INDEPENDENT 2024-04-02 10:06:44


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.”

Revealed: Hundreds of repeat knife offenders spared jail despite ‘two strikes’ crackdown

More repeat knife offenders are being spared jail than at any time since a two-strike crackdown was introduced nearly a decade ago, The Independent can reveal.

Out of more than 4,000 adults caught carrying a knife or offensive weapon for at least the second time, nearly four in 10 were spared an immediate jail sentence in England and Wales in the year ending September 2023, exclusive analysis of Ministry of Justice figures shows.

The figures represent a record proportion of criminals being spared prison since a crackdown in 2015 which required repeat offenders to be jailed for a minimum of six months.

The findings by The Independent have escalated demands for a royal commission by the Police Federation of England and Wales which accused judges and magistrates of sentencing on “knee-jerk reactions” driven by budget and a lack of prison places.

Have you been affected by this? Email alex.ross@independent.co.uk

It comes during a surge in knife crime with the number of offences recorded by police in England and Wales jumping five per cent to 49,000 in the year to September 2023. Almost 45 per cent of murders in the same period involved a knife or sharp instrument.

The police federation said it was “no wonder the victims and the wider public feel let down”, while former Downing Street adviser on crime Rory Geoghegan claimed the “weakening” of punishments was making towns and cities less safe.

Hayley Ryall, whose 16-year-old son Mikey Roynon died after being stabbed in the neck at a birthday party in Bath last year, said: “Too many people are carrying knives, and until tougher sentences are given, what message are we sending out? People will continue to think they can get away with it and we will lose more lives like my son.”

The requirement to jail repeat knife offenders was the result of an amendment to the Criminal Justice and Courts Act, nicknamed the “two-strike rule”, under former prime minister David Cameron.

It was further strengthened under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 when judges and magistrates were told only in “exceptional circumstances” could they justify not imposing an immediate prison sentence.

But the latest data reveals that 38 per cent of adult repeat offenders avoided an immediate jail sentence in the year ending September 2023, up from 35 per cent the year before and from a low of 28 per cent in 2019.

The proportion given suspended sentences rose to 23 per cent, a joint high from two years previously, while in 1 per cent of cases – 48 – the defendant got off with a discharge or a fine.

The new figures come in the wake of a series of high-profile stabbings across the UK – including the deaths of two teenage boys, aged 15 and 16, in Bristol in January – which have heightened concerns over the carrying of knives.

The latest NHS data also showed there were 3,775 hospital admissions with ”sharp object” attacks in England in the financial year 2022-23 – an increase of 4 per cent on 2014-15.

Steve Hartshorn, chair of the police federation, said: “Decisions on sentencing guidelines appear to be knee-jerk reactions, driven by budget and the availability of prison places rather than by logic or strategy, which hamstrings the ability of judges to pass appropriate sentences.”

He claimed a failure by judges and magistrates not to back up the work of police officers after identifying and arresting those carrying knives was a factor in a recent survey that found more than nine in 10 officers were suffering from low morale.

Mr Hartshorn also called for a royal commission – a type of committee appointed to investigate an issue – on the criminal justice system and public security, adding: “It is no wonder the victims and the wider public feel let down.”

Patrick Green, chief executive of the Ben Kinsella Trust, set up in the name of the 16-year-old student stabbed to death in Islington in 2008, said the figures suggested “concerning inconsistency” in applying sentencing guidelines.

He added: “Victims deserve justice, and this lack of enforcement creates a situation where they may feel failed by the system.

“Furthermore, it weakens the intended deterrent effect on habitual knife carriers, putting more young lives at risk. We urgently need a renewed focus on upholding the law and ensuring stronger consequences for repeat offenders.”

Mr Geoghegan founded the Public Safety Foundation after being a special adviser on justice and home affairs to Downing Street and a police inspector at Thames Valley Police.

He said: “Any weakening of the already lax punishments for those caught carrying knives, machetes, and other illegal weaponry on our streets will serve only to make our towns and cities less safe.

“Carrying an illegal weapon on the street is never acceptable, and to be caught doing so repeatedly is an all-too-common occurrence. It’s vital that those who are caught face tough consequences including prison sentences.”

Mr Geoghegan added that political parties should commit to expanding prison capacity to send an “unambiguous message” to offenders.

Latest figures show the prison population on 22 March was 87,700, 1,200 below the 88,900 operational capacity. But government forecasts predict the population will rise to 94,400 by March next year.

To help deal with the crisis, the government recently extended emergency proposals to allow the early release of prisoners.

A spokesperson for the Judicial Office, which represents judges, said prison overcrowding was not taken into consideration at sentencing. They said sentencing guidelines, along with case-specific aggravating and mitigating factors, could affect a sentence.

At the magistrates courts, offenders can be given an immediate prison sentence of up to six months, or be sent to the crown court for a potentially longer sentence.

Tom Franklin, chief executive of the Magistrates’ Association, said the situation was not a one-size-fits-all and that repeat knife offenders could be let off an immediate prison sentence for having a blade for a reasonable reason.

He said: “For example, some of those pleading guilty may have had the knife for a reasonable reason but do not meet the requirements for a statutory defence.”

He added that magistrates also take into consideration recommendations from the probation service when considering a jail sentence, which may suggest an offender’s behaviour could be managed in the community.

He said: “Although magistrates can and do impose such custodial sentences where appropriate, it is generally recognised that short custodial sentences are not very effective in promoting rehabilitation, and thus, where there are suitable alternatives to immediate custody, these are used instead.”

The MoJ said 33 per cent of all knife-carrying offences led to an immediate prison sentence in the year to September 2023, with the average prison sentence given being seven and a half months.

A spokesperson said: “Our latest figures show that criminals who carry knives or offensive weapons are being sent to jail more often and for longer than they were a decade ago following our decisive action to protect the public.

“We are doing everything possible to steer young people away from crime and thanks to our tough sentencing reforms, offenders who carry knives are more likely to face jail than 10 years ago.”

Temperatures to soar above average for April after Easter washout

Temperatures are set to soar above average this week with forecasts of up to 18C expected across the UK, according to the Met Office.

The forecaster said maximum temperatures across the country could reach up to 18C by Thursday, which is 4C warmer than the 12C average for this time of year.

Temperatures will reach 17C on Tuesday which will continue throughout Wednesday, before increasing to 18C throughout Thursday and Friday.

“When we do see some drier and brighter weather this week, temperatures will climb above average for early April – good news for gardeners,” the Met Office said on X.

Tuesday is set to be cloudy with rain across Scotland and Northern Ireland. Sunny spells and showers are set for England and Wales.

Showers and longer spells of rain are forecast between Wednesday and Friday, with drier weather in the north of the UK, the Met Office said.

It comes after the forecaster warned heavy rain and strong winds could cause travel chaos and pose a risk to life in the run-up to the Easter weekend.

Parts of the UK were set to be battered by downpours as travellers returned home with 106 flood alerts in place.

Rain was expected to sweep across the country after an Easter weekend of varied weather, including heavy downpours and gusty winds on Good Friday followed by warm sunny spells and 15C highs on Saturday.

The Environment Agency issued three flood warnings, across Dorset on the south coast of England, and 106 flood alerts were active across the south.

Rather cloudy on Tuesday with outbreaks of rain in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Sunny spells and showers for much of England and Wales, these turning heavy during the afternoon.

Largely unsettled and cloudy with showers and longer spells of rain on Wednesday, but drier in the far north. Further rain from the west on Thursday and Friday. Average temperatures.

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.”

Trump pays $175m bond as crashing Truth Social stocks lose him $1bn

Donald Trump posted the $175m bond in his New York civil fraud case late on Monday, temporarily halting enforcement of the full $464m in penalties the former president faces after his company was found guilty of misrepresenting the value of its assets over a ten-year to swindle banks and insurers.

The belated bond payment came as state officials were preparing to seize Mr Trump’s properties to fulfill the judgement.

Meanwhile, the judge in the Republican presidential candidate’s hush money trial has moved to tighten his gag order in accordance with a request from Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg over Mr Trump’s continued and “vitriolic” attacks on the justice’s family.

New York Supreme Court judge Juan Merchan said that the defendant’s statements represented a “very real” threat to the integrity of the trial.

Also on Monday, the parent company of Mr Trump’s Truth Social platform lost 20 per cent of its value during trading on the Nasdaq after an SEC filing showed the company had made a $58m loss in 2023.

Having only gone public last week, it has been a volatile ride for Trump Media & Technology Group, which peaked at $79 per share on Thursday before falling to $48.66.

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?