INDEPENDENT 2024-02-28 04:34:14


Biden wins primary despite Gaza protest vote as Trump underperforms

President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump won the Michigan primaries on Tuesday, further solidifying the all-but-certain rematch between the two men.

But despite the president’s comfortable victory, Democrats were also closely watching the results of the “uncommitted” vote, as Michigan has become the epicenter for dissatisfied members of the president’s coalition that propelled him to victory in the state — and nationally — in 2020.

The number of “uncommitted” votes has already surpassed the 10,000-vote margin by which Mr Trump won Michigan in 2016, surpassing a goal set by organisers of this year’s protest effort, according to The Associated Press.

Despite underperforming somewhat, Mr Trump once again soared to victory over former UN ambassador Nikki Haley – who has insisted on staying in the contest for Super Tuesday on 5 March.

Ms Haley was beaten again in her home state of South Carolina on Saturday and suffered a further blow in its aftermath when she lost the support of Americans for Prosperity Action (AFP Action), the political wing of the conservative donor network led by billionaire Charles Koch, which announced it would no longer be supporting her campaign and will instead focus on Senate engagement.

Bulgarian man living in UK charged with spying for Russia

A sixth person has been charged with allegedly spying for Russia, the Crown Prosecution Service has said.

Tihomir Ivanov Ivanchev, 38,  has been charged with conspiring to obtain, collect, record, publish or communicate documents or information which might be or was intended to be directly or indirectly useful for a purpose prejudicial to the safety and interest of the state.

Scotland Yard said that Ivanchev,  of Acton, west London, is to appear in custody at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday.

Ivanchev, a Bulgarian national, was arrested on 7 February as part of an ongoing investigation being led by the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command.

Commander Dominic Murphy, who leads the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, said: “A sixth suspect was identified and arrested as a result of inquiries made following the previous five arrests in this investigation, and working with the Crown Prosecution Service, a charge has now been brought.

“Mr Ivanchev has the right to a fair trial, and we would therefore urge people not to publish anything, on social media or in news media, that creates a substantial risk of seriously prejudicing these active criminal proceedings.”

It means there are now “active” criminal cases against people following an investigation by the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Command, Nick Price, the head of the CPS Special Crime and Counter Terrorism Division said.

The other defendants, three men and two women, have previously appeared at the Old Bailey accused of conspiring to gather information that would be useful to an enemy between August 2020 and February 2023.

They are Orlin Roussev, 46, Bizer Dzhambazov, 42, Katrin Ivanova, 32, Ivan Stoyanov, 32, and Vanya Gaberova, 29, who were charged with conspiring to collect information intended to be directly or indirectly useful to an enemy for a purpose prejudicial to the safety and interest of the state.

Their trial is to be heard  in October by a High Court judge with an estimated time of four months.

On Tuesday, Mr Price said: “Criminal proceedings against the six individuals are active and they each have the right to a fair trial.

“It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings.

“The function of the CPS is not to decide whether a person is guilty of a criminal offence, but to make fair, independent and objective assessments about whether it is appropriate to present charges for a criminal court to consider.”

Two boys aged 11 and 12 arrested after ‘several’ animals killed at college

Two children have been arrested and released on bail after police received reports that “several animals had been killed” at a college in west London.

A 12-year-old boy and an 11-year-old boy were arrested on suspicion of animal cruelty and burglary after an incident at Capel Manor College’s Gunnersbury Park campus.

The Met Police said: “On Sunday, 25 February we received a report that several animals had been killed and animal closures had been damaged at Capel Manor College.

“Officers visited the scene and viewed CCTV footage. A forensic examination was also carried out.”

The two boys were arrested as a result of enquiries and have been bailed.

Police urged anyone with information to call 101 quoting CAD 1639/25Feb.

The college said in a statement: “On Sunday 25 February, Capel Manor College’s Gunnersbury Park Campus experienced a break-in that resulted in damage to some of the animal areas, and sadly some animals died.

“The safety of our staff, students, animals and community is of utmost importance to us. A team is onsite co-ordinating with the police in their ongoing investigation, and additional security staff have also been deployed at the campus.”

The institution described itself as “London’s environmental college”, offering young people and adults the opportunity to help take care of its estates, gardens, farm and zoos.

Following the incident, teaching at the west London campus was held online on Monday before in-person learning resumed on-site on Tuesday.

Principal Peter Brammall said: “This has been a terrible episode and my thanks go out to the dedicated team of staff who worked tirelessly over Sunday and Monday to deal with and restore the devastation left by the intruders.

“Our campus is now back open, student lessons are back on track and the team is working with our partners to bring in new animals over the next few weeks to replace those that were sadly lost.”

The college said its “much-loved” barn owl, Shiraz, escaped as a result of the incident and remains missing.

Appealing for information on the bird’s whereabouts, the college described Shiraz as a “white barn owl with a blue ring on her left ankle” and urged anyone reporting a sighting to call its emergency 24-hour line on 077135 68110 and the RSCPA at 0300 1234 999.

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”.

Constance Marten ‘was warned about sleeping in tent with another of her babies’

Constance Marten was warned about the risks of falling asleep holding her baby when one of her other children was an infant, and was told by social services it was not safe to raise the newborn in a tent, jurors were told.

The Old Bailey heard that Ms Marten, 36, had concealed her pregnancy and gone on the run with her partner Mark Gordon, 49, after their four other children were taken into care.

The prosecution allege that the couple’s “reckless and utterly selfish” behaviour led to the “entirely avoidable” death of the infant, named Victoria, after the pair spent weeks living “off-grid” in a tent in freezing conditions on the South Downs.

The couple, who deny gross negligence manslaughter, insist that Ms Marten fell asleep with the baby zipped inside her jacket and awoke to find her dead. The infant’s remains were eventually found last March in a Lidl shopping bag in a disused shed, covered in rubbish.

In evidence read to the jury on Tuesday, prosecutor Joel Smith revealed that social services had previously warned Ms Marten about the risks of “suffocation, overheating and positional asphyxia” in relation to one of her other children – referred to as Child FF.

He told the court that social services had issued a nationwide alert on that occasion in an attempt to locate the couple while she was expecting Child FF – an action that can be instigated by the NHS when they suspect that a pregnant woman requires protection or support.

But when Ms Marten went into labour, the couple told doctors their names were Isabella O’Brien and James Amer. Ms Marten put on a fake Irish accent, telling medics they were from the travelling community and had been raised in a caravan. Their true identities were only discovered after a social worker recalled the alert.

One social worker told Ms Marten that “some babygros and nappies is simply not enough for a newborn baby to be safe”, the court heard, after learning that the couple had been living in a tent in a wooded area with Child FF.

The staff member described it as a festival-style tent, which was bowed under the weight of rainwater and smelled stale.

Recalling her conversation with Ms Marten in a statement to police, the social worker said: “I spoke to Constance regarding the unsuitability and discomfort of their situation, namely living in a tent.

“I explained to her that it was winter, the conditions were freezing, and the cramped space would be wholly inappropriate for a baby to live in.

“Constance responded that while it was challenging, they spent their days outside and only used the tent for sleeping at night. She made it clear that she and Mark had an alternative lifestyle and that different people had different ways of living. She asked me not to judge her for this.”

After Ms Marten was housed in a temporary mother-and-baby placement, she was told of the importance of not allowing herself to doze off with Child FF on her chest, the jury heard.

Concerns were raised a second time, the court heard, with the social worker noting that on this occasion the “critical dangers of falling asleep with a baby on one’s chest were firmly raised to Constance, who once again stated she understood the risk and would take this on board”.

The couple went on to have three more children, but all four were taken into care after a judge concluded that their living arrangements fell “well below” what a reasonable parent would be expected to provide and noted an incident of domestic violence between the parents, the court heard.

Jurors were told that Ms Marten’s father had previously initiated legal proceedings to apply for a wardship of the children.

Social services said the parents had “interacted well” with their children during supervised contact sessions, but that their attendance was “inconsistent”, leaving the children distressed and unsettled, the court heard.

One of the children became quiet and withdrawn, telling staff: “Mummy and Daddy cancelled again.” The child was described as “inconsolable” when the parents failed to turn up at the contact centre.

Giving evidence by video link, paediatrician Dr Gaurav Atreja said keeping a newborn baby in a tent in temperatures of between 5C and 10C “can be fatal”.

Prosecutor Tom Little KC asked what the risks were to a baby placed inside a jacket with the parent sitting down. Dr Atreja said: “If a mother goes to sleep, she can bend over the baby and the baby can be smothered.”

However, the court was told that the cause of Victoria’s death was “unascertained” due to the condition of her body.

The evidence comes after the court last week heard that Ms Marten, who had received almost £50,000 from her trust fund in the weeks before the couple went on the run, had told detectives she believed social services had taken their four other children after a family court blamed Mr Gordon for her falling from a window.

Ms Marten insisted Mr Gordon was her “soulmate”, after the couple met in London and had a marriage ceremony in Peru around seven years ago.

The couple both deny gross negligence manslaughter of their daughter Victoria between 4 January and 27 February last year.

They also deny charges of perverting the course of justice by concealing the body, along with concealing the birth of a child, child cruelty, and allowing the death of a child.

The trial is scheduled to last until 8 March.

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.

Even talk of a potential ceasefire in Gaza is a cause for hope

It is hardly a “done deal” – and disappointment may yet transpire – but the very fact that a ceasefire in Gaza, of whatever genus, is being actively negotiated and openly discussed by the president of the United States represents enormous cause for hope.

Too many people – almost 30,000 now, according to the Palestinian health ministry – have died. President Biden has indicated that an end to the fighting could be organised as soon as next week, if not the weekend. If agreed, it would, it seems, last for 40 days during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on the evening of 10 March. It is possible that such a pause in the conflict could then evolve seamlessly into a more permanent end to the war.

Such a situation, which seemed remote only weeks ago, at least creates some of the conditions for something like political progress. Part of that, as the US government has hinted, might well entail recognition of Palestine by Western countries as an independent nation state. That, as the foreign secretary, David Cameron, has made clear, would include the UK – a symbolic move given Britain ruled Palestine for three decades, its mandate ending in 1948.

That is running some way ahead of events, however. First, the ceasefire has to be signed off by enemies pledged to one another’s destruction – Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas. The contribution to the process of the prospective ceasefire made by the United States (especially the well-travelled secretary of state, Antony Blinken), Egypt and Qatar has been outstanding and worthy of a joint Nobel Peace Prize.

What form will the ceasefire take? It seems the outlines of a deal are becoming clearer. Israeli and other hostages will be released in exchange for Palestinian prisoners. Humanitarian aid supplies, so urgently needed, will flow into Gaza, including the isolated north. Shelters can be built; the sick treated; and Palestinian civilians can return to what remains of their homes, bury their dead and trace lost family. The anguish of Israeli families divided from loved ones since the 7 October Hamas atrocities will start to ease.

Obviously – though it cannot be stressed hard enough – a ceasefire has to be implemented by both sides. So not only must Israel postpone, and in effect cancel, the catastrophic ground offensive planned for Rafah, so too must Hamas and its various allies desist from firing rockets at Israeli settlements from any Palestinian territory. A ceasefire logically cannot be one-sided, and so far as Netanyahu is concerned, a breach of it would be met with massive and immediate escalation, probably before the White House has had a chance to restrain him.

The longer the break in the fighting, the more tensions will ease across the region. Provided Iran, a shadowy presence throughout, also tacitly becomes a party to the ceasefire, then the Houthi campaign in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden should also subside. International shipping may then resume.

Iranian-inspired militia attacks on US bases in Jordan and elsewhere will also pause. Just as war feeds on itself, so too can peace create a virtuous circle of diminished grievances and lower levels of violence. The nightmare of direct confrontation between Iran and Israel or America will have been averted.

It also makes it that much less likely that Israel will be found in breach of the orders issued to it by the International Court of Justice, and to have committed acts of genocide.

In truth, the war, as prosecuted by the present government, was not actually destroying Hamas – and it was only going to become more counterproductive the longer it dragged on. Victory in any meaningful sense was proving elusive. It is in Israel’s own interests for the fighting to be wound down.

The consequences of peace, then, will be far-reaching, including across the West. Though hardly the most important part of the story, social democratic parties will be relieved from trying to strike a political stance that balances the right of Israel to defend itself and the need to end the loss of innocent life. The US Democrats and the British Labour Party, among others, will no longer have to contort themselves over what type of ceasefire should be called for, once the guns have gone quiet.

The debate can then turn to what kind of peace there should be, how the new Palestinian nation will organise itself, and how the two countries between the river and the sea can guarantee one another’s security.

Those will be better arguments to have.

What could happen if George Galloway wins the Rochdale by-election?

Soon the voters will go to the polls in Rochdale, in what is proving, without hyperbole, to be the most bizarre by-election in recent decades. The most striking aspect, of course, being that the Labour candidate, Azhar Ali, who had an excellent chance of holding the seat, lost the support of his party in a row over antisemitism. So now the Labour Party is not campaigning at all, and is offering its supporters no guidance as to whom they should vote for – but formally, Ali remains the “Labour Party candidate” on the ballot paper.

Theoretically, he could still get elected. The intervention of the pugilistic George Galloway and his Workers Party of Britain is the other great novelty, though he has done this sort of thing before. In any case, and despite the circus, the by-election may tell us a few things about what’s going on in politics; and the result may have consequences far beyond the town…