INDEPENDENT 2024-04-02 01:06:43


JK Rowling could be investigated for misgendering trans people, Minister says

JK Rowling could be investigated by police for misgendering trans people under Scotland’s new hate crime law, an SNP minister has said.

The party’s community safety minister, Siobhian Brown, had previously claimed that misgendering – for example, using the pronoun “he” when talking about a trans woman – would not count as a hate crime, but she has now said it would be a police decision.

Speaking as the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act came into force on Monday 1 April, Ms Brown told Radio 4’s Today programme: “It could be reported and it could be investigated. Whether or not the police would think it was criminal is up to Police Scotland for that.”

The legislation was passed in 2021, while Humza Yousaf was serving as justice secretary in Nicola Sturgeon’s government. It is only now being implemented after Police Scotland spent time training its officers.

The new law covers hatred on the basis of age, disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and transgender identity.

Women were not listed as a protected group in the legislation, in a move that has been described as “astonishing” by human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

On this point, Ms Brown admitted that “more work needs to be done” and said a misogyny bill would be introduced.

But the legislation has raised concerns that the definition of a hate crime is too ambiguous, and could threaten free speech, with prominent critics including Rowling, podcaster Joe Rogan and Elon Musk, the owner of X.

Harry Potter author Rowling has frequently argued online that trans women are not women and last week vowed to continue “calling a man a man” despite what she called the “ludicrous law”. She said she would not delete social media posts that could breach hate crime laws.

In response to the new law coming into force on Monday, Rowling posted a series of tweets about trans women who are convicted paedophiles and rapists, writing: “The new legislation is wide open to abuse by activists who wish to silence those of us speaking out about the dangers of eliminating women’s and girls’ single-sex spaces, the nonsense made of crime data if violent and sexual assaults committed by men are recorded as female crimes, the grotesque unfairness of allowing males to compete in female sports, the injustice of women’s jobs, honours and opportunities being taken by trans-identified men, and the reality and immutability of biological sex…

“The re-definition of ‘woman’ to include every man who declares himself one has already had serious consequences for women’s and girls’ rights and safety in Scotland, with the strongest impact felt, as ever, by the most vulnerable, including female prisoners and rape survivors.”

The writer, who lives in Edinburgh, added: “I’m currently out of the country, but if what I’ve written here qualifies as an offence under the terms of the new act, I look forward to being arrested when I return to the birthplace of the Scottish Enlightenment… #ArrestMe.”

Rowling has long been a fierce critic of the Scottish Government’s gender reform plans, arguing the proposals infringe on women’s safety.

She has previously stated that she would rather go to jail than refer to a trans person by their preferred pronouns.

Her latest public row was with trans activist India Willoughby, whom she deliberately misgendered.

“India didn’t become a woman,” she wrote on X. “India is cosplaying a misogynistic male fantasy of what a woman is.”

Willoughby responded to Rowling’s comments, writing: “Genuinely disgusted by this. Grotesque transphobia, which is upsetting. I am every bit as much a woman as JK Rowling. Recognised in law, and by everyone I interact with every day. The debate about whether JK Rowling is a transphobe is over.”

Roger Daltrey says ‘I’m on my way out’ weeks after 80th birthday

The Who musician Roger Daltrey has reflected on his generation after reaching a milestone age, stating: “I’m on my way out.”

Daltrey, who has been the frontman of the “Pinball Wizard” rock band since 1964, stepped down as the curator of the annual Teenage Cancer Trust (TCT) gigs, which took place at Royal Albert Hall this month, after turning 80 on on 1 March.

Over the last 24 years, as the leader of TCT, Daltrey, a vociferous supporter of Brexit, has helped to raise £32m for specialised NHS units to care for young cancer sufferers.

He has now reflected on his decision to end his time as the event’s curator, suggesting it stemmed from a desire to “be realistic” about his future.

Writing in a “backstage diary” for The Times, Daltrey said: “I have to be realistic. I’m on my way out. The average life expectancy is 83 and with a bit of luck I’ll make that, but we need someone else to drive things.

“I’m not leaving TCT – I’ve been a patron since I first met the charity’s founders, Dr Adrian and Myrna Whiteson, more than 30 years ago – and that will continue, but I’ll be working in the back room, talking to the government, rattling cages.”

Daltrey said he had concern “about how many words” he had to remember ahead of recent shows he performed, and admitted to feeling nervous beforehand.

“On at 8.40pm and I’ve got to say I really feel it tonight,” he wrote, adding: “We haven’t done anything for seven months and this winter’s been brutal. I’ve been in hibernation. For the whole of January, I lost my voice completely.

“I live like a monk and if I went on tour for a week I’d be fit as a butcher’s dog again, but tonight, for the first time in my career, I think, ‘Blimey, this is hard.’”

Daltrey paid tribute to the “unsung heroes” who have aided the events over the years during The Who’s swansong performance.

The Teenage Cancer Trust has said it plans on working with a series of guest curators next year, after Daltrey steps down. While the rock legend said he isn’t going away from the TCT, and will continue to serve the charity as an honorary patron, he has “completed the job” he “set out to do”.

Mystery as skull of toddler who went missing eight months ago found near grandparents’ home

The remains of a two-year-old boy were found just half a mile away from the family home from where he vanished eight months ago.

Emile Soleil, 2, disappeared from a family reunion at his grandparents’ house in Le Vernet – a small village in the Alpes-des-Haute-Provence with around 125 residents– on 8 July last year, sparking a huge manhunt involving drones, sniffer dogs and helicopters.

Ramblers in the Alps on Saturday discovered bones belonging to the toddler, including his skull, close to the isolated property. Lead prosecutor Rémy Avon, who is heading the judicial inquiry into his disappearance, said the possibilities that Emile had been murdered, kidnapped, or got involved in an accident were all being looked at.

A statement released by prosecutors in Aix-en-Provence on Sunday said genetic analysis identified the bones as belonging to Emile but that police were continuing to investigate the scene.

The search site is roughly one kilometre from the house in Haut-Vernet where the toddler was last seen with his grandfather, Philippe Vedovini, Le Figaro reports. The mayor of Vernet, François Balique, told the French newspaper the child’s remains were found on a path between the church and chapel of the village.

Emile’s family lives in Marseille and he was on holiday at his maternal grandparents’ home at the time of his disappearance. Police said at least 10 people were present at the property for a family reunion.

The boy was officially in the care of Mr Vedovini on the day of his disappearance, as his parents took a break. A witness saw Mr Vedovini, a physiotherapist-osteopath, cutting wood outside his house around the time Emile is thought to have wandered off.

The family was due to leave for a hiking outing, and Emile’s grandparents noticed he was missing when they went to put him in the car.

Emile was reportedly seen by two people when he left their home but they lost sight of him. Described as 3ft tall, with brown eyes and blond hair, Emile was wearing a yellow T-shirt, white shorts with a green pattern and walking shoes when he disappeared.

Police issued an appeal for information about Emile on 9 July and launched an extensive search operation in Le Vernet, aided by nearly 500 volunteers.

On 13 July, the search was called off and investigators admitted they had “no clue” what had happened to Emile.

There had been no trace of Emile since the day he vanished, with investigators refusing to rule out any theory for the tragedy, including abduction and murder.

There was no immediate comment about the discovery of the bones from Emile’s family, who were all at Easter Sunday mass when told.

José Morale, mayor of La Bouilladisse, the town near Marseille where Emile’s family live for most of the year, said: “We will do our best to support them. For the parents, it’s very complicated. There is no relief, the sadness is infinite, we are all dejected.”

Mr Vedovini is a devout Catholic who gave up a vocation to become a monk, in order to marry his wife, Anne Vedovini.

They brought up 10 children, including Emile’s mother, who is now known by her married name of Marie Soleil after she married Emile’s father, Colomban Soleil, 26.

Lead prosecutor Mr Avon confirmed that Emile’s parents’ home, in the southern town of La Bouilladisse, was searched back in July, while the grandparents homes nearby, and in the Alps, were also investigated. The house from which Emile went missing is an Alpine holiday home, one regularly used by the whole family.

The disappearance is reminiscent of the BBC series The Missing, in which a young boy vanishes while on holiday with his family in France, only to be killed in a hit-and-run accident after chasing a fox.

On Sunday, the Aix-en-Provence public prosecutor announced the development in a statement. It read: “On March 30, 2024, the national gendarmerie was informed of the discovery of bones near the hamlet Vernet.

“The investigators took possession of the bones and immediately transported them to the IRCGN in order to carry out genetic identification analyses which made it possible to conclude on March 31 that they were the bones of the child Emile Soleil.

“Under the direction of the investigating magistrates, the IRCGN is continuing criminalistic analyses of the bones and the national gendarmerie is dedicated to deploying resources to undertake additional research in the geographical area where they were found.”

The Facebook group “Pray for Emile” where Emile’s mother regularly posted calls for prayer to find her little boy – was flooded with tributes for the boy.

One wrote: “Thinking of you in this painful ordeal. May God welcome your little Émile in his paradise where love and kindness reign. May he support you in these times, lots of courage and love for you, and your entire family.”

Another added: “My prayers are with you on this day and those that follow.”

Gridlocked roads see tailbacks as people travel home after Easter weekend

Drivers have been hit by gridlocked roads and tailbacks across the UK as people head home at the end of the four-day Easter weekend.

An estimated two million holidaymakers are making return journeys today, with the worst congestion expected in the southwest of England.

It comes after the RAC warned of “carmageddon” ahead of the Easter break and said heavy traffic and long queues could be expected.

Tailbacks were seen on the M5 between Bristol and Taunton, with tailbacks reported on the A102M Blackwall tunnel in Greenwich, southeast London.

On some parts of the M5 traffic clogged up to a crawl of 16mph, with 30-minute delays across many of the home counties.

A major traffic accident also took place this afternoon between Junctions 23 and 24 of the M60, just outside of Denton, Greater Manchester.

The “serious” incident forced the motorway to close in both directions, as an air ambulance was been spotted at the scene.

On Good Friday, queues of 15 to 20 miles built up on the M4 and M5 interchange near Bristol, which added 45 minutes to journey times.

The western side of the M25 London orbital motorway was described as “pretty bad” and “a lot worse than normal”, with 40-minute queues.

The RAC said holidaymakers heading south were behind much of the congestion after forecasters predicted sunny spells over the next few days.

RAC spokesperson Simon Williams said: “Everyone’s heading to Devon and Cornwall – that’s the attraction, and there’s been a bit of better weather. It’s causing some pretty horrendous queues.”

The M20 in Kent was also busy, with congestion approaching Folkestone on the coast. There were also hold-ups on the A628 between Greater Manchester and South Yorkshire after two separate accidents, National Highways reported.

Tourist board VisitEngland said around 11 million people in the UK were planning an overnight Easter trip, generating an estimated £3.2bn for the economy.

Around 14 million trips by road are estimated to have been made over the weekend, a survey by the RAC and transport analysis company Inrix suggested.

Fury after police officer says swastikas ‘need to be taken in context’

A Metropolitan Police officer has sparked fury after telling a Jewish woman that swastikas “need to be taken in context” at a pro-Palestine rally.

In footage from Saturday’s Stop the Genocide in Gaza march, a counter-protester confronted officers citing concerns that a person carrying a swastika banner had not been arrested.

After a heated discussion where the officer admitted to not having “in-depth knowledge” about signs and symbols, the woman was asked to alert an officer elsewhere to the prevalence of the symbol.

More than 200,000 people took part in the demonstration on Saturday calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, according to estimates by organisers, where crowds marched from Russell Square to Trafalgar Square.

The counter-protester said in the video: “I was told when I asked that a swastika was not necessarily antisemitic or a disruption of public order, that doesn’t seem right to me.”

Impassioned voices in the background can be heard saying “it is” as the woman begs, “Please for the love of god film this.”

The officer started telling the woman about the Public Order Act, to which she asked how the symbol was not disrupting public order.

The officer responded: “I haven’t said anything about it, that is is or it isn’t. Everything needs to be taken in context doesn’t it?”

After more pleading from the woman to acknowledge the sign is antisemitic, the officer said he did not have an “in-depth knowledge of signs and symbols” but admitted he knew the symbol was used during Nazi Germany.

He said: “I don’t know how everyone would feel about that sign. If you came up to me and said you feel mass alarm and distressed about a symbol that someone was using.”

The woman interjected and said: “I’m extremely distressed, I’m very alarmed.”

The officer said he could not leave the area for which he was responsible, but advised the woman to go to another police officer. She claimed she had already been sent to his station by another officer after she reported the symbol.

The footage was posted online and received significant backlash on social media platform X.

The Metropolitan Police said in a statement: “This video clip is a short excerpt of what was a 10-minute conversation with an officer.

“During the full conversation, the officer establishes that the person the woman was concerned about had already been arrested for a public order offence in relation to a placard.

“The officer then offered to arrange for other officers to attend and accompany the woman to identify any other persons she was concerned about amongst the protesters, but after turning to speak to his supervisor, she had unfortunately left.”

The Met said officers arrested a man on the Strand in relation to inviting support for a proscribed organisation.

Three further arrests were made at the march – one person was arrested on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order offence and two others were arrested on suspicion of causing harassment, alarm and distress.

Netanyahu has led his wounded nation down a bloody dead end

On 7 October, when Hamas attacked southern Israel – killing some 1,200 people and taking 253 others hostage – virtually the whole world stood with Israel; and virtually all of Israel stood with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr Netanyahu even invited his main rival, Benny Gantz, to join a coalition war cabinet.

A nation united in grief was united in determination to defend itself against the worst antisemitic crime since the Second World War. And for a time, Mr Netanyahu – a divisive figure – enjoyed broad support to bring home the hostages and neutralise the terrorists.

No longer. The widespread demonstrations in Israel, where thousands are calling for Mr Netanyahu’s removal from office, show the true extent of the opposition to the way Mr Netanyahu has prosecuted this pitiless and counterproductive war in Gaza. Opinion polls in Israel reflect the despair that the protesters express about the conduct of the war. The prime minister himself is deeply unpopular.

What would a Labour landslide mean for Starmer – and for Britain?

If the latest opinion polls are correct, the general election is already in the bag for Keir Starmer. He hasn’t just got one foot in No 10 – he is so far ahead he can start measuring up the curtains.

That’s because Labour is on course to win 468 seats with the Conservatives reduced to fewer than 100, according to Survation’s new survey of more than 15,000 people. That would mean a Commons majority of nearly 300. Yes, you read that correctly – 300.

If it turns out to be right, Starmer could do almost anything he wanted. He wouldn’t have to worry about what the Labour manifesto said. He could say voters had given him carte blanche. And if they give him 468 out of the 650 MPs in Westminster, who could argue?