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Sensemaker: Griffiths v Griffiths

Sensemaker: Griffiths v Griffiths

What just happened

Long stories short

  • The UK’s National Health Service ran out of lateral flow tests as at least 60 Tory MPs prepared to vote against new Covid restrictions in parliament tomorrow.
  • Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, fired a female employee for “spreading false information” after she accused a male superior of sexually assaulting her on a business trip. 
  • In a referendum, New Caledonia voted overwhelmingly to stay part of France.

Griffiths v Griffiths

On Friday, Tortoise and PA Media won a significant victory in the courts. For more than a year we had argued that when a former MP and government minister is found by a family court judge to have raped and abused his wife, the public deserves to know. The Court of Appeal agreed, and allowed us to publish a judgment detailing the abuse perpetrated by Andrew Griffiths, over nearly a decade. 

We did not make the decision to publish lightly. Whenever journalists apply to a judge to report on evidence and findings made in a private family court hearing, they need to be acutely aware that the people involved are likely to be going through one of the most painful and traumatic experiences of their lives. In care cases, they stand to lose their children. In private family disputes, like this one, there may be a fierce battle over access to the child. The stakes are high.

So we needed to establish a clear public interest in order to argue that the details of a judgment handed down in a family court in Derby, which would have been kept secret, should be published – revealing Griffiths as the abuser and his wife, Kate Griffiths, now an MP, as a victim of rape, coercion and assault. We also had to prove that freedom of speech outweighed the risk of harm and engagement of privacy rights to their child by publication. Even though we did not want to name the child, we knew they would be indirectly identified.

Our public interest arguments rested on four points. 

  • Open justice is a cornerstone of democracy, and should only be circumscribed in very particular circumstances. Family law cases are heard in private because it is rightly seen as important to protect children. But in this case, we argued that harm to the Griffiths’ child would be caused not by publication of the truth, but by Andrew Griffiths’ behaviour, which the child would eventually need to be told about in any case. 
  • For eight years, Andrew Griffiths held high elected office. At the same time that he was assaulting and abusing his wife, he could speak on legislation affecting the lives of women and girls, table amendments, and vote on whether laws should pass. We argued that the public is entitled to know when someone with power over all our lives behaves in ways that betray their trust. 
  • In 2018, Andrew Griffiths actively used the media to paint a false picture. In July that year he resigned as a minister after a newspaper published details of more than 2,000 ‘sexts’ he had sent to two of his constituents. Later, in an interview with the Sunday Times, he said this episode was the result of a mental breakdown caused by his own experience of abuse. However, the family court heard that he had engaged in this type of harassing – and sexting – in the past. We argued that the media should be able to put the record straight.
  • There is strong criticism of certain family judges for their failure to understand domestic abuse. In this case, the judgment by Her Honour Judge Williscroft sets out in impressive detail how she had evaluated the evidence, some of which related specifically to Andrew Griffiths’ abuse of power as an MP; and how he used his status to control his wife. We felt that this judgment would give confidence to future victims of domestic abuse if they wanted to seek the protection of the family court.

The full story of Griffiths v Griffiths, including our investigation and our arguments in court, will be published in January in the Slow Newscast. 

belonging identity, society, beliefs, countries

Europe and Ukraine
The threat of World War Three breaking out in the Ukrainian-Russian borderlands ought to be uniting Nato, the EU and the broader western alliance against the Russian threat. It’s not clear this is happening. Last week Joe Biden had to make two careful damage limitation calls, first to Kiev and then to the B9 (the Baltics and other eastern European Nato members) to reassure them he wasn’t planning to sell Ukraine down the river after offering Putin talks with major Nato powers on Ukrainian security. That concession had not been telegraphed. Europe hadn’t been consulted and the White House seemed to be improvising as to which Nato countries would be invited to these talks and which wouldn’t. There were more shows of solidarity at the weekend – a promise of more US troops to Nato’s eastern flank and a G7 warning of “massive consequences” for Russia if it invades. But Europe is still smarting and new divisions between Aukus and Europe are widening, not healing. Not content with rejecting French submarines for American ones, Australia is now doing the same with its military helicopters. Aukus is a self-inflicted wound in what should be a rock solid alliance of democracies. 

New things technology, science, engineering

Focus, focus
For iPhone users fed up with distracting notifications there is now a “focus” mode which can screen out bleeps and flashes from contacts and apps you’d rather not think about just now. The WSJ’s Nicole Nguyen says it’s a pain to set up but worth it in the end. She also notes Android phones were already better at helping users tune out distractions. In both cases there’s an alternative to customising a device whose whole purpose is to distract you to distract you less. Turn the damn thing off.

The 100-year life health, education, living, public poliCY

Booster blitz
The UK government has decided simultaneously to big up the risks of the Omicron variant and the fun to be had and money made at Christmas. Citizens are advised that working from home is desirable but parties are ok. Protection will be provided by masks insofar as people are willing to do what the PM often can’t be bothered to, but mainly by boosters. Johnson addressed the nation looking scruffier than ever last night to say all over 18s would be offered a third jab by the end of the month. To note: if most people take him up on the offer that’ll mean a million jabs a day and the record for one day is 844,000. Also, the markets don’t think Omicron is as serious as Johnson is making out. Most indices paused briefly as he announced Plan B on Friday – “in case he knew something we didn’t,” as one analyst put it – then headed on up. Asian markets also opened higher this morning. 

Our planet environment, natural resources, geopolitics

Kentucky tornadoes
At least 100 people are feared dead after a devastating series of tornadoes tore through Kentucky on Friday night, levelling whole neighbourhoods and destroying property in at least four neighbouring states as well. A giant Amazon distribution centre outside Evansville, Illinois, was part-destroyed by a tornado that formed in its car park, flattened half of a warehouse and killed six workers. The other half of the warehouse was left intact, visible from space and a reminder of the chilling precision with which tornadoes can strike. The one that hit Mayfield, Kentucky, was less discriminating. It flattened most of the town, including a candle factory where 110 workers were on a night shift and the mayor said rescue efforts were turning yesterday to recovery. Spring is considered peak tornado season in much of the midwest, but tornadoes can strike whenever cold and warm air masses collide as they did this time. The storms were forecast well in advance and the death toll would have been much higher if they hadn’t been.

Wealth investment, fairness, prosperity

Banking while Black
Black small business owners in the US find it harder than white ones to get bank loans, and so tend to rely less on credit. The same disparities probably exist in many supposedly multi-ethnic societies but the FT’s focus today is the US and its long read is based on numbers, not a hunch. Only 33 per cent of stable black-owned businesses have received bank funding in the past five years compared with 54 per cent of stable white-owned businesses, according to the Federal Reserve’s last survey before the pandemic. Since Covid hit, an alarming 41 per cent of African American businesses ceased trading compared with 17 per cent of white ones, according to a 2020 study. It’s not clear how many of these businesses have since reopened, but a disproportionately small share of federal aid went to black-owned businesses – partly because fewer of them had relationships with the commercial banks through which the money was distributed. There is no shortage of efforts to remedy this unequal access to capital. They’re just not working. 

The week ahead


13/12 – Bank of England releases financial stability report; Northern Ireland Covid passport enforcement begins; booster jab booking service for over 30s opens and work from home guidance is reintroduced, 14/12 – Commons to vote on Plan B Covid restrictions; daily lateral flow testing for double-vaxxed contacts of Covid cases in England starts; Nicola Sturgeon set to give Covid statement in Scottish parliament; astronaut Tim Peake to speak at defence committee session, 15/12 – over 18s can book booster jabs from today; Supreme Court judgment on gender neutral passports; house price index released, 16/12 – UK parliament breaks for Christmas recess; Bank of England meeting to decide interest rates; North Shropshire by-election; man appears in court charged with murder of Sabina Nessa, 17/12 – retired footballer Ryan Giggs appears in court charged with assault and controlling behaviour; findings of investigation into Downing Street parties expected to be released


13/12 – Emmanuel Macron to attend Visegrád Four meeting and speak separately with Viktor Orbán; US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits Indonesia and Malaysia; Time magazine person of the year announced, 14/12 – court hearing for Russian bid to shut down International Memorial human rights group; US Fed interest rate decision, 15/12 – Ukraine discussed at UN Human Rights Council, 16/12 – European Council summit in Brussels, attended for first time by Germany’s Olaf Scholz; defense begins in Ghislaine Maxwell sex trafficking trial; UEFA executive committee meeting, 17/12 – ten year anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death marked in North Korea; EU inflation figures released, 18/12 – International Migrants Day; Hugo award for best literary work in sci-fi and fantasy announced, 19/12 – election for Legislative Council of Hong Kong 

Thanks for reading, and do share this around.

Louise Tickle

Giles Whittell

Phoebe Davis

Edited by Xavier Greenwood and produced by Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Aaron Chown/PA, Getty Images