INDEPENDENT 2024-04-15 01:04:52


Former aide contradicts Angela Rayner’s claims in electoral law probe

The row over Angela Rayner’s previous living arrangements has deepened as her former aide reportedly wrote to police contradicting her claims.

Former staff member Matt Finnegan, who made an employment tribunal claim against Ms Rayner in 2018, said there was “no doubt in my mind that this was Ms Rayner’s family home” when he visited her at what she says was her husband’s address in 2014.

Police are investigating whether Labour’s deputy leader broke electoral law after Tory allegations that she may have given false information about her main residence a decade ago.

She was registered at a former council house she bought in Stockport, but it is understood Conservative Party deputy chairman James Daly has suggested neighbours say she lived with her husband at a separate property.

Greater Manchester Police initially said it would not be investigating the allegations, but following a complaint from the Bury North MP, the force confirmed it had reassessed information and launched a probe.

The Sunday Times reported that he told the police he “vividly” remembers her home was elsewhere.

He visited her around the time she became a parliamentary candidate at an address in Lowndes Lane, Stockport, in the summer of 2014, according to the paper.

“There was no doubt in my mind that this was Ms Rayner’s family home, where she lived with her then-husband, Mark,” his letter states.

“I remember it quite vividly because Ms Rayner was not at home at first and I had to wait for some time in my car before she eventually arrived. It was also memorable in that it was the first and only time I visited her home during the course of my voluntary work for her.”

Mr Finnegan previously left Ms Rayner’s employment with a £20,000 payout and non-disclosure agreement after accusing her of disability discrimination and unfair dismissal.

He had published a thriller about an ambitious MP known to her staff as “the Diva” which contained lurid details that bore striking similarities to the deputy leader of the party. Mr Finnegan has insisted the novel Betrayal was “complete fiction”.

Ms Rayner has promised to resign if she is found to have committed a crime, but said she “followed the rules at all times”.

Sir Keir Starmer has welcomed the police investigation into Ms Rayner’s living arrangements and said he had “full confidence” in her.

Shadow minister Jim McMahon dismissed the allegations earlier on Saturday as a “storm in a teacup” after defence secretary Grant Shapps accused Ms Rayner of “double standards”.

Ms Rayner previously suggested that former prime minister Boris Johnson should resign while Scotland Yard probed claims of Covid rule-breaking in Downing Street, prompting calls for her to step down while the police investigation continues.

However, Scott Wortley, a law lecturer at Edinburgh University, pointed out that any potential prosecution should have been launched within a year of the suspected crime.

Providing false information is an offence under Section 13D of the Representation of the People Act 1983, but the legislation imposes a time limit of a year for bringing any charge. As the allegations surrounding Ms Rayner relate to pre-2015, this suggests it is unlikely that she could be prosecuted.

Magistrates extend that deadline in certain circumstances, but only by another year, according to the Act.

Mr Wortley described the police probe as “completely pointless”, saying: “Why waste money on investigating something absolutely time-barred? They would not do it for (Road Traffic Act) matters nearly a decade after it could be prosecuted.”

“It is not the role of the police to investigate something that could never be charged.”

Journalist Michael Crick has also pointed out that former prime minister John Major had been registered in 1968 at a house that he had allegedly never lived at, according to BBC Newsnight.

Mr Crick added that: “Again, there was a big fuss, but no action was taken.”

A Labour spokesperson said: “Angela has always made clear she also spent time at her husband’s property when they had children and got married, as he did at hers.”

“The house she owned remained her main home.”

“Angela looks forward to sitting down with the appropriate authorities, including the police and HMRC, to set out the facts and draw a line under this matter.”

Yvette Cooper told the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme that Ms Rayner is “very keen to” set out facts to the appropriate authorities She said: “It allows her to set out all the facts – not the sort of gossip, not the different allegations that we’ve had from Conservative MPs. “We understand this is the run-up to local elections, we’ve seen this before with the Durham case as well. “This is obviously about her family arrangements, her personal finances, and that’s really how it should be dealt with instead.”

Squatters reveal their plans for Gordon Ramsay’s £13m gastropub

Squatters who took over a Gordon Ramsay pub in London have announced that they plan to turn the Grade II-listed building into a cafe and art gallery welcoming “the victims of gentrification”.

The celebrity chef had long run his York & Albany gastropub at former nineteenth-century coaching inn near Regent’s Park, but following legal battles between Ramsay and the site’s freeholder, film director Gary Love, the property was reported in December to have been put on the market with a guide price of £13m.

But this week, a group of at least six squatters commandeered the premises, locking themselves inside, boarding up the windows and putting up a “legal warning” defending their takeover, the Sun reported.

A notice taped to a door said the group had a right to occupy the venue, which they said was not a “residential building” and was therefore not subject to 2012 legislation which had created a new offence of squatting in a home.

Mr Ramsay was reported to have called the police on Wednesday but was unable to have the squatters removed, with the Metropolitan Police saying in a statement: “This is a civil matter and so police did not attend the property.”

In a further twist on Sunday, the squatters revealed their intentions of turning the space into a community cafe and art gallery

In a statement, they said: “We are occupying the York and Albany Hotel in Camden as the collective Camden Art Cafe. We aim to open our doors regularly to anyone and everyone, particularly the people of Camden who have been victims of gentrification and parasitic projects like HS2.

“We provide free food, drinks, and a space to display their art without the ridiculous red-tape galleries that require people to jump over. We believe all of us and our art deserves dignity.

“Camden is a borough with one of the biggest wealth disparities in London, so it seems only fitting that £13m properties that most locals would never be able to afford to visit should be opened up to all.

“The York and Albany is an iconic building in Camden since its opening in the 1820s; it has withstood wars and bombs, and despite what the media says, it will withstand the potentially short but hopefully long stay we squatters have here.

“At a time when Camden market has been bought out by a billionaire and many longstanding local businesses are being evicted from their units, it’s even more important that we all band together in all the forms of resistance that we know and can.”

They also extended their “solidarity to the Palestinian people and the longstanding residents of Drummond Street and the surrounding estates who have had their whole lives upturned by HS2”.

The occupation of a person’s non-residential property without their permission is not itself a crime in the UK, athough police can take action if crimes are subsequently committed, including damaging the property or stealing from it.

Mr Love purchased the property in 2007 and subsequently leased it to Mr Ramsay on a 25-year term with an annual rent of £640,000.

The Kitchen Nightmares host unsuccessfully attempted to free himself from the lease in a legal battle at the High Court in 2015. The venue went on sale at the end of last year.

The new takeover appears to be linked to the group Autonomous Winter Shelter, which notably previously occupied a former convent in east London, helping to house dozens of homeless people there before being evicted by police last year.

Lee Anderson’s wife suspended as photo shows her on Reform campaign

Lee Anderson’s wife, a Conservative councillor, has been suspended by the party after she was seen in a photo that appears to show her campaigning for her husband’s rival party, Reform UK.

The Tories have launched an investigation after the Ashfield MP posted the picture on Twitter/X, which shows Sinead Anderson among a group of people canvassing for Reform in Selston alongside her husband.

A Tory spokesperson said: “Mrs Anderson has been suspended pending investigation. The Conservative Party has a robust complaints process in place.

“This process is rightly a confidential one, so that complainants can come forward in confidence.”

When approached for comment by the Sunday Mirror, which first reported the story, Mr Anderson reportedly asked: “How do you know it’s her?”.

If Ms Anderson, who is a senior member of Nottinghamshire County Council, is found to have campaigned for a rival party, it would be a breach of party rules.

Ms Anderson has been contacted for comment.

Mr Anderson was suspended from the Conservative party after he said in a TV appearance on GB News that London’s Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan was controlled by “Islamists”.

The Tory MP refused to apologise for his comments and prime minister Rishi Sunak refused to describe them as racist.

Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister “lacks the backbone to call out Islamophobia” after the remarks. The PM denied the Conservative party has “Islamophobic tendencies”.

The former Tory deputy chairman, who is now Reform’s only MP following his defection from the Conservatives after losing the party whip, announced a non-aggression pact with a number of former party colleagues.

A series of shock polls suggest the Tories face a pasting at the election due to be held later this year.

Recent polls have put Mr Anderson’s new party – Reform – just a few points behind the Conservatives, amid fears the right-wing populist party could make further gains if Nigel Farage takes a more prominent role.

While the party is unlikely to win any seats, it could take enough votes in certain areas to hand victory to Labour.

Mr Anderson has now said he would avoid campaigning in certain Tory constituencies due to friendships with Ben Bradley (Mansfield), Brendan Clarke-Smith (Bassetlaw), Marco Longhi (Dudley North) and Nick Fletcher (Don Valley).

The move led to calls for Rishi Sunak to suspend Mr Fletcher from the party after the MP took to social media to endorse Mr Anderson as Ashfield’s “greatest champion”, adding he needs to be back in Westminster after the election. It is understood that Mr Fletcher was spoken to by the government’s chief whip Simon Hart over the post on Twitter/X.

Parents pay tribute to happy-go-lucky son, 8, killed on toy scooter

The family of an eight-year-old boy killed in a car accident while riding his toy scooter have described him as “the light of our village”.

Lennix Sutcliffe was playing in a quiet cul-de-sac in the Wiltshire village of Dilton Marsh on Saturday afternoon, the hottest day of the year so far, “taking every ounce of enjoyment that life offered”, his parents said.

But Lennix, who was playing on a small scooter, was fatally injured by a car as its driver pulled into a driveway on Woodland View, according to Wiltshire Police.

The young boy was unable to be saved and died at the scene, police said.

The force’s serious collision investigation team is looking into the fatal incident, and has asked anyone who can assist their enquiries to come forward.

In a tribute issued on Sunday evening, his parents Jackie and Chris described Lennix as a child who “simply loved life”.

“Our Lennix was always playing, a happy go lucky child who was loved by everyone and who loved everyone,” their statement said.

“He simply loved life and was the light of our small village. He loved Pokémon and his favourite character was Charizard. He was playing today, just playing, taking every ounce of enjoyment that life offered.

“We as a family are now coming together to support one another. We ask our community to provide us both time and space in the days, weeks and months ahead of us.”

Police have requested that the family’s privacy is respected as they attempt to come to terms with their loss, and said the force’s enquiries into the collision remain ongoing.

The force said Lennix “was fatally injured while on a low down scooter/toy on Woodland View at around 4:30pm on Saturday when a driver was pulling into a driveway”.

Anyone with information is asked to call 101 and quote log number 218, or to call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111

Victoria Beckham ‘demands frocks back’ from Matches after collapse

Victoria Beckham is demanding the return of her fashion label stock after the collapse of the luxury retail group Matches Fashion, it has been reported.

The former Spice Girl, who launched her eponymous label in 2008, has asked the retailer to give back all the summer stock she sent to them in March after learning that the e-commerce retailer would be closing down.

Luxury e-commerce retailer Matches was put into administration in March, just months after it had been acquired by Fraser Group, owned by retail entrepreneur Mike Ashley, for £52 million ($66.6 million), The Business of Fashion reported at the time.

A source at Beckham’s label toldThe Mail on Sunday that bosses have asked for the clothes back out of fear that Matches will not pay them before it shuts down its website.

The source said: “Matches is continuing to sell designer clothing online, and has promised to pay for it all. But some brands, like VB, have insisted on getting the stock back so they can sell it themselves. Not everyone is convinced Mike Ashley’s outfit – and the administrators – will pay up.”

The Independent has contacted Matches fashion and Victoria Beckham’s representatives for comment.

Currently, there are 68 products from Beckham’s label for sale on the website, which range from a plain long-sleeve black T-shirt starting at £190 to a forest-green gown made out of jersey for £1,450.

When the Fraser Group announced Matches collapse in March, it said it had run out of ways to stabilise the business and “it has become clear that too much change would be required to restructure it”.

“The continued funding requirements would be far in excess of amounts that the Group considers to be viable,” said the statement.

“In light of this, Frasers has been informed that the directors of Matches have taken the decision to put the Matches group into administration. Frasers remains committed to the luxury market and its brand partners.”

Beckham launched her label in New York in 2008 with the aim of creating wearable yet sophisticated ready-to-wear pieces for “the modern woman’s wardrobe”. The brand has since expanded, and today it offers footwear, eyewear, and leather goods. It also has an off-shoot brand Victoria Beckham Beauty, which specialises in makeup and skincare.

In November, Beckham launched a £110 T-shirt printed with the slogan “My dad had a Rolls-Royce,” which is a reference to a comment she was widely mocked for saying in the Netflix documentary Beckham.

In it, Victoria claimed to have come from a “working class” background, despite being driven to school in a Rolls-Royce by her father. Her husband David was quick to point out the hypocrisy of her statement, and the exchange, which was caught on camera, went viral on social media.

One month later, Beckham released the T-shirt. The product description on her label’s site reads: “Made from soft, organic cotton, the ‘My Dad Had A Rolls-Royce’ slogan T-shirt embodies the brand’s playful side.”

“Designed with dropped shoulder seams and a classic crew neckline, it has a relaxed fit and refined feel.”

Treatment can help if gynaecological symptoms affect your daily life

“I’d had very painful, very heavy periods for a number of years and when I was about 20 my GP said, ‘let’s get you checked out’,” says Shazia.

The 40-year-old, who lives in Hertfordshire, was sent to be tested for what her GP believed was polycystic ovary syndrome – however the scan ruled this out.

“It wasn’t until I was 25 when I went back to the GP and said ‘look, something is really not right’ that I had some more tests done, and I had a year’s worth of ‘let’s try this pill, let’s try that pill’,” she says.

Shazia was subsequently diagnosed with endometriosis and has undergone three surgical procedures to treat the condition.

“I ended up with a great female GP who was well-versed in understanding endometriosis. One of the things I loved about her was whenever I’d go in after that first surgery, she was really good at going, ‘if you are concerned, you know your body better than anyone so why don’t we investigate?’ I’m really fortunate.”

Shazia’s advice to other women in a similar position is to ask for help when you feel you need it: “Always say, ‘I know my body well, these are the things that I’m experiencing, I suspect it is endometriosis.’”

Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

It can affect women of any age, including teenagers, and can have a significant impact on your life and may sometimes lead to depression.

Some women are badly affected, while others might not have any noticeable symptoms.

Contact your GP practice if you have:

Karen, 56, from London, started to experience brain fog, heart palpitations and insomnia – but she wasn’t aware the symptoms pointed to early menopause.

“Menopause symptoms creep up on you and they can get muddled in with whatever’s going on in your life at the time,” she says.

“I had my second child at 38 and it was hard to untangle what was being exhausted from small kids and what was actually menopause.

“The first real symptom was insomnia, but when my daughter started sleeping it didn’t go away. Then came the mood changes, irritability and heart palpitations, which I now know are down to hormonal changes.

“At the time, I was working in a publishing company and I’d be stressed out and overwhelmed by deadlines. Because I had the Mirena coil for birth control, I wasn’t having periods so I didn’t see any change there.”

She adds: “I didn’t get hot flushes until later, so it didn’t occur to me that brain fog and poor concentration were symptoms of an early menopause. At times, I felt like it was all in my head.

“When I was 43, I was having hot flushes and that’s when I was diagnosed as post-menopausal. The GP asked if I wanted to talk about HRT, but I went off and did everything under the sun to try and manage it myself. I tried herbal supplements, homeopathic remedies and acupuncture – they all helped a little, but I still didn’t feel right.

“But when I was 50 I went back to the GP practice. I took a list of my symptoms and I’d done my research on what was available, so I had an idea of what I wanted. She was really good and I came away with [HRT just like the hormones lost during the menopause]. It felt like the missing piece.

“Now I work as a health and wellness coach helping women understand menopause and what they need to do, including good sleep, nutrition and exercise.

“If you’re feeling these symptoms, don’t despair. It might take a lot of tweaks and patience, but seeing your GP and looking after your lifestyle you can feel well again. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”

Period problems, gynaecological conditions and menopause symptoms are common and can significantly impact women and girls’ physical and mental health, and the ability to go about their daily life.

Don’t suffer in silence. Treatment can help if periods, menopause or gynaecological symptoms affect your daily life. Contact your GP practice or visit nhs.uk/womens-health

Israel cannot afford to risk alienating its allies over Iran

The wider Middle East conflict that many people have feared since the horrific attack by Hamas in Israel last October moved a big, worrying step closer at the weekend, when Iran launched a barrage of more than 300 drones and missiles in its first ever direct assault on Israeli territory.

Thankfully, 99 per cent of the weapons were intercepted by Israel and allies including the US, UK, France and Jordan, and casualties were minimal. However, this alarming episode might not be over yet. Iran’s retaliation for the airstrike on its consulate in Damascus two weeks earlier, which Israel has not admitted but the whole world knows it carried out, was inevitable. Tehran’s response was dramatic enough to allow it to think it will deter Israel, but it also gave Israel and its allies time to prepare their defences and limit the damage.

Iran says “the matter can be deemed concluded”, but the ball is now in Israel’s court and there are real fears that the tit-for-tat battle will continue with another Israeli intervention on Iranian soil. Tehran warns that its next retaliation will be “much larger” if Israel responds.

Can Rishi Sunak overcome this week’s Rwanda and smoking ban obstacles?

Rishi Sunak is poised to fight two significant battles this week as parliament reconvenes following the Easter break.

The first will be a test of his government, the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill, which will see MPs and peers undertake what looks likely to be the final round of wrangling over Rishi Sunak’s plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda.

The second will be a test of Mr Sunak’s personal legacy, as his proposed smoking ban will be given a free vote when it comes to the Commons on 16 April.