic. What Scully said was Islamophobic. Tower Hamlets is not a no-go area. As in many parts of London, there are a lot of Palestinian flags, which could be merely expressing support for a two-state settlement in the Middle East – they are just flags, and can be interpreted in many ways. They could even be intended to rebuke Hamas for doing so much damage to the Palestinian cause.

But disagreeing about politics does not make a place “no go”.

Women hold harsher views towards sex workers, polling finds

More women think sex work should be stigmatised than men, according to new YouGov polling, while most Britons say they would not be friends with someone who appears in pornography.

Research shared exclusively with The Independent found around one in five people think sex work should be stigmatised, but women were substantially more likely than men to think sex work should be shunned – with 27 per cent saying this, in comparison to 17 per cent of men.

Researchers found 52 per cent of those polled would not be willing to be friends with someone who currently works as a porn star, while 46 per cent would not be friends with someone who works as a sex worker or an escort.

Some 52 per cent of Britons say it should be legal to pay someone to have sex with them, while 29 per cent disagreed with this view.

Niki Adams, of the English Collective of Prostitutes, a leading campaign group, said anti-sex work views are linked to the ongoing criminalisation of the profession, leaving its workers misunderstood.

“People are deprived of the information on which they would therefore base their views,” she added. “They don’t know that sex workers are living among them and could be their sister, daughter, wife, or auntie.”

Sex workers are predominantly mothers and many combine prostitution with other jobs, Ms Adams said.

“The money from sex work is supporting whole families and communities in very harsh economic times, and if people knew that, their attitudes would probably be very different,” she added.

Ms Adams argued women are more hostile towards sex workers than men because they are pressured to distance themselves from the profession.

She added: “There is an epidemic of violence against sex workers happening which the police are doing little or nothing about because sex workers’ lives are devalued by the criminalisation and the illegality associated with our work.

“Decriminalisation is an urgent priority to address violence, but also to improve health and to ensure that sex workers can be more visible. And that, in its way, would break down prejudices and would allow sex workers to come forward and speak for ourselves rather than be hidden in the shadows.”

It is not illegal for individuals to buy or sell sex from each other in the UK, but many activities associated with sex work are against the law, including a prostitute working with another person or a group to stay safe, which includes working in a brothel.

Some 64 per cent of men said it should be legal to pay for sex, but the number plummeted to 41 per cent for women, the polling found.

Researchers discovered one in 11 men admits to having purchased sex, while only two per cent of women said the same.

Previous polling by human rights charity RightsInfo, shared with The Independent, found around half of British people are in favour of decriminalising brothel-keeping – an offence punishable by up to seven years in prison.

Chiara Capraro, gender justice director at Amnesty International UK, said: “Criminalisation and gender stereotypes are the main drivers of stigma against sex workers.

“It’s not ok to consider sex workers to be ‘bad women’ or ‘bad mothers’ because it has a very real impact on their lives and significantly reduces much-needed access to healthcare, housing and benefits and to live openly in their communities.

“Stigma and disbelief from the police and the justice system only fuels violence against sex workers.”

Most women who choose to do sex work are mothers who struggle to get by as the cost of living “continues to bite”, she warned.

She added: “Criminalisation exacerbates stigma, destitution and insecurity for sex workers. The voices of sex workers are too often left out of discussions about their lives and this needs to urgently change.”

The Home Office was approached for comment.

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”.

What can the IFS warning tell us about the upcoming spring Budget?

Long before the estimable and independent Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) was set up by George Osborne, then chancellor, in 2010, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) acted as a kind of fiscal watchdog. Unlike the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the IFS can set its own remit and rules about what it concerns itself with. In the current climate of a post-war near-record high national debt and tax burden, and increasing demographic pressures on the public finances, the IFS is needed as much now as at any time in its near 55-year existence.

Its latest report sets out the options for the chancellor’s Budget on 6 March and contains a number of grim warnings. It seems clear that Jeremy Hunt’s political and economic options remain constrained…