INDEPENDENT 2024-03-14 16:05:49

Tower Hamlets mayor removes Palestinian flags after ‘no go zone’ row

The mayor of an inner-London authority has sparked a backlash after saying he will remove Palestinian flags from flying above the council’s buildings.

Lutfur Rahman has said he has taken the “difficult decision” to remove the flags in Tower Hamlets, which he claimed “are being used to unfairly attack the people of the borough and further the Islamophobic narrative.”

Announcing the decision on X, Mr Rahman denied the flags were “symbols of division” but were “symbols of solidarity and sympathy” with thousands being killed in Gaza.

Mr Rahman said he had decided to begin removing the flags following advice from the council’s chief executive Stephen Halsey.

“I understand that those who have erected these flags across the borough have done so in line with our strong tradition of solidarity and I reject that they are symbols of division,” he said in a lengthy statement. “They are symbols of solidarity and sympathy for those enduring extreme suffering in Gaza. We must not forget that over 30,000 people have now been killed, 70 per cent of whom are women and children.

“The flags certainly had an impact and made residents’ views clear.

“Although these flags are an understandable expression of solidarity, I now feel they are being used to unfairly attack the people of the borough and further the Islamophobic narrative.”

The mayor stressed he was still calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza.

But residents replied saying the mayor had performed an “embarrassing” climbdown and “caved in” to pressure to remove the flags.

Human rights lawyer Mohammed Akunjee, who has worked with Shamima Begum, posted on X: “The Gov and the Labour Party are responsible for the most islamophobic atmosphere I have ever known. Rushanara Ali the MP for Bethnal Green has remained silent whilst our borough has been targeted.”

An independent parliamentary candidate for Bethnal Green and Stepney, he added: “I call on all residents to display the Palestinian flag in their windows in solidarity.

“I am sure we all can imagine the pressure and bullying Lutfor Rahman has been subjected to in order for him to make this statement.”

One teenager, posted on X: “Damn bro caved into the pressure. Disappointing. Tower Hamlets is meant to be one of the biggest supporters of the Palestinian cause in the UK and we can’t even show that?”

Another posted: “I am very sorry to read this – and disappointed in you. Last time I was in Tower Hamlets with my (Jewish) husband we felt really lifted by the sight of so many Palestinian flags. It was good to feel we were somewhere that Palestine has the support of so many decent people.”

One local added on X: “As a resident, I think this is a terrible decision that should be reconsidered. The flags mark the borough as proudly being on the right side of history. To remove is wrong.”

The climbdown comes after the council was threatened with criminal prosecutions or legal proceedings for judicial review by UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) unless it removed the flags, according to their post on X.

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI, said: “After months of ignoring the voice of a significant number of Jewish and other residents of Tower Hamlets, we are pleased that Lutfur Rahman has at last been forced, following our threat of a legal action, to remove the divisive and inflammatory flags.

“It is also regrettable that the police failed to enforce the criminal law.”

The move comes after Tory MP Paul Scully announced he is stepping down at the next general election after comments he made about London and Birmingham were met with uproar.

Mr Scully evoked ire after he said that parts of Tower Hamlets and Birmingham Sparkhill were “no go” areas due to people “abusing” their own religion.

Both areas have a large Muslim population. Tower Hamlets has the largest Muslim population of any local authority area in the UK at 39.9 per cent according to the 2021 census.

In October then Home Secretary Suella Braverman said waving a Palestinian flag on British streets “may not be legitimate” if it is deemed to be a show of support for acts of terrorism.

She had told police officers to use the “full force of the law” against any shows of support for Hamas or bids to intimidate the UK’s Jewish community in the wake of the attack on Israel.

It came as Shabana Mahmood, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for justice and one of the first Muslim women to be elected to the House of Commons, warned of an “explosion” in Islamophobia not being reported to police. Campaign groups have also reported a 365 per cent surge in anti-Muslim hate incidents across the UK following Hamas’s attack on Israel in October last year.

Scientists warning as they call for more research into Wim Hof method

The Wim Hof Method of breathing exercises and ice baths may help the body’s immune system but more research is needed to understand whether it can boost exercise performance and overall health, according to scientists.

A review of nine papers involving eight trials has shown the method’s two main “pillars” – controlled breathing and cold therapy – may reduce chronic inflammation.

The team also warned that the results indicate further research is needed to understand whether the method provides all the benefits that its founder – the Dutch extreme athlete Wim Hof – claims.

Inflammation, which occurs when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive, is associated with many health problems including heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, Alzheimer’s and chronic kidney disease.

But there are currently mixed findings on the effect of the Wim Hof Method on a person’s athletic abilities, the researchers from the University of Warwick said.

Dr Omar Almahayni, from Warwick Medical School at the University of Warwick, said: “Our systematic review underscores the need for further investigation into the Wim Hof Method’s effects on stress, inflammation, and overall health, offering valuable insights into its potential as a complementary approach to wellness.”

He added that the trials reviews had small sample sizes with “high risks of bias found in most of them”.

This means that evidence from them claiming the Wim Hof Method works totally should be treated with caution, Dr Almahayni added.

Also known as The Iceman, Mr Hof holds multiple world records for his ability to withstand extremely cold temperatures.

He gained recognition for advocating the benefits of cold exposure and controlled breathing for physical and mental health.

Mr Hof claims practising his method can help improve wellbeing, boost the immune system, increase energy levels, reduce stress, enhance mental clarity and focus, and increase sports performance, among many things.

Celebrities reported to follow the regime include fitness coach Joe Wicks, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, technology guru Jack Dorsey and actors Liam Hemsworth and Orlando Bloom, among many more.

In the review, just over 150 people – 13% of whom were women – were assessed.

The findings indicated that the Wim Hof Method may reduce inflammation in both healthy and non-healthy people, including those with chronic arthritis, the researchers said.

Two studies showed those practising his method had “significantly” lower levels of proteins known as TNF-ɑ, IL-6, and IL-8, which are associated with inflammation, and higher levels of an anti-inflammatory protein, called IL-10.

The researchers said the impact of the Wim Hof Method on exercise performance – measured by respiratory parameters such as breathing frequency – was less clear, with some studies showing a benefit and others finding no significant difference.

The authors wrote: “More evidence needs to be synthesised about the Wim Hof Method before being recommended to the public.”

Horner’s accuser feels ‘let down’ as she ‘makes appeal decision’

The woman who accused Christian Horner of “inappropriate behaviour” says she feels “disappointed” and “let down” by Red Bull, according to reports.

Red Bull F1 team principal Horner was cleared of any wrongdoing after a three-week internal investigation conducted by an external lawyer. A day later, WhatsApp texts of a sexual nature seemingly involving the two parties were leaked to F1 personnel and the media.

Last Thursday, the female complainant was suspended by Red Bull Racing, on full pay. A Red Bull spokesperson stated: “The company cannot comment on this internal matter”.

Now, a report in MailOnline details that she has decided to appeal the outcome of the investigation and adds how the female accuser is feeling at the current time, having reportedly spoken to a friend. The Independent has approached Red Bull for confirmation of the appeal.

“She is so disappointed with how it’s all gone, especially as she did everything by the book,” the friend said.

“She raised her concerns in private and did everything right, but she feels very let down by the company. They have suspended her when she followed the proper process diligently and correctly.

“But for all that she was suspended from the job she loves and from a sport that she is highly regarded in. The lack of support is noted and she’s just so disappointed with the treatment from her employer.

“Look at what happened. She complained there was a supposedly transparent, independent investigation, Horner was cleared, and she was then suspended.”

The woman has reportedly appealed the outcome of the Red Bull investigation having changed her legal representation in recent weeks.

Max Verstappen’s father, Jos, has expressed his sympathy with the female employee who made the complaint against Horner, saying last week: “I sympathise with the woman, with all that she went through, but we will see what happens.”

Horner, married to Spice Girl pop star Geri Halliwell, last week demanded an end to the whole saga engulfing Formula 1’s dominant team, imploring: “The intrusion on my family is enough.”

Halliwell was present at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix on Saturday in a show of solidarity alongside Horner, having also been present in Bahrain amid much fanfare a week earlier.

The 50-year-old is set to stay on as Red Bull team principal after talks with Red Bull GmbH chief Oliver Mintzlaff in Jeddah over the weekend. The team’s motorsport adviser Helmut Marko is also set to stay on.

Star driver Verstappen, who comfortably won the first two races of the 2024 Formula 1 season, threatened to quit Red Bull if Marko was removed from his position.

Aristocrat accused of killing newborn says ‘babies don’t require that much to survive’

Aristocrat Constance Marten has defended her decision to live in a tent with her newborn baby, telling jurors: “Jesus survived in a barn.”

Marten, 36, and her partner, Mark Gordon, 49, are on trial after their daughter Victoria died while they were camping on the South Downs in wintry conditions last year.

Following their arrests last February, the infant’s badly decomposed body was found in an allotment shed inside a Lidl supermarket bag that also contained soil and rubbish.

On Wednesday, Marten was cross-examined at the Old Bailey about the couple’s decision to buy a tent and live off grid to hide from authorities.

The mother is due to return to the stand on Thursday morning, her fifth day of giving evidence in her trial.

The couple deny charges of gross negligence manslaughter of Victoria between 4 January and 27 February last year, 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.

Let’s go girls: Glastonbury’s line up one-ups the stale male rock of last year

The cat’s out of the bag – but didn’t it take its sweet time? After several months of rumours, the Glastonbury Festival team has finally unveiled their 2024 lineup: Dua Lipa, Coldplay and SZA, with country-pop queen Shania Twain filling the Legends’ Slot. The reactions are… mixed.

Music fans who’ve been keeping their ears to the ground will have heard plenty about the behind-the-scenes kerfuffle in getting this year’s billing together. Co-organiser Emily Eavis was within a whisker of getting her dream artist, Madonna, on board, only to have the “Vogue” singer pull out due to budgetary issues for her extravagant Celebration tour set-up. (I also heard some rumblings about Madonna requesting an entire hotel floor be booked for a full seven days before the festival).

Stevie Wonder was in the mix, too, but also backed out; ditto Bruce Springsteen, another hot favourite after he cameoed with Paul McCartney in 2022. Everyone wanted Taylor Swift, but it turns out she’s booked solid on her record-breaking Eras tour. Rihanna? No chance.

So here we are. If you’re a rock fan who loved last year’s Pyramid Stage-toppers – Arctic Monkeys, Guns’N’Roses, Elton John – chances are you’ll be significantly less thrilled by this year’s pop-friendly stars. Despite the naysayers, actually, Eavis should be applauded for pulling together four acts of this calibre.

I challenge anyone to resist screaming along to Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” while surrounded by fans dressed in leopard print, Stetsons and sequins. Meanwhile, Dua Lipa proved her performance chops with a sizzling rendition of “Training Season” at the Brits earlier this month – I just hope she brings along her chandelier of men. Her “mandelier”, if you will.

SZA seems to be the one causing the most consternation, something I find bizarre considering the four-time Grammy winner recently performed four sold-out nights at the O2 Arena in London. It’s less surprising, though, when you consider the Glastonbury audience demographic is overwhelmingly white – consider the backlash to Jay-Z, one of the biggest artists of the day when he headlined in 2008, or to grime star Stormzy in 2019. Both of them brought the house down.

One critic who described Twain as a “housewives favourite” would do well to remember that she’s sold more records than Guns N’ Roses, Rod Stewart, and Bon Jovi. Her early country crossover albums were produced by the same man who steered the stadium-filling rock of AC/DC and Def Leppard. Come On Over remains one of the biggest-selling records of all time – and in an industry where ageism towards women is still rife, Twain continues to top the albums chart with ease. In fact, it’s outrageous she hasn’t headlined until now.

If the rumours are to be believed, music fans should be more concerned about just how much hustling Eavis and co had to do to secure this year’s acts. After criticism over the all-male lineup last year, Eavis spoke of a “pipeline” problem, pointing to an industry failing to champion women in music, therefore creating a shortage of younger acts who can pull off the spectacle required of a Pyramid Stage show. Scan the rest of the lineup, too, and there is a tang of desperation in the booking of bands like Two Door Cinema Club, Bombay Bicycle Club, Bloc Party, The Streets, and Keane. It’s all very 2010s, isn’t it?

Headlining Glastonbury is supposed to be the jewel in the crown of any artist, something Twain acknowledged as she shared the news of her Legends’ slot. But if the industry doesn’t do more to push artists from a grassroots level and up, the world’s biggest festival is going to look dangerously like an afterthought.

Island-hopping in the Ionian sea: a guide to Greece’s idyllic islands

Mamma Mia! It’s time to start thinking about a summer holiday, and there’s nowhere more picturesque and dreamy than a Greek island. With an estimated 1,600 isles, although not all are inhabited, there’s plenty to choose from that guarantee sparkling seas, golden sands, rugged nature, delicious food, and a warm welcome.

To help you find your ideal Greek island holiday this summer, travel experts Jet2holidays offer great-value breaks in more than 50 amazing destinations, including 21 in Greece. Hotspots and hidden gems, all boards and budgets, flexible stays and fab flight times – there’s something for everyone. With just a £60pp deposit*, 22kg baggage included and flexible monthly payments** to help spread the cost of your well-deserved holiday, it’s never been easier to get your next Greek getaway booked. 

What’s more, with the Jet2holidays sale now on, you can enjoy even better value on your break with up to £240 off† all holidays. Simply sign up for a myJet2 account, visit your independent travel agent or call the Jet2holidays contact centre. Book now and let the countdown to sunshine begin.

Here’s our pick of some of the best islands Greece has to offer…

Stunning beaches are a given in Greece, and in Corfu, the most beautiful include Agios Georgios, a long, horseshoe-shaped bay with a mix of sand and pebbles fringing calm, clear waters. Down the northwest coast is the pretty village of Palaiokastritsa which boasts six sheltered bays and offers boat trips to the fascinating Blue Caves. For a beach as romantic as its name, head to the Canal d’Amour, where a series of unique rock formations create intimate, narrow channels; legend has it that couples who swim between the sea walls together, stay together!

Explore the cobbled streets of Corfu Old Town, and take in pastel-coloured Venetian architecture while looking out for the new and old Fortresses which loom over the harbour. Base yourself at the swish Olivar Suites on the southeastern coast, a restful haven set in olive groves, away from the bustle.

Lefkas, also known as Lefkada, is an island connected to the Greek mainland by a causeway. Head to the beach at Porto Katsiki, located below a set of huge, looming cliffs which create a unique and dramatic landscape. Another gem is nearby Egremni, a classic, Caribbean-style stretch of white sand, fringing crystal-clear turquoise water, while if you fancy windsurfing, head to Vasiliki. On the east coast, check into the four-star, beachfront Porto Galini Sea Side Resort and Spa; handily, it’s just 15 minutes’ drive from Lefkada Town.

Also formerly under Venetian rule, landmarks including Church of the Pantokrator and the ruins of Agia Mavra Castle are worth a look. Escape to a pretty coastal village, such as Agios Nikitas or Nikiana, where you can take a table at a seafront taverna, and tuck into local speciality Englouvi lentils served with riganada (bread with olive oil, vinegar, and oregano). For a foray into nature, head to the spectacular waterfalls of Dimossari, near Nydri village.

Also known as Zakynthos, Zante is a popular island in the Ionian Sea, with a plethora of alluring beaches. The most famous is Navagio, which is surrounded by dramatic, honey-coloured cliffs and often called ‘Shipwreck Beach’ after the cargo boat which ran aground there in 1980, another must-visit is Agios Nikolaos, a serene pebbly stretch on Zante’s northern shore.

Stay at the luxury Domes Aulus Zante Autograph Collection, a laidback beachfront paradise on the south coast, near the quiet resort town of Kalamaki, where you can spot endangered loggerhead turtles. Zante has its own Blue Caves, a set of geological formations turned azure by the reflections of the sea, while its capital, Zakynthos Town, offers architecture influenced by its former Venetian, French and English rulers. Don’t miss the imposing Church of Agios Dionysios with its signature bell tower, and the ruins of the old Venetian Castle.

Sprinkled with Hollywood stardust, scenic Kefalonia was the location for the Nicolas Cage and Penelope Cruz movie, Captain Correlli’s Mandolin. Key scenes were shot in the harbour town of Sami, the stunning Antisamos beach and in the picturesque fishing village of Fiscardo. Kefalonia’s jagged coastline is made up of limestone cliffs, bays and strips of dazzling white sand, like Myrtos Beach in the north. Other standout beaches include Skala, bordered by thick trees and rocky outcrops, and the unusually named Xi beach, where white cliffs contrast with rare, rust-coloured sand.

Stay at the luxurious, contemporary, adults-only Thalassa Boutique Hotel Kefalonia on the southwest coast, a short drive from capital, Argostoli, where you can explore the Archaeological Museum, Municipal Theatre and historic castles and monasteries. For something more adventurous, explore the vast azure lake inside Melissani cave or hike Mount Ainos, the island’s highest peak, covered in pine forests and home to wild horses. Visit a winery such as Robola or Haritatos for a tasting.

Jet2holidays, the UK’s number one tour operator, offers package holidays you can trust where everything’s included. With you every step of the way, Jet2holidays has an incredible range of great-value, expert-rated getaways for all types of holidaymakers, across more than 50 stunning destinations. From the five-star luxury of Indulgent Escapes by Jet2holidays® to the compelling cities of Jet2CityBreaksVIBE by Jet2holidays for Insta-worthy stays that suit your style to family-friendly Jet2Villas, the boxes are ticked for every age, budget and interest. What’s more, with holidays secured for just £60pp deposit* and flexible payment options**, plus a host of perks like 22kg baggage and return transfers included††, it’s easy from start to finish. It’s all ABTA and ATOL-protected too, so you can enjoy sunshine with peace of mind. To find out more and book with the best, head here.

*On bookings made ten weeks or more before departure. **Terms and conditions apply. Please visit for details. †Based on 4 people. On all holiday departures until 31 October 2025. . T&Cs apply. £60pp discount does not apply to Free Child Places. See ††Transfers are not included as standard on Jet2CityBreaks. Jet2Villas packages include car hire instead of transfers.

Racist slurs against Diane Abbott are a stain on both main parties

Of all the players in the current political drama, the one we have really been waiting to hear from is the victim of the egregious abuse thrown in her direction by a super-rich Tory donor, Frank Hester. Diane Abbott, Britain’s first Black female MP, now breaks her silence in The Independent, and she has spoken out with a quiet, cold anger about her treatment – in fact, by the leaderships of both main parties.

Suspended from Labour over allegations of antisemitism in a letter she wrote to a newspaper last year, for which she has apologised, she finds that Sir Keir Starmer was initially more interested in scoring points about political funding than in the “textbook” racism and sexism directed at her.

As she puts it: “The position of the current leadership of the Labour Party is disappointing… equally reluctant at the outset to call out either racism or sexism. Instead, the entire focus was on the demand that the Tories give Hester back his money, which is surely not the primary point in this case.”

Could the Tories really replace Sunak before the next election?

It has been a difficult few weeks for Rishi Sunak. The Budget failed to reinvigorate the party’s popularity and his personal ratings remain dismal, stuck down at Liz Truss levels of depression. A string of racism rows and the defection of former deputy chairman Lee Anderson to Reform UK have dealt further blows. His subdued party endured rather than enjoyed this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, and Keir Starmer was able to crack a gag about only needing a hardy lettuce to make it 2022 all over again. The No 10 media team seems unable to get a consistent line out for ministers to take. There is talk of a “flurry of letters” going to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee, Graham Brady, calling for Sunak to go; and he’s been warned off calling a May election (assuming he wanted to anyway).

Probably. The public wouldn’t appreciate yet another unelected Tory prime minister; it would be the fourth in four years and the sixth in the last decade. It’s all too difficult and embarrassing; but the mood in the party is getting nihilistic. If they slump even further in the polls and get overtaken by Reform UK, panic might set in. The Tory chaos may get worse, but as long as some kind of stability is achieved in public opinion, Sunak will get through it.