Another week, another opportunity for me to be enraged about something.  You may have seen Nicola Sturgeon, leader of the SNP and Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Tories being furious with each other over what has become known as The Rape Clause.  Ms Sturgeon wants it scrapped and Ms Davidson thinks it is a good idea and has been misunderstood.  Twitter has had the hashtag #scraptherapeclause doing the rounds.

As a woman, mother and solicitor, I thought that I probably ought to know more about this so I looked it up.  Less-than-gorgeous George announced the government’s intention to introduce the Welfare Reform and Work Act in the 2015 Budget and it came into effect on 6 April 2017. An Act that the government claims is “incentivising work”.  Previously the Child Tax Credit may have been claimed by families for children under sixteen or up to aged twenty if they are in eligible training.  This is being phased out and replaced by the Universal Credit.  There is a Child Element to the Universal Credit, which is now limited to a claim for two children subject to certain exceptions.  I knew about the two children, I didn’t know the specifics of the exceptions and in particular the rape exception.  You didn’t either?  Well that might be because the government’s response to concerns over the rape exception that had been raised were published on 20 January 2017, which was the day that President Fart was inaugurated.  From what I can gather, essentially the government’s response was “very interesting, we’re doing it anyway” and the legislation was quietly amended without parliamentary debate.  Nothing like a good day to bury bad news.

A woman may claim the Child Element for a third or subsequent child if the child concerned was conceived “as a result of a sexual act which you didn’t or couldn’t consent to” or “at a time when you were in an abusive relationship under ongoing control or coercion by the other parent of the child.”  A woman cannot claim if she lives with the co-parent.  But she can “qualify” if there has been a court case or a criminal conviction. The woman concerned should send a form to the DWP that she may complete with the help of “an approved third party professional”, but no one seems to know who that is, or has trained anyone at the DWP.  That is probably because there are no figures for how many women will be affected by this exception and no one knows just how many children are conceived as a result of rape, a lack of a statistic that tells its own story.

A government spokesperson has been quoted as saying that the exceptions were “consulted on widely.” Given the concerns voiced by many charities and people who work with abused women and their children, I am wondering who was consulted “widely” because it appears not to have been anyone who might have been able to assist.  The Equality and Human Rights Commission has described the legislation as “regressive.”  Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Woman Coalition has said “this whole policy betrays a lack of understanding about domestic and sexual abuse.”  The DWP and HMRC have justified their stance by saying that the handling of the exceptions is “sensitive” but “it is important to have an exception in place to support claimants in these circumstances.”  The Child Element of the Universal Credit, which could be worth up to £7,000 per annum for a disabled child, so, yes, I can see why that money could be vital for some women. It has been clarified that neither DWP nor HMRC staff will question the claimant about the incident other than to take the claim and receive the supporting evidence from the third party professional. “We propose that the assurance required from third party professionals be based solely on evidence that the claimant has made contact with the third party and demonstrated that their circumstances are consistent with those of a person whose child has been conceived as a result of non-consensual sex.”

First, this exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of abusive relationships and their ongoing damage.  The rights and wrongs of rape cases and trials is an entire other issue that I cannot tackle here.  However, research has repeatedly shown that rape victims do not report the crime because they feel that they will not be believed and rape is notoriously difficult to prove in court.  Some women would never talk about it.  If they have managed to get away from such a partner, it is probably all and everything that they have done to survive and go on.  Those women who may feel able to talk about it, I strongly suspect don’t want to relive it in the re-telling.  And the notion that they would be coaxed into doing so to a “third party professional” to get some additional money that they are entitled to and most likely desperately need is so appalling that I don’t even know where to begin; they just wouldn’t.   Particularly if it meant that there was a possibility that their child would find out, or at least wonder at some point between their birth and the age of twenty why their mother gets some extra money for them, when their friend’s mother does not.  I suspect that most women would rather starve than risk that damage to their child.

Secondly, what about the men involved in this?  They could be named on a piece of paper and that piece of paper is sent to the DWP, processed and the exception is granted, essentially because “a third party professional” is satisfied that their former partner was raped by them.  And even if they are not named, but are on the child’s birth certificate as their father, or known as the child’s father, assumptions, founded or not, can and will inevitably be made.  People find things out.  People talk.  As I mention above, there are a number of issues with rape cases being brought to trial that are for another piece on another day.  However, rape is a serious crime and it should be treated as such. It is wholly unjust that men could be labelled in this way.  Everyone has a right to a fair trial, and this side-steps the entire criminal justice system.

Thirdly, I should like to bring up the child.  Section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989 is unequivocal that in all of their dealings with children “the child’s welfare should be the Court’s paramount consideration.”  Now the government have side-stepped the courts with this legislation and dumped it on the “third party professionals” to decide what constitutes rape.  However, should not the child’s welfare be the paramount consideration to all of us full stop?  In what world does the government think that a child being a risk of discovering that they were conceived as a result of non-consensual sex makes their welfare paramount?

Finally, “third party professionals”  are to be the gatekeepers of the exception. This is not just a financial transaction.  It is not a tick box and then the money goes into your account each month.  The third party professional will need to be persuaded that the woman is telling the truth in order to tell the DWP that the claim can be processed – look at the language I have quoted above. Women need to “demonstrate” in order to “qualify” – the implication that there is a standard to be reached by providing evidence of some sort. This is asking a woman, a survivor, to come forward and say to a stranger that she was raped and that the child whom she adores was conceived as a result of that rape, and that stranger will need to be persuaded that that is the case in order to release the cash.  That woman will then live everyday at risk of that child finding that out because she needed some money to survive. Now that child may already know, or their mother may plan to tell them, but that is not for the government to decide, or risk, if the child’s welfare is truly paramount.  That child could have their entire world shattered by happening upon a bank statement or the realisation from a conversation with a friend. Essentially men are to be labelled rapists without the accusation being put to them and without being given any opportunity, as is their fundamental legal right, to a defence.  And “third party professionals” are being asked to make that call.  That is a burden that would keep me awake at night, and it is not one that I could bear.

I would like to be able to give the government the benefit of the doubt on this and to try and believe that their intentions were honourable, even if the outcome is an utter disgrace. If Ms Davidson is right and it is misunderstood then I should like her to explain it to me so I can grasp what it is she thinks that I and everyone else have missed.  As it stands, there seems to be a potentially devastating effect on parents and children to be brought about by this monstrously ill-thought out legislation, and an indeterminate amount of money saved.  In short, government, you have fucked up.  Big time.  And not for the first time. Go away and have a re-think.  And when you have had your re-think, ask the people who know about the subject matter and who are likely to disagree with you for their input.  Then have another think. Finally, at the end of that process you will then stand a cat in hell’s chance of having some legislation that is worth the paper it is written on.




Picture by epennington523



My sister is a complete nerd – a total and utter spod.  Computer Scientist. “Ah!” you all say, immediately understanding.  She tried to explain computers to me once: “it’s ones and zeros Natalie, it’s either right or wrong.”  Of course it is, don’t I feel a fool?  Thank goodness she cleared that up for me.  As far as computers are concerned, rather like my car; I own one; I use one and I know who to call to fix it when it goes wrong. I am sure that the reason my sister does so well with her students is because the subject is so bloody boring that they are bright enough to realise that if they don’t listen to what she is teaching them the first time round there is a very real and present danger that she will repeat it and frankly, life is too short.

About twenty five years ago, and long before the Hollywood spotlight rested briefly upon it, my sister told me about a place called Bletchley Park, which now needs no introduction.  My sister had read about it and it has captivated her ever since.  She knew about the project to restore Bletchley and has taken her students on trips there to teach them first-hand and also to support the restoration project.  She even admitted to standing in the National Museum of Computing getting sweaty palmed and giddy because she was so excited about seeing Collosus.  I always listened and made encouraging and supportive noises, all the time making a mental note to intervene and get her some professional help when she was really going over the edge.

Bletchley Park Estate was purchased by the British government in 1938 to house the codebreaking and intelligence work of the Government Code and Cypher School.  At its peak, ten thousand people worked there and women outnumbered men three to one.  The most famous of these men was Alan Turing, whose treatment after the war was so spectacularly shameful it is hard to comprehend.   The names of the majority of people who worked there, women, we will never know. The site changed owners until it was purchased by the Bletchley Park Trust in 1992 whose object is to preserve the site for the nation.

I went to Bletchley Park with my children for the first time today.  After fielding a barrage of questions that I was entirely unequipped to answer, I felt confident that a number of these stinkers would be answered by our visit.   There is a lot of interactive stuff, which the children enjoyed poking and prodding, ironically taking it all for granted but borne out of the work that took place at Bletchley.   It explained to me in short words, but without being patronising, how computers came to be. I went a bit cross-eyed trying to understand some of it, but I have a basic grasp now.  Many of the huts have been restored so you can wander around them to see what they were like, to understand the conditions that people worked in and to see what looks like a lot of typewriters, some of them actual typewriters and some of them cipher machines.   You can imagine just what it looked like in the war because it wasn’t that different to how it looks today.    Spend a few hours there and you can begin to understand the long, often tedious, yet painstaking and vital work that was carried out.  In shifts for twenty four hours a day.  And my guess is that it was not the sort of job where you knocked off on time – if you were in the middle of something you couldn’t just think to yourself “Ah, I’ll finish that off tomorrow.”  Tomorrow the Nazis could have been on the doorstep.  The actual doorstep.  With tanks.

Let me not overstate it; you are not going to be blown away by all of the bells and whistles, for there really aren’t any because it was all so secret.  It’s quiet and understated.  You can stand there and feel, not just see, but feel what those people did. And you can see entirely how no one knew it was there except the people who worked there.  I am sure that day to day there were gripes and annoyances as everyone who has ever worked with anyone has, but fundamentally, everyone had a job to do and they got on with it because they knew the survival of the nation depended on it.  After the war, all of those people went away and never spoke about what they did.  Or how they contributed so much to saving us.  Can you imagine that happening today?  Ten thousand people being asked to keep a national secret for the rest of their lives and it actually happening?

We face an uncertain future in a post Brexit world. The US and North Korea are arguing about who has the biggest nuclear warheads, whilst Syria and its people seem to be being used as the most brutal of testing grounds.  If we’re not scared, we damned well should be.  I wonder how long it will be before some of us may be asked to do what will be our generation’s equivalent work of Bletchley Park.  We all need to know that should that time come, we will try to be as brave and as unconditional as those at Bletchley were.  Even though, like them, our names will be forever unknown to history.



War Games


Although you may currently consider it not an unattractive prospect, unless you live on another planet, you cannot have failed to hear about the Idlib attack in Syria on 4 April.  Similarly, you also cannot have escaped the finger-pointing that has, and continues, to go on in the aftermath.  It’s like eavesdropping on a school playground; he said, they said, I didn’t, he did.  On this occasion, those participating in the hair pulling and shin-kicking have forgotten that children went to bed that night, and they didn’t wake up again to go to their school or its playground.   As none of these people seem particularly interested in finding out what really happened, in this post-truth era where shouting your mouth off the loudest seems to count as reality, I have decided to be avant-garde and look for some facts.

Before I get to the facts, I would like to cover a few basics.  Sean Spicer, if you’re reading this, perhaps you would like to pull up a chair.  Here are a few pertinent definitions from the OED, which I think in the nicest possible way can be considered the horse’s mouth as far as the English language is concerned:

True  :  in accordance with fact or reality; genuine; real or actual; accurate and exact.

Truth  :  quality or state of being true.

War Crime  :  an action carried out during the conduct of a war that violates accepted international rules of war.

If you can just put aside the strange notion of war as having rules, here is a very basic precis of international law on war crimes as I understand it to be.  Bio-chemical warfare is dealt with in the Geneva Protocol signed on 17 June 1925 and which came into force on 8 February 1928.    The 1969 United Nations Resolution 2603 (XXIV) was the Resolution which prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons in international armed conflicts, but only in so far as it applies to the countries who signed up to it, and to them only in so far as any qualifications they put on their signing up to it.  As it is pertinent to this piece, the UK, the US and Russia all ratified this Resolution.  Originally, all three countries had reservations to their ratification.  Russia withdrew all of theirs in 2001, the UK followed in 2002 and the US have retained one reservation.  That reservation is that if chemical or biological weapons are used on the US or one of their allies, in not respecting the Protocol, the US could be free to retaliate in kind on the aggressor.  In short, if someone uses a chemical or biological weapon on the US, all bets are off.

By the way, you haven’t mis-read it; the 1969 Resolution originally applied to international armed conflicts i.e between countries.  If you have a look at Article 8(2)(b of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court  dated 17 July 1998 (‘the Rome Statute), it goes a little further – the intentional direction of attacks on the civilian population are also cited as a war crime.  From what I have read, the use of biological or chemical weapons in non-international armed conflicts is now also considered to be a war crime in customary international law, twisted comfort as it is.

In order for a war crime to be proven as such, there is a burden of proof, which is on the prosecution.  The prosecution have to prove the guilt of the person or persons beyond all reasonable doubt.  In order to do so both the mens rea (it was in the mind of person or persons committing the offence) and the actus reus (the act itself) must be proved.  Without mens rea there cannot be criminal responsbility.  As far as the mens rea is concerned in relation to a war crime, under Article 8(2)(b)(iv) of the Rome Statute, there has to be both intent and knowledge with intent being an “awareness that a circumstance exists or consequence will occur in the ordinary course of events.”  Being negligent to that consequence also counts as having sufficient mens rea for a war crime.  The actus reus, the act itself, one would hope, is self explanatory.  Everything that I have read suggests that it isn’t so straightforward in practice.  There is a lot of commentary on both of these points which is impossible to cover in this piece but suffice it to say that one can only hope that common sense would prevail were it not to be clear. Or the ICC would take what lawyers call a policy decision.

So facts.  This is what I have been able to find as true, that is factual Sean, with regard to the attack on Idlib:

1. At around 6.30am on Tuesday 4 April, four bombs were dropped on Idlib.

2. More than seventy people were killed, of which twenty seven children and five hundred and forty six people were injured.

3. The WHO reports that the symptoms exhibited by the victims were consistent with “exposure to organophosphorous chemicals, a catergory of chemicals that includes nerve agents” that are banned under customary international law.

4. Medecins Sans Frontieres concurred with the WHO’s assessment.

5. Postmortem results carried out by WHO officials in Turkey confirm that chemical weapons were used.

Other interesting pieces of information that merit further investigation and corroboration:

1. Soil samples are being gathered by rescue workers to determine which nerve agent was used.

2. A witness, Hussain Salloumi, a volunteer with the air-raid warning service in rebel-held areas said he saw a Syrian army jet approach at low altitude and four bombs were dropped all together.  Mr Salloumi was around one and a half kilometres from the site.

3. Kareem Shaheen, a reporter with The Guardian, one of the first western journalists at the scene said he saw a hole in the road but surrounding homes and buildings remained untouched.

4. The US have said that a review of radar and “other assessments” showed Assad regime aircraft flying over the area at the time of the attack.

So we know that someone deployed a chemical weapon(s) four times on that date and time, which led to the deaths of scores of people and many more injured.  We also know that a war crime has been committed.  The person or persons committing the offence either knew or was negligent to the consequences of dropping those four bombs, and they dropped them, either at their own behest or someone else’s.  We do not yet know what the chemical was and we do not know who the perpetrator was.

Russia has asked for rebel forces to “offer full access to study the area and collect necessary information.”  I realise that it’s not as headline-grabbing as dropping bombs back to show that yours are just as big too, but this does not seem like an unreasonable suggestion to me.  Surely an independent team may be agreed on by the Assad regime and the rebels (and Russia and the US as they treat everyone like pawns in wizard chess) to find out the truth?    To quote from the CPS and their recommended approach to international criminal matters: “If a safe and effective investigation in that country cannot at this stage be carried out then it will not be possible to identify the suspect.”

Doesn’t anyone want to identify the suspect? Has anyone stopped amidst the frenzied eye-poking to consider that a few facts might not go amiss?  I realise that the answer may not be found, and it may not be politically convenient if it is, but surely it is our obligation to try.  We know about this atrocity.  We all know.  President Trump said that “no child of God should ever suffer such horror.”  I don’t think anyone can disagree with the sentiment of that statement.  If he and all of the other Heads of State involved in this mess truly believe that, then they should grit their teeth, co-operate and put their money where their very large and very loud mouths are.


Visions of Loveliness



My new found radiance (see Complex blog from last week if this has passed you by) has taken something of a knock due to me getting a cold this week.  I fear that my shower mousse is not up to the task it has been presented with.  There is no need to rush off searching for your violins, I don’t want any sympathy.  You’ve probably all had it too if you live in England.  And if you haven’t, you no doubt will over the Easter holidays.  Just to warn you, it’s a three day headache where at one point you will lie down on the sofa and wonder if it would hurt less just to cut your head off.  And a nose like a tap that is so bad that you will end up just stuffing a tissue up each nostril.  Once that is all over you will end up with a cough that lasts for about two weeks. A really irritating tickly raspy cough.  Today is the first day that I have felt normal.

We all know that what you really need when you’re not feeling your best is a child around you.  Not just to look after, but for an encouraging word or two, to get you through the day.  Those of you who have children, work with them, or have spent any time with them whatsoever, will be aware that their tact, diplomacy and sense of embarrassment are entirely lacking.  I have three of these living with me in my house.  Each and every day there is a new and exciting opportunity for a derogatory personal remark or observation to be thrown in my direction. And I am around lots of others children, so the possibilities for a well (or even poorly) timed put down are both numerous and endless.

Earlier on in the week, not at my most erudite, I had prized myself out of bed and forced myself into the shower in the hope that it would make me feel vaguely human.  Before you all put your violins down and start hunting for the Febreze, that is not to say that that is the only shower I have had – I have one every morning without fail.  It didn’t really work as I still felt awful but lying in bed and expecting to be looked after was not a runner.  As I was getting dressed my daughter was chatting to me and asked me, entirely innocently, just as you would ask why birds have feathers or why the Earth revolves around the Sun, why I have so many wrinkles.  I was a little surprised to have this brought to my attention.  I have some wrinkles (or “expression lines” as my pot of moisturiser advises).  I hadn’t thought that I have so many that they are worthy of comment.  Just the number that would roughly indicate my age should one wish to examine my face in detail.  Pressing on, she then went onto ask me why my teeth are yellow.  Again, I have never considered that my teeth were those of an old crone, never having smoked and had my first filling aged twenty seven.  They are all my own.  I brush them twice a day.  My dentist seems happy enough.  They’re teeth.  What more is there to say?  I was beginning to feel a little got at.  As I sat down on the bed to slather on another layer of moisturiser, I also considered a second brush of my teeth and maybe gargling with bleach.  Imagine my delight when my tummy was patted by a little hand and I was then cuddled by my daughter who said: “it’s okay, Mummy.  I don’t mind that you have lots of wrinkles.  I still think you’re beautiful with them and I still love you.”

I was telling a friend about this charming incident, as she had telephoned me to cancel a lunch date; she too had been struck down by this cold and she sounded like Barry White.  Being sensitive, I mentioned this to her and she claimed that she also looked like him, but I suspect that she was exaggerating.  On taking her son to school that morning my friend had also managed to get herself up and dressed and into the car.  When he joined her in the passenger seat he took one look at her and with a panicked expression said “oh, you haven’t got any make-up on.” After a few minutes of concern, he then decided that it would be all right to be taxied to the school door as my friend had assured him that she had no plans to exit the vehicle at any point.  No one would see her.  No one would know that she was his mother.

Not wishing to be left out, the previous week her daughter had commented on how awful she looked.  How lovely.  Who doesn’t need to hear these things?  When my friend brought it up with her daughter later on that evening, realising that she may have hurt her mother’s feelings, her daughter said “Oh I didn’t mean all of you.  Not all of you. Just your face!”  Well, why didn’t she say so in the first place?  That’s so much nicer isn’t it?

I have decided that I am going to send these three children on a holiday over Easter.  They are going to the UN Security Council.  And they are going to tell them what to do to sort out what is happening in Syria. Then maybe instead of worrying about everyone’s sensibilities, agendas, who has armed who, and who did what, all of the supposed adults in that group will collectively agree that, whoever did it,  killing children is a war crime.  And it must stop.  Now.  And that they will, they will, find a peaceful solution.





Photograph diogenes_3