TIME Opinion

Social Media Gossip Fuels Bigotry as U.K. Investigates Sex Abuse

Sir Cliff Richard seen arriving at Wimbledon on July 04, 2014 in London.
Sir Cliff Richard seen arriving at Wimbledon on July 04, 2014 in London. Alex Huckle—GC Images

Police search Brit pop star Cliff Richard's home in latest look at allegations of past abuse

The pop singer Cliff Richard seems not to have been the first person to learn on Thursday that police were searching his apartment in Berkshire, England, in response to allegations “of a sexual nature dating back to the 1980s [that] involved a young boy under the age of 16 years.” Richard issued a sharply worded denial, calling the allegations, that had circulated on social media for some time, completely false. “Up until now I have chosen not to dignify the false allegations with a response, as it would just give them more oxygen. However, the police attended my apartment in Berkshire today without notice, except, it would appear, to the press,” he said. Media camped outside the apartment published pictures of officers arriving at the premises and supplied further details alleging that the allegations related to a June 1985 rally held by the U.S. preacher Billy Graham in the northern English city of Sheffield.

Meanwhile, police stressed that the investigation was at a very early stage. That some commentators on social media chose to ignore such niceties is regrettable but not surprising. The courts of Facebook and Twitter have often shown themselves to harbor all the regard for evidence of a Salem magistrate prosecuting charges of witchcraft in 17th century Massachusetts. This tendency has been exacerbated in the U.K. by a series of horrifying revelations that started after the Oct. 2011 death of serial pedophile Jimmy Savile. The British TV personality had used his fame to shield himself against inquiry and abuse his many victims with impunity.

Operation Yewtree, the police investigation launched in response to the Savile scandal, expanded to look into a range of unrelated allegations of sexual abuse amid public outrage that the British establishment appeared to have turned a blind eye to crimes committed by its own. The police have already decided not to continue with inquiries into six people, some of them publicly named, because of lack of evidence. Other investigations and legal processes are under way and two have led to convictions, of the publicist Max Clifford and in June of this year of an Australian entertainer once beloved of British audiences, Rolf Harris. Separate inquiries are in train into a swirl of allegations linking Cyril Smith, a former MP who died in 2010, to a Westminster pedophile ring and abuse in schools from the 1960s through several decades. The officers who searched Cliff Richard’s house are part of another investigation again. Having failed for so long, the authorities seem intent on revisiting the past to try to make amends.

Justice served late is better than no justice; any halfway credible allegation of abuse should be investigated, however old and whether or not its target is famous and, like Savile, lauded for charitable works by Prime Ministers and royals. Yet increasingly the focus on possible historical abuse carries uncomfortable resonances, not cleansing but prurient, and feeding into narratives that seek to question lifestyles that fail to fit outdated models of the nuclear family. “This isn’t good news for single older men like me,” said a taxi driver listening to a news bulletin about the search of Richard’s property.

Richard never married. That fact shouldn’t be regarded as any meaningful guide to his sexuality, much less an implication of criminal behavior. But the phrase “unmarried”, frequently deployed as a euphemism for gay, has been freshly endowed with unsavory connotations too, by the focus on unmarried Savile (who turned out to have a predilection for girls though his victims also included boys) and unmarried Smith (whose alleged victims were boys). What is relevant is not whether these victims were male or female but that they were in many cases underaged and that Savile and Smith expertly used positions of power to behave as predators. But instead, each new revelation provokes public reactions that are not only misguided but dangerous. “I always knew there was something wrong with Savile,” Britons are much given to remarking. Well, maybe, but Savile’s single state was no more a reliable signifier of his criminal activities than was his flamboyant dress sense.

There are many things about Cliff Richard that some people find a little unsettling: his amortal determination to hang on to the appearance of youth, the bizarre calendar poses, the relentlessly chirpy public persona, the evangelistic tendencies. These do not mark him out as a guilty man any more than his evangelism—he told a Sheffield newspaper after the Billy Graham event “I go wherever Christians invite me to speak about Jesus. It’s a platform I’ve been given by God”—provides a guarantee of god-fearing behavior.

Sure, social attitudes in the U.K. and many other countries have transformed. We are far more accepting of difference, not least because difference has become the norm, with fewer heterosexual couples marrying or staying married or having children and many more people living in same-sex relationships or alone for a wide variety of reasons. But these changes, and attempts by governments to recognize them, continue to provoke backlashes too. The gay community is one group that has suffered, as strident opponents of same-sex marriage on both sides of the Atlantic have ridiculously and deliberately conflated gay and lesbian relationships with criminality. And unfortunately, when 60 Texas lawmakers claim same-sex marriage could encourage pedophilia and bigamy, or when British peer and former Cabinet minister Norman Tebbit suggests such unions risk opening the door to incest, there are receptive audiences for their views.

Stonewall, a British organization campaigning against discrimination, has been concerned by the intersecting hostilities unleashed in the aftermath of Savile and during the debate on gay marriage (which became legal in the U.K. in March). “It’s deeply damaging and dangerous to make unfounded comparisons between pedophilia and homosexuality. Lesbian, gay and bisexual people still face daily discrimination. Those who falsely link loving, committed relationships between adults of the same sex and paedophilia only seek to further stigmatise gay people,” says Stonewall’s Richard Lane.

The lesson of Savile and the other investigations his case has inspired must be to listen to victims, not to make more victims by judging people on superficial grounds and creating room for bigots.

TIME United Kingdom

Cliff Richard’s Home Searched in Relation to Sex Offense

Police searched home in relation to an alleged historic sex offence

A house belonging to one of the U.K.’s most famous singers is being searched by police in relation to an alleged sex offense from the 1980s, the BBC reports.

Cliff Richard, 73, is among Britain’s most successful singers, having sold 21.5 million singles in a career spanning over five decades, with hits including The Young Ones and Summer Holiday. He was not at home when police entered the property and no arrests have been made.

The allegation involves a boy under 16 and dates from the 1980s, a police spokesperson said. Richard issued a statement calling the allegations “completely false.”

“Up until now I have chosen not to dignify the false allegations with a response, as it would just give them more oxygen,” he said. “However, the police attended my apartment in Berkshire today without notice, except it would appear to the press. I am not presently in the UK but it goes without saying that I will cooperate fully should the police wish to speak to me. Beyond stating that today’s allegation is completely false it would not be appropriate to say anything further until the police investigation has concluded.”

The search is not related to Operation Yewtree, a U.K. police enquiry into historic sex offences allegedly committed by British celebrities, launched in the wake of revelations that the late DJ Jimmy Savile had abused dozens of girls. However officers from Operation Yewtree, which has arrested 18 showbusiness associates, have been informed.

Richard, born Harry Webb, is the only musician to have had a U.K. top five album or higher in each decade dating back to the 1950s. Knighted in 1995, the singer released his 100th album in 2013.

[BBC]

TIME eastern Ukraine

Ukrainian Pilots Missing After 2 Jets Shot Down in East

Two Ukrainian military jets shot down
A file picture dated September 17, 2007 shows Ukrainian Su-25 attack planes during manoeuvres at the landfill in Rovno, Ukraine. Pro-Russian separatists have shot down two Ukrainian military jets in the east of the country, Defence Ministry spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskiy said on July 23, 2014. Sergey Popsuevich—EPA

Both pilots ejected safely but their whereabouts are unknown

Pro-Russia separatist rebels shot down two Ukrainian military planes over eastern Ukraine Wednesday, a spokesperson for Ukraine’s National Defense and Security Council told TIME. Both pilots ejected from their aircraft but remain missing.

An aide to separatist leader Alexander Borodai, told CNN that the two jets had been shot down by rebel fighters using a shoulder-fired missile system. However, Yarema Dukh, the Council’s press secretary, says that the jets were shot down from an altitude of 17,000 feet, an altitude she says is too high for those systems to reach. The aircrafts’ altitude, Dukh says, is instead a sign that “the planes may have been shot down by another plane.”

On top of that, though, it’s widely believed that Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a Boeing 777 which crashed in eastern Ukraine on July 17, was shot down by a surface-to-air missile, which most likely originated from rebel-controlled territory. Flight 17 was traveling at 33,000 feet at the time of the suspected shoot-down — much higher than the Ukrainian jets.

The two jets shot down Wednesday, both Soviet-built Sukhoi Su-25 attack aircraft, were among four fighter planes returning to base after supporting Ukrainian government forces along the Russia-Ukraine border, the Council said in a press conference Wednesday. They were hit over the Savur Mogila area close to the border around 1:30 p.m. local time.

The Ukrainian aircraft were flying in the same area as where Flight 17 crashed, killing all 298 people on board. On Wednesday, 40 of the 200 MH17 passengers’ bodies thus far recovered arrived in the Netherlands for identification. The flight’s two black boxes also safely reached investigators in Britain Wednesday.

In the days before the MH17 disaster, a Ukrainian An-26 transport plane and another Su-25 jet were also shot down. A second Su-25 was fired upon, but the pilot managed to land his plane with minimal damage.

TIME Flight MH17

Ukraine Says 2 Military Jets Shot Down Over East

As UK investigators began analysis of MH17 black boxes, and the bodies of Dutch victims were flown home

Ukraine said that two of its fighter jets were shot down Wednesday over eastern Ukraine, the Associated Press reports, less than a week after a passenger jet was downed in the same region. The news came as the two black boxes from the downed MH17 jet arrived in Britain and 40 of the recovered 200 bodies were being flown to the Netherlands.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that two of its military fighter jets were downed over eastern Ukraine. The two jets, both Sukhoi-25 planes, were shot down at 1:30pm local time over the Savur Mogila area. It is not yet known whether those on board have survived. A spokesperson for the ministry said the planes could have been carrying up to two people each.

Whilst the Ukrainian government tries to ascertain what has happened, the U.K. Air Accidents Investigation Branch has begun to investigate the two flight recorders from flight MH17, the BBC reports, which were handed over to Malaysian experts by Ukrainian rebels late Monday.

Aviation experts from the organization will try to download data from the black boxes in accordance with a request from Dutch authorities heading up the investigation. The data should be downloaded within the next two days and will then be sent to the Dutch investigators. It is hoped that the flight recorders will be able to confirm whether a missile hit flight MH17.

The black boxes’ arrival comes as the first 40 bodies of the 298 victims were being flown to Eindhoven in the Netherlands. It is expected that they will arrive at 4pm local time.

They will be met by members of the Dutch royal family and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as part of a national day of mourning for the deceased. 193 of the 298 passengers onboard flight MH17 were Dutch nationals.

All 200 of the recovered bodies arrived in Kharkiv, Ukraine in a refrigerated train carriage Tuesday, following repeated international demands for their safe return.

Following a solemn ceremony attended by ambassadors, soldiers and officials, 40 coffins were loaded onto two military planes bound directly for Eindhoven. They will then be taken to barracks south of Hilversum for identification. Rutte has warned, however, that this could take months.

Flight MH17 was shot down over eastern Ukraine on July 17. All 298 people on board were killed. Washington said Wednesday that they had clear evidence the plane was downed by an SA-11 missile “fired from eastern Ukraine under conditions the Russians helped create.”

[BBC]

TIME Russia sanctions

Flight MH17: Europe Unlikely to Enforce Tougher Sanctions on Russia

Analysts say the European Union is unlikely to go beyond sanctioning individuals

On Tuesday, European Union (E.U.) foreign ministers will meet to discuss increasing sanctions against Russia following the downing of flight MH17. The U.S. has blamed the incident on separatist rebels who, it claims, shot the plane down using weapons supplied to them by Moscow.

The meeting will be the bloc’s first opportunity to discuss the tragedy which took the lives of 298 people, the majority of whom were from countries within the E.U.

In March, the E.U. and the U.S. imposed sanctions against Russia for Moscow’s involvement in the Ukrainian conflict. These were tightened July 16, the day before flight MH17 was shot down.

The E.U. has enforced “tier two” sanctions which affect individuals by freezing their assets and banning them from traveling. So far, 72 Russian politicians and aides of Putin have been affected. However, with the U.S. having imposed sanctions against Russia’s biggest companies, including state oil company Rosneft, there is pressure on the E.U. to match these “tier three” sanctions that go beyond individuals. But, despite U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron calling for tier three sanctions on Monday, analysts remain skeptical.

“I think that it’s highly unlikely at this stage that the E.U. is planning anything further than individual sanctions,” says William E. Pomeranz, Deputy Director at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies. “The EU has a much more substantial trade relationship with Russia than the U.S. does, it has a heavy reliance on Russian gas.”

Jonathan Eyal, International Director at the Royal United Services Institute, echoes his sentiment. Eyal told TIME: “The Russia of today is not the Soviet Union of the Cold War. It is very deeply integrated into the economies of Europe particularly in terms of energy resources.”

Despite Cameron’s bluster, he will be painfully aware of this. In March of last year, British oil and gas giant BP bought shares worth close to 20% in Rosneft, the state-backed Russian oil and gas giant.

Eyal refers to a “disgraceful competition” within the E.U. that’s preventing a firm response towards Russia. According to Eyal, Britain is worried about the effect sanctions will have on London’s financial district. France fears damaging its impending sale of two warships to the Russian navy, whilst in Germany, there are concerns about jobs linked to Berlin’s trade with Russia. “This leads to the lowest common denominator being sought in sanctions,” Eyal notes.

Economic interdependence isn’t the only reason for Europe’s weak sanctions. “The legacy of the financial crisis has left some European countries feeling vulnerable,” comments Jeffrey Mankoff, deputy director at the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Russia and Eurasia program. “They have less appetite to do something that will lead to economic disruption.”

Even for European countries that have pulled through the 2008 financial disaster, Russia’s immediate presence can be a significant deterrent. “Geography always plays an important role in international relations,” states Pomeranz. “Obviously the E.U. has to be mindful of its neighbors.”

Meanwhile, Washington also seems unwilling to push Moscow too far. And if Washington isn’t prepared to lead, it’s unlikely Europe will follow. “Europe has always been a free rider on the back of the U.S.,” says Eyal.

Mankoff shares his view, adding: “U.S. leadership on [sanctions] has been relatively lacking so far. And because it’s been lacking it’s been relatively easy for the Europeans to drag their feet.”

Were the U.S. to challenge Russia more directly, there is no guarantee, however, that Europe would follow suit. Constrained by trade relations, geography and shaky economies, Europe is both unwilling and unable to risk poking the Russian bear.

TIME U.K.

British PM David Cameron Culls Old Men for New Women in Cabinet Reshuffle

Britain's Prime Minister Cameron arrives to officially open the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow in Farnborough
Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron arrives to officially open the 2014 Farnborough International Airshow, in southern England, on July 14, 2014 Kieran Doherty—Reuters

The move is seen as an attempt to diversify the ruling Conservative Party's image ahead of next year's general elections

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron has shaken up his Cabinet in what is being seen as a bid to freshen the image of the ruling Conservative Party ahead of next year’s polls.

The ousted ministers are men, middle-aged and white — the so-called male, pale and stale. Their replacements are likely to be selected from several female MPs tipped for Cabinet roles.

The BBC’s political correspondent Chris Mason said that Britons could expect “more ministers who are women and more ministers with regional accents, in more prominent roles,” in an attempt to improve the diversity of Team Cameron.

However, opposition figures say the reshuffle is a ploy to oust centrist figures. Michael Dugher, a Labour MP, said, “Four years of failure to promote women and now we have the massacre of the moderates.”

Monday’s most significant departures came from William Hague, who resigned as Foreign Secretary, and Ken Clarke, a veteran of two previous Conservative governments.

[BBC]

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