Is it any wonder people are fleeing London?

By Jan Moir
Last Updated: 12:01am GMT 16/01/2008

In a north London suburb last week, a schoolgirl was beaten, gang-raped and then had drain-cleaning fluid poured on her body apparently to destroy DNA evidence. In the eternal cesspit of senseless urban crime, I feel that a dreadful nadir of sorts has been reached, a benchmark of slaked lust and casual, sadistic cruelty.

Police sources say the 16-year-old will never fully recover from the injuries caused by the caustic soda and, at the time of writing, she remains under heavy sedation in a burns unit, fighting for her life.

One could weep an ocean for this young woman, her life ruined by these savages, who hunted in a pack like animals and dragged her to an empty house, caring nothing for her wellbeing or future.

Drain cleaner? The callous premeditation is shocking, and underlines the fact that some of the rootless delinquents who roam the London streets are now scraping the bottom of the barrel of humanity.

I’m almost embarrassed to say that the attackers have been described as “five black youths”, in case you think I’m being racist in highlighting this crime.

Yes, these are the peculiar times we live in, particularly in a week when Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has pointed out that “white flight is accelerating” as Britain becomes increasingly polarised along ethnic lines.

Following the controversy started by the Bishop of Rochester, who said that some Muslim enclaves were “no-go areas” for Christians, it all seems to suggest a country that is becoming increasingly fragmented; a patchwork of rigidly delineated little pockets of race and religion, knots of unyielding humanity who just can’t rub along with each other.

This is not a Britain many of us would care to recognise, or even want to live in, although it is true that certain sectors of the middle class are fleeing from inner London like pashmina-wrapped lemmings, desperate to escape the creeping spread of urban decay.

Last year, nearly a quarter of a million decent, law-abiding citizens packed their bags and left the capital for good, seeking what they hope will be a better life elsewhere. They moved to outer boroughs, other city suburbs, rural areas, abroad, the back end of beyond, anywhere but here.

While their fairytale, roses-around-the-door belief in the safety of the countryside and the romantic ideal of a thatched cottage for two is touching, it does point to an underlying urban unease.

I would rather take my chances in the city than the country, but one can hardly blame them for wanting to move.

Elsewhere in London this week, a medical student was stabbed to death in a row over an orange in a Brixton fruit shop. A pupil who was expelled for allegedly having a knife took his school to the High Court. And about the time most of us were sitting down to dinner, watching The Bill on television or putting the children to bed, a teenage girl underwent an unimaginable ordeal in an ordinary suburban street.

What is going to happen to those of us left to live here if youths across the city continue to feel quite comfortable and confident in running amok? That’s before you even factor in the older, more professional criminal gangs from more than 25 countries, who operate prosperous drug trafficking, people smuggling, prostitution, money laundering and fraud rackets on the capital’s streets.

London is a welcoming city, where home-grown and particularly international criminal networks are flourishing nicely. Somewhere in the city, a great termite nest of law-breaking and corruption grows by the day, nourished by immigrants, some of them illegal, from Algeria, Nigeria, Jamaica and Pakistan, among others.

Is it racist to point that out, too? I don’t know any more. All I know is that London has room to absorb them all, particularly as so many of its citizens have recently left in a hurry. And while cosy family evenings by the fire remain one of the few benefits of a wet British winter, how alarming that fewer and fewer people feel safe doing this inside their own homes.

The old ways are best

If you are one of the snuffling millions still suffering from winter colds and flu, fear not. The Daily Telegraph cavalry is galloping to your rescue, waving a (dry) white handkerchief in triumph, not surrender. Following my item last week about the futility of over-the-counter remedies for winter germs, lots of lovely readers emailed and wrote with their own tried and tested cures.

Dr Joan Watson, an honorary reader in palaeobotany at Manchester University, writes in praise of the tinctures of Dr Richard Schulze, which she says have not failed her for 10 years.

“My husband says Shulze is a nutter,” she says, but goes on to insist that the filthy-tasting Schulze Blaster Tonic is a magic potion, particularly when taken alongside raw, crushed garlic. She also recommends Throat Coat teabags (so does Madonna), and putting six drops of three per cent hydrogen peroxide in each ear to ward off an infection (so doesn’t Madonna).

You might not be surprised to hear that this “fizzes and itches like mad” but apparently is very effective. Howard Williamson from Yorkshire says that, if you have a cold or flu, you must “stop eating and live on fruit juice”, while Hilary Huckstep of Southwold claims that at least one cough mixture is excellent: a sugar-free syrup containing anise, clover, peppermint oils, capsicum and ginger.

June Green insists that old-fashioned remedies are the best, including this one: “Cut a large Spanish onion in half, and tie each half to the soles of your feet before going to bed. The onion is supposed to draw out the cold germs. I swear my cold was better in the morning.”

Clem Dennis from Swanage swears that a teaspoonful of cod liver oil every day will keep the doctor away; his tip for a more palatable experience is to keep the bottle in the fridge. “I am in my eighties, and most things still work, including my original teeth,” he emails.

M. MacNeil from Kircudbright has a more Celtic solution to winter sniffles: in a tumbler, pour a measure of Ribena, a teaspoon of honey and a jigger of rum, then top up with hot water and take to bed. “Particularly good for chesty colds,” he says, and promises that all chills will disappear in three days. Thanks to all.

Diana was surrounded with flakes, or worse

One strange, curious aspect is emerging from the protracted and farcical inquest into the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. It is that, despite being one of the most desired and admired women on the planet, she had terrible taste in lovers and friends, not to mention staff.

Like a bad penny, Paul Burrell turned up at the High Court this week looking like a bingo caller and acting, as usual, like a self-satisfied slug. “I was the hub,” he said, which was interesting to us all, because last time we looked, he was trying to persuade everyone that he was the “rock”.

Poor, mad Diana seemed to have no judgment at all about people in general and men in particular, and lacked the kind of practical common sense to deal with relationships and problems. Dodi Fayed? A playboy unworthy of her attention. Hasnat Khan? After years of silence, his tepid burblings sound like the final wheezes of a deflating hot air balloon; I do wish he’d kept his mouth shut for ever.

As Diana’s life and death is unpicked, stitch by stitch, in the courts, the spotlight has been unflinching in exposing many of those closest to her as flakes, or worse. Yet her own shaky moral assessments are what shock the most.

Forget about the fishnet tights: just read us the news

Selina Scott and mainstream television parted company years ago. When the final credits rolled, she retired to an Ampleforth farm to raise a herd of goats and knit goaty mohair socks from her herd’s wool to sell over the internet.

Have you seen her website? Its not CNN, but it is darling! “Mohair is smooth,” promises Selina. “Mohair is sexy. It’s glamorous, but there is no pong. Heaven sent for smelly feet.” We can all imagine how much these things matter in North Yorkshire.

However, Scott has raised a bit of a stink herself this week. She has upset female newsreaders by complaining that women on television today don’t have a “strong journalistic background” and have had little experience in “breaking or covering stories” before making it on to the small screen.

Hark at her! Scott’s two years on Scotland’s Sunday Post covering scone baking competitions and what Kenneth McKellar liked for his breakfast barely qualify her for the job of chief paperclip sorter on the Toytown Trumpet.

Yet this has not stopped her being disrespectful or patronising towards her younger colleagues for being fluffy, or chosen for their looks. Come on. Television is a visual medium, Selina: it did you proud in your heyday and matters have much improved since then. sexist practice that once found pretty, young female newsreaders like you paired with ancient, Cro-Magnon male newsreaders like Frank Bough is almost dying out.

However, one thing that has not changed is the way that everyone is still having a go at newsreaders, even newsreaders themselves. On Desert Island Discs recently, former newsreader John Humphrys told former newsreader Kirsty Young that newsreading “isn’t a man’s job – or a woman’s”.

This week, like some Easter Island statue whirring into life, Sir Trevor McDonald creaked back on to News At Ten, going head to head against his old nemesis Huw Edwards on the BBC. “We’re not in this to lose,” said Sir Trev. “We’ve beaten them before and we’ll do it again,” said Huw, as if we were all watching a mercifully short version of Gladiator.

Sir Trevor’s new screen partner is Julie Etchingham, who looks as if she once starred in Friends, but apparently has a degree in palaeontology. She must have; how else could she keep turning to look at an old fossil with such rapt fascination?

What no newsreader ever seems to grasp is that all we want is for someone to tell us what is happening in the Middle East without showing off, dancing on ice, flirting or doing the can-can in fishnets as the credits roll. Will this ever happen? In a television bubble, where newsreaders old and new continue to be obsessed with each other, it seems unlikely.

Here is Selina Scott writing about Kirsty Young: “Affectionate and nimble, she is a real show-stopper, with long, creamy-white ringlets that are cut off twice a year to make yarn and…” Whoops: it’s not Kirsty, it’s one of the herd. Yet isn’t it sad that haughty Selina is nicer about her goats than she is about the brave women who follow in her broadcasting footsteps?

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