SARAH VINE: Britain is now officially a country where the police investigate journalists like Darren Grimes for asking questions: It’s chilling.. the walls are closing in on our freedoms

Had someone told me this time last year that so many of the daily liberties we once took for granted – putting an arm around a fellow mourner at a funeral, having supper with friends, booking a holiday, visiting relatives – would, just 12 months on, feel like unimaginable privileges, I would have laughed in their face.

And yet here we are. The other day I took my car to be cleaned at my local Tesco valeting service. I finished my shop early so I popped into the cafe to wait. 

I had to hand over my contact details and sign my name on a slip of paper before they would serve me a cup of tea. Really.

How long before I have to notify the authorities of my intention to answer a call of nature? Up and down the country, citizens are being systematically stripped of their privacy and freedoms. 

Broadcaster Darren Grimes (above) interviewed the historian David Starkey a few months ago but is now being investigated by the police on suspicion of stirring up racial hatred 

Covid marshals are being armed (at a cost of £30 million) with body cameras and urged to target weddings, parties, restaurants and nail bars in pursuit of people breaching Government guidelines.

I spoke to a friend the other day who sings in her local choir. She is so terrified of accidentally breaching Covid regulations that she is thinking about giving it up.

Meanwhile in Newcastle, private security firms are accosting undergraduates in the street and on campus, demanding to know their identity and business.

We now live in a world where police are scared to stop and search suspected gang members for carrying blades in case someone accuses them of being racist; but where being young and daring to leave your halls of residence is practically a criminal offence.

Is it just me, or does it feel like the walls are closing in? But however surreal and insidious all this might feel to you and me, it must be nothing compared with what Darren Grimes is going through.

Grimes is a young broadcaster and journalist from Country Durham. A few months ago he interviewed the historian David Starkey. It was not exactly Starkey’s finest hour. 

Asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, he responded that slavery was not genocide because there were still ‘so many damn blacks’.

Quite rightly, Starkey was roundly condemned for what was unquestionably a deeply offensive comment. 

But in an Orwellian twist of fate it is Grimes who finds himself in the dock: he is now being investigated by the Metropolitan Police on suspicion of stirring up racial hatred.

The notion that any broadcaster or interviewer should be held responsible for the views of their programme’s subjects is, of course, completely absurd.

By that token you would have to prosecute Louis Theroux for giving airtime to the lunatic views of far-Right extremists, or investigate the editors of BBC’s Question Time for giving a platform to former BNP leader Nick Griffin. 

When asked about the Black Lives Matter movement, Dr Starkey (above) responded that slavery was not genocide because there were still ‘so many damn blacks’

Indeed, you could even argue that Grimes was doing us all a favour by exposing Starkey’s true feelings. 

Isn’t that, after all, what journalism is: uncovering the truth, however unpalatable? And yet here we are. Grimes is in the dock and Britain is now officially a country where the police investigate journalists for asking questions.

Even in normal times, that would be a pretty chilling prospect, but we now live in a world where all sense of justice and proportion seems to have gone out the window. 

Where freedom of expression is under attack; where a health crisis is being used to pit neighbour against neighbour; where dissent is seen as an act of civil disobedience; where ‘tolerance’ has been redefined as denying any opinion that doesn’t conform to a narrow set of views.

And, most terrifying of all, where those who were once charged with protecting our rights and freedoms have been redeployed as guardians not of what we do, but of what we think and say. 

Expert Hancock should listen to

My mother sent me this from a Facebook post by an Italian doctor – it should be required reading in the Department of Health.

On Covid, he writes: ‘The hospitalisations are growing, but fortunately also the discharges. Compared to the terrible days of last spring, we are witnessing on average shorter hospitalisations, slightly lower average age (67 years today), more manageable disease and practically zero lethality. We still have a few more complex cases, but these represent the minority.

‘We have the drugs, we know how and when to use them, and we are more confident in what we do. It is therefore necessary to avoid giving messages of terror.’

If there was ever any doubt Nicola Sturgeon is one of the most divisive politicians of our age, look no further than her assertion Jaffa Cakes are biscuits. 

Biscuits! The woman is clearly deranged. 

Not to mention irresponsible. 

Given its recent record, it can only be a matter of time before No 10 follows her lead. 

France hates Emily, so she must be OK

Netflix’s new hit show Emily In Paris stars Lily Collins as a perky American girl on a work placement in Paris.

She does unforgivable things like turn up to the office early, jog and prepare spreadsheets. 

She’s like a shiny Barbie in a room full of dusty, jaded dolls. 

Netflix’s new hit show Emily In Paris stars Lily Collins as a perky American girl on a work placement in Paris. She is like a shiny Barbie in a room full of dusty, jaded dolls

‘Do you want to have lunch?’ she asks her female boss. 

‘No, I’ll have a cigarette,’ comes the reply. 

And on it goes. Critics have derided it for being shallow and laced with cliches. 

Even the French are in high dudgeon about what they see as a crude caricature of Parisian society. 

All of which is, of course, why I can’t stop watching it. 

Tom Bower’s stories about the rivalries between Boris Johnson, David Cameron and George Osborne reminded me of a Sunday lunch at Chequers many moons ago, present Messrs Johnson and Cameron. 

After an excellent repast, we proceeded to the Long Gallery, from which the children’s makeshift football pitch was visible. Someone – I think Boris – suggested a ‘kickabout’. 

What followed made the Battle of Thermopylae look like a vicar’s tea party. I’ve never seen such naked competition or furious determination. 

I remember thinking at the time it was all a bit over the top for two grown men playing football with a couple of eight-year-old boys and a rather surly teenager. 

With hindsight, it was only an opening skirmish. 

Is it just me or are fabric face-masks a bit like socks? You think you’ve got loads of them, but somehow they mysteriously disappear… 

What fresh hell is this?

Gucci have launched a £750 pair of tights. 

That’s right, the entire world is facing economic Armageddon, and that’s their response. 

Still, don’t worry: if £750 is too much for you, there’s always the Chanel equivalent – a snip at just £350.  

 Gucci have launched a £750 pair of tights, which were first modelled by Gigi Hadid, HyunJi Shin and Mona Tougaard on the runway at Paris Fashion Week in March

Dear Petplan. 

Might I respectfully suggest that when you take my money month after month and then make a gigantic fuss about paying for a perfectly legitimate claim on the pet insurance (one of my dogs needed a broken tooth removing), making me feel like a criminal and causing me no small amount of stress and inconvenience, you do not then pollute my inbox with emails asking me to rate my recent ‘claim experience’. 

It was terrible, OK. Happy now? 

If women ruled the world 

No mother would have to go to court to stop her 16-year-old autistic daughter being given puberty blockers.

This is the ordeal faced by one unnamed woman who believes her child’s desire to undergo a sex change is triggered not by genuine gender dysphoria, but by her Asperger’s, and that once she falls into the hands of clinicians she will be given irreversible treatments.

I have no problem with kids pushing boundaries and experimenting with identity – but when it comes to such fundamental life changes, adults have a duty to protect them, as much as we can, from themselves.

Last week, Instagram turned ten, but I won’t be throwing a party. 

While it may not have the same dubious associations as Facebook or the out-and-out aggression of Twitter, its influence on our culture has been equally insidious. 

At least on Twitter people are openly rude. Instagram is far more passive-aggressive – a place where not being pretty or thin enough drives vulnerable young girls to starve themselves or inject their faces with fillers in a desperate bid to acquire likes. 

In other words, an online version of Mean Girls – not exactly something to celebrate.

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