INDEPENDENT 2024-03-09 10:03:58


Abuse while I was pregnant was cruel, Meghan tells panel as Harry watches on

Meghan Markle has spoken out against the “toxicity” of social media as she revealed she faced online abuse while pregnant.

During a keynote speech at South by Southwest (SXSW) festival to mark International Women’s Day on Friday, the Duchess of Sussex recalled the “cruel” comments aimed at her while carrying her two children, Prince Archie and Princess Lilibet.

On the comments she faced, the duchess said: “You just think about that, and have to really wrap your head around why people would be so hateful. It’s not catty, it’s cruel.”

Meanwhile, as the Princess of Wales continues her recovery from abdominal surgery away from the public eye, her uncle Gary Goldsmith was booted out of the Celebrity Big Brother house on Friday night.

The businessman came under scrutiny after he shed further light on the ongoing rift between Prince William and his brother Prince Harry.

He told fellow contestants on Wednesday: “He’s had an olive branch open every time for Harry to come back and be part of the gang.”

The comments come as the Prince of Wales visited the Oval cricket ground, home of Surrey County Cricket Club, to celebrate the achievements of Notpla’s seaweed-based eco-packaging, which aims to reduce waste.

Former Sex Pistol John Lydon blames immigration for ‘division’ in UK

John Lydon has lashed out at the apparent effects of immigration in the UK during a fiery interview in which he doubled down on his support for Brexit.

The former Sex Pistol, who is himself the son of immigrants, decried Britain’s seaside towns as “run down” and full of “prospective immigrants”, which he claimed has fueled “animosity in communities.”

Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, rose to fame with the punk band in the mid-Seventies with songs such as “God Save the Queen” and “Anarchy in the UK.”

In recent years he has adopted right-wing political stances including throwing his weight behind Brexit, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage.

But his remarks sparked a backlash from migrant charities who branded him “an old punk rocker… shamefully choosing to demonise marginalised communities.”

Speaking to LBC host Andrew Marr on Thursday evening (7 March), Lydon said that much of his forthcoming tour is taking place in seaside towns, which he claimed indicates how “run down” Britain has become.

“They used to be fantastic places when I was a kid,” the 68-year-old told Marr. “Mum and dad would drag us off for what felt like hours in a traffic jam, but it was absolutely great, it was working-class people throwing sand at each other… and the environment was economically thriving, I suppose. It was vibrant.”

Now, Lydon claimed, those towns are “full” of “prospective immigrants… which are really illegals [who are] not being cared for properly, but they shouldn’t have been accepted in such vast numbers.

“It’s created a real animosity in communities,” he continued. “The division… when you import so many people with a completely different point of view, they’re not going to adapt to yours, they’re going to stay and bring the problems they’re allegedly escaping from with them.”

Marr then asked Lydon what the difference was between “Britain importing the Lydons” from Ireland and the current situation.

“The first thing my mum and dad would tell me when I was very young was, ‘You’re British now, be British, and be proud of it,’” Lydon responded.

“Most excellent advice, and I’ve followed through.”

Lydon reaffirmed his support for Brexit in spite of its impact on the economy, remarking: “I’d rather a faltering economy than a dictatorship.”

In January, a damning report by Cambridge Econometrics found that the decision to leave the EU has already cost the UK £140bn, and is predicted to leave Britain’s economy £311bn worse off by 2035.

Lydon’s remarks on LBC sparked criticism on social media, with many pointing out what they perceived as hypocrisy in Lydon’s attacks on immigration, given his own family history.

Steve Smith, CEO of Care4Calais told The Independent: “These are rotten comments from an old punk rocker who made his name railing against the establishment.

“Now he is shamefully choosing to demonise marginalised communities, rather than blame those in power for the decline of the UK’s economy, public services and communities.”

“Son-of-immigrants and husband-of-an-immigrant John Lydon ranting about immigrants has at least proved one thing: punk is a young man’s game,” David Williamson wrote on X/Twitter.

Lydon was married to Nora Forster, a German-born music promoter who moved to the UK in the Sixties, for 44 years.

Amra Watson commented: “John Lydon joins the right wing brigade and blames the lack of investment, sewage in rivers & seas, lack of local services, and we may add, low wages, cost of living crisis, NHS queues, child poverty, crumbling schools, corruption… on immigration.”

“John Lydon provides this year’s least punk interview,” another critic said. “Son of Irish migrants and Irish passport holder, Lydon migrated to the USA decades ago and has taken out US citizenship. And without a shred of self-awareness, he asserts that immigration is destroying Britain.”

Lydon threw his support behind Brexit after the EU referendum in 2017, during an appearance on ITV breakfast show Good Morning Britain.

“Where do I stand on Brexit?” he asked. “Well, here it goes, the working class have spoke and I’m one of them and I’m with them.”

In the same interview, Lydon said that the then-newly elected US president Donald Trump was a “complicated fellow” who had been “smeared by “the left-wing media”.

“One journalist once said to me, is he the political Sex Pistol? In a way,” he said. “What I dislike is the left-wing media in America are trying to smear the bloke as a racist and that’s completely not true.

“There are many, many problems with him as a human being but he’s not that and there just might be a chance something good will come out of that situation because he terrifies politicians.

“This is a joy to behold for me. Dare I say, [he could be] a possible friend.”

Anthony Joshua demolishes MMA king Ngannou in knock out for the ages

Anthony Joshua knocked Francis Ngannou out cold on Friday to position himself for a shot at the undisputed heavyweight title and the winner of Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk.

Joshua dropped Ngannou in round one with a clean right hand – when the ex-UFC champion went southpaw – before doing the same in round two. After Ngannou beat the referee’s count following the second knockdown, Joshua knocked the Cameroonian out cold with his very next punch, another right cross.

With the win, “AJ” made it back-to-back wins under Ben Davison, a former coach of Fury. With Davison in his corner, 34-year-old Joshua stopped Otto Wallin in five rounds in December.

Like that win over Wallin, and Ngannou’s boxing debut against Fury in October, Joshua’s victory took place in Riyadh. Billed as “Knockout Chaos”, Friday’s event was the latest fight card put on by Turki Al-Sheikh in Saudi Arabia.

“It is what it is,” said Joshua, a former two-time unified champion. “We welcomed [Ngannou to boxing], he’s a great champion. It doesn’t take away from his capability. He can come again, I told him he can stay in boxing. It’s up to him.

“The Ben Davison performance centre [is the reason for my improvement]. I’m hungry, stay hungry, and all that good stuff. I don’t know [if I’m coming into my peak]. It only takes one shot.

“If that was me [losing], you’d be saying, ‘Joshua should retire.’ I don’t know if I’m in my peak. I’m pushing day by day, who knows where it will take me? In five years, I won’t be fighting no more, this will be a distant memory. I just want to fight. Yes, [the winner of Fury vs Usyk].”

Joshua’s promoter Eddie Hearn added: “I’m so proud of him. His Excellency [Al-Sheikh] said if we win this fight, we’ll fight the winner of Fury vs Usyk. You’re looking at the baddest man on the planet.

“On this form, there’s no man that can beat this man in the heavyweight division. Tyson Fury, please beat Usyk, you’ll get the biggest fight in the history of the sport.

“That was one of the most destructive knockouts I’ve ever seen. What I said would happen happened, he destroyed Ngannou. He’s a savage, a beast, I can’t wait for him to beat Tyson Fury.”

Attention now turns to the undisputed fight between WBC champion Fury and unified champion Usyk, who will collide in Riyadh on 18 May.

Fury and Usyk were due to box each other in February, but their fight was postponed on short notice when the “Gypsy King” sustained a cut over his eye.

Fury, 35, survived a stunning knockdown by Ngannou in October to win a controversial decision against the MMA fighter.

Ngannou, 37, last fought in mixed martial arts in January 2022, retaining the UFC heavyweight title, which he vacated upon leaving the promotion in early 2023.

In Friday’s co-main event, Joseph Parker survived two knockdowns to outpoint Zhilei Zhang and win the WBO interim heavyweight title.

Zhang knocked down Parker with a southpaw straight in round three, before dropping the New Zealander with a short right hook in round eight. However, it was Parker who did the better work across 12 rounds, securing a majority-decision win over the Chinese veteran (113-113, 114-112, 115-111).

The result saw Parker, 32, build upon his victory over Deontay Wilder, whom he outpointed in December.

Constance Marten feels responsible for death of her baby, court told

Aristocrat Constance Marten told jurors she feels “responsible” for “falling asleep” on her newborn while living in a tent on the run with Mark Gordon.

The 36-year-old mother-of-five, who denies gross negligence manslaughter of her daughter Victoria, told the Old Bailey the baby was her “pride and joy”.

The infant died while the couple were living off-grid in a tent in wintry conditions after going on the run to stop her from being taken into care like her four older siblings.

The prosecution alleges the couple’s “reckless and utterly selfish” behaviour led to the “entirely avoidable” death of the newborn.

But the mother told the court Victoria, who she delivered unaided in an Airbnb on Christmas Eve 2022, died after she fell asleep with her zipped inside her jacket on 9 January last year. 

Giving evidence for a second day on Friday, she told the jury she believes she may have fallen asleep on the youngster after they pitched a tent in Newhaven to “lay low”.

“I do feel responsible for falling asleep on her if that’s what happened. I’m not sure because the autopsy was inconclusive but I do feel responsible for her.”

Answering questions from her barrister Francis Fitzgibbon KC, the mother said she and Gordon stayed put in Newhaven for several days in the wake of the death, until the pair travelled to Brighton on 12 January with Victoria’s remains in a Lidl carrier bag.

She said they were in a “state of grief and fear” and she considered handing herself in, but feared she would be blamed for the infant’s death.

She explained she had previously read about other parents who were wrongly jailed for their child’s death during family court proceedings over her four other children. 

“I was too scared to take that risk because I knew that with all the press coverage I felt that people wanted something negative to have happened and they wouldn’t believe the truth,” she told the court.

Marten, who was wearing a white floral blouse and dark trousers, said Gordon became “anorexically thin” and “very unwell” in the weeks that followed after they stopped venturing into shops for food amid fears they would be caught.

They left Victoria’s body in the tent a couple of times but usually carried her with them, disguising themselves with glasses and a cap, the court was told.

But they were finally arrested on 27 February after they were spotted purchasing food and taking out cash from a shop in Brighton.

The infant’s remains were eventually found several days later in a Lidl shopping bag in a disused shed, covered in rubbish.

Asked why she did not tell police what had happened to Victoria straight away, she replied: “I was terrified. Scared of this happening – what’s happening now…being on trial.”

She said she did not want them to find her remains, which the couple had left in the allotment shed where they had been sleeping after they had been “number one” in the news for so long.

Under cross-examination, the mother insisted she gave her daughter the best level of care and told the court that “accidents happen”.

“I showed my baby the maximum amount of love that I had to give,” she told prosecutor Joel Smith.

“Mr Smith, in life, accidents happen and they are tragic but it’s not something I could have foreseen in any way, shape or form.”

Facing questions over whether it was safe to raise a newborn in a tent in winter, she argued the court was looking at the issue from a “Western perspective” – citing children in Mongolia, children living in igloos and refugees raising infants in Calais.

She also claimed that her two oldest children suffered abuse after being taken into care and that a family court was wrong to take them away, adding: “I think it is a very, very corrupt system.”

Mr Smith asserted that Marten and Gordon went underground with baby Victoria because she thought social services were wrong.

He asked: “Has it occurred to you that they were right?”

Marten replied: “Victoria would be alive if it were not for them. I’m not saying they are to blame for her death. I’m saying we were in a very unfortunate position.”

Mr Smith went on: “Has it occurred to you in trying to prove them wrong you proved them more right than ever?”

The defendant replied: “I wasn’t trying to prove them wrong I was trying to bring her up with the love that she deserves with her parents.”

She also claimed she put on a fake Irish accent and gave birth to her first child under a false identity because she was trying to flee her “bigoted” family.

“I had to escape my family because my family are extremely oppressive and bigoted and they wouldn’t allow me to have children with my husband and would do anything to erase the child from the family line,” she told the court.

It is the second day of evidence from Marten, who yesterday insisted she had shown baby Victoria “nothing but love” and choked back tears as she relived the moment she awoke to find Victoria dead inside her coat as they camped on the South Downs.

She told the court she and Gordon acted on “impulse and instinct” after their car caught fire on 5 January and travelled the country by taxi – fearing her family was using private investigators to trail them. Eventually they bought a tent and took a taxi to the port at Newhaven to “lay low away from prying eyes” amid a high-profile police appeal to find them, she told the jury.

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 continues.

Revealed: Synthetic opioids have already claimed lives behind bars

New super-strength synthetic opioids 250 times stronger than heroin have already claimed lives in British prisons, The Independent can reveal, as experts warn that jails are not prepared for a feared influx of the deadly drugs.

Drug treatment services have been sounding the alarm for months over fears the potent substances, known as nitazenes, could flood British drugs markets as the Taliban’s opium ban restricts heroin supplies, causing a further spike in drug deaths already at record levels.

With inspectors and MPs warning it is “inevitable” the drugs will find their way into prisons if prevalent on the outside, frontline experts told this newspaper that, with the drugs market on prison wings currently “as bad as it’s ever been”, nitazenes “could take hold very quickly”.

Urging the government to draw up rapid plans to protect inmates, they warned that “we may already have moved too slowly” – as data obtained by The Independent reveals the substances have already infiltrated prisons, with fatal consequences.

Of the 15 non-intentional drug deaths confirmed in prisons in England and Wales in 2022, two deaths in June at HMP Lewes in East Sussex were caused by overdoses of isotonitazene, a substance 250 times stronger than heroin, according to data obtained under freedom of information laws.

While these are the first publicly confirmed nitazene-related deaths behind bars, the prisons ombudsman is still awaiting the death certificate in six of nine confirmed drug deaths in 2023 – and experts warn most coroners are still failing to test for the potent new opiates. A further 19 deaths are still awaiting classification.

Raising questions over the efficacy of government’s monitoring of the drugs’ prevalence in prisons, this publication can also reveal that the drugs were only detected once – in November – since a private firm was handed £4.7m in April to forensically test prison seizures for nitazenes and other drugs in April.

That is despite the National Crime Agency reporting 65 nitazene-related deaths in the wider community in the last six months of 2023 alone, and HM chief prisons inspector Charlie Taylor telling The Independent it is “inevitable” the drugs will find their way into prisons if prevalent in communities.

“Prisons are so overburdened, so close to the edge with understaffing and huge pressures on the health services provided within prisons already, that there’s almost nil chance they’ll be able to prepare for – let alone cope with – a sudden influx of nitazenes and rising deaths,” said Martin Powell, of the Transform Drugs Foundation.

Warning the government that “something potentially very dangerous is happening, [and] the speed of reaction is our responsibility now”, Mike Trace – chief executive of the Forward Trust, which provides drug and alcohol services in 25 prisons – said: “Past experience would suggest we’ve moved too slow.”

“Nitazenes are arriving when the drug market is probably at its highest in prisons,” said Mr Trace, whose organisation issued a national alert to its staff about the substances last month. “The culture on every wing is: ‘who are the dealers, what are they bringing in?’ The vast majority of people are involved in some way.

“If there’s a new drug that comes along then, because you have this dominant drug-use, drug-dealing culture, it could take hold very quickly.”

Urging officials to do “rapid preparatory work” to scale up testing and early warning capabilities, he added: “Usually with new drug trends in prisons, they come to senior attention too late. So when we know of something that could lead to a lot of deaths, we’ve got to get ahead of the normal process of learning.”

The prison service is part of a new cross-government taskforce on synthetic opioids which meets monthly, and the Ministry of Justice aims to roll out scanners capable of detecting even small traces of drugs to all public prisons by April.

But experts warn that the understaffing crisis means security processes are not always followed, with some corrupt staff smuggling drugs into prisons themselves. Last year, so few mandatory drug tests were carried out in prisons that the government redacted the numbers from their annual data release.

Part of the danger posed by nitazenes is that they have been discovered in not just heroin, but illicit vapes, diazepam and codeine pills. But in the sole instance last year when nitazenes were discovered in a prison seizure, the government claimed the sample was deemed to be too dangerous for the private laboratory to handle – and it was therefore not tested for any other substances.

“What we don’t want is [to only discover nitazenes are] a problem because there’s a massive influx of deaths. That’s the only way we really know now,” said Martin Blakeborough, chief executive of treatment provider Kaleidoscope.

The Prison Governors Association told The Independent that while prison bosses are aware of the threat of nitazenes, synthetic opioids are one of many risks and competing priorities that they have to manage on a daily basis.

Describing the threat of nitazenes as “yet again another example of why there’s got to be sustained investment in prisons”, Tory justice committee chair Sir Bob Neill warned that already “patchy” prison health provision is being exacerbated by overcrowding and “often very poor” conditions, adding: “Anything like this arising will make it even worse.”

If the drugs do begin infiltrating prisons en masse, a vital tool will be the lifesaving overdose-reversal drug naloxone, and the government has announced it would permit and train prison staff who volunteer to administer nasal naloxone sprays – but without any pay reward. As a result, Inside Time reported this week that the Prison Officers Association had urged its members not to volunteer for this “additional task, which carries career-threatening risks”, warning that doing so could jeopardise pay negotiations.

But Mr Blakeborough suggested prisoners themselves could be trained to administer nasal naloxone to protect their cellmates from overdose, in an unintended benefit of the overcrowding leaving inmates cramped together in one-person cells.

“We don’t want people on their own injecting drugs, but it’s no use having someone with them who can’t do anything, because the reaction time is too slow. Are you going to dob your mate in that they’ve injected drugs? No, not until they’ve gone blue, and even then you might be nervous about it.”

“Prisons have to have an adult conversation,” he said, adding: “We can go into every prison and provide that training to people who use drugs, you don’t even need the prison officers to do it.”

He added: “They’ve got to do something now. Let’s look at naloxone now, training prisoners up now. It’s a bit like Covid preparedness – we’re at that point, it’s unavoidable. So let’s make sure we make prisons as safe as possible.”

A government spokesperson said: “We know the threat synthetic opioids present which is why we’re part of a cross-government taskforce set up to tackle their prevalence in society, including prisons.

“We are also rolling out drug-free units and hiring dedicated staff to help more prisoners beat addiction and into recovery, while our £100m security crackdown is helping keep more drugs out of our jails.”

The truth about the £100k gender pension gap

It can be easy to bury your head in the sand when it comes to retirement, especially when it seems a long way off. But if you want to live comfortably when the time comes to stop working, planning ahead is vital. It’s even more important for women, who are on track to have significantly less money than men in later life.

Just as there’s a gender pay-gap, there’s also a discrepancy between how much income men and women have in retirement, too – and it’s even bigger. Research from Scottish Widows shows there is a massive 39% gender pension gap*. This gap grows wider over the course of an average woman’s working life – at 22, there is a £100 difference in pension savings between men and women. By 65, this has grown to a shocking £100,000 difference. For the average woman to level this out, she would have to pay an additional £96 every month over her working life.

Scottish Widows latest ‘Women and Retirement’ report shows that a third of women are not on track to achieve even a basic lifestyle in retirement, covering essential needs, with only a small amount left over for anything else. It means many women won’t have the money to live comfortably, let alone do the things they hope to in retirement, such as travel, socialise and pursue hobbies. The average woman is set to receive £12k per year of income in today’s money during retirement, after paying for any expected housing expenses, compared to £19k for the average man. This includes private pension, other long-term savings, inheritance and the state pension or pension credits.

This gender pension gap is largely driven by deep-seated structural issues. The gender pay/wage gap is a factor, as, naturally, when women earn less, they have less to save. Women are also more likely to work part-time and to take career breaks due to caring responsibilities and a lack of affordable childcare. “Childcare is a huge contributing factor for women, often resulting in them giving up work or reducing their working hours to look after their family,” says Jill Henderson, Scottish Widows’ Head of Business Development. “After women have children the gap between their pension and that of a typical man’s starts to widen. This is because women tend to take on the lion’s share of childcare and employment breaks or part time working – all of which are big drivers of the gender pension gap.” Research found 63% of mothers have either reduced the number of days they worked per week when returning from parental leave or have not yet returned, compared to just over 16% of men.

Some women bear the brunt more than others. “The inability to save has a devastating impact on women’s income and ability to thrive in later life,” says Henderson. “Those women who are in a relationship fare better, but those who are single, divorced or are single mothers are most vulnerable.”

Two-thirds of single women and 60% of divorced women aren’t on track for a minimum lifestyle in retirement, while for single mothers the figures are even starker, at 75%. Working part time, coupled with other financial pressures, makes it much more difficult for single mothers to save for retirement. To make things even more difficult, gaps in work for raising children can also affect eligibility for the state pension. It means that single mothers are almost twice as likely to live in poverty in retirement than the average UK woman.

The overall picture is worrying, but there is some room for optimism. Auto enrolment – where an employer must automatically enrol eligible employees into their pension programme – has nearly doubled the number of females saving into a workplace pension in the last decade. For most people, the state pension will not provide enough income to live comfortably in retirement, so it’s vital to invest in private pension pots.

Recent legislation is set to make two key changes to auto-enrolment; reducing the age requirement from 22 to 18, and removing the lower earnings limit (currently £6,240) which means helps people qualify for auto enrolment and get employer contributions and tax relief from the first ound they earn. “These changes will be most valuable to the young and lower paid, including those who work part-time, most of whom are women,” says Henderson.

The ideal amount to be putting away is 15% of your salary (a combination of what you and your employer pay in, plus any tax relief), but even if you can’t manage that, every little bit makes a difference, especially if you get started today. “People can only save what they can afford to, but we suggest people check in on their pension regularly especially if their situation changes,” says Henderson. Young women are now more likely to start saving earlier in life than men — and the sooner you start, the better the position you’ll be in when you retire.

When it comes to planning for retirement, knowledge is power. Scottish Widows have created a new Beat The Gap tool (www.BeatTheGap.com) to help simplify how people engage with pensions, and make it easier for women (and men) to understand how things like working pattern, and childcare can affect their pension. By inputting some simple information, including gender, age and salary, it plots the user against the UK average pension across their lifetime. You can then see where the gap is most likely to emerge and get tailored tips on how to boost your pension and close the gap.

It’s part of a range of free educational support to help women plan for their retirement.

There’s a long way to go to close the gender pension gap, with many societal changes that need to happen. Until then, being aware of the factors that can affect their pension can help empower women to take the steps they need to ensure a more comfortable retirement, while they wait for the bigger picture to shift.

Find out more about the gender pension gap, plus expert tips and free tools to help you save for your retirement at Scottishwidows.co.uk/yourfuture

*2023 RR and 2023 W&R reports (based on the National Retirement Forecast)

Goodbye, Theresa May – thank you for trying

At other times in the nation’s history, Theresa May could have been the right prime minister. She was a diligent, personally decent leader, who found herself in office, slightly to her surprise after other candidates fell at late hurdles, at a time when exceptional qualities were required.

One small measure of her propriety was that she remained in the House of Commons for five years after being prime minister, serving her constituents in Maidenhead and pursuing causes in which she believed – and she announced her intention to stand down as an MP in her local newspaper.

As she joins the growing queue for the exit, further reinforcing expectations of a change of government at the coming election, now is a good time to take stock of her contribution to national life.

Will the Tories get any post-Budget bounce in the polls?

Three new national opinion polls published on Friday include some survey work carried out after the Budget, and all three show Labour leads of more than 20 percentage points.

But even if the Budget did affect public opinion, it would be too early to say what the effect was. YouGov and Techne started their interviews on Wednesday, and so most of them would have been conducted before the Budget headlines landed. People Polling did all its interviews on Thursday, so was more likely to capture any Budget effect. But as one pollster told me the other day, “almost nothing changes public opinion”, and the news stories that so interest the Westminster bubble rarely scratch the surface of the public’s consciousness.