The Telegraph 2024-03-14 10:00:34

Muslim groups that incite hatred to be named as extremists by Government

Muslim groups that incite hatred and undermine democracy will be named and shamed as extremists by the Government, Michael Gove will announce on Thursday.

The Communities Secretary will set out a new definition of non-violent extremism which officials will use to identify and publish a list of Islamist and far-Right groups.

Officials will be instructed to cut off all government funding and block all meetings with any of the groups to ensure they are not inadvertently giving them a “platform or legitimacy to advance extremist ideologies”.

They will be groups that fall below the terrorist threshold and so have, up until now, been free to work with Government, councils, police, health services and universities.

Ministers believe that using the new definition to identify the groups as extremist will send a signal to public bodies to think twice about working with them or employing individuals associated with them.

Officials expect to face judicial reviews by groups included on the list as there will be no right of appeal to the final decision by the Secretary of State. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and Cage International told The Telegraph on Wednesday night that they were considering legal challenges if they were named.

A senior member of the MCB previously advised the police. If the group is deemed extremist by the Government, it is likely to put pressure on organisations not to work with it.

It is understood that Mr Gove is planning to name several groups on Thursday under Parliamentary privilege which protects the right of MPs to speak freely without being sued.

The moves follow a six-fold increase in anti-Semitic incidents and a four-fold jump in anti-Muslim hatred since Hamas’s terrorist attack on Israel on Oct 7.

Mr Gove said on Wednesday: “The pervasiveness of extremist ideologies has become increasingly clear in the aftermath of the October 7 attacks and poses a real risk to the security of our citizens and our democracy.

“This is the work of extreme Right-wing and Islamist extremists who are seeking to separate Muslims from the rest of society and create division within Muslim communities. They seek to radicalise individuals, deny people their full rights, suppress freedom of expression, incite hatred and undermine our democratic institutions.

“Today’s measures will ensure that Government does not inadvertently provide a platform to those setting out to subvert democracy and deny other people’s fundamental rights.”

A more precise definition

The new definition is more precise than the last version which was contained in the 2011 Prevent counter-terror programme. It says that “extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance”.

It states three aims deemed extremist: “To negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; intentionally create a permissive environment for others to do so.”

The definition will cover both organisations and individuals, although officials expect it to apply to groups “in the first instance”. Individuals involved with the named extremist groups could still be blocked for honours or public appointments.

Officials, supported by experts from a new counter-extremism centre of excellence in Mr Gove’s department, will investigate potential extremist groups’ activities, behaviours and pronouncements before presenting a recommendation with evidence to the Secretary of State to make the final decision on which groups are on the list.

Definition will not apply to ‘mainstream discourse’

The Government insists the definition will not stifle free speech or apply to “debate within the boundaries of mainstream discourse” such as conservative religious views, climate change, abortion rights or gender-critical issues. It is neither statutory nor part of criminal law.

However, in an article in the The Spectator on Thursday, Toby Young, general secretary of the Free Speech Union, warned that the plan could hand a “dangerous weapon” to a Labour government, which could tweak it to “smear their political opponents”.

Detailed guidance will be published on Thursday setting out the types of behaviour and ideologies that could be captured by the definition. At the weekend, Mr Gove described chants of “from the river to the sea” as amounting to the “legitimisation of an extremist position which intimidates and leads to hate”.

A “permissive environment” could be a group which repeatedly provides a platform to extremist speakers despite being told they meet the definition for extremism.

The 2011 definition of extremism stated that it was the “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” It added that extremism included “calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas”.

The MCB is an umbrella body with more than 400 Muslim organisations as affiliates. The Government has already cut off contact with it. Cage International campaigns against state policies developed as part of the war on terror but has sparked controversy over its defence of the rights of terror suspects.

The MCB said it would be “offensive, ludicrous and dangerous” to suggest it fell under arbitrary definitions of extremism. “We are a democratic organisation representing a cross-section of British Muslims. We shall be monitoring developments and will seek to reserve our position legally,” it said.

Cage International said it was “extremely opposed to an establishment that is aiding livestreamed genocide abroad and imposing draconian laws at home to suppress taxpayers and citizens, who seek to express their basic humanitarian values. We will be keeping all our options open, including a legal challenge against the Government.”

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Watch: Stephen Colbert mocks furore surrounding Princess of Wales

One of America’s most prominent comedians has joked about scurrilous rumours concerning the Prince and Princess of Wales on a popular late night television show.

Stephen Colbert, the host of The Late Show on CBS, used his opening monologue on Tuesday night to mock the furore surrounding the Princess following her admission that she had edited a family portrait.

“I’m afraid I’ve got some troubling news about England’s Royal family,” he said.

“The United Kingdom has been all aflutter by the seeming disappearance of Kate Middleton.”

He went on to repeat unsubstantiated internet rumours about why the Princess had not been seen in public.

“Oh, my heart goes out to poor Kate,” he said, to laughs and groans from the audience.

Colbert went on to joke about the rumours that he said had been circulating since 2019.

Endless stream of false allegations

The subject was also raised on Monday night’s show, when the comedian joked about online speculation that “Kate Middleton is dead, Kate Middleton is getting divorced from Prince William or maybe both”.

The satirical weeknight show is filmed in New York and regularly tops the US late-night talk show ratings, attracting more than two million viewers.

It is not readily accessible in the UK but clips were posted online and the segment concerning the Princess was shared widely on social media.

It is thought unlikely to go down well with Kensington Palace, which has struggled to quash social media speculation in recent days. A spokesman declined to comment.

The Princess, who is recovering from the abdominal surgery she underwent on Jan 17, is understood to have been distressed by the seemingly endless stream of false allegations and rumours, which were only fuelled by the revelation on Monday that she had edited a family photograph.

In January 2023, the Duke of Sussex appeared on the programme to promote his memoir, Spare.

On the show, the Duke claimed that his family was engaged in an “active campaign” to undermine his book because it made them feel “uncomfortable and scared”.

The fact that he knows how the system works is “terrifying for them”, he claimed.

“The moment that I started doing therapy, it’s like we started speaking a different language,” the Duke added. “They couldn’t understand me. I was doing my best to try and encourage them to [heal].”

The Duke also admitted that he watches The Crown and “fact checks” it, including the “older stuff and more recent stuff”.

He admitted that he was previously “obsessed” with the media but claimed he had now weaned himself off it and now worried about “what he put through his eyes” as much as what he put into his mouth.

In lighter moments, the Duke was filmed being greeted at the New York TV studio by men dressed as ceremonial guards with trumpets before he was told to move out of the way as the fanfare was for actor Tom Hanks.

The Duke sipped tequila throughout the interview, at one point admitting that he had always wrongly assumed that if he and the Duchess had children there was no way “the ginger gene would stand up to his wife’s genes”.

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Dealer said £43k Ferrari was in ‘good condition’ – but Ian Wright had crashed it into a tree

A car enthusiast had a £43,400 Ferrari shipped to Australia from Britain before realising it had previously been crashed by Ian Wright, the former footballer.

Reid Torr, a computer engineer in Brisbane, is poised for a large compensation payout after he bought the blue Ferrari 360 Spider in the belief it was in good condition, only to receive it in a state of disrepair.

It soon emerged that the classic car had been involved in a head-on crash in July 2004 under its previous owner, the former England striker Ian Wright, but a car dealer described it as being in “excellent” condition.

Central London County Court has now ruled Mr Torr is entitled to compensation following a five-year legal battle between himself and Brendan Connor, the Hertfordshire dealer who sold the car.

Recorder Graeme Robertson ruled that Mr Connor, 65, was “dishonest” during the sale and was “liable in fraudulent misrepresentation” because he did not believe he was telling the truth when he described the car as being in a good condition.

The court heard that the car, which would have retailed at £120,000 when it first went on sale, had previously been owned by Wright, the former Premier League star and Match of the Day pundit. There is no suggestion he is involved in the case.

It sustained severe damage when it collided with a tree in Croydon, south London, with the former footballer at the wheel in 2004, narrowly missing a row of houses as it careered down a bank.

Mr Torr bought the car after seeing an online advert for it being sold by Heathfield Motor Company in Hertfordshire, of which Mr Connor was the sole director, in April 2013.

It was described as in “great condition in and out” and Mr Torr claimed he was told over the phone that it was “in excellent condition with no damage to its body or interior”.

Stephanie Jarron, his barrister, said he agreed to the purchase and it was shipped to Australia in May 2013, after which he quickly realised it did not match up to his expectations.

The fit of the bonnet was so bad that an attempt had been made to fix it by installing washers under a bonnet hinge, there was a crack to the inside of a headlight, the wings were poorly fitted and there was also damage to the paintwork, the soft-top roof and the underside of the car, Ms Jarron said.

The barrister told the judge that an Australian mechanic had described the car as a “dog”.

Mr Torr initially sued Heathfield Motor Company and was awarded more than £70,000 damages, but received nothing because it had been put into voluntary liquidation.

He then sued Mr Connor personally, initially securing victory when a judge in 2019 found Mr Connor had made “fraudulent representations” about the state of the car.

False representations

However, the ruling was overturned on appeal, before going back before Judge Robertson in January for a decision whether the false representations were “fraudulent”.

In his defence, Mr Connor denied that he was dishonest, claiming that at the time he made the representations to Mr Torr, he believed they were true.

Giving judgment this week, the judge found that Mr Connor did not know about Mr Wright’s accident but that as an automotive professional and a former mechanic, he would have known what to look for when he inspected the vehicle before sale.

Recorder Robertson said: “I have therefore reached the unhappy conclusion that Mr Connor was not telling me the truth when he said he did not see the defects and I reject his evidence on that point.

“Mr Torr’s claim on the dishonesty issue succeeds,” he concluded. “Mr Connor made the representations without belief in their truth and therefore fraudulently.”

Mr Torr’s damages have not yet been decided.

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Ban on foreign state ownership of UK newspapers effectively halts UAE takeover of Telegraph

Foreign state control of British newspapers is to be outlawed, effectively blocking the UAE’s attempted takeover of The Telegraph.

Ministers revealed plans on Wednesday “explicitly to rule out newspaper and periodical news magazine mergers involving ownership, influence or control by foreign states”.

The move, announced by Lord Parkinson, the culture minister, was made to see off a rebellion being led by a Tory peer and sparked by The Telegraph’s predicament.

RedBird IMI, a fund 75 per cent backed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the UAE vice-president, had positioned itself to take control of The Telegraph and The Spectator magazine by repaying the debts of the Barclay family, the current owners.

The takeover has been under scrutiny from the Government using existing powers to protect press freedom, but MPs and peers across Parliament have demanded tighter laws against foreign state control.

Peers argued during a debate in the House of Lords on Wednesday that letting a foreign state own a British newspaper would be “outrageous” and “inconceivable”.

New law could be in place in weeks

The new law will be made by an amendment to the Digital Markets Bill, but will change the wording of the existing Enterprise Act. It could become law within weeks.

The amendment is yet to be published and it remains unclear what percentage of foreign state ownership would amount to “influence” under the proposed change. 

Lord Parkinson said the amount of overall ownership by a foreign state entity, such as a national investment fund, that would be allowed would be “very low” but gave no figure. Under other legislation, the threshold for a stake to be considered controlling, is 25 per cent.

Some UK news organisations, such as The Independent, already are part-owned by foreign state bodies. It is understood the new ban would not be retrospective, so existing foreign state involvement in British news organisations, such as a Saudi stake in The Independent, would be unaffected. Peers also noted Norway’s investment fund has holdings in various UK media outlets, via the stock market. 

It leaves RedBird IMI with a decision to make on whether to restructure to dilute the UAE funding to a level that might be acceptable under the new regime. The bidder is being advised by figures including George Osborne, the former chancellor, and Ed Richards, the former chief executive of the media regulator Ofcom.

On Wednesday night, RedBird IMI appeared to signal it could reconsider its pursuit of The Telegraph and The Spectator in response to the new laws.

A spokesman said: “We are extremely disappointed by today’s development. To date, Redbird IMI has made six investments across the UK and US, and we believed the UK’s media environment was worthy of further investment.

“As with each of our deals, we have been clear that the acquisition of The Telegraph and The Spectator has been a fully commercial undertaking.

“We remain committed to developing powerful and commercially sustainable global media assets. We will now evaluate our next steps, with commercial interests continuing to be the sole priority.”

Turning point in battle for Telegraph

It marks a significant turning point in wrangling over the future ownership of The Telegraph, which was seized from the Barclay family in June by Lloyds Banking Group in a dispute over £1.2 billion of overdue debt. RedBird IMI helped repay the family’s debt in December with a loan that it aimed to convert into ownership of The Telegraph and The Spectator. The Barclay family regained ownership but is barred by law from exercising any control over the titles, which are being run by independent directors.

The involvement of the UAE in RedBird IMI triggered concerns about press freedom.

Baroness Stowell, the Tory chairman of the Communications and Digital Committee, had tabled an amendment to give Parliament a veto on foreign state takeovers of UK papers. But moments before a vote was due to take place in the Lords on Wednesday afternoon, Lord Parkinson announced that the Government would put forward its own change.

Lord Parkinson said: “We will amend the media merger regime explicitly to rule out newspaper and periodical news magazine mergers involving ownership, influence or control by foreign states.”

He explained how the new regime would work: “Under the new measures, the Secretary of State [for Culture] would be obliged to refer media merger cases to the Competition and Markets Authority [CMA] through a new foreign state intervention notice where she has reasonable grounds to believe that a merger involving a UK newspaper or news magazine has given or would give a foreign state or body connected to a foreign state, ownership, influence or control.

“The Competition and Markets Authority would be obliged to investigate the possible merger and if it concludes that the merger has resulted or would result in foreign state ownership, influence or control over a newspaper enterprise, the Secretary of State would be required by statute to make an order blocking or unwinding the merger.”

Press freedom ‘should never be for sale’

Only British newspapers and news magazines would be impacted by the change, according to Lord Parkinson, meaning broadcasters will not get new protections.

The amendment making the change will be unveiled for the third reading of the Digital Markets Bill, currently pencilled in for March 26. Any changes will need approval from MPs, too.

The foreign state ownership ban would come into force when the Bill is granted royal assent. There is no strict deadline for how quickly that should happen after parliamentary approval, but on current timings, it could come into force in April.

The Culture Department will continue to scrutinise The Telegraph takeover while peers debate the proposed law change.

Lucy Frazer, the Culture Secretary, is expected to publicly respond to reports on the bid by the media regulator Ofcom and the CMA by the end of the month.

Should she request a phase two investigation, the CMA would be expected to take another half a year, by which time the new ban is likely to have come into effect.

Peers used Wednesday’s debate to once again raise concerns about the prospect of a UAE-backed fund taking over The Telegraph and the Spectator.

Lady Stowell, who withdrew her amendment after the Government’s intervention, said: “What freedom of the press means is freedom from government, the freedom of the media to scrutinise and hold to account those of us in Parliament on behalf of the electorate.”

That principle “is what has prevented any UK government from owning or controlling the press”, she said.

“It’s surely inconceivable then that we’d sanction a foreign government or state power to do what no UK government ever has or would ever do.”

Lord Robertson, a former Labour defence secretary and Nato secretary general, said: “There is no provision in the legal framework of this country at the moment that prevents a foreign government from gaining control, ownership of our media outlets.

“To the vast majority of the public, that would seem to be outrageous. It seems almost self-evident and yet we don’t have that legal provision and we should have.”

Lord Forsyth, a former Tory cabinet minister, said: “It is what it is, which is an influence strategy, the payment of a rich price, and all of that is about getting influence through the media. Of course, money talks and ownership matters.

“The freedom of our press should never be up for sale. He who pays the piper calls the tune, but this is not a melody.

“The very idea of an autocratic state with a poor record on human rights owning or holding any influence in a major British daily newspaper to me is just utterly surreal.

“Nothing less than a complete ban on foreign governments having any role in the governance, ownership or financing of our media is acceptable. It is a no-brainer.”

Robert Jenrick, the former Tory migration minister who led a push by 100 MPs for a parliamentary veto, said the news was “a victory for the free press and free speech in this country”.

Lord Moore, a former editor of The Telegraph, said it was “a very important matter of principle” and “very important that we’ve got to the heart of it”.

He added: “At The Daily Telegraph, we’ve always been very proud advocates and practitioners of a free press, but we haven’t particularly enjoyed having to advocate it quite so hard and quite so repeatedly in order to get the message across.”

Baroness Fleet, a former deputy editor of The Telegraph, warned against the UAE being allowed to take even a minority stake in the newspaper.

She said: “Anyone who buys a newspaper wants to influence society, politicians and government. All proprietors interfere. The notion that a government or someone appointed by a government buys a newspaper other than to directly influence the newspaper is fanciful.

“Since the 7th of October, the newspaper has boldly championed the right of Israel to defend itself against Islamic terrorism and importantly every week The Telegraph has criticised the pro-Palestinian parades through London for their anti-Semitism.

“The idea that an Arab owner – any Arab owner – of The Telegraph or any other newspaper would allow its editor to support Israel and criticise pro-Palestinian anti-Semites is an absurd notion.”

She added: “Allowing that [a minority stake] would also endanger The Telegraph. There would be nothing to stop the rich minority shareholder offering an extremely tempting fortune to a co-shareholder for their stake. That would give Abu Dhabi a majority interest – just what the proposed amendment seeks to avoid.”

The chairman of The Spectator welcomed the Government’s proposals for banning foreign states from owning UK publications. Andrew Neil told Sky News’s Politics Hub: “It’s very much a move in the right direction.

“We welcome that the Government has done this. It’s come late to the party and I think it saw the force of what was happening both in the Lords and the Commons.”

He added that he thought it was “the end, or at least the beginning of the end”, for the RedBird IMI bid for The Spectator and The Telegraph.

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Horizon compensation Bill will not include legally binding timeframes for payments

Legally binding timeframes for Horizon scandal compensation payments will not be included in a new Bill, the Government has confirmed.

Former sub-postmaster Alan Bates accused ministers of seeing deadlines as a “rod for their own backs” – as victims continue to wait for months for payouts.

On Wednesday, the Government unveiled the Post Office (Horizon System) Offences Bill, which is set to exonerate hundreds of former sub-postmasters.

More than 900 of them were wrongfully prosecuted as a result of faulty Fujitsu software, which reported shortfalls at their branches that did not exist.

However, Post Office minister Kevin Hollinrake told the Commons the Bill would not include legally binding timeframes, to ensure victims received payouts in a timely manner.

It was a measure recommended by the Business and Trade Committee – and first suggested by Mr Bates, whose fight for justice was dramatised in the series Mr Bates vs The Post Office.

Responding to the news, Mr Bates told The Telegraph: “The Government doesn’t want to set deadlines because then they would have to stick to them – all they would be making is a rod for their own backs.

“Every scheme should have deadlines for people which make it clear when they will receive an offer and payout.

“I don’t see any reason why this shouldn’t be the case  – plenty of other industries don’t have problems with setting fixed timeframes.”

A sum of £1billion has been put aside by the Government to financially redress Horizon victims – yet just 20 per cent of the fund has been paid out so far.

Last week, the Government was urged to set “legally binding timeframes” for each stage of compensation claims in a report published by the Business and Trade Committee.

Liam Byrne, the Committee chairman, named this recommendation the “Mr Bates Test” after the former sub-postmaster proposed the idea in a hearing.

The report also concluded that the Post Office was “not fit for purpose to administer any schemes of redress”.

Mr Hollinrake confirmed on Wednesday the Department of Business and Trade would be responsible for delivering payouts to victims whose convictions are quashed under the new Bill.

Yet the Post Office would continue to be involved in the claims of those who already have been exonerated in courts – of which more than a hundred have.

Mr Hollinrake told MPs removing the organisation’s involvement in claims that were already submitted would cause further delays.

Defending the decision not to impose timeframes, Mr Hollinrake said: “I strongly support the Committee’s desire to speed up redress.

“We feel their proposed regime would have the opposite impact.”

He added: “It would mean potentially imposing penalties on forensic accountants or others who are helping postmasters to prepare their claims.”

Addressing Mr Hollinrake in the Commons, Mr Byrne, Business and Trade Committee Chairman said: “The proposed new law is an important step forward but it’s not ‘job done’.

“The Post Office is still left in charge of processing too many claims when it’s patently not fit for purpose.

“There’s no legally binding timeframe for tabling offers to victims once their claims are in, and nor is there any standard guidance of what victims are entitled to.

He added: “So, we’ve got a lot of work still to do to get this Bill right for victims who have suffered so much and for so long.”

Rishi Sunak said the proposed Bill “marks an important step forward in finally clearing” the names of hundreds of wronged branch managers who have had their lives “callously torn apart”.

The proposed legislation will automatically exonerate those convicted provided they meet a set criteria including that offences were carried out between 1996 and 2018 – and that they were relevant offences such as theft, fraud and false accounting.

The Government will also bring forward “enhanced” financial redress for postmasters who, while not convicted or part of legal action against the Post Office, made good the apparent losses caused by the Horizon system from their own pockets.

They will be entitled to a fixed sum award of £75,000 through the Horizon Shortfall Scheme.

The Government hopes the Bill will receive royal assent and become law before the start of Parliament’s summer recess.

A Department for Business and Trade spokesman said: “We do not view legislative deadlines as sensible as they put undue pressure on claimants and parliament voted to remove the statutory deadline for the GLO scheme in January.

“It is important we get this right and more complicated claims where individuals choose to go through the full assessment route will understandably take longer to assess, as we take into account the full impact on individuals, including on their health as well as finances.”

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How one man lived in an iron lung for 70 years – and wrote a book with his mouth

Few people write their memoirs by tapping the letters on a keyboard with a pen glued to a stick clenched between their teeth, but that was just one chapter in the astounding life of Paul Alexander.

Written off by doctors when he contracted polio aged six, Alexander was paralysed from the neck down and yet still went on to become a lawyer, author and campaigner.

And for the vast majority of that time Alexander was encased in an iron lung, a contraption that, but for a few people, has long fallen into obsolescence and is now mainly an object of curiosity in science museums.

Known as “Polio Paul” or “The man in the iron lung”, he spent a record-breaking seven decades in the submarine-like tube. Alexander finally passed away on March 11 in his hometown of Dallas, Texas, at the age of 78.

It’s certainly hard to think of a more striking example of dogged resolve than Alexander, who set a Guinness World Record during his remarkable life.

It didn’t begin that way. Paul Richard Alexander was born in 1946 and raised in a sleepy suburb of Dallas with his two brothers, Nick and Phil. But, in 1952, when he was just six years old, Alexander grew sick. His head and neck ached, and he had a fever. The moment his mother saw him come in from playing in the rain, she sent him straight to bed.

Astonishingly, the family’s doctor told his parents to keep him home. The reason? The hospitals were teeming with polio patients. He might have a better chance of recovering if he stayed put.

But, instead, Alexander declined, fast. A few days later he’d lost the ability to speak or swallow. His parents took him to Parkland Hospital – which, as they’d been warned, was completely overrun. When Alexander was finally seen, a harassed doctor diagnosed polio, a highly infectious disease that attacks the nervous system, and told his mother the worst news possible: there was nothing they could do.

Alexander would certainly have died had not a second doctor stumbled upon him and taken a gamble. He rushed the boy into theatre and did an emergency tracheotomy, clearing his lungs of congestion. This saved his life.

But it was a terrifying new reality for Alexander. He woke up in a claustrophobic metal machine, unable to speak or move. He was stuck there for 18 months, listening to other children in the same predicament crying out, and often left unwashed and alone. Even patient solidarity was a risk. As Alexander once recalled: “Every time I’d make a friend, they’d die.”

Alexander was left paralysed from the neck down by the polio. That’s why he needed the so-called “iron lung”: an airtight metal horizontal tube that acts as a giant ventilator. It encloses the patient’s body (all except their head), regulates the air pressure for them, and helps stimulate breathing if their own muscles can’t do it.

The device was initially developed by Louis Agassiz Shaw and Philip Drinker to aid victims of coal gas poisoning in the 1920s, but became widely known as a treatment for polio sufferers – especially during the mass outbreaks in the 1940s and 1950s.

The iron lung largely fell out of fashion, replaced by modern ventilators where a tube passes through the neck. However, during the Covid pandemic, a team in the UK developed a compact version (just covering the torso) to aid patients when there was a shortage of ventilators. 

Otherwise the need for it declined rapidly along with the eradication of polio. 

Thanks to the development of vaccines in the 1950s by a series of scientists (Hilary Koprowski, Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin) and a dramatic fall in cases – from around 350,000 worldwide in 1988 to just 30 confirmed cases in 2022, mainly in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and the Sudan.

Alexander was unlucky to be part of America’s last major outbreak, the worst in the nation’s history, with around 58,000 polio victims – mostly, like him, just children. About 21,000 victims were left disabled in some way, and more than 3,000 died.

Doctors allowed his parents to take him home, renting a portable generator to power his iron lung, because they believed (once again) that he was a lost cause.

Instead, Alexander proved them wrong. A physical therapist, Mrs Sullivan, promised him a puppy if he could learn to gulp and trap air in his throat, without the iron lung, for three minutes (known as “glossopharyngeal breathing”; Alexander called it “frog-breathing”). The incentive worked: a year later, he won that puppy, named Ginger. 

Being able to breathe independently, eventually for hours at a time, represented a vital step towards freedom. Although still needing the machine while sleeping, he could leave it for brief periods during the day and started to work towards his future. His mother home-schooled him and he became the first to graduate from high school in Dallas without attending classes in person.

He went out with friends who took him in his wheelchair to the local cinema and diner, and he went to his family’s Pentecostal church too – a vital outlet for Alexander’s father, as Paul’s brother Phil recalled: “He would let all of his emotions out then. He’d just cry and cry.”

After leaving school, Alexander applied to university, and after two years of frustrating rejections, he eventually got into Southern Methodist University, and then the law school at the University of Texas in Austin.

Alexander went on to work as a lawyer (“And a damn good one too,” he quipped), even appearing in court in a modified wheelchair that held him upright. He was supported by a team of carers, and wrote notes by holding a pen on a stick in his mouth.

He was even able to travel abroad on planes, and he found love – although his first serious relationship ended badly. He got engaged to a woman he met at university, Claire, but her mother strenuously objected and broke it off.

Later, Alexander formed a platonic, but essential, relationship with his caregiver Kathy Gaines – a union that Phil said was like a marriage. It was Gaines who suggested that Alexander write his 2020 memoir, Three Minutes for a Dog: My Life in an Iron Lung, which took him five years. As well as sharing his incredible story with the public, it renewed his campaigning work for disability rights. 

Alexander never switched to a modern positive-pressure ventilator, saying he was used to what he called his “old iron horse”. When it began leaking air in 2015, he posted a video on YouTube pleading for help and a mechanic named Brady Richards came to his rescue. But it was essentially a museum piece. In the UK, no one has used an iron lung since the last recipient died in 2017, aged 75. By 2014, just 10 Americans used one. 

Now, it appears almost extinct. The only other patient in the United States who relies on one, it is thought, is an Oklahoman woman called Martha Lillard. Like Alexander, Lillard caught polio as a child and has remained dependent on the contraption ever since.

Unfortunately, Alexander couldn’t hold back the tide forever. In the spring of 2019 persistent infections meant it became too painful for him to move. He became a patient at Clements Hospital in Dallas, and by the following year, aged 74, he had stopped being able to leave the iron lung completely. 

But these devices were never intended to last this long. 

Paul Alexander’s death has prompted an outpouring of love with hundreds of messages of affection left on his GoFundMe site in just a few hours.

Christopher Ulmer, a disability rights activist who organised the fundraising page to support his care, said in a statement on the site: “Paul was an incredible role model that will continue to be remembered.”

And his brother Phil yesterday wrote tenderly about his sibling on Facebook, noting he was “just a brother, same as yours… loving, giving advice, scolding when necessary, and also a pain in the a— […] He commanded a room. What a flirt! He loved good food, wine, women, long conversations, and laughing. I will miss him so much.”

But the final words should be left to Paul Alexander himself who never let his terrible childhood illness rule his life and ambitions: “I wanted to accomplish the things I was told I couldn’t accomplish and to achieve the dreams I dreamed.

“My story is an example of why your past or even your disability does not have to define your future […] You can truly do anything. You just have to set your mind to it, and work hard.”

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‘Unprecedented’ demand for abortions as some women wait more than three weeks

Unprecedented demand for abortions has left women waiting more than three weeks for a termination, a senior NHS official has warned.

Steve Russell, the chief delivery officer for NHS England, suggested some services were in danger of buckling under the pressure, with some women facing extremely long waits.

He highlighted problems for those waiting for surgical abortions. These are typically used when pregnancy is more advanced, with pills to induce miscarriage limited to early pregnancy.

The senior official warned NHS leaders commissioning local clinics that “services are currently under great pressure”. “Demand has increased to unprecedented levels”, he said, highlighting a sharp rise in 2022 and a failure to meet waiting standards.

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidelines state that patients should get assessment within a week of a request and procedures should be completed within a week of assessment.

“As a result of significant service pressures, providers tell us wait times for surgical abortions [circa 13 per cent of procedures] … do not meet these standards – often being three weeks or longer,” Mr Russell said.

‘Continuity risks’

He raised concerns about “continuity risks” to keeping services open, with evidence that some contractors, especially those providing surgical procedures, were not receiving adequate funding.

In a letter sent to integrated care boards this week, Mr Russell highlights a sharp rise in abortions in 2022, with a 17 per cent rise seen in just six months, according to the latest data.

Official figures show record numbers of abortions performed in 2021, with nearly 215,000 terminations carried out.

More than half were performed at home, using the “pills by post” service, which was set up at the start of the pandemic so that women who were unable to see doctors in person could access early medical abortions.

The Office of National Statistics reports that more than one in four conceptions resulted in abortion that year, a record high rate for England and Wales.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has said the pandemic and cost of living crisis were among the factors fuelling the rise.

‘Cost of living crisis’

Last year, abortion provider MSI Reproductive Choices said a rise in demand had been driven by “the economic downturn, the cost of living crisis, and the ability to access good quality contraception” through sexual health services, which have seen cuts.

Last month a Guardian analysis of English council spending on sexual health services found national cuts of more than a third between 2013-14 and 2022-23.

It said English councils spent £9.58 a head on sexual health services in 2022-23, compared with £14.41 in 2013-14, after taking inflation into account.

Most abortion services are commissioned by integrated care services, with most delivered via BPAS and MSI Reproductive Choices.

A BPAS spokesman said: “Abortion is an essential service, with one in three women having an abortion over their lifetime. Despite this, there has been long-standing underfunding and lack of integrated working across health networks that has seriously endangered the sustainability of the sector.

“Demand for abortion has been increasing since 2017, and with the cost of living crisis BPAS has seen a significant increase in the number of women who need care.

“This has put additional pressure on services in terms of staffing, funding, and the availability of timely local services. This is even more the case for surgical procedures where the number of trained doctors able to provide more specialised care has been dwindling.”

‘Rising demand’

Richard Bentley, MSI Reproductive Choices’ UK managing director, said: “We welcome guidance from NHS England that abortion care should be paid at a sustainable level. We have been advocating for better commissioning for some time, but with rising demand for abortion care this is more important than ever.”

The provider treated 30 per cent more clients than in 2022.

Mr Bentley said: “There is rarely one isolated reason why somebody has an abortion, but alongside continuing difficulties accessing contraception, we hear from women that the cost of living crisis is playing a big part in their decisions.

“While on average waits for surgical abortion are longer, we can still offer appointments within the national guidance of 10 days to all who need it.”

Mr Russell said: “Demand for essential abortion services has risen to unprecedented levels over the last decade – with over 17,000 more abortions performed in the first half of 2022 compared to the year before – which alongside other factors has placed significant pressure on services and led to prolonged waiting times for patients requiring surgery.

“To meet these challenges, the NHS has set out a new plan for the sector and is working with local systems to help boost resilience, enhance NHS provision and improve access and care for women.

“All local health areas are being asked to take key actions, including putting in place plans to help manage long waits and ensuring all contracts for local services are sustainable for patients who need them.”

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