Anne Boleyn-A Queen Out Of Time.

There are few historical figures whose stories are more enduring than that of Anne Boleyn. Nearly 500 years after her death, she still has the power to reach out across the ages; enigmatic, tragic and fascinating. She was a complicated woman. Ask anyone in the UK of primary school age and older and they will know something of Anne’s tale. My own 5 year old son will cheerfully tell you that Anne’s ghost prowls the Tower of London with her head under her arm and he certainly isn’t the only person who thinks so. When it comes to Anne, fact and fiction intermingle to create a confusing image. Did she have six fingers? Was she a witch? Did she really sleep with her brother? And was she truly a home-wrecking seductress who used her feminine wiles to manipulate a great king into tearing his country apart? When you see the famous portrait of her with her mysterious smile and iconic ‘B’ necklace, what do think?

For me, I see a proto-feminist heroine who fought to make her mark in a world entirely unsuited to a woman like her. She was ahead of her time in every imaginable way. She was a devoted mother, fiercely intelligent, accomplished and brave. She was also tempestuous, willful, stubborn and did not always think before speaking. The daughter of Thomas Boleyn and Lady Elizabeth Howard, Anne was born somewhere between 1501 and 1507 at either Blickling Hall in Norfolk or Hever Castle in Kent. Her father served King Henry VIII as a diplomat and she had two siblings, George and Mary. She was highly educated, especially by the standards of the day, learning numerous subjects including arithmetic, history, embroidery, music and archery. In October of 1514, she went to France to act as lady-in-waiting to Henry VIII’s sister Mary, who was to marry Louis XII. Her sojourn abroad ended in January 1522 when she returned to England.

Initially she was summoned home to marry her cousin James Butler, but the marriage negotiations soon ground to a halt. Sometime around 1520, her sister Mary became the Kings mistress, who possibly fathered her two children. Anne joined Henry’s court in March 1522 and quickly became one of the leading lights due to her consummate sense of style and many accomplishments, attracting many suitors. These included Henry Percy, the son of the Earl of Northumberland and gentleman usher of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, a powerful and influential politician. However, both the Earl and Wolsey were against the match and Anne was sent home to Hever Castle in disgrace. She soon returned to court however, re-entering the service of Queen Catherine of Aragon.

In 1526, she caught the eye of the king. Henry’s pursuit of Anne was relentless. Like so many other female historical figures, Anne has been the victim of endless misogynistic tropes. She is frequently portrayed as ‘playing hard to get’ and ‘saying no when she really meant yes’ in order to increase Henry’s ardor and to secure her place in his affections so he would put Catherine aside and make Anne his queen. However, there is evidence to suggest Henry was considering an annulment long before Anne came along due to his burning desire to have a son. It is also highly likely that Anne was serious when it came to resisting Henry’s advances. She left court for an entire year in 1526 in the hope that it would cool Henry’s desire, but it was to no avail. She knew that if she consented to become Henry’s mistress she would inevitably cast off just as her sister had been, and was aware of the good she could do the country as queen. Henry was determined to take another wife, and so Anne ultimately accepted his marriage proposal.

However, in order for them to marry Henry would first have to divorce Catherine. They had married in 1509 and despite Catherine’s many pregnancies they had only one daughter, Mary. Prior to Henry’s father taking the throne, England has been beset by civil war due to rival claims to the throne and Henry believed that by having only a female heir, history was at risk of repeating itself. Catherine was fast approaching the end of her childbearing years. Originally they had required a papal dispensation to wed as Catherine had previously been married to Henry’s elder brother Arthur prior to his early death, although Catherine was adamant the marriage had never been consummated. Ultimately, it would take seven years for Henry to achieve his annulment. As the Pope refused to cooperate, Henry broke with Rome and declared himself Supreme Head of the Church of England, granting his own divorce.

Henry and Anne secretly married on 14th November 1532 and Anne quickly fell pregnant. She was crowned Queen of England on June 1st 1533, giving birth to her daughter Elizabeth on September 7th of the same year. Her birth was a bitter disappointment to her parents, who were convinced she would be a longed-for baby boy. It appears Anne suffered a miscarriage in 1534, and another in 1536. Just three short years after marrying Henry, it was the beginning of the end for Anne.

Anne had made many powerful enemies during her time at court. As I said above, Anne was quick to anger and not always careful with her words. The most dangerous of these enemies was Thomas Cromwell, the king’s chief minister. Although they were originally allies, working together closely to further the cause of the English Reformation, they had become enemies. They had argued over what to do with the funds raised from the dissolution of the monasteries. Cromwell favored filling the king’s depleted coffers whilst taking a substantial cut for himself, whereas Anne wanted to use the proceeds for charitable purposes. They also differed over foreign policy; Anne supported a French alliance, Cromwell and imperial one. As long as Anne remained queen, she posed a serious threat to Cromwell. To his mind, it was Anne’s head on the block or his own.

Furthermore, it was around this time that Henry fell in love with Jane Seymour, one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting. The Seymours were a powerful and ambitious family, and Cromwell gave them the use of his rooms so Henry could have easier access to Jane. This further provoked Anne’s enmity. Cromwell had heard rumors about Anne’s conduct with various gentleman of the court, and Henry ordered him to open an inquiry. This began in April 1536, when a musician, Mark Smeaton, who had enjoyed Anne’s patronage was arrested and accused of committing adultery with the queen. He initially denied this, but confessed after being tortured. His arrest was followed by that of Sir Henry Norris on May Day and two days later Sir Frances Weston, Sir William Brereton, Sir Thomas Wyatt, Sir Richard Page and the queen’s brother George Boleyn were arrested on similar charges. Wyatt and Page were soon cleared, the others would not be so fortunate.

Anne herself was arrested on May 2nd 1536 and taken to the Tower of London by barge, entering through the infamous Traitor’s Gate. Weston, Brereton, Norris and Smeaton were tried together and convicted on 12th May. Only Smeaton pleaded guilty, the others who were noblemen and therefore could not be tortured, professed their innocence to the end. As for Anne, she was tried on May 15th 1536 in the King’s Hall, Tower of London. Today, we can recognize this ‘trial’ for the utter travesty that it was, and that the court presiding over Anne was a kangaroo court, but it must be noted that Henry broke none of his own laws in the way she was tried. The result of the trial was a foregone conclusion; Henry was happily planning his wedding to Jane Seymour and had informed her on the morning of the trial that Anne would be condemned that day. Anne was charged with treason under statute 26. Ironically, this statute was created to protect Anne, the Princess Elizabeth and the royal issue in general from slander. Part of her indictment accused her of: ‘Despising her marriage and entertaining malice against the King, and following daily her frail and carnal lust,’ as well as seducing her five co-accused and plotting the King’s death.

All in all Anne was accused of committing adultery on twenty separate occasions; she had firm alibis for twelve of those but that did not seem to matter. Evidence cited included giving money to her courtiers and dancing with George; entirely innocuous actions that would have been expected of a Queen. The trial was presided over by Anne’s own Uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, a devious, entirely self-serving, conniving man who had happily encouraged and profited from Anne’s rise but felt no compunction whatsoever in sentencing her to death now she had outlived her usefulness. He would treat another niece and future Queen Katherine Howard in the same deplorable fashion. He pronounced her guilty and Anne gave the following, characteristically eloquent and articulate response:

“I do not say that I have always borne towards the King the humility which I owed him, considering his kindness and the great honour he showed me and the great respect he always paid me; I admit too, that often I have taken it into my head to be jealous of him… But may God be my witness if I have done him any other wrong.”

At this, Anne’s former sweetheart, Henry Percy, collapsed in a heap and had to be carried from the courtroom. It was simply too much for him. He had been forced to pronounce Anne guilty, in the full knowledge that she was innocent, and had no choice but to do the same for her brother whose trial took place immediately afterwards. Anne was executed on May 19th 1536 by a French swordsman and by all accounts died as she had lived; with great poise, dignity and grace.

As I’m sure you can tell by the tone of this article, I have great admiration and respect for Anne. I fondly like to imagine that had she been born in the modern age, she would have made as great an impact now as she did in her own time. A progressive woman, she might have been the first female Labour Prime Minister. Devoted to the betterment of the less fortunate and fiercely intelligent, she might’ve been a University professor leading a humanities department or headed a non-profit. She could have been so many things. Instead she died a brutal and premature death at the hands of her cruel and capricious husband. Over the years, many historians have sought to lay blame at the feet of people other than Henry for Anne’s judicial murder. Cromwell, of course, played his part but he was acting on the King’s orders. Another popular scapegoat is Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, wife of George Boleyn and therefore the sister-in-law of Anne. She is often described as jealous and vindictive, eagerly accusing George and Anne and testifying against them. However, Jane has been much-maligned and like Anne, is innocent of the charges against her. Ultimately, the buck stops with Henry VIII and his desperate quest for a son.

Interestingly, it has been theorised that Henry himself may have been the cause of his own reproductive woes. Bioarchaeologist Catrina Banks Whitley and anthropologist Kyra Kramer have posited that Henry suffered from MacLeod Syndrome, which causes muscle weakness and dementia-like cognitive decline; its effects usually become noticeable when the sufferer is between 30 and 40 years of age. We know that in his youth, Henry was a handsome, athletic and kindly man who only used the axe as a last resort. However, when he reached his 40s he ballooned into the morbidly obese, headsman-happy tyrant we are more familiar with today. MacLeod Syndrome only afflicts Kell-positive individuals. If a Kell-positive man and a Kell-negative woman have children, the first pregnancy will usually be successful. Any subsequent pregnancies, however, will result in the antibodies produced in the first pregnancy attacking the Kell-positive foetus, leading to late-term miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death. This fits Henry’s wives and mistresses reproductive patterns with startling accuracy. The irony of this is both poignant and heart breaking. Not only was Anne’s death cruel and based solely on lies and fabricated charges, it was also entirely unnecessary. The historical treatment of Anne is often deeply unfair, although thanks to dedicated historians she has been somewhat rehabilitated in recent years. It is my sincere hope that this blog entry will, in some small way, assist with that rehabilitation. It is the least I can do for this brave, principled and inspiring woman.

State Of The Nation- How Lies, Incompetence And Corruption Became The Political Norm.

Since when did it become acceptable for elected politicians to blatantly lie to the people they were elected to serve? Of course, they’ve always had a somewhat flexible approach to the truth-Tony Blair’s New Labour were masters of spin and Margaret Thatcher’s ‘economic miracle’ of the 1980s was anything but. But Boris Johnson is something else. A prolific liar, a bullshitter and a fraud. In March, Labour leader Keir Starmer, during PMQs, brought up the fact that Johnson had broken his campaign pledge by reducing the number of troops. Johnson, a model of affronted indignation, insisted this was not true, even after Starmer showed him a newspaper article demonstrating that it was. He lied about his knowledge of Marcus Rashford’s admirable campaign for free school meals. He lied about economic growth levels under his party’s government. He lied about the track and trace app. He lied about the NHS receiving an extra £350 million per week post-Brexit. He told all sorts of lies about Brexit in general. I could continue, but there’s really no need.

And apart from all the lies, there’s the gross incompetence. This Cabinet was not appointed for their expertise in their respective areas, but for their blind loyalty to the Prime Minister. Gavin Williamson, Priti Patel, Matt Hancock and Johnson himself have not got a fucking clue what they’re doing. They have presided over the highest number of deaths from COVID-19 in Europe, they have fucked up our children’s future, their ‘deal’ with the European Union is a disaster and they are threatening our democratic right to protest and giving undercover police free reign to rape and torture. It’s truly horrifying. So let’s evaluate these disgraceful ministers one by one:

GAVIN WILLIAMSON

Williamson once achieved the coveted title of ‘Fireplace Salesman Of The Year’ in his previous career, and it’s fair to say this has been the pinnacle of his work-related achievements so far. He enjoyed a meteoric rise to power; first serving as Councilor in North Yorkshire (where I live), before winning election to Parliament in 2010. He was appointed as Principal Private Secretary to Hugo Swire, Minister of Northern Ireland in 2011, taking the same position to then Prime Minister David Cameron in 2013. His first significant contribution to the law-making process was calling for a law to ‘clamp down on car boot sales that disrupt traffic flow.’ Truly, the man’s a visionary. Cameron’s successor Teresa May appointed him Chief Whip upon assuming the mantle of Prime Minister, and then as Defense Secretary in 2017. Chief Whips often make enemies, it comes with the territory, but Williamson is deeply unpopular within his own party. Rumor has it he plotted to arrange the departure of his predecessor, Sir Michael Fallon. Colleagues have described him as ‘out of his depth and untrustworthy’ and ‘gauche.’ He was unceremoniously sacked from this position in 2019 after accusations he was respo.

To be fair, he did come up with some absolute corkers during his time as Defense Secretary. Following the Novichok poisoning of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Julia, he famously said ‘Frankly, Russia should shut up, it should go away.’ I bet Putin was shaking in his boots after hearing that. In an educative statement on resolving an dearth of Armed Forces equipment, he suggested mounting ‘really expensive guns’ on tractors, buying up decommissioned ferries to convert into beach assault craft and disguising mobile missile defense systems as Coca-Cola vans. We really do live in a post-satire age. If Spanish ships dare venture into Gibraltar he suggested firing paintballs at them. He appeared on Good Moring Britain and took great offense when presenter Richard Madley dared to ask him whether he regretted his ‘Trump-esque’ comments on Russia. He wouldn’t have stood a chance against Jeremy Paxman.

Following a leak from a National Security Council meeting regarding plans to allow Chinese-owned company Huawei to help build the UK’s 5G network, Williamson was summarily sacked by then-PM Theresa May. He denied the allegation of course, and I cannot speculate as to the truth of the accusation, but it wouldn’t hinder his career for long. When Johnson became PM in 2019, he appointed Williamson education secretary. When researching this piece, I was absolutely delighted to learn that none other than Winston Churchill’s grandson, Nicholas Soames, had Tweeted ‘What could have been in the Prime Minister’s mind to appoint so mere, so unreliable, so wholly unsuitable a man?’ What indeed, Mr. Soames? The fact he could rely on Williamson to do whatever he was bid and act as a human shield whenever necessary I suspect. An unnamed vice-chancellor put it rather more bluntly when he told the Guardian ‘he’s fucking useless.’

Predictably his performance in this role could be generously described as ‘less than stellar.’ His handling of schools during the pandemic has been abysmal. Following last year’s lockdown, he announced that A-Level students’ grades would be based on a combination of teacher assessment and a mysterious algorithm. This led to 40% of candidates being marked down, massively so in some cases, and unsurprisingly the most disadvantaged were the most greatly affected. The backlash was both huge and immediate, with Williamson responding by stating there would be ‘no u-turns.’ Would you be terribly surprised if I told you that a mere two days later there was a u-turn, with Williamson now conceding that grades would be entirely based on teachers’ assessments? However, universities were thrown into crisis as they were suddenly expected to find an additional 160,000 places for students who had now achieved sufficiently high grades to qualify for their chosen courses.

More recently, Williamson has angered both teachers and parents like myself alike by announcing plans to force schools currently under local authority management to become academies, sponsored by businesses and managed by trusts. This simply more privatization by the backdoor. He’s also made claims, which have been utterly refuted by teachers and children’s advocates, that children’s behavior has worsened as a consequence of lockdown and that he’s going to establish ‘behavior hubs’ to tackle such pressing issues as kids forgetting their pens and talking in corridors by threatening increasing exclusions and detentions. All this at a time when there was a 27% increase in reports to the Department of Education of children being killed or seriously harmed as a consequence of suspected abuse or neglect, four in ten households reliant on food banks having children and 7000 kids being counselled by Childline because they were so worried about coronavirus.

Regardless of your political affiliations, if you are a parent you should be horrified by the fact that this man is in charge of your children’s education. Personally I’ve felt very fortunate that my son is only in reception, and therefore his education has not been greatly impacted by the pandemic. Many, many other parents have been far less lucky. When it comes to our kids, politics doesn’t come into it. We all want them to have the best chance in life possible. Can you honestly say you’re happy to entrust that future to Gavin Williamson?

Next time: Matt Hancock.

Midweek Matters-The Political And The Personal.

• Boris Johnson has loftily informed the bereaved families of the nearly 128,000 coronavirus victims that he doesn’t have the time for a public enquiry into his own government’s handling of the pandemic. However, he appears to have plenty of time to engage in a puerile briefing war with ex-spad cartoon supervillian Dominic Cummings, who is apparently responsible for the explosive news that Johnson (allegedly) said ‘no more fucking lockdowns, let the bodies pile high in their thousands.’ I cannot known for sure if he really said such a thing; I wasn’t in the room. I would like to believe that no one, let alone the Prime Minister, would say anything so vile but there’s certainly circumstantial evidence suggesting he did.

For a start, it’s been corroborated by multiple, so far anonymous, Tories. It’s inconceivable to me that they would do so unless it were true with the May local elections just around the corner. Secondly, the BBC is still running with the story despite an obvious on-the-record blanket denial from Johnson. This suggests they’re confident in their sources; the BBC is understandably terrified of this government who would take great pleasure in destroying the institution. Finally, and I admit this is entirely subjective, Michael Gove has stood up in the Commons and launched a robust defence of Johnson and I would sooner believe there are fairies at the bottom of my shithole of a garden than believe a word that duplicitous sycophant says. For an allegedly intelligent man Johnson is naive. Gove may side with Johnson whilst it benefits him, but he will stab him in the back the moment the tide turns, just as he’s done before.

• And so the row about Johnson’s refurbishment of the Prime Ministerial flat rumbles on. For some bizarre reason, he thought it was a good idea to send out walking charisma vacuum Therese Coffey to do the media rounds on his behalf. Apparently she’s the Work and Pensions secretary, although I know I’ve read that several times I seem to immediately forget about her existence the moment I finish the article. Anyway, according to Coffey the public simply don’t care about where the money to cover the £58,000 bill came from. Sadly she’s probably right. People simply don’t seem to give a shit how mired in sleaze and cronyism this government becomes according to the polling results, although they really should.

According to her, it will all be ‘tidied up in something called the annual accounts, which get published by departments every year.’ Really, secretary of state? Something annual is published yearly, you say? And they contain financial information do they? Just exactly how stupid does she think we all are? Johnson has spent £3000 on a table, £9800 on a sofa, £5900 on a rattan armchair and bought wallpaper costing £840 a roll. All this at a time when thousands have lost their jobs and businesses are folding at an alarming rate. He’s received a loan for all of this and electoral law states all loans must be declared within a month. He’s failed to do so, and he’s certainly got form because this is the eleventh time he’s not made such a declaration.

• Yet another individual out defending his boss to the media is the Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross. Whilst he insists Johnson said no such thing, he refused to say on three separate occasions that he believes the PM is a man of ‘honesty and integrity,’ instead opting for the tried-and-tested politician’s technique of waffling obfuscation. Hard to blame him really. Men of honesty and integrity don’t generally shag their mistresses in the marital home whilst their wives undergo cancer treatment, nor are they sacked from two separate jobs for lying.

Bright Spots

• My current favourite song is The Middle by Jimmy Eat World. Cheesy as it is, I’ve had a rough week and I’ve felt very bad about myself for most of it and this song really speaks to me. It’s a song of hope and of reassurance; reminding the listener that as long as they do their best and are true to themselves, it does not matter what anyone else thinks of them.

• I’m watching Ripper Street on Amazon Prime video and I’m hooked. I’m a huge fan of true crime, history and attractive men and this show has all three. It’s about Inspector Reid, who is policing Whitechapel in the immediate aftermath of the Jack the Ripper murders. The acting and cinematography are wonderful, and it captures the atmosphere of London’s East End in the late Victorian era beautifully.

• I’ve kept up a similar theme with my reading material and I’m presently enjoying Pretty Jane and the Viper of Kidbrooke Lane by Paul Thomas. I’ve read it before and it’s very good. It’s nonfiction and tells the story of the brutal murder of Jane Coulson, a maid-of-all-work in 1840s London and her alleged killer Edward Pook, the son of her employer. No spoilers of course, but I will warn that it goes on a bit in parts.

• To my delight, my little boy is making incredible progress with his reading and writing. I’m always proud of him of course, but to see him flourishing at school despite all the challenges his Reception year has presented warms my heart.

James Bulger Part Two

In my previous piece, I gave an explanation as to what happened to James and gave a brief overview of other children who had committed similar crimes. I also explored the backgrounds of Robert Thompson and Jon Venables. I will now look at what happened when the boys were arrested, tried and incarcerated, as well as what their lives looked like post-detention and attempt to understand what motivated them. Trying to understand the ‘why’ of this case is a Herculean task. I am no psychologist or criminologist, although I have some training in those fields and a keen interest in both.

It is clear that both boys suffered abuse to at least some degree, and much has been made of the ‘cycle of abuse;’ the idea that abused children go onto become abusers themselves. It’s a neat theory that holds popular appeal for its simplicity, but there is in fact no empirical evidence to back it up. On the contrary, most children are resilient and overcome exposure to war, abuse, alcoholic parents, illness and the suchlike. Social workers and psychotherapists are often subject to confirmation bias when it comes to the cycle of abuse; they believe in the theory therefore they seek out evidence to confirm their views and disregard evidence that contradicts them. Research that seeks to confirm the theory is often flawed.

Studies are often cross-sectional, meaning that different groups of people are studied at once, rather than prospective, in which the same group of children is followed into adulthood. The definitions of ‘abuse’ are frequently inconsistent and are not backed up with documentation such as court records. They depend on adult recollections, which can be flawed, and they lack control groups. In 1989, Cathy Spatz Wisdom designed and undertook a meticulous study into the cycle of abuse. She used multiple sources of information to evaluate children’s histories of abuse including Child Protective Services records and self-reporting from parents and children. Spatz Wisdom used multiple measures to assess maltreatment, followed the same group of children over three decades and collected information at various different time points over that period. She found little evidence to support the idea of a cycle of abuse and none to suggest that the sexually abused go on to become sexual abusers themselves. Most importantly, her findings have been replicated in numerous other studies. Therefore, regarding the cycle of abuse, it would be more accurate to say that the majority of those who are abused do not go on to become abusers, but that the majority of abusers have themselves being abused.

And what of violent media? In the aftermath of James’ murder, much was made of the impact of ‘video nasties,’ especially the slasher flick Childs Play 3 which had been rented by Neil Venables on 18th January 1993. In the movie, a demonic doll ‘Chucky’ comes to life and presides over bloody chaos. Seven people are killed, and ominously some of the violence involves blue paint and a railway track, the inference being obvious. Whilst it cannot be confirmed that the boys actually watched the film, under the circumstances it seems reasonable to assume that they did. Much research has been conducted into the possible link between increased aggression and the consumption of violent media. Simply put, the takeaway seems to be that the majority of well-adjusted individuals who consume such media are not made more aggressive as a consequence, but those who are in some way disturbed and vulnerable may well be more susceptible. Such people may struggle to differentiate between fantasy and reality. It is hardly a stretch to state that two disturbed and out-of-touch 10 year old boys could well be negatively influenced by something as violent and unpleasant as Child’s Play 3.

After being arrested, both boys eventually confessed although both blamed the other. There was considerable forensic evidence linking them to James’ murder, including blood on their shoes and a bruise on James’ face that matched Bobby’s shoe. The boys were remanded into custody on 22nd February 1993 and on May 14th they both pled not guilty at Liverpool Crown Court. The media had a field day. The Venables and Thompson families were forced to flee and reporters swarmed the boys’ former school. The Sun, which can always be relied upon to stir the pot, published a photo of Jon eating a lollipop and complained about the boys ‘lush lives’ in custody. The trial began on 1st November 1993 at Preston Crown Court. There was a special raised platform built in the dock so the boys could observe the proceedings and chairs in the public gallery were bolted to the floor to prevent spectators from throwing them. The presiding judge was Sir Michael Morland and whilst the boys were supposed to be anonymous, everyone could see them.

They were convicted on Wednesday 24th November and sentenced to be detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure. Morland allowed the boys’ names to be published. The media, predictably, were thrilled. They took great delight in labelling the two ten year old boys as ‘evil, demonic, monsters and fiends.’ Headlines include ‘How Do You Feel Now, You Little Bastards?’ (Daily Star) and ‘The Devil Himself Couldn’t Have Made A Better Job Of Fiends’ (Daily Mirror). Politicians, keen to capitalize on the tragedy, jumped into the fray with remarks such as ‘nasty little juveniles,’ ‘hooligans,’ ‘worthless’ and ‘evil.’ The then Prime Minister, John Major, trotted out his infamous line ‘society needs to condemn a little more and understand a little less,’ as if that wasn’t already the case. The writer Blake Morrison summed up the atmosphere of the time beautifully, saying that the debacle ‘shamed Britain in the eyes of the world, not because the murder itself was so shocking (though it was) but because of the media circus, the court process, the inability of the boys to instruct their lawyers and the publics opposition to the possibility of them being rehabilitated.’

It was originally recommended that the boys serve eight years in custody, although Lord Taylor of Gosforth the Lord Chief Justice raised it to ten. The Sun, which apparently hadn’t stirred up enough hysteria already, collected 280,000 signatures on a petition demanding the boys be kept locked up for life and printed coupons stating ‘life should mean life.’ The then Home Secretary Michael Howard raised the minimum tariff to fifteen years in 1994 but this was overturned by the House Of Lords in 1997. In 1999, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the boys had not received a fair trial and awarded Bobby and Jon £15,000 and £29,000 respectively.

During their time in custody, the boys were taught to conceal their identities and the nature of their crimes. Both were visited regularly by their families, and efforts were made to educate and rehabilitate them. By all accounts they made good progress, despite suffering from PTSD. They were released on lifelong license in 2001 with new identities.

Whilst Bobby has stayed out of trouble since, Jon has struggled. It was alleged that he had sex with a staff member at the unit where he was held, and shortly after his release he began a relationship with the mother of a five year old child. In 2005 his probation officer reported that Jon had a number of young girlfriends and he was abusing drugs and alcohol. He was arrested on suspicion of affray in 2008, although the charges were subsequently dropped and three months later he was given a curfew after being caught in possession of cocaine. He revealed his true identity on at least two separate occasions. On 2nd March 2010 he pleaded guilty to possessing Child Abuse Material and received another two years in prison, and a further three for the same offense in 2017.

There can be no denying that our treatment of young offenders is wildly out of step with much of the civilized world. For example, the law forbids any therapeutic involvement of mental health professionals pre-trial in case it ‘adulterates’ the evidence. All the psychologists can do is attempt to establish if the young person knew the difference between right and wrong at the time of the offense and if they are ‘of sound mind.’ We are the only country in Western Europe where children can be held criminally responsible at the age of ten, and that tries such children as adults. Elsewhere children are brought before juvenile courts and tried in camera, and they receive years of psychological and social intervention. Depending on the severity of the crime and their social situation, young offenders either remain at home under close supervision or are placed in children’s homes or purpose-built centers far more therapeutic in nature than our secure units. In 2013 England and Wales spent over 11x more money on locking up children than they did on preventing youth crime. It costs £215,000 per annum to lock up a child in one of ten special units and 75% of those children will go onto reoffend.

This case is a terrible tragedy for all involved, and Ralph and Denise Bulger (now Fergus) deserve our every sympathy. They have suffered unimaginable loss in the worst possible circumstances. I mean no harm by focusing primarily on Jon and Bobby in this piece; I just feel very strongly that we must reevaluate how we deal with young offenders. You cannot cure brutality and inhumanity with more of the same, and I agree with Blake Morrison that the conduct of the press, public and politicians throughout this case was shameful. Killers though they maybe, Jon and Bobby were still ten year old boys. What was achieved by branding them ‘evil scum’ and mobbing the outside of the court, physically attacking the vans transporting the boys? It did nothing to protect society. If we were not so convinced of Britain’s exceptionality, we could learn a great deal from our European neighbours on the right way to reduce and handle youth offending. As much as I hoped to understand why this happened when I began writing this, I am just as baffled as I was at the beginning. It’ a cliché, but there are numerous reasons why and it is all but impossible to say which is the most significant. Ultimately I believe we will never really know. One of the most terrifying truths of this world is that sometimes dreadful things happen without any real explanation. All we can do as a society is to do our best to learn from them.

The Murder Of James Bulger- The Case That Shamed A Nation

When I was two years old, I was out shopping with my mum in our local Woolworth’s (I still miss Woollies). This must have been in late 1992 as I know she was heavily pregnant with my eldest brother at this point. She briefly let go of my hand to pay at the counter and when she turned around I was gone. She frantically searched the aisles accompanied by the shop staff, all the while entertaining every parent’s worse fears and concerned she might go into labour at any moment. I was found shortly thereafter helping myself to the pick’n’mix, which is entirely in keeping with my character. This incident, twenty-eight years ago, is still indelibly scorched into my mum’s memory and I still feel compelled to apologize every time it is brought up. Had this happened a mere few months later, I can only imagine that her fear would have been even more profound.

In Bootle, Liverpool, only ninety miles from our home in Worcester at the time, another young mother was in a shopping center with her toddler son on Friday 12th February 1993. Like my mum, she let go of her child’s hand for a matter of minutes in order to get out her purse and again like my mum, she was horrified to find him gone. In this case, however, there was to be no happy ending. No child merrily scooping out handfuls of sweets, no family anecdote to be recounted at Christmas and to grandchildren. Little James Bulger, born to Denise and Ralph on 16th March 1990, two years of age, had been taken. He would be found murdered two days later on a railway line 2.5 miles away from where he had gone missing and the identity of his killers was to plunge the nation into shock.

The infamous image of James being led way by his two diminutive captors is seared into the British consciousness, yet even at that point it was assumed that the two boys pictured were in their teens. Yet when Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were arrested after being recognized on television by their neighbor, they were only ten years of age. I will not go into the details of what little James suffered here. It serves no purpose in terms of this article and it is simply too horrific. Graphic accounts abound online, but suffice it to say James was tortured before his death and had so many injuries that pathologists were unable to identify that which had killed him.

Sadly, children killing other children is not as uncommon as we may like to believe. In the past two decades, 400 children committed murder in the past two decades in the UK alone. In 1968, Mary Bell murdered four year old Martin Brown the day before her 11th birthday and two months later she went onto kill three year old Brian Howe. Mary’s background was troubled to say the very least, she grew up impoverished and her mother was a prostitute who physically and sexually abused her as well as drugging her with sleeping tablets. She was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility and was released at the age of twenty-three. She was granted lifelong anonymity and by all accounts went onto lead a perfectly normal life, becoming a mother and grandmother. In October 1994 is five year old Silje Marie Redergard was murdered by two five and six year old boys in the Norwegian village of Rosten. She was kicked, beaten and stoned before being stripped and left to die of hypothermia in the snow. Norway’s response to the murders could not have been more different to how the UK responded to the killing of James Bulger. In the immediate aftermath, meetings were held at the local school attended by police and psychologists. The boys were enrolled in another school within a fortnight. The age of criminal responsibility in Norway is fifteen; the boys were not publicly tried or paraded in front of the media and to this day the inhabitants of Rosten have kept the boys’ names a secret, despite all knowing their identities. Social workers kept tabs on the boys until they turned eighteen and like Mary Bell they appear to have gone on to lead productive lives.

Much like Mary Bell, the killers of James came from dysfunctional backgrounds. Jon Venables was born in Everton on the 13th August 1982 to Neil and Susan Venables. He has an older brother, Mark, born in May 1979 and a younger sister Michelle born in November 1983. Mark had a cleft palate and was diagnosed with moderate learning disabilities, something that would later cause Jon serious problems. Neil and Susan separated in 1986 and would go on to divorce, which had a profound impact on Jon. Prior to the split Jon had seemed happy in school but afterwards he began to display signs of emotional disturbance, throwing tantrums in the classroom. Susan and Neil both suffered from depression and Susan struggled to cope caring for the children by herself. In January of 1987 the police were called as she left Jon, Mark and Michelle alone for three hours whilst she was in the pub. Michelle and Jon started at Broad Square County Primary Junior School in the September of 1989. During his first year, Jon displayed antisocial tendencies and complained of being bullied, leading to him being referred to an educational psychologist in June 1990. He was described as being uninterested and unable to concentrate or cope with pressure. In order to ease some of the pressure on the family, a social worker arranged for Mark to spend one weekend a month with a respite foster family. However, concerns about Jon persisted. In 1991, his teacher Kathryn Bolger became increasingly worried about Jon’s bizarre behavior. This included sitting and rocking back and forth, moaning and making strange noises and incessantly fiddling with objects on Ms. Bolger’s desk. He would bang his head on furniture and run out of school at random. He was marked as a low achiever. Jon also struggled at home. He was abusive to his mother and local children bullied him and Michelle. Susan believed that some of Jon’s behavior was due to peer pressure, and that he was jealous of Mark and Michelle, who also had significant learning disabilities. At school he continued to display disturbing behavior. He would revolve around the walls of the classroom, pulling down displays. He would lie down between the desks, cut himself with scissors, throw things at the other child and on one occasion hung himself upside down from the coat pegs, as well as choking another boy with a ruler. This led to another referral to a psychologist, who recommended a special diet.

In September 1991 he changed schools to Walton St Mary’s, where he was held back a year and where he met Robert ‘Bobby’ Thompson. Both boys got into fights in the playground, and Bobby was viewed as a quiet but sly underachiever. Susan and Neil resumed their relationship in September, which initially seemed to have a positive impact on Jon, but this was not to last long. Jon and Bobby were kept apart in class; Jon was lazy and disruptive and Bobby was a telltale incapable of admitting wrongdoing. Despite their poor behavior, neither showed signs of violent or aggressive tendencies. There was some debate amongst school staff as to who the ringleader was. Head teacher Irene Slack felt it was Jon, others said Bobby. Mrs Slack was especially perturbed by Jon’s fighting, inappropriate behavior and lack of emotion and by Bobby’s presentation as a cunning, devious liar. Both boys had a reputation for bullying and were chronic truants. Out of 140 school days in the autumn turn, Jon was absent for 40 and Bobby 39.

Bobby’s origins were equally troubled. He was the fifth of five boys, born 23rd August 1982 to Ann and Bobby Sr. Thompson. Bobby Sr was violent towards his wife, and Bobby Jr’s eldest brother David was placed on the Child Protection Register in 1977 following an allegation of physical abuse which was later ruled unsubstantiated. In 1978 Ann overdosed on Valium, bringing social services back into the Thompson’s lives. The worker assigned to the family arranged for the boys to attend nursery to relive some of the pressure, but the boys were still regularly shouted at and abused. On 16th October 1988 Bobby Sr left with another woman, the family home burned down shortly thereafter and Ann took to the bottle. The elder boys began to get into trouble with the police, and were frequently left to care for their younger brothers. Three went into voluntary Foster care, and Ann had another, brief, relationship leading to the birth of baby Ben in 1992.

Coming up in part two: The arrest, trial and incarceration of Jon and Bobby. Their lives after detention, and an attempt to understand why they murdered James.

Trump’s Deadly Legacy-the tragic life and pointless death of Lisa Montgomery.

Barring another hopelessly inept coup attempt, this afternoon the forty-sixth President of the United States, Joseph R. Biden Jr will assume the reigns of power. His election came as a huge relief to millions of people around the world, myself included. The outgoing President Trump has presided over four years of turmoil, myriad shady dealings and ended in a deadly invasion of the Capitol by his supporters, gleefully encouraged by Trump, his family and his sycophantic allies. Under him, America has become a far more divided nation and its standing on the world stage has been greatly diminished. Trump’s final legacy remains unclear, and its pages in future history books will be written by those far more learned than I. However, at least one thing is known. The Trump administration announced in July 2019 it would resume executing federal inmates after a twenty-year hiatus. Thirteen of those inmates were executed between July 2020 and the present day. Each case raised extremely troubling questions on an individual basis and collectively they represent a dread-inducing killing spree ordered by a man devoid of both humanity and decency. Whilst researching this piece, I came across a photo of a gurney in an execution chamber. An odd quirk of the human mind is that when faced with a sight representing such horror, it will often focus on a  seemingly minor detail. I noticed the pillow-a bizarre concession to human dignity and comfort, obscenely incongruous with an often-torturous, always premeditated, death at the hands of the government. It was on a pillow like this that Lisa Montgomery rested her head when she was put to death on January 13th, and for me her case is the most concerning of them all.

On January 16th 2004 Bobbie Jo Stinnet was found murdered in her home in Skidmore, Missouri. She was eight months pregnant at the time; she had been strangled and her unborn daughter cut from her womb with a knife. Stinnet had been married for just over a year and ran a dog-breeding business, ‘Happy Haven Rat Terriers’ from home with her husband Zeb. She had met Lisa Montgomery at various local dog shows and the pair had also interacted online via a terrier-specific chatroom, ‘Ratter Chatter.’ Montgomery had told Stinnet that she too was pregnant and the two women exchanged emails.

On the day of the murder, Stinnet was expecting a buyer, ‘Darlene Fischer,’ for one of  her dogs. She was found an hour after her death lying in a pool of blood by her mother, Becky Harper, who immediately contacted authorities, telling them her daughter looked like ‘her stomach had exploded.’ Paramedics were ultimately unsuccessful in their attempts to revive Stinnet, who was pronounced dead at St Francis Hospital, Maryville. The following day, police arrested  Montgomery at her  home in Melvern, Kansas. She claimed the newborn found in her arms was hers, although this was soon established to be false and baby Victoria Jo Stinnet  was returned to her father, Zeb. Montgomery’s quick capture, and the safe return of little Victoria, was credited to forensic  computer investigation and an AMBER alert, the first time such an alert was put out for an unborn baby. Montgomery confessed to the murder and kidnapping almost  immediately. She was  charged with ‘kidnapping resulting in death,’ a crime established by the Federal Kidnapping Act 1932, making her eligible for the death penalty.

She was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 2007. Her defense was led by one Frederick Duchardt, an attorney with a chequered record to say the very least. Out of seven federal death trials in which he’d acted for the defense, four of his clients were given the death penalty, two were given life sentences and one was acquitted following a retrial. This resulted in  Duchardt having the dubious honor of having more client in receipt of the death penalty in federal court than any other lawyer in America. Lisa Montgomery never stood a  chance. 

Death penalty trials in the USA are often split into two phases; the ‘guilt phase’ during which the jury decides whether or not to convict the defendant, and the ‘penalty phase,’ when the jury  decides on punishment. Often, in capital cases where the jury is inclined to show mercy,  it is because that during the penalty phase lawyers have shown that their clients either suffered an especially abusive childhood or they had a mental illness or intellectual impairment. Montgomery squarely  checked all three boxes. The Supreme Court has set binding precedents dictating that under those circumstances, mercy should be shown. This is often achieved by employing ‘mitigation specialists;’ people whose sole job it is to interview people close to the defendant to establish whether such a history might exist, then sourcing any documentation required to substantiate those claims. Americas National Judicial Conference proclaimed  in 1998 that all capital defense teams should employ  such specialists, and this was followed in 2003 by the American Bar Association who made it mandatory to include them. Duchardt chose not to when defending Montgomery.

Instead he decided to focus on obtaining a ‘not guilty’ verdict at trial. He visited Montgomery only three times prior to court, and when he established she had a deep mistrust of men he sent his wife Ryland in his stead to ‘build a rapport.’ Ryland, it should be noted, had no relevant legal experience whatsoever. Duchardt’s first approach was to suggest that it was in fact Montgomery’s brother Tommy who had murdered Stinnet before handing the baby to his sister. He discovered this was unviable just a week before the trial when it became apparent Tommy had an unimpeachable alibi; he was with his probation officer  at the time of the murder. He hurt Montgomery’s cause by going down this route. It led to her family, who might otherwise have been an excellent source of mitigation, becoming uncooperative as they felt Montgomery had attempted to throw her brother under the bus. Next, Duchardt attempted to achieve a ‘not guilty by reason of insanity’ verdict. He posited that Montgomery suffered from pseudocyesis, in which a woman falsely believes she is pregnant, often displaying physical symptoms associated with pregnancy. The prosecution succeeded in barring this line of defense from being heard by the jury on the grounds that it had no scientific basis. Montgomery never stood a chance.

Neither the  defense nor the prosecution bothered to investigate Montgomery’s childhood or psychiatric record prior to trial. If they had, it may have taken a very different  course. As part of the appeals process, her new (and infinitely more competent) lawyers undertook an exhaustive examination of Montgomery’s  social history. They discovered an appalling catalogue of abuse, torture and gross dereliction of duty by the numerous authorities who were well aware of what Montgomery was suffering. This suffering  began when Montgomery  was still in  the womb. Her mother (and rarely was a woman more undeserving of that moniker) Judy Shaughnessy drank heavily  during her pregnancy. Numerous specialists have since confirmed that Montgomery probably suffered from Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Her stepfather was a violent alcoholic who constructed a shed for the specific purpose of giving him and his friends a place in which to beat, sodomise and rape Montgomery. They would finish the abuse by urinating on her. Whenever she refused to comply, he would smash her head against the concrete floor so hard she suffered repeated traumatic brain injuries. He also built a room on the side of the trailer where they lived in which he could further perpetrate  his abuse of Montgomery. He drilled a hole  in the closet door and  would constantly observe her through it. Eventually she found a tiny section of the room where she could be free from his gaze and spent  hours curled up there. Shaughnessy trafficked her daughter, allowing tradesmen to abuse her in exchange for  free work on their home.

Then the lawyers detailed the long line of people in positions of authority who knew what Montgomery was experiencing yet did nothing to help her. During her teens, she informed her police officer cousin of the abuse. Rather than helping her as he should have done, he drove her straight back home  to her abusers. Then there was the judge who presided over her mother’s divorce. Both Shaughnessy and Montgomery gave testimony regarding the rapes. Whilst the judge chided Shaughnessy for not reporting  the abuse, he himself did nothing to stop it. Nor did the child welfare officer whom Shaughnessy  told about the rapes. Nor did the doctor who examined Montgomery. And nor did the social workers, who visited the family once during Montgomery’s childhood, informing  the parents of their attendance beforehand.

Like many victims  of child abuse, Montgomery was desperate to escape using any means necessary. At the age of eighteen, she married her stepbrother. Tragically, life with him was little better than it had been with her  parents. They had four children in five years, and he too had an unpleasant, aggressive nature. Montgomery’s brother recalled finding a home movie of this first husband beating and raping her. In due course they divorced and Montgomery married Kevin Montgomery. During this period, she repeatedly claimed to be pregnant despite the fact that she had been permanently sterilized following the birth of her fourth child. It appears she feared that her ex-husband, described as harassing and cruel, would expose her lies in a bid to obtain custody of their children. Unsurprisingly, this litany ofunspeakable abuse and cruelty at the hands of people who should have loved and protected her left Montgomery with a lengthy list of psychological and neurological problems. Asides from the aforementioned Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and traumatic brain injuries, Montgomery has also been diagnosed with CPTSD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, psychosis, depression, memory loss and disassociation.

This is the woman a lame-duck, single-term, twice-impeached president was so desperate to execute. Her lawyers implored  Trump to grant her clemency. He declined, instead preferring to pardon war criminals and his cronies. With Trump, everything is about his ego. He insists he is a president of ‘law and order,’ yet there is no credible evidence whatsoever that applying the death penalty makes society any safer. There are indeed many effective methods proven to reduce crime, such as stricter alcohol policies, eliminating blighted housing, raising the age or grade required to drop out of school and community policing, but none of those things allow Trump to engage in his beloved metaphorical dick-waving. He’s also motivated by spite. No one can say he took his loss of the 2020  election with good grace, and he is fully aware that Biden wants to abolish the death penalty at both federal and  state levels. Commenting on the spate of executions, supreme Court justice Sonia Sotomayor said ‘To put that in historical context, the federal government will have executed more than three times as many people in the last six months than it had in the previous six decades. There can be no ‘justice on the fly’ in matters of life and death. Yet the court has allowed the United States to execute 13 people in six months under a statutory scheme and regulatory protocol that have received inadequate scrutiny, without resolving the serious claims the condemned individuals raised.’

None of this is to say that Lisa Montgomery’s  crime was not horrific; it was, and Bobbie Jo Stinnet should be here today, enjoying the family she was so excited to have and the business that brought her so much joy. But, trite as it is, executing Lisa has not brought Bobbie back. It has just left those who did care for her bereft. No one was suggesting she should be set free, but that she should have spent her days in prison receiving the psychiatric treatment she should have, and could have, been given long before that dreadful day in 2004. There were many, many  opportunities to save Lisa, and the powers-that-be who failed to do so are just as culpable in the murder of Bobbie Jo as Lisa is, if not more so. Crimes such as this one hold up a mirror to society, and in this case America looks very ugly indeed.

Bleach, Bullshit and Autism-The Dangers of Quackery and the Importance of Putting Children First.

I don’t know about you, but I’m greatly looking forward to the day when my future grandchildren ask me about the coronavirus pandemic. I can’t wait to see the expression on their little faces when I inform them that on Thursday 23rd April 2020 the actual President of the actual United States stood before the world’s media and suggested that it would be an excellent idea to inject people with disinfectant in order to cure COVID-19. Apparently President Trump had seen a report demonstrating that when disinfectant was sprayed on various surfaces it kills viruses within minutes so according to his logic it would have the same effect if injected into the human body, because that’s how science works. Naturally the overwhelming response was shock and derision. A million memes appeared overnight and the media went wild. Trump backtracked almost immediately, claiming his remarks were ‘sarcastic’ and he was merely baiting the media. This is clearly utter horseshit, I firmly believe Trump was deadly serious and even if he weren’t, one might think that perhaps in the midst of a global pandemic the ‘Leader of the Free World’ should be offering reassurance and sensible advice rather than trolling the press in the manner of a bored teenager playing the edgelord on Reddit.
But was it truly a report on the well-known virus killing capabilities of Dettol that inspired Trump’s remarks, or are there more insidious forces at work? In the very same week those remarks were made a letter was sent to Trump by a certain Mark Grenon of the Genesis II church, extolling the benefits of Miracle Mineral Supplement (MMS) along with a sample of said product. According to Grenon, MMS is ‘a wonderful detox that can kill 99% of pathogens in the body’ and ‘can rid the body of COVID-19.’ 30 of Grenon’s supporters sent similar letters. Whether or not this influenced Trump’s statements is unclear; The Guardian contacted the White House for clarification but received no response.
And what is MMS, this hitherto unknown cure that could save us from the invisible enemy? In a word; bleach. It’s fucking bleach. Also referred to as Miracle Mineral Solution and CD protocol it is an industrial bleach, chlorine dioxide’ made by mixing sodium chloride with an acid. Its proponents hail it as a panacea, claiming it cures a huge array of health problems including HIV, malaria, cancer and autism. Yup, autism. Parents give this shit to their autistic kids in a variety of ways including orally, topically and worst of all rectally, in the form of bleach enemas. We’ll explore this in more depth in due course. You do not need to be a doctor to realise that this is extremely dangerous. The effects of consuming MMS include diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, the shedding of the internal mucous membranes of the intestines and in high quantities, kidney failure Those who sell it claim these side effects are in fact proof it is working, and often advertise it as a water purifier in order to avoid prosecution. It is banned in Canada and both the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FCA) and the USA’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have issued public warnings strongly advising against its consumption.
The largest proponent of MMS is the Geneis II church, founded by Jim Humble and Mark Grenon in the mid-1990s. Humble claims to have discovered the healing power of the ‘sacrament’ MMS in 1996. He also claims he cured his own broken neck using magnets and that he’s a billion year old god from the Andromeda Galaxy, so make of that what you will. According to the church’s website’ becoming a member of the church, which is ‘non religious’ and whose purpose is to ‘serve mankind’ will bring benefits such as ‘protection against vaccinations, unwanted x-rays, scan or health insurance mandated by human authority,’ the ‘ability to purchase health product of all kinds and in any quantity’ (apparently the church has plans to open its own health stores in its buildings) and a membership card bearing the notice ‘anyone violating these right will be prosecuted by the church.’ And all these incredible advantages can be yours at the bargain price of $35 for the first year per adult, $20 per subsequent year and kids under 12 get it half price. What a fucking steal. The church also held a meeting in Washington in April 2019, whose attendees were required to ‘donate’ $450 each ($800 for couples) in order to attend and receive a package of MMS. There’s clearly a great deal of money to be made in the amoral peddling of pseudo scientific, bullshit ‘miracle cures.’ Humble left the church in 2017 to focus on ‘research and writing’ but is still selling his numerous books advising the proper way to ingest bleach so I imagine he’s retained a healthy bank balance.
Just to demonstrate the absolute audacity of these utter bastards, Grenon sent his letter to Trump despite him and other Genesis II ‘bishops’ being currently under investigation by the US Attorney’s Office in Miami. This is as a result of them selling MMS as a cure for COVID-19 in violation of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act with ‘false and misleading labels and without adequate instructions for its use.’ The FDA wrote to Grenon on April 8th warning him his activities were illegal and demanding a response within 48 hours outlining the steps the church intended to take in order to correct the issue. Grenon’s response oozed arrogance, amongst other things, he said there would be ‘no corrective action on our part…you have no authority over us.’ Unfortunately for Grenon, the FDA very much do have authority over Genesis II as demonstrated on April 17th when US District Judge Kathleen M Williams granted a temporary injunction preventing them from selling MMS. There is a hearing scheduled to extend the injunction on May 1st and I sincerely hope the extention is granted.
Egregious as Grenon and Humble are, it is former Chicago real estate agent Kerri Rivera we have to thank for popularizing the use of MMS amongst the parents of autistic children. She discovered MMS whilst seeking a cure for her autistic son, having already tried methods including hyperbaric chambers and heavy metal antidotes. She outlined her ‘CD protocol’ in her 2013 book ‘Healing the Symptoms Known as Autism’ which she promoted on her website, Facebook page and YouTube channel. Rivera believes autism is caused by parasites or ‘rope worms’ which are actually long, thin pieces of intestinal lining shed as a result of the bleach enemas she encourages people to subject their children to. Now I’m not one to judge people on appearances but I’ve seen a photo of Rivera and frankly she’s fucking terrifying. It’s not hard to imagine her telling people to increase the amount of MMS they’re giving their kids when they tell her about the hideous side effects they’re suffering, which is exactly what she regularly does.
Like Grenon and Humble, Rivera has made a great deal of money. Along with her book, she has created a line of supplements and offers Skype consultations. She’s been ‘received as a saviour’ on the ‘autism cure circuit’ where she makes (paid) appearances at anti-vaccination and autism conferences and is currently operating a clinic in Mexico offering her CD protocol which she claims has ‘cured’ over 500 autistic children. She was approached by NBC news, who asked her to comment on her activities’ and responded with the statement ‘This is a medical issue. I have a degree in homeopathy and work with MDs and PhD scientists’ although tellingly (in my view) she refused to say where she obtained her degree or who these doctors are. NBC also obtained data from the American Association of Poison Control Centres that showed 2500 children have been treated by PCCs after ingesting MMS in the past five years.
However, there are people fighting the likes of Rivera. Good, decent people who enter MMS groups as ‘moles’ and who make reports to Child Protective Services when they obtain proof of children being harmed by MMS and who petition social media giants to take action. Happily, they’ve had some successes. In 2018 Facebook closed several of Rivera’s pages and groups and in 2019 they removed her public profile, a page for her book with 3600 followers and a ‘secret’ group with 550 members. Her book was banned from Amazon in March 2019 and days later YouTube deleted many of her channels and videos, followed by Yahoo cancelling her email account in April 2019. These are small victories; other groups and videos quickly popped up, but it shows people are fighting and that sometimes, they win.
And what of the parents giving their children MMS? I am both an Aspie and a mother. We do not know exactly what causes autism but we know it’s not fucking parasites and many of us in the autistic community do not want a cure. We want to be accepted for who we are and to live our lives in a way that works for us, not the way neurotypicals think we should live. As a mother, I do not have the right to do as I see fit with my chid, I have an obligation to protect him from harm and to make informed decisions about his health under the guidance of appropriately qualified professionals, rather than take the advice of avaricious quacks and Internet randoms. I have every sympathy for the parents of disabled children, the overwhelming majority of whom are doing the very best by their kids under incredibly difficult circumstances. My sympathy does not extend to ‘autism moms’ who wear their child’s diagnosis like a fashion accessory, making themselves both martyrs and heroes and who publicly flaunt puzzle pieces and their love for ABA, arrogantly refusing education from us in the autistic community on why these things cause such harm. Like with the anti-vax movement, MMS is embraced by middle class yummy mummies because it’s trendy. It gives them clout in their Facebook groups and allows them to demonstrate their disdain for ‘mainstream medicine.’ The gullible and the desperate often fall victim to quacks, and they deserve our kindness and sympathy. Better education is vital and media outlets in all their forms have a duty to ensure they are not giving a platform to harmful pseudoscience. And parents, all parents, have a fundamental duty to place their child’s wellbeing above their own vanity.

Tom Harry Cope-The Last Soldier Of Skipton

An article written in 2018 to commemorate the signing of the 1918 Armistice that ended World War One.

This article was originally written in 2018 to commemorate the centenary of the signing of the Armistice that brought about the end of World War 1, one of the bloodiest and most catastrophic conflicts humanity has ever seen. It tells the story of Tom Harry ‘Percy’ Cope, the last soldier from Skipton, my home town, to be killed in action.

Tom was born 1st January to Sam and Mary Cope who resided at 11 Brook Street, Skipton. His father owned and ran a grocer’s shop and would later go into business as a boot and shoe maker, a trade that Tom would himself enter upon completing his education. He studied at Ermysted’s Grammar School between May 1896 and July 1898 where he was taught English and Science alongside the more vocational subjects of book-keeping and arithmetic. Such an education was typical for the sons of the tradesmen who made up the lower middle classes of the time, with a view to preparing them for a career in commerce. After graduating Tom served as an apprentice to Freeman, Hardy and Willis, an established chain of boot makers and retailers before taking up the position of manager of the Public Benefit Boot Company. He married Mary Ellen Cope (nee Metcalfe) in1911, the couple would go on to have three children.

World War 1 began 28th July 1914 following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria with the Allies (Britain, France, Ireland, Russia and later the USA) fighting against the Central Powers (Germany and Austria-Hungary). At first the war enjoyed highly favourable public opinion and when the army advertised for volunteers to fight in France they were inundated with eager recruits, within the space of two months nearly 500,000 men enlisted. This included 250,000 underage boys who lied about their date of birth, often with the full knowledge of army recruiters. ‘Pals Battalions’ were also established; groups of men who knew one another professionally or socially joined up together and fought side by side. However by 1916 the army was short of new recruits, not least because of the huge number of casualties the country had suffered and conscription was introduced. By April 1918 it was expanded to include all able bodied men under the age of 50.

Tom was conscripted in 1916, joining the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment. Alongside his contemporaries he would have endured the unimaginable horrors of trench warfare. Men lived in filthy conditions, in close proximity to the buried corpses of their fallen comrades, frequently forced to wallow in sewage when the latrines flooded the trenches and existing alongside millions of rats. Many would develop ‘shell shock,’ a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that drew little understanding or sympathy from those in power, psychiatry being very much in its infancy at this point. 306 British men who froze or fled in the face of conflict were court-martialled and shot for cowardice, including at least three boys under the age of 18. Chemical weaponry, in the form of mustard gas, was used for the first time during the war. Letters sent home from soldiers stationed at the Front were heavily censored and the public fed a constant stream of propaganda, ‘Tommies’ were frequently to be seen grinning and waving from the cinema screens; the authorities being well aware that popular support for the war would fade rapidly if people knew of the true hell they had sent their sons, brothers and husbands to. It should be noted that both sides experienced such conditions, and indeed that when soldiers met their opponents in person they found there was far more to bind than to divide them. An unofficial truce was declared over Christmas 1914 and both sides met in the No-Man’s Land between the trenches, exchanging gifts, singing carols, talking and playing football.

Tom Harry Cope died on 6th November 1918, a mere five days before the guns of World War 1 finally fell silent. Peace was officially made with the signing of the Armistice at 11AM on 11th November 1918, ending a conflict that had taken 10 million lives worldwide. It was to be ‘The War To End All Wars,’ but as we now know, sadly an even deadlier conflict was to break out a mere 21 years later and there have been many others since. At a time when populism is again rising, when bigotry and intolerance finds new audiences through technology and world leaders face off with fingers poised above nuclear buttons, we would do well to remember Tom Harry Cope and those who fell beside him and to act with wisdom and compassion, both to respect his sacrifice and to ensure it was not in vain.

This article is dedicated to all those whose lives were lost between 1914-1918. With thanks to Chris Foster and Karen McKenzie for their invaluable help in researching this piece. For further information about Tom and many others from Skipton who contributed to the war effort, please visit http://www.cpgw.org.uk/.

A Tudor Tragedy-The Mysterious Death Of Amy Dudley

On a pleasant autumn afternoon on 8th September 1560, the body of a young noblewoman was discovered lying at the foot of a staircase in a manor house in the village of Cumnor, Berkshire by her friends upon their return from a nearby fair. The sudden and mysterious death of the seemingly innocuous Lady Amy Dudley would create an international scandal that went to the very heart of the British establishment; Queen Elizabeth I herself. For Lady Amy was the neglected wife of Elizabeth’s favourite and rumoured King-Consort-In-Waiting, Lord Robert Dudley (later the Earl of Leicester). The forbidden and ultimately doomed love of Elizabeth and Robert has inspired many works of fiction over the past 500 years, and the true nature of their relationship is still, in many respects, a mystery. But what of Amy, the inconvenient wife? Who was she, and was her death really the tragic accident it appeared to be?
Amy was born Amy Robsart on June 7th 1532 in Norfolk, the only child and heiress of Sir John Robsart, a gentleman of considerable means. Amy’s early life was typical of girls belonging to her class at the time and she was well-educated and considered beautiful. Some time in 1549, probably at the court of King Edward VI, she met her future husband Robert Dudley, the son of the immensely powerful Duke of Northumberland who served as Lord Protector for the young Edward. The two married on June 4th 1550 at the royal palace of Sheen with the King in attendance, and unusually for the time their union was widely believed to be a love match. As Amy was unable to inherit her parent’s estate until their deaths, the young couple were largely reliant on handouts from Robert’s father and had no establishment of their own, staying in the homes of various friends when they were not in attendance at court.
Sadly, life took an unpleasant turn for Amy and Robert upon the death of Edward VI in 1553. Shortly before his death, the Protestant king had nominated his cousin Lady Jane Grey as his successor in attempt to override the will of his father Henry VIII who had named Edward’s staunchly Catholic sister Mary (followed by Elizabeth) as heir in the event of Edward dying childless. Rather conveniently, the Duke of Northumberland had recently arranged for Jane to marry Robert’s brother Guildford, thus making himself father-in-law to the Queen. However, Jane ruled for only nine days before Mary rode triumphantly into London, taking the throne herself with the overwhelming support of the population. Those who had taken part in the coup were rounded up and thrown into the Tower of London, including Robert who had been sentenced to death. He remained in prison between July 1553 and October 1554, receiving occasional visits from Amy and sharing his imprisonment with Elizabeth, who had also been arrested on suspicion of also plotting against Mary during the ill-fated Wyatt’s Rebellion. During this time, Amy lived in the home of William Hyder in Throcking, Hertfordshire.
On 17th November 1558, Mary died and Elizabeth took the throne. Mary’s reign, which had begun with such popular acclaim, ended in widespread discontent. Her marriage to Philip II of Spain was wildly unpopular, she had lost Calais (England’s last French territory) and her brutal persecution of Protestants had cast the country into a state of terror. The accession of the young, attractive, liberal Elizabeth was an occasion for great hope and by her side was Robert Dudley. He was immediately appointed Elizabeth’s Master of Horse, a position of huge power which granted him a peerage and membership of the Privy Council. By April of 1559 it was clear that Elizabeth and Robert were in love. Rumours swirled around the couple and it was widely reported that Amy was suffering a malady of the breast and was dying, making it only a matter of time before Elizabeth married Robert. The Queen was a famously jealous woman, preferring to forget about Amy’s existence altogether and keeping Robert permanently close Indeed he was only to see his wife twice before she died, visiting her briefly over Easter in 1559 before Amy attended court for a month in May.
By the autumn of 1559 Elizabeth was under huge pressure to marry. The only way the succession could be assured and future conflict avoided was by the production of heirs. Foreign princes vied for her hand, and Robert made many enemies. Foreign ambassadors were infuriated by Elizabeth’s refusal to take their master’s suits seriously and the English nobility blamed Robert for her refusal to consent to a betrothal. Once more rumours surfaced, it was said that Elizabeth and Robert were poisoning Amy who spent her days writing melancholy letters to friends grieving over her husband’s absence, and that the marriage negotiations were a mere charade to keep the country and Robert’s enemies distracted until Amy died.
However, Amy’s death was not as a result of poison. Robert was informed that his wife had died the day after the event whilst he was at Windsor with the Queen and he immediately dispatched his steward, Thomas Blount, to Cumnor in order to investigate the death and order an inquest. Blount interviewed Amy’s friends and ascertained that on the day of Amy’s death a fair was taking place in nearby Abingdon. Amy had insisted that everyone bar herself attend the fair, and had become agitated when one of her friends had expressed reluctance to go. Ultimately Amy got her way, and was alone until the rest of the household returned to find her dead at the bottom of the stairs with two head wounds and a broken neck. Blount also spoke with Amy’s maid Mrs Pincto who acknowledged that Amy seemed depressed and was behaving strangely, but also emphasized her mistress’s many virtues, including a devotion to religion that made suicide impossible and who ultimately believed Amy’s death to be an accident.
An inquest was quickly arranged, with the coronor being assisted in his investigations by a jury of fifteen local gentleman. Blount wrote to Robert to assure him that no stone was being left unturned in the quest to discover the truth, and the jury foreman also sent a letter telling Robert no evidence was found to suggest Amy’s death was anything other than a tragic accident. This was officially confirmed on August 1st 1561 when the coronor ruled Amy’s death an accident. She was buried at St Mary’s, Oxford in an extravagant funeral and Robert retired to his house In Kew, wearing mourning clothes for six months.
However, Robert’s absence did little to dampen the flames of scandal erupting court. William Cecil, the Queen’s Principal Secretary and no fan of Robert’s was aware of Amy’s death before it was officially announced and lost no time in telling the Spanish Ambassador that Robert and Elizabeth has poisoned Amy whilst claiming she was ill in order to marry. Similarly, the English Ambassador to France Nicholas Throckmorton encouraged rumours in the French court that Amy’s death was no accident. Privately, neither Cecil nor Throckmorton believed Robert had killed Amy, but both would see their influence curtailed greatly if he were to become King, and therefore had every reason to promote suspicion of Robert. They were successful Robert returned to court in October and whilst they remained as close as ever with the Queen publicly affirming Robert’s innocence, the scandal surrounding Amy’s death was of such magnitude that there could be no possibility of them ever marrying.
There are four basic theories regarding Amy’s death. The first and most widely circulated at the time is that Elizabeth and Robert ordered Amy’s murder in order to marry. The first published account of the ‘murder’ appeared in 1563 in the libellous propaganda piece ‘Leicester’s Commonwealth’ written by British Catholics in exile. In this narrative Robert’s retainer Sir Richard Verney attends Cumnor Place, ordering the inhabitants to attend the fair before breaking Amy’s neck and placing her at the bottom of the stairs. He is accompanied by a servant who is also murdered on Robert’s orders and the jury in fact returns a verdict of murder (presumably covered up) with Amy being buried at Cumnor Parish church then secretly disinterred and reburied in Oxford. Walter Scott’s nineteenth century novel expounds on this idea. However, this theory does not hold up to scrutiny. Both Robert and Elizabeth were highly intelligent and had a firm grasp on politics. They would have known that murdering Amy would have made their marriage impossible, and whilst a divorce was still difficult to obtain at that time, it would have been a far more viable option than murder. Furthermore, after the initial inquest was concluded Robert in fact proposed that a second be held, with jurors including Amy’s friends and half-brothers, although it is unclear why this never took place. It seems unlikely that a guilty man would invite further scrutiny after being absolved of any blame, and letters written by Robert during the immediate aftermath of Amy’s death clearly demonstrate his agitated bewilderment.
Another theory blames William Cecil for Amy’s death. Arguably he had the most to gain; he was a wily and astute politician who knew that implicating Robert in the death of his wife would prevent him ever becoming king, an eventuality he was desperate to avoid. In an era where people were expendable in the eyes of those either seeking to gain power or consolidate that which they already had, the murder of innocents was rarely balked at by those at the top, particularly given they didn’t need to get their own hands dirty. However, whilst Cecil was undoubtedly ruthless, he was also fiercely loyal to Elizabeth and would have known that she too would suffer as a consequence of such scandal.
Others believe Amy committed suicide. Letters written shortly before her death certainly suggest her spirits were low. Essentially abandoned by the husband she adored and with no permanent home, she was almost certainly lonely and may well have felt like a burden as she passed from household to household, eternally dependent on the kindness of her husband’s friends. She was also unwell, possibly with breast cancer, which may well have furthered her despondency and her adamancy that everyone attend the fair without her on the day she died is most peculiar That being said, throwing oneself down the stairs is hardly the most likely of suicide methods given that there is no guarantee of death and Amy was a deeply religious woman. Suicide was a mortal sin in the eyes of the church, with victims buried outside of hallowed ground and barred from entering heaven.
The final, and in my opinion most likely theory, is that Amy’s death was a tragic accident. In 1956 Professor of medicine Ian Aird put forward the idea that Amy was suffering from breast cancer, which caused metastatic cancerous deposits in her spine. This means her neck could break with the application of very little force, including a short fall or even simply walking down the stairs. It seems plausible to me that given the circumstances surrounding Amy, especially her husband’s relationship with the Queen, her death was turned into a far bigger mystery than it really was. Regardless of the truth, the death of a lonely, entirely innocent young woman who deserved far better from life was exploited by the unscrupulous for political gain and the tragedy of what befell her forgotten. Five hundred years later, we still see what should be the private tragedies of the innocent exploited in the same way. We should remember Amy Dudley and those like her, and firmly stand against the use of innocents as political pawns.