Exclusive: Army medics to work in London hospitals overwhelmed with coronavirus

Armed Forces medics will spend at least two months in hospitals across the South East to help ease the pressure on frontline staff struggling to cope with the rising number of coronavirus patients, The Telegraph can reveal.

More than 200 military medics and other support staff will be deployed across five London hospitals from Monday as the virus threatens to overwhelm the NHS in the capital.

The trained medics will help treat patients under the supervision of NHS staff, at a time when figures show around half of patients in London hospitals are now suffering from Covid-19.

It comes as patient charities warn of the "devastating impact" on cancer sufferers waiting in limbo for treatment, after their operations were postponed or delayed by hospitals struggling to deal with Covid cases.

Daily growth in Covid-19 hospital admissions by region

The 200 Armed Forces medics will deploy to the Royal London Hospital, Kings College Hospital, St Georges Hospital, Royal Free Hospital and Hammersmith Hospital.

Some 50 defence medics will also be sent to support hospitals in Essex and Kent, along with the Welsh Ambulance NHS Service Trust and the vaccine rollout in Wales.

Around 150 general duties personnel will also be deployed to help in non-patient roles so NHS personnel can be freed up for frontline work.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, said: “The Armed Forces have stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the NHS since the start of this pandemic and remain ready to help whenever and wherever needed. That is why I have authorised another 200 medics and further general duties personnel to be deployed directly into hospitals to assist NHS staff and ensure patients continue to get the care they require.

“I have no doubt more tasks will follow over the coming weeks, but the Armed Forces are prepared to meet the challenge and help this nation recover from the Covid pandemic.”

The medics will come from units across the military, including 1 Royal Anglian, 16 Air Assault Brigade, Headquarters Home Command and Joint Helicopter Command and are expected to assist NHS staff for at least eight weeks.

NHS data shows that on January 11 the number of Covid patients in London’s hospitals exceeded non-Covid for the first time since last spring, with 5,644 compared to 5,592. On January 12, the most recent day data was published, this dropped back slightly to 5,563 Covid patients and 5,740 non-Covid.

London coronavirus cases chart

A Ministry of Defence spokesperson said: “Defence already has around 1,600 medical personnel working in the NHS on a permanent basis and is working with the NHS to provide further support where it will be needed over the coming weeks.”

Meanwhile, Labour has called for the Government to step-up the number of Armed Forces personnel receiving the Covid vaccines.

It pointed out that the average weekly number of coronavirus tests administered to defence staff per week is just 1,901 and that the number of confirmed cases in defence personnel jumped to an all-time high of 3,291 in December, up by more than 1,000 on the previous month.

Stephen Morgan, Portsmouth South MP and shadow minister for the Armed Forces, said: “Government must rapidly ramp up testing for our armed forces, who are putting themselves at greater risk of contracting the virus. The Defence Secretary must also set out a clear and credible plan to vaccinate our troops, particularly for those who are to be deployed for longer periods of time. We must protect those who are protecting us.”

The announcement comes as new figures show that more than 1,000 people in need of urgent cancer surgery in London have been given no date for their treatment.


These are cancer surgery patients who are defined as P2 (priority two), meaning they need to be seen within four weeks or risk their condition worsening. The report, leaked to the Health Service Journal, also showed more than 300 such P2 patients had their surgery postponed in the past week.

Sara Bainbridge, Macmillan Cancer Support head of policy and influence, said: “Cancer must not become ‘the Forgotten C’ during this time and it’s vital that people who need tests and treatment face minimal disruption.”

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, said: "The Government must take decisive action to protect cancer services, using the independent sector to enable urgent cancer surgery to continue."

Cancer operations are also being delayed in other parts of the country, as regional hospitals begin to suffer the impact of the surge in Covid cases.

An NHS spokesperson said: “NHS trusts continue to treat as many elective patients as possible, prioritising those who have been waiting the longest, whilst maintaining cancer and urgent treatments and the landmark deal struck with the independent sector means thousands more cancer operations and other procedures can take place in private hospitals this winter.”

A spokesperson for Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership added: “Since the pandemic began, our hospitals have worked hard to ensure that cancer treatment can continue in a safe and Covid-secure way.”

Tale of Victorian rent boy most popular erotic book in British Library, figures reveal 

A tale of same-sex pleasure has become the most-read titillating title at the British Library as favourites from the institution’s cache of erotic books are revealed.

The institution’s Private Case collection includes 2,560 volumes spanning Oscar Wilde works, pornography, and catalogues of 18th century London prostitutes.

Curators once kept the array of racy writings under tight restrictions from 1850s to 1990 on grounds of obscenity, with special permission required to read them.

Since being derestricted in 1998 volumes have been requested 7715 times and a Victorian work of homosexual pornographic literature has now been revealed as the most popular title from the collection.

The pioneering 1881 erotic work titled The Sins of the Cities of the Plain has been requested more than 100 times by visitors at the library members, Telegraph figures show.

A 4000-page account of sexual conquests, a fictional French “whore dialogue” between nuns, and a best-selling "man of pleasure’s calendar" listing Georgian sex workers have had scores of requests to read them.

The British Library said that after the erotic archive was made digital the books “brought a wider range of researchers into the British Library’s reading rooms to examine the original volumes”.

The collection has proved popular because it “represents a unique resource for a wide range of historians and other researchers of gender and sexuality”.

Teleny or The Reverse of the Medal, may have been written by Oscar Wilde

The earliest item dates from 1634 and the most recent was published in 1988, but most of the erotic material dates from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The most requested of these volumes with 191 requests to read it was  The Sins of the Cities of the Plain, penned by Irish prostitute Jack Saul and giving a fictional life story.

The second most popular with 102 research requests was Venus in the Cloisters, made-up dialogue between nuns.

My Secret Life, a million-word account of sexual experiences in Victorian Britain, received 101 requests. 

Harris’s List of Covent-Garden Ladies, an annual register of prostitutes in the London area, was requested 85 times and the fictional pornography Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure 38.

The volumes in the Private Collection were mainly published by pornographers and include titles like Nunnery Tales, The Exhibition, Forbidden Fruit, Exhibition of Female Flagellants, The Whores Rhetorick, and The Boudoir.

All these have proven popular with researchers and have been pursued more than 20 times each, with the previously restricted books providing insights into how human sexuality was once expressed.

Fanny Hill or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure

Other books like A New and Complete Collection of Trials for Adultery provide tamer titillation for readers when the volume was published.

Some more literary books are by recognised authors who met with censorship for their content, including 1893 work Teleny or The Reverse of the Medal written anonymously by Oscar Wilde.

Avant garde works like William S Burroughs’ Naked Lunch and The Soft Machine are also in the archive which runs to

A British Library spokeswoman said:  “The Private Case collection is a hugely rich resource covering many aspects and expressions of human sexuality over more than three centuries, including much material that was rare, marginal, censored and taboo.”

Scotland Yard told to re-examine handling of investigation into struck-off barrister

The police watchdog has instructed Scotland Yard to re-examine its handling of an inquiry into a barrister struck off for misconduct.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) said there were mistakes in the way the Metropolitan Police handled a complaint submitted by a former client of Alexander Mercouris over its investigation into his behaviour.

Lorna Jamous alleged that a sergeant in the Met’s Professional Standards Unit (PSU) failed to properly conduct an investigation into her claims that it had not carried out an adequate inquiry into allegations of fraud she had previously levelled against Mr Mercouris.

The beautician alleged that the now retired sergeant behaved corruptly by deliberately sabotaging the investigation.

The IOPC has now ruled that the Met Police was wrong not to take further action to investigate her claim.

Ms Jamous, 57, of Belgravia, (see picture below) welcomed the IOPC’s decision, telling The Telegraph: “I can only hope that matters will be eventually be handled in a fair and professional manner.”

Lorna Jamous

Credit: Geoff Pugh/The Telegraph

The Telegraph revealed in 2016 that Mr Mercouris was disbarred after a Bar Standards Board disciplinary tribunal found he had brought the profession into disrepute with his handling of her damages claim against Westminster Council over the care of her son Tariq.

The local authority offered the beautician £5,000 to settle, but Mr Mercouris falsely told her he had managed to win her £983,000 in compensation, prompting her to borrow money and go on holiday in anticipation of the windfall.

The Bar Standards Board heard that when the cash failed to materialise, Mercouris “embarked on ever more bizarre assertions to hide the truth”. These included fabricating a letter from Lady Hale, the then Deputy President of the Supreme Court, expressing concern about the near £1 million payment not having been made by Westminster.

Mr Mercouris also claimed he had been detained by bogus police officers and taken to a meeting with Lord Phillips, then President of the Supreme Court, and offered £50,000 to drop the claim. 

An investigation into Mr Mercouris by the Met Police was closed after officers decided there was not enough evidence to bring a criminal case against him.

Following a complaint by Ms Jamous the case was reopened and Mr Mercouris was again interviewed under caution.

But in August 2012 the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) decided there was insufficient evidence to bring a prosecution and he was released with no further action.

Mr Mercouris has since reinvented himself as commentator on Russian affairs and international politics on the RT channel.

Exclusive: Albanian criminal twice deported from Britain boasts on social media about his return to the UK

A prolific Albanian burglar twice deported from the UK for his crimes has sneaked back into Britain as an illegal immigrant — and posted Instagram pictures of his high life drinking cocktails and driving a Porsche.

His flagrant breaches of immigration controls are to be investigated by the Home Office following a series of damaging deportation rows where the Government has struggled to remove foreign nationals.

Doran Puka, 26, was originally jailed for nine months in 2016 and then deported the following year for attempting to break into a property when the owner spotted him on a webcam while on holiday in France.

Yet, within a year, he managed to evade border controls and return to the UK where he carried out a string of burglaries in suburban London.

Puka was eventually caught wearing an expensive watch he had stolen when he was spotted by plain clothes officers patrolling Surbiton in south west London after the increase in burglaries locally. He was jailed for three and a half years and then deported in March 2020.

During his time in prison in the UK, he earned notoriety for using an illegal mobile phone smuggled into the jail to post Instagram pictures of himself standing alongside the leader of an organised crime group who was serving a 12-year sentence for conspiracy to supply cocaine and money laundering.

After returning to his native Albania for several months, he travelled through Germany, Belgium and Netherlands before beating border checks to enter Britain again in December 2020, according to his Instagram account.

Pictures posted on Instagram last month show him in the London commuter suburb of Richmond, Surrey, wearing a Covid mask and standing next to a £70,000 Porsche estate car on Christmas Eve:

Others include videos of Christmas Day celebrations with a turkey, Jack Daniels, liqueurs and cocktails in crystal glasses with a twist of lemon, as well as film of a training session in north London involving an Albanian amateur boxer.

A Home Office spokesman said the information had been passed to Border Force and police with a view to tracking him down and deporting him again.

The disclosure follows a series of deportation scandals where attempts to fly foreign national criminals back to their home countries have been disrupted or blocked by legal challenges over human rights and even claims of modern slavery.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) last year said the Home Office had no idea how many illegal immigrants were in the UK, noting its last official estimate of 430,000 was 15 years old. A former head of immigration enforcement, David Wood, has put it at closer to one million.

The NAO also said the Home Office was deporting fewer illegal immigrants largely due to successful legal challenges. At the same time the number of attempts by migrants to secretly enter the UK and detected by the Border Force rose by 12 per cent to 46,900 in the year to October 2019.

The Home Office spokesman said: “Foreign criminals who violate our laws and abuse our hospitality have no place in the UK. Knowingly entering the UK without leave is a criminal offence and anyone who has committed such an offence should be prepared to face prosecution and removal.

“We continue to strengthen our borders to stop people reaching the UK through illegally-facilitated routes, and we have established the Clandestine Threat Command to better coordinate Government and law enforcement agencies to stop people coming to the UK who have no right to be here.”

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, will shortly unveil a Sovereign Borders Bill aimed at increasing deportations and tightening Britain’s “broken” asylum system by constricting the grounds on which it can be claimed and shortening the time for appeals.

Celebrity dog seller says ear cropping is so they don’t get ripped during fights as government considers ban

A celebrity dog seller has said cropping the ears of its animals is so they do not get ripped during fights, as the government considers a ban on the "abhorrent mutilation".

Protection Dogs Worldwide has sold dogs to celebrities including former glamour model Katie Price and Love Island star Jack Fincham, and Dane Rashford, the brother of Manchester United star Marcus, has been spotted scouting out pets at the Yorkshire kennels.

All the Cane Corso and Doberman breeds it sells have cropped ears, a painful procedure which involves removing almost the whole outside of the pet’s ear before it is sold. Cropping dog ears is illegal in the UK, but importing dogs with cropped ears is not.

Cutting a dog’s ears off is sometimes done to make them look more menacing, and it has certainly become  a trend in recent years. Marcus Rashford has a large black Cane Corso called Saint, which has clipped ears, and Leigh-Anne Pinnock from Little Mix proudly flaunts her earless large bulldog breed. 

A dog with cropped ears available for sale on the site

Other footballers Jesse Lingard and James Maddison also show off their cropped dogs. There is no suggestion any of these celebrities acted illegally or knew the dogs were cropped when they bought them.

Leedor Borlant, the director of Protection Dogs Worldwide said they buy in dogs with cropped ears from abroad.

He told the Sunday Telegraph:  "None of our dogs are cropped in the U.K. and none of our dogs are sent to be cropped. Every dog we have is an import, what we do is 100 per cent within the law and I am fully aware of the legalities behind it and we don’t break any laws."

Mr Borlant said that the cropping allows dogs to escape unscathed from fights, explaining: "We have never ever had to take a dog to the vets here with an issue with a dog that’s cropped or has a docked tail, yet we have been multiple times with dogs who hurt the end of the tail or ears through working, it then infects, then progresses onto to other issues." 

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Dane Rashford (@danerashford)

The British Veterinary Association and the RSPCA have been lobbying the government to make it essentially illegal to own a dog with cropped ears, by banning imports. They argue that it provides a cover for breeders to implement the painful procedure.

Companies based in the UK, like Protection Dogs Worldwide, import animals from countries such as Russia where the practice is legal, and train the dogs to guard their celebrity owners. They sell for tens of thousands of pounds.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by James Maddison (@madders)

The government is currently considering a ban, after declaring the practice an "abhorrent mutilation".

Mr Borlant said that if this ban takes place, it is likely unscrupulous breeders will do the operation illegally instead of getting it done by a vet abroad.

He explained: "The banning of allowing cropped dogs in to the U.K. I believe will mean more people in the U.K. will continue to do it illegally and not correctly." 

Road closures during school hours could be costing lives, warns head of private ambulance service

Road closures banning traffic from certain streets during school hours could be costing lives rather than saving them, the head of a private ambulance service has warned.

Concern over the impact of pollution has led a number of councils to impose tight restrictions on the use of vehicles near schools during drop off and pick up time.

The School Street Road Closure scheme has proved especially popular in London where air pollution was recently ruled as a factor in the death of a nine-year-old girl who suffered a fatal asthma attack.

But medics, who work for an ambulance service in north London, have written to the Mayor of Hackney council, pointing out that the system is leading to traffic chaos elsewhere which is making it difficult to respond to emergencies.

The Hatzola Ambulance service, which is staffed by volunteers and operates mainly within the Jewish community, has said their response times have been hugely impacted by the road closures.

Paramedics working for Hatzola said demand for their service has rocketed during the pandemic and they have been helping to ease pressure off the London Ambulance Service during the recent surge in coronavirus emergencies.

But they warned that the road closures were compromising their ability to reach patients in time.

In his letter Gabriel Schleider, writing on behalf of the Hatzola trustees, said: “Instead of reducing congestion the road closures shift traffic to the surrounding roads which means our medical technicians are delayed in reaching those who need urgent help.

“A delay of just a few minutes really does make a difference to those in life-threatening situations and we urge you to reconsider this scheme which has the potential to cost lives rather than save them.

“We are committed to working in partnership with you to create a greener Hackney. We wholeheartedly support your desire to tackle congestion and improve air quality at the school gates, but we do not believe this should be done at the expense of saving lives.”

The introduction of Low Traffic Neighbourhoods across parts of the capital, including Hackney, has further compounded the problems with many residential roads physically blocked off with barriers to reduce traffic flow and pollution.

In a statement Philip Glanville, the Mayor of Hackney, said: “School Streets temporarily close roads outside school gates for an hour at opening and closing times to improve road safety and help children walk and cycle to school.

“I really value the work that Hatzola does in Hackney. Both officers and I have had extensive engagement with them and the wider community about these interventions and been very clear that emergency services — including Hatzola — are exempt from School Streets restrictions when responding to emergencies. 

He added: “While we believe School Streets have a minimal impact on traffic in surrounding areas, we are monitoring traffic levels, listening to stakeholders and will make adjustments to schemes if necessary. 

“With 160 people killed or seriously injured on Hackney’s roads in 2018, and one of the highest premature death rates in the country from poor air quality, we are also clear that not tackling traffic outside our schools in any part of Hackney is unacceptable.” 

Biden eyes ex-Obama staff to tackle Big Tech and other antitrust issues | Reuters

3 Min Read

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — Two former Obama administration officials have emerged as front-runners for the top antitrust job at the U.S. Department of Justice under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden speaks about his plan to administer coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines to the U.S. population during a news conference at Biden’s transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

One of the picks is Renata Hesse, who has had several stints at the Justice Department since 2002 and most recently served as the Acting Assistant Attorney General from mid-2016 to Jan. 2017. She also has held private sector roles and advised on matters involving companies such as Amazon.com Inc and Alphabet Inc’s Google .

More notably, Hesse advised Amazon on its more than $13 billion acquisition of grocery chain Whole Foods, according to her bio on the website of New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell LLP, where she is currently a partner.

Her role could pose conflict of interest issues as the Justice Department pursues its widely-followed case against Google, the sources said. The Justice Department sued Google on Oct. 20, accusing the $1 trillion company of dominating search and advertising.

The other front-runner is Juan Arteaga, who has also worked for the Justice Department under President Barack Obama between 2013 to 2017 and served as the Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Enforcement, according to the sources, who did not wish to be named.

Arteaga also has held private sector roles and advised companies such as JP Morgan Chase & Co and AT&T Inc.

Other contenders under consideration include Jonathan Kanter, who co-chaired the antitrust department at the law firm Paul Weiss and now runs his own firm, the sources said. He is a prominent Big Tech and Google critic. Many progressive groups favor Kanter’s appointment as they push for more aggressive antitrust enforcement.

To be sure, the names reflect the thinking of the Biden transition so far and could change as the vetting process moves forward, the sources said.

The Biden transition team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Antitrust enforcement has emerged as an issue the Biden transition team has been paying attention to. For example, a third source said the transition is prioritizing getting a landing team in to start working on issues and that Arteaga could be a good fit.

Also, on Nov. 18, the Biden transition’s agency review team for the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice held a meeting with outside progressive and moderate groups to discuss antitrust policy priorities, according to three separate sources.

Some of the broad priorities discussed on the call included having more “aggressive” antitrust enforcers.

“Bring cases even if you’re going to lose,” said one source, describing the way this point was made in the meeting.

Other topics discussed during the session included reversing merger guidelines, retrospective scrutiny of mergers, revamping antiquated competition laws and offering more funds for federal enforcement agencies such as the FTC, the sources said.

Reporting by Nandita Bose in Washington, Additional reporting by Diane Bartz; editing by Diane Craft

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


Prince Charles tries to save forgotten art of wood carving warning it could be lost for future generations

The Prince of Wales has long championed traditional craftsmanship, warning it is among the “life-enhancing, timeless opportunities” that could be lost to future generations.

And he fervently hopes that by becoming patron of the 300th anniversary celebration of Grinling Gibbons, the greatest wood carver in British history, he can help inject a new lease of life into a dwindling art.

The Prince’s genuine passion for heritage crafts makes him “uniquely qualified” for the patronage of the Grinling Gibbons Tercentenary, which will span a year from August.

He also embodies a connection with the Crown that Gibbons enjoyed throughout his career, having risen from obscurity to be commissioned by Charles II, James II and William III.

The Prince, 72, hopes the celebrations, which will include a national exhibition, public debates and lectures, will highlight the influence Grinling had on craftsmanship and become a source of inspiration for new generations of carvers and sculptors.

“The Prince is a great supporter of conservation heritage skills and it will hopefully encourage people to get involved,” a source close to him said.

Mark Aspinall, chair of the Grinling Gibbons Society, which was established to plan and coordinate the festival, said: “As Patron, His Royal Highness brings recognition to the indelible mark that Grinling Gibbons has left on the cultural identity of the nation.”

One of the students, Ollie Clegg, behind the restoration of The Lady's Well on Dumfries House estate

Through the Prince’s Trust, the heir to the throne has helped preserve traditional crafts and encourage young people to pursue them as a vocation.

The Prince’s Foundation, formed in 2018, offers a broad range of courses in traditional arts and heritage craft skills, typically enrolling around 50 students a year on courses featuring wood carving at Dumfries House, its Ayrshire base.

The Prince has described the pursuit of craft as “a marvellous way for somebody to realise their true potential as a human being.”

Speaking at the Craft Skills Awards in 2013, he said: “Crafts can bring one closer to Nature: they are a part of the human story of transmission of living tradition and cultural identity from one generation to another.”

He has also warned that as the vast majority working in the sector are self employed, they do not have time to pass on their skills to the next generation.  

“We simply must ensure that these often historic and unique skills are not allowed to die out and become relegated to history,” he said.

Gibbons, hailed “the "Michelangelo of wood,” was born in Rotterdam to English parents in April 1648.

The Prince of Wales officially unveils The Lady's Well at Dumfries House estate

He moved to England around 1667, settling first in York and then Deptford, east London, where his career flourished at a time of political uncertainty.

The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 and the Great Fire of London in 1666 provided huge opportunities for craftsmen and his work is said to offer a unique window into a turbulent age.

Introduced to King Charles II, he was given his first royal commission in 1675, when hired to produce decorative carving for Windsor Castle’s dining room, elaborate cascades of lobsters, crabs, bird and fish that remain today.

Over the next 25 years he completed commissions for Whitehall Palace, St Paul’s Cathedral, Hampton Court Palace and Blenheim Palace among many others.

In 1693, his extraordinary technical skill saw him appointed master sculptor and carver in wood to King William III.

He subsequently worked for Queen Anne and in 1719, he was made Master Carpenter to George I.

Simon Sadinsky, executive director at The Prince’s Foundation, said:  "Our programmes in traditional building skills reflect the passion of His Royal Highness to preserve historic crafts.

“We hope our charity president’s patronage of Grinling Gibbons Society can help build further awareness of the need for younger generations to learn and practise stonemasonry, woodcarving and similar crafts.”

Ideological terrorism is hampering ability to pen new plays, says writer in tirade on ‘wokeism’

A leading British playwright has said that "ideological terrorism" and a fear of judgement or causing offence are stifling creativity to the point where writers will be reduced to writing only about people like themselves – in his case, middle-aged Jewish men.

In a tirade on “wokeism,” Ryan Craig, 49, whose dramas have been staged at the National Theatre and on the BBC, asked: “Am I going to only be confined to writing about middle-aged Jewish men? That’s going to be a problem for me because I’m going to run out of road.”

He told The Telegraph: “It used to be that we wanted to please everybody. Now we don’t want to upset anybody – anybody. But that is an impossible situation…

“It’s a fear of judgement and cancellation. There’s an element of ideological terrorism going on. I don’t want to be prevented from exploring ideas because I think that somebody’s not going to like it…

“We are all becoming polarised even within our tribes. I worry about writers who want to write about things but won’t – for fear of upsetting people. These days, upsetting people means either they won’t do your play or, if they do, you’ll get into trouble, and they won’t do the rest of your work.”

Criticisms that go to the heart of the woke debate are explored in his forthcoming book, Writing in Coffee Shops: Confessions of a Playwright, to be published by Bloomsbury on February 11.

He wrote: “I worry that artists are self-censoring to the point of creative extinction. And that’s bad news for the health of our democracy because who is left to challenge our received wisdom and accepted morality? Who will purge and cleanse and force us to see things in new ways?”

He said at a Q&A discussion after one of his plays, a young woman asked: “Who is this show for?” He said: “Pretty much every panel I’ve ever been on, someone asks a question like this. It bothers me. What’s it implying? That some people deserve theatre more than others? That writers should write for one group and not another? I don’t know any working playwright worth their salt who only wants to speak to one tribe…

“Our job is to connect to some universal truth about the human condition. We don’t stand on the door like nightclub bouncers checking everyone’s wearing the right ideological trousers.”

Earlier this month, Russell T Davies, the Bafta-winning screenwriter, told the Radio Times that gay roles should be reserved for gay actors and, in 2019, Falsettos, a West End musical about a Jewish family, sparked a row amid claims that only non-Jewish actors had been cast. Director Nicholas Hytner has also been criticised for saying that he would only put on a play that was critical of the Muslim community if it were written by a Muslim: “If a play has pretensions to authenticity it should be authentic.”

Falsettos Musical performed at the Other Palace Theatre, London 

Credit: Alastair Muir 

Mr Craig argued that actors and writers should be able to climb into somebody else’s skin: “That’s the whole point. You’re reaching out to somebody else’s humanity and trying to connect with that humanity. Are we going to go round asking everybody what their identity is, what their sexuality is?”

He added: “If you force all characters to speak without ever giving offence, you are not writing honestly about human behaviour and the behaviour of language.”  

Mr Craig’s plays include The Glass Room, which deals with Holocaust denial, at the Hampstead Theatre, and The Holy Rosenbergs, about a Jewish family, staged at the National Theatre. He has also written extensively for television and radio, including Robin Hood for BBC1.

He recalled that, when The Holy Rosenbergs was staged in 2011, audiences hung around to discuss it: “They had a go at me. ’You haven’t got this right, I don’t agree with this…’. But it was a very fruitful, joyful interaction. I didn’t feel worried for my play’s future because people didn’t agree with some of it. Tilly Tremayne was playing the classic matriarchal Jewish mother. Most of the Jewish people who came to see the play did not believe me that she wasn’t Jewish. That’s the point. She did her job. She convinced them that she was somebody else.”

He recalled that Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice, a satire on East End immigration starring Olivia Colman at the National in 2009, was criticised for lampooning stereotypes of French Huguenots, Irish Catholics, Jews and Bangladeshis: “I wonder if Richard would even attempt to write that play now and whether the National Theatre would do that play. Or, if so, then perhaps they would do an accompanying piece of work from somebody from one of the communities that he talks about. What’s happening is it’s becoming narrower what you’re allowed to write about.”

A scene from England People Very Nice, a play by Richard Bean at the National Theatre

Credit: Johan Persson 

He also recalled Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s play Behzti (Dishonour), which offended some Sikhs because it included scenes of rape and murder in a Sikh temple. Staged at the Birmingham Rep in 2004, it sparked a riot, prompting managers to cancel it.

Mr Craig said: “Bhatti’s play was rejected by her community. What’s happened now is that if you didn’t come from that community, you couldn’t write Sikh characters. That makes a mockery about how we put ideas and characters together.”

Britain abandoned theatre censorship in 1968, when playwrights no longer needed a licence from the Lord Chamberlain. Mr Craig said that, until a few years ago, there was complete artistic freedom: “You didn’t feel there was anything you couldn’t write about. But today, if you don’t completely tally with some people’s point of view, then you’re a traitor to their cause.”

He is now writing a play on censorship, commissioned by the Bath Theatre Royal: “It’s going to be, hopefully, a stimulating comedy of ideas.” 

‘Ageism’ is to blame for Britain’s high covid death toll, Age UK boss suggests

‘Ageism’ among Government officials and scientists is to blame for Britain’s high covid death toll, the Age UK boss has suggested. 

According to the latest available figures, there have been over 70,500 deaths among people aged 65 & over in the UK where coronavirus is mentioned on the death certificate, representing 90 per cent of all Covid-19 deaths.  

Furthermore, almost one-in-three (28 per cent) deaths in the UK where coronavirus (Covid-19) is mentioned on the death certificate occurred in a care home.

It was revealed by The Telegraph that coronavirus hospital patients can be discharged into care homes without being tested under draft Government guidelines.

Caroline Abrahams, Charity Director at Age UK, the leading charity representing older people, said that “the ageism revealed by the pandemic has been profoundly depressing”.    

Coronavirus excess deaths — by location (hospital, care home, private home)

Writing online for The Telegraph today, Ms Abrahams said: “Perhaps these oversights are less surprising when you consider that there is no one in Whitehall to speak up for older people: no Minister for older people, no Commissioner, no strategy or plan, and no cross cutting unit of officials. 

“These are the kinds of things governments put in place when they think something or someone is important. The fact that we have none of them in England is quite telling. 

“The over 65s comprise almost one in five of the population and rising, yet the government machine almost entirely ignores them as a group: a classic example of ‘structural ageism?’    

“There has been more than a hint of ageism too from some arguing for ‘the economy versus the nation’s health’ – a false choice if ever I saw one since the evidence is that we can best protect the economy by gaining and keeping control of the virus.”

She added: “For example, consider the way in which our scientists and decision makers initially overlooked the risks facing care home residents, and therefore failed to protect them effectively until at least several months in. 

“In advanced nations like ours it is hard to avoid the conclusion that ‘out of sight’ too easily becomes ‘out of mind’ with care homes and the older people living in them.

Nine in ten deaths from the virus here so far are of over 65s, a massive two in five of whom were living in a care home at the time.

“Would we have tolerated such a rickety set of services for so long had most of the people they are for been anyone else?

And will the Prime Minister stand by his word in 2021 and fundamentally reform and refinance social care to give older people the dignity they deserve? 

“Certainly, that would be a fitting legacy after all our older population, those in care homes especially, are enduring during this pandemic.”    

Guidance issued by the Department of Health and Social Care said visits to care homes in tier 4 areas can only take place behind substantial screens, in visiting pods or through windows.  The move has dashed hopes of hand holding and hugs between relatives and residents.

The emergence of a rapidly transmissible strain of Covid-19 has also raised fears about the safety of close-contact visits outside tier 4, enabled by rapid testing, which does not detect all positive cases.

Responding to the comments, a spokesperson for the DHSC said  “Eliminating health inequalities and helping people have healthier, more active lives for longer is a priority of this government.

"We are investing hundreds of millions of pounds through our Ageing Society Grand Challenge, ensuring everyone can enjoy an additional five extra years of healthy, independent life by 2035.  

“We are, and always have been, resolutely committed to supporting elderly people and the social care sector, including providing over £1.1 billion for infection control measures throughout the pandemic and £4.6 billion to local authorities to reduce pressures on services.  

“We are committed to sustainable improvement of the adult social care system and will bring forward proposals next year.”