INDEPENDENT 2024-05-01 01:04:48


Trump trial shown texts setting up Stormy Daniels hush money scheme

Donald Trump’s hush money trial got back underway on Tuesday with Judge Juan Merchan ruling that he found the former president in contempt of court on nine of the first ten violations of the gag order, fining him $1,000 for each.

Further violations may result in “an incarceratory punishment”, he warned.

The judge did say he would give the court a day off to allow Mr Trump to attend his son Barron Trump’s high school graduation on 17 May, apparently happy with the pace of the trial.

In the morning, the court heard further testimony from Gary Farro, the banker for former Trump fixer Michael Cohen who took the stand at the end of last week. Cohen was instrumental in making a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels to cover up an alleged affair with Mr Trump.

Tying much of the story together was Keith Davidson, the former lawyer for Ms Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, who negotiated the sale of their stories to guarantee their silence — something that became urgent in October 2016 after the release of the Access Hollywood tape.

The Independent’s Alex Woodward is covering the trial at Manhattan Criminal Court.

Nottingham victim’s parents back calls for her to receive George Cross

The parents of Nottingham attack victim Grace O’Malley-Kumar have backed calls for their daughter to receive the George Cross award for bravery.

The 19-year-old medical student died trying to defend her friend Barnaby Webber from a “merciless” knife attack by Valdo Calocane, who stabbed the two friends to death as they walked home from a night out to celebrate the end of their exams last June.

Despite having the opportunity to flee, Grace fought for around 30 seconds before she also collapsed, witnesses said, after being stabbed 23 times by Calocane, who later went on to kill 65-year-old school caretaker Ian Coates and stealing his van in a failed attempt to kill pedestrians.

Prosecutor Karim Khalil KC told Nottingham Crown Court in January that the England under-18s hockey player had demonstrated “incredible bravery”, while MPs and police leaders have called for her to receive the highest civilian honour for courage.

“The George Cross would be a remarkable acknowledgement of her bravery, for sure,” her mother Sinead O’Malley told The Sun.

“Grace is never coming back to us, but we never want her to be forgotten, and this would certainly make sure she is remembered forever. Our hope is it would help her be remembered as the wonderful person that she was, and not just for the horrendous fate she suffered.”

Her father, Dr Sanjoy Kumar said: “The bravery she showed was incredible for a young girl. The accolade would be an example to every other young person.

“The foundation that we’ve set up for Grace — its motto is ‘Let’s be more like Grace’. The world, never mind just England, deserves people like Grace.”

Asked about the calls on Tuesday, Downing Street said Rishi Sunak would “absolutely” back such a move.

“I think the prime minister would certainly want to get behind nominations and he’d pay tribute to the bravery that Grace demonstrated whilst faced with perilous and terrifying circumstances,” Mr Sunak’s spokesperson said.

“Decisions around the George Cross are made by an independent committee to review, and final decisions are then made by His Majesty the King. But of course, the prime minister would support those nominations.”

The spokesperson added: “The leadership example she provided in that tragic circumstance was commendable and absolutely the PM would get behind that campaign.”

Marco Longhi, a Tory MP who sits on the Commons home affairs commitee, had also suggested the civilian bravery award would “be a fitting legacy for her heroism” and “selfless bravery”.

The George Cross has been awarded just 160 times since it was introduced in 1940.

Additional reporting by PA

People with ‘less severe’ mental health conditions should have benefits withdrawn, says PM

Rishi Sunak has rushed to defend his disability benefits crackdown, saying only those with “genuine” claims should be eligible for support.

After a massive rise in the number of adults reporting disabilities and claiming help through personal independence payments (Pip), the prime minister said those with “less severe” conditions should be engaged in the world of work.

The government Green Paper, published on Monday, proposed a reform of scheme payments through changes to eligibility criteria and assessments, including options to require claimants to get clinical diagnosis and a switch away from cash payments.

The number of monthly Pip awards for mental health disorders has doubled since 2019, from 2,200 to 5,300, in line with an increase in overall awards through the benefit scheme to 33,000 a month.

The annual cost of the payment system is currently at around £22bn, and is forecast to rise by 50 per cent over the next four years as more people, including those with mental health concerns, qualify for the support.

But critics have accused the PM of using mental health as a political culture war ahead of Thursday’s local elections, which are set to see the Tories lose hundreds of seats on local councils.

In an interview with ITV’s Robert Peston, Mr Sunak said: “The broad thrust of what we’re trying to do is say, hang on, you can’t be making claims based on unverifiable assertions. There needs to be some objective evidence, perhaps medical, so that we can say you are genuinely someone who’s in need of support.”

He added: “What we shouldn’t be doing is medicalising the everyday challenges and anxieties of life, and … if they are less severe, they should be expected to engage in the world of work.”

When pressed on the hardship that vulnerable people on low incomes would endure without Pip, he said: “That’s why it’s so important that we stick to our plan that’s easing the burden on the cost of living.”

His comments came as the work and pensions secretary Mel Stride published the Green Paper proposing to reform the payments.

The plans, which will be consulted on over the coming months, include proposals to “move away from a fixed cash benefit system”, meaning people with some conditions will no longer receive regular payments but rather improved access to treatment if their condition does not involve extra costs.

Vouchers for shops could also be given out instead of cash. And benefits could be given to claimants based on their individual condition, only with proof of their clinical diagnosis from a healthcare professional.

Alongside the paper, Mr Stride also addressed the Commons, saying: “This government’s priority is to make sure that our welfare system is fair and compassionate. Fair on the taxpayer, by ensuring that people of working age who can work, do work, and fair on those who are in most need of the state’s help.”

He added that the consultation will be “exploring whether people with specific health conditions and disabilities can be taken out of Pip assessments altogether”.

“We are also consulting on whether we should make fundamental changes to the way we provide support to disabled people and people with a health condition,” he said.

“We know that any additional cost arising from a disability or health condition, which Pip is intended to help with, can vary significantly and is unique to the individual circumstances.”

He argued that changes to the current “one-size fits all” system will offer “bespoke support tailored to individual needs”.

Acting shadow work and pensions secretary Alison McGovern accused Mr Stride of talking out of both sides of his mouth.

She said: “In recent weeks, the secretary of state has decided to speak out of both sides of his mouth. On the one hand he says ‘I am grateful for today’s more open approach to mental health’, and with the same breath he tells us ‘there is danger that this has gone too far’.

“He wants it both ways, he thinks that openness about mental health is good but then says the very thing that brings back the stigma. Every time [Mr Stride] speaks, he makes it less likely that people will be open about their mental health.”

Ms Govern added: “He says some health conditions can be taken out of Pip assessments, which conditions are we talking about?”

Dr Sarah Hughes, chief executive of the charity Mind, said the proposal would “only make things worse” for millions of people struggling with mental health.

She said: “Taking away crucial financial support from people with mental health problems is not going to fix anything, it will make things worse.

“We will not allow the government to paint people with mental health problems who are not well enough to work as somehow taking the easy route.

“And we will not allow people with mental health problems to carry the can for failures of the system. If the government is serious about supporting people with mental health problems back to work, it would prioritise investment in our overstretched mental health service.”

Are you worried about a change in eligibility criteria and assessment for Pip payments? Email tom.watling@independent.co.uk

Daniel Radcliffe makes rare comment on JK Rowling’s anti-trans stance

Daniel Radcliffe has addressed Harry Potter author JK Rowling’s anti-trans rhetoric for the first time since 2020, saying it “makes me really sad”.

Rowling, who first faced a backlash from several key cast members when she shared controversial remarks about the trans community in 2020, has seen her relationship with stars deteriorate amid increasingly toxic debate.

Radcliffe starred as the titular hero in all eight Potter films, based on her bestselling novels, from 2001 to 2011.

In a new interview with The Atlantic published Tuesday (30 April) – the same day Radcliffe was nominated for a Tony Award – the 34-year-old actor revealed he hasn’t spoken to Rowling, 58, in years.

“It makes me really sad, ultimately,” he said, “because I do look at the person that I met, the times that we met, and the books that she wrote, and the world that she created, and all of that is to me so deeply empathic.”

“Jo, obviously Harry Potter would not have happened without her, so nothing in my life would have probably happened the way it is without that person,” he added. “But that doesn’t mean that you owe the things you truly believe to someone else for your entire life.”

The author was met with backlash in 2020 after calling out an article’s use of the phrase “people who menstruate”, writing: “I’m sure there used to be a word for those people. Someone help me out. Wumben? Wimpund? Woomud?”

Around that time, Radcliffe wrote an essay for The Trevor Project as a way of showing support for the trans community and apologised “for the pain” Rowling’s comments have caused the Harry Potter fandom.

“Transgender women are women,” he wrote for the suicide prevention charity for young LGBT+ people.

“Any statement to the contrary erases the identity and dignity of transgender people and goes against all advice given by professional health care associations who have far more expertise on this subject matter than either Jo or I.”

Meanwhile, Emma Watson, who portrayed Hermione Granger, wrote: “I want my trans followers to know that I and so many other people around the world see you, respect you and love you for who you are,” and appeared to make a dig at Rowling at the Baftas in 2022.

Rupert Grint (Ron Weasley) also gave his support to the trans community, asserting: “I firmly stand with the trans community and echo the sentiments expressed by many of my peers. Trans women are women. Trans men are men.”

Rowling has since continued to double down on her anti-trans sentiments.

Earlier this month, following the release of the Cass report, Rowling told Radcliffe and Watson to “save their apologies” for “traumatised detransitioners”.

Making suggestions for improvements, the report claims there is “remarkably weak evidence” for giving children and young people gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers.

Rowling responded by saying this report should be evidence enough for those in favour of gender-affirming care to reconsider their stance.

A Twitter user – who went by the name “FarRightHooligan” – told the author they were waiting for Radcliffe and Watson to give the author “a very public apology”.

The author replied: “Not safe, I’m afraid. Celebs who cosied up to a movement intent on eroding women’s hard-won rights and who used their platforms to cheer on the transitioning of minors can save their apologies for traumatised detransitioners and vulnerable women reliant on single sex spaces.”

Is Sadiq Khan’s Tory rival for London mayor a Labour secret agent?

One day, we may learn the truth about the historically underwhelming Conservative candidate for mayor of London, Susan Hall. Some years into the future, Peter Mandelson, or one of his cohort, will leak the story, or make a death-bed confession, that, all along, Hall was a plant.

We will learn, and then be not terribly surprised, that this apparent Poundland version of Liz Truss (and, yes, that is saying something) is actually a Labour mole, a sleeper agent recruited by the socialists to help destroy the Tory party in the capital, and the country as a whole. We may speculate on how this came to pass.

Perhaps she was recruited by a skilful female Labour spy masquerading as a client at Susan’s old hairdressing salon in Hounslow. The Labour secret agent and her beehive installed safely under the dryer, she would have engaged Susan in casual conversation, before bringing up the exploitation of working people, and how only a radically changed society run on the principles of social democracy could be truly fair and sustainable, just like a well-fashioned perm. Susan was brainwashed while she was doing the shampooing.

Ultimate Athens city break: from sightseeing to shopping, must-dos

Whether from school-time lessons about Zeus and Hera, or a more recent dip into Disney’s Hercules, the fascinating world of Ancient Greece is sure to sit somewhere in your mind. But seeing the sights in real life is an experience quite unlike any other. Vast temples perch on top of cliffs, seemingly held suspended against all gravitational odds, columns stretch into the clouds, and carvings are so creative it’s hard to believe there was no 3D printer back in 5 BC. Even better, it’s never been easier to get out here and explore, with my trip seamlessly organised from flights and hotel to sight-packed tours, by Jet2CityBreaks. The UK’s number one tour operator wraps up your flights, hotel and 22kg baggage into an ATOL-protected package, so everything’s taken care of. What’s more, if you’re booking a solo holiday, you’ll be automatically eligible for their solo traveller discount, which takes £30 off* your holiday booking.

While Athens may be known for its rich history, beyond the fascinating sites and artefact-laden museums, there are plenty of modern attractions to enjoy in this dynamic destination. Think bustling bars, a glistening coast and winding streets full of shops to stroll through. In fact, it’s this blend between these two worlds that makes Athens such a fascinating city, with peeks into the ancient world (think statues, ruins, and archaeological remnants) popping up in unexpected places, from gaps in the pavement to my personal favourite, hidden inside a metro station.

So, after a pleasant morning flight from London Stansted, I check into Skylark, a chic hotel, boasting everything from a stylish restaurant, stunning rooftop pool and bar, gym, spa and even an in-house club on-site. Just a short walk from the old town area of Plaka, it’s perfect for soaking up Athens’ fascinating past and buzzy present from the moment I arrive.

For those seeking a trip back in time via dramatic ruins and ancient tales, Athens’ compelling history feels ever-present as you make your way around the city. I wasn’t joking about the metro station moment, as Monastiraki Square houses a small ‘River of Hades’ exhibition, so you can take in a small archaeological site before stepping onto a train. Truly fascinating. Although, if you prefer to see your artefacts in a more structured setting, there are plenty of museums to choose from – the Acropolis Museum, National Archaeological Museum and Benaki Museum are just a few highlights.

No matter where you are in Athens, you can spot the Acropolis standing tall in the centre, and visiting it is a must. Home to the famous Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, to name but a few, this cluster of historical sites on top of the hill will take your breath away. On your way out, be sure to pass through the Acropolis Museum to see more incredible artefacts from the site, before making your way down to Hadrian’s Gate and the Temple of Olympian Zeus where you can get up close to dramatic stone arches and Corinthian columns.

Further afield, a one-day tour of Delphi (main image, above) is a must for history buffs. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Delphi was considered by the Ancient Greeks to be the centre of the world, and it’s where you’ll find the famed temple and Oracle of Apollo, where a series of high priestesses, known as Pythia, would share prophecies, advice and counsel with leaders and lawmakers, often forecasting the outcome of projected wars or political actions. Surrounded by the stunning Greek countryside, this well-preserved site makes for a truly memorable trip, taking in the ancient site, ruins and temple, plus an on-site museum housing mosaics and sculptures.

Unsurprisingly, given their famed cuisine, there’s an abundance of eateries in the Greek capital, and a stroll through Plaka reveals countless tempting options. A favourite of mine was the Bookbar, where, as the name suggests, you can sit down with a good read plucked from the shelves around you while you sip your Greek coffee (a stronger, richer form of Espresso).

For gyros, a staple in Greek culture, consisting of fine strips of meat (and sometimes chips) inside a pita bread, Tylixto is the takeaway that is the most popular pick, with no fewer than 20 people in the queue at any given time.

Louis Bistrot offers a more formal food setting, serving Mediterranean food under New Orleans-esque architecture, while Thespis provides a more authentic Athens vibe, nestled under olive trees and twinkling fairy lights on the way up to the Acropolis. Plus, if you’re after a tasty tipple, Fine Wine sits just next door, so you can sample some Greek wines while sitting outside on one of the city’s pretty winding streets.

Another Athens must-see is the changing of the guards that stand in front of the war memorial, the grave of the Unknown Soldier. Head to Syntagma Square at 11am on a Sunday and join the growing crowd to see the elaborate, dance-like display of soldiers in traditional dress.

Fashion fans may be familiar with Athens’ famous sandal man, Stavros Melissinos, who has made leather shoes for The Beatles, Sarah-Jessica Parker, Jill Biden and many more famous faces. To join his star-studded clientele, head over to his store on the edge of the old town. For more souvenir shopping, Adrianou Street is bustling with options, with everything from jewellery (including classic ‘Evil Eye’ bracelets) Greek honey and hand-crafted trinkets in plentiful supply.

Finally, if you fancy taking in some sea air, a metro ride from the city centre to the port of Piraeus will have you watching boats and tucking into fresh fish in a mere half hour. Head straight to Zea Marina and Mikrolimano Harbor for a picturesque place to perch.

To find out more about destinations, hotels, and book your perfect city adventure, visit Jet2CityBreaks

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Costly, inhumane, unlawful… now the Rwanda plan is counterproductive

Common sense suggests that if someone receives a notification that something exceedingly grim is about to befall them, the rational course is to take evasive action.

Refugees facing the threat of deportation to Rwanda are no different to anyone else and, with a heightened sense of personal safety, have reportedly been evading the Home Office’s attempts to locate them. More than half of those people designated for forced removal cannot be found – which must come as a surprise to no one.

In a rare sign of progress for the tragically misconceived Rwanda plan, the east African nation – guaranteed safe by Conservative members of parliament with little direct knowledge of the place – has agreed to take some 5,700 asylum seekers. That is but a tiny fraction of the total, and the cost of sending them over will cost tens of millions in addition to the £290m already confirmed; but, still, it suggested that things were happening.

With Humza Yousaf’s resignation, the SNP knows it has run out of road

As in Westminster, so now at Holyrood, the whiff of political decay in the governing party has become the stench of putrefying decay. This is not hyperbole. On both sides of the border are governments that were once seemingly invincible, but now, assailed by a lethal mix of incompetence, complacency and sleaze, are stumbling towards defeat – if not oblivion.

In the event, the end came quickly as well as early for Humza Yousaf, the first minister of Scotland who has been in office for only a little over a year. When he was elected, narrowly and controversially, by the SNP membership, he was the “continuity Sturgeon” candidate.

The intention was that he would steady the operation, leave the wrangling about money behind, and re-energise what was already a jaded SNP administration – in power in one form or another since 2007 and the dominant force in Scottish politics since 2015.