Exclusive: How the People’s Tribunal will fight for every discriminated woman and girl in the UK

This new film released today covers both the reaction to the Judicial Review hearing last month and the birth of the People’s Tribunal. It also shows that under BackTo60’s leadership the two are interlinked.

The BackTo60 campaign was aimed to help 3.8 million women born in the 1950s get full restitution for their pensions. The People’s Tribunal has a hugely enlarged audience covering all women and girls in the United Kingdom and seeking to end the discrimination against all women.

Both are linked by injustice. The 50sWomen campaign wants restitution for the implementation of unfair laws – the 1995, 2007 and 2011 Pensions Act because of the adverse effect on one large group of women.

The People’s Tribunal want the UK to bring into domestic law the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (Cedaw).

The UK is already signed up to the convention – Margaret Thatcher did so in 1986 – but unlike other countries has not put the convention into UK law. The UK has also never appointed a representative to sit on the UN committee in Geneva either.

Any such legislation would transform women’s rights to fight discrimination and have a massive effect on the legal system of this country.

It would also give women a massive confidence boost that they would know beyond doubt they are equal to men and if they are treated any worse than men have a powerful tool to pursue any injustice through law.

Some people might think that in modern Britain women already do have equal rights with men. But when you think that despite equal pay laws and an Equality Act under the Blair Labour government, many women still do not have equal pay now nor do they have equal progression in their chosen career.

Despite strides – including all women short lists – there is not equal representation in Parliament among MPs and women more than men suffer domestic abuse.

Professor Jackie Jones, who was an expert witness in the judicial review and is part of the People’s Tribunal team, explains all of this very well in another YouTube video which you can watch below.

Finally all this going to cost money and today the People’s Tribunal launch a big crowdfunding appeal to set up and run the tribunal. They need to raise £75,000 but it will be worth every penny. The link top the crowdfunder is here.

Exclusive: Now 9.8 million men over 60 had their national insurance contributions paid by the state

The revised DWP answer

Revised figure doubled for ” men only national insurance subsidy”

The Department for Work and Pensions has revised the estimated number of men over 60 who received what are known as ” auto credits” towards getting a full pension from 4.65m to 9.8m between 1983 and 2018.

The 4.65 million figure was already staggeringly high but the new figure is more than double the number previously disclosed. It is also well over double the number of 1950s born women who are currently waiting for their pension for up to six years.

The scale of the payments has been kept quiet by the Department for Work and Pensions for 37 years. It was only revealed last month when Myfanwy Opeldus, one of 3.8 million women facing now a six year delay to get her pension, got the admission from the ministry through a Freedom of Information request. 

Letter issued after court hearing

Yesterday the Department for Work and Pensions wrote to her again raising the figure to 9.8 million. The letter came just after the Court of Appeal hearing into the judicial review this week heard about the plight of women affected by the rise in the pension age and was told by Michael Mansfield about the men receiving ” auto credits” which was not known at the time of the first judicial review.

The new disclosure makes it even more galling for the women who were originally promised they would have their national insurance contributions paid between 2010 and 2018 only to have the offer withdrawn a year before it was due to start. A number have had to pay thousands of pounds to make up the sum for a full pension while others simply have not been able to afford it.

The letter does say that not all 9.8 million men would have benefited as some would have died, others would have full insurance records and some would have been working abroad.

enormous subsidy for men

Nevertheless the scale of the subsidy must be enormous and a benefit for people years after it was offered by Sir Geoffrey Howe, the Chancellor of Exchequer in 1983, to encourage men to get off the dole to keep the very high unemployment numbers down at the time.

This story seems to get worse and worse so let us hope there will some justice from the courts for all the women concerned.

50 women’s pensions: An extraordinary Judicial Review Appeal hearing

The Master of the Rolls, Sir Terence Etherton Pic credit Wikipedia

Judges are inscrutable. Like wise old owls you can never be sure what they are thinking. This week’s two day hearing of the Court of Appeal into the rejected judicial review on behalf of 3.8 million women born in the 1950s who saw their pension age rise from 60 to 66 was no exception.

However the proceedings were extraordinary for a number of reasons. For a start the introduction of new technology clashed with the traditional proceedings of the courts.

Hit by Covid 19, the Court of Appeal decided that ” public interest ” in the case was so great that it should be live streamed with some of the judges and lawyers contributing via video link. They were justified with audiences over 2000 peaking at one point to just below 4000 – Court No 71 could never hold anything near that number ever, Covid 19 or not. Now two days later it has been seen by over 16,000 people.

For the first day it worked. But during the second day it ran into a number of technical problems -including cutting people off. And at the very end of the day the technology fizzled out for me so I didn’t see the very last part of the hearing . I have now seen it and Michael Mansfield makes a strong defence of why 50s women have been so badly affected by the delay in the pension age, citing one case where a woman contemplated suicide. He also emphasised the failure to notify people properly, saying there was a common law duty to do so.

Henrietta Hill was questioned by the judges about indirect and direct sex and age discrimination and how the lawyers saw their case being applied.

The judges reserved judgement which means it could be a few months before there is a decision.

Judges were engaged

The three judges presiding over the hearing were engaged with the debate.. The Master of the Rolls, 69 year old Sir Terence Etherton, is also president of the Property Bar Association and chairman of the Trust Law Committee and a visiting professor at Birkbeck College. In his youth he was a fencer and a member of the GB International Fencing Team, including being selected for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.

Lord Justice Sir Nicholas Underhill Pic credit: Judiciary website

Lord Justice Sir Nicholas Underhill, 68, is a former president of the Employment Appeal Tribunal so well versed in complex cases. He also is a former Attorney General to the Prince of Wales.

Lady Justice Dame Vivien Rose Pic credit: judiciary website

Lady Justice Dame Vivien Rose,60, is the most recently appointed appeal judge of the three, is an expert in EU and UK competition law, tax, has been a Treasury legal adviser and held a post in the Ministry of Defence as Director of Operations and International Humanitarian Law during the Gulf War. Unlike the other two judges, who were educated at public schools, she was educated at a London comprehensive school and is the first lawyer in her family. She also sings in a choir.

Sir James Eadie : Pic Credit: blackstonechambers.com

Given this expertise of the judges it was extraordinary that Sir James Eadie, QC, the Treasury First Counsel, nicknamed the ” Treasury devil” should try to get the Judicial review declared unlawful.

He was building on the questioning in the previous judicial review which raised whether Ms Justice Dame Beverley Lang was right in granting the judicial review for the 3.8 million women in the first place.

He was shot down with a rapier like comment from the Master of the Rolls who pointed out he could have raised this immediately after her judgement at a special hearing and again when the judicial review was heard.

” Not in my brief” -Sir James Eadie

His reply was “it was not in my brief from the DWP ” and talked about ” the bigger picture”. My interpretation of that is Amber Rudd, then works and pensions secretary, would have been well aware that to strike out a review for 3.8 million women would have been political dynamite and caused widespread furore well beyond the actual case.

But Sir James persisted citing judgments which said that the case could have been held in 1995 as soon as the Pension Act was passed. Michael Mansfield,QC dealt with that claim in his summing up.

What is important is that the judges were really engaged with the arguments and tested both sides equally. They looked at the notification ( or non) notification issue of the pension age rise, listened to the arguments involving EU law and the relevance of the UN Convention of the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and noted the auto credits issue which allowed 4.6 million men over 60 from 1983 to 2018 to have their national insurance contributions paid by the state.

Sir James Eadie’s tactics seem to be to try and get most of the case law raised by Adam Straw and Henrietta Hill for the 50swomen ruled as irrelevant.

At one point the Master of the Rolls intervened to point out to Sir James that Adam Straw’s argument about one particular case was aimed at making a specific legal point not about the content of the case.

The other DWP tactic was to use out of date information. Sir James used 2011 as the reference for the continuing rise in longevity ( and pension payment costs) – the high point of the increase – ignoring it flatlining since. This I gather was corrected by Michael Mansfield later.

Sir James also got it wrong when he said the purpose of the case was to reduce the pension age to 60 for all women. It isn’t. It is to fully compensate the 3.8 million women who feel cheated about waiting six years for a pension and not being properly told about the change.

The DWP switched tactics over the economic plight of the 1950s women – in the original judicial review he made great play of the fact they were not worse off but some were well off.

This time he acknowledged that 1950s women faced economic disadvantages and social ills but these, he argued, were nothing to do with the raising of the pension age.

For people watching this case it must have seemed a bit arcane that it is based on case law rather than – though Michael Mansfield did highlight their catastrophic plight – going into detail of the hardships of 50swomen. Full statements on the hardships faced by the two women cited in the case were passed to the judges by Michael Mansfield.

judgement time

Now for a judgment. The point of a judicial review is to question the administration of a policy to see if it was fit for purpose and had not disadvantaged people.

Therefore don’t expect a judgement ordering the women must have all the money. But you could expect a judgement saying the system cheated them which will have to lead to action by the government to redress the matter.

Either way win or lose the BackTo60 campaign will be considerably enhanced by the outcome of this case – because it highlights the women’s plight and will be a force to reckon with. Going to law is much more powerful than trying to persuade MPs.

After all very few campaigners can claim to have their case examined by the Master of the Rolls and I know BackTo60 lawyers are delighted that they got an appeal on all the points they raised in the first judicial review.

A new campaign: A People’s Tribunal to get rid of ALL discrimination against girls and women.

BackTo60 yesterday launched a new campaign to get the United Kingdom to implement something they should done 34 years ago – pass laws to both empower and eliminate all discrimination against women.

For 1986 is the year Margaret Thatcher decided to sign up to the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women ( acronym CEDAW) but failed to put through Parliament any laws to back it up.

This should not be a Left versus Right issue – since Thatcherites and Corbynites and anybody in between- should agree. Unless they still hold the nineteenth century view that half the nation are inferior and should not have equal rights with men.

BackTo60 decided to launch this because next week’s Court of Appeal hearing on the government’s denial to pay back the 3.8 million women born in the 1950s their pensions from 60 to 66 – also involve the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women – because there was no level playing field for women to get their pension in the first place.

This enormously broadens BackTo 60’s campaign since it involves campaigning for the rights of half the population.

The mechanism they have chosen to bring this to public attention is a People’s Tribunal – these date back to the 1960s when the Bertrand Russell Foundation – held an inquiry into the US role in the Vietnam War.

This new tribunal is expected to consist of three independent ( probably retired) judges and led by the advocate John Cooper QC. a human rights and criminal law barrister, who is regarded by the Times as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the country, and was on the tribunal that investigated atrocities in Iran.

Two other key members are Professor Jackie Jones,a former MEP for Wales and Professor of Feminist Studies at the University of West England , a leading advocate and expert on CEDAW and Hannah Manzur, a former EU  Gender Policy Advisor at the European Parliament,. Here is the full statement:

John Cooper said the issue should not be controversial – ” it is like motherhood and apple pie”.

He said the tribunal should have three main goals – independence, transparency and authenticity.

” There are three main areas to investigate: Why CEDAW has never put into UK law; whether there was any good reason for not doing so, and most importantly, to make recommendations on what should happen next.”

He added that he was already having support for the idea from a number of leading figures.

Jackie Jones said on the launch: ” Enough is Enough. We have waited nearly 40 years for this. It high time this is written into law and it is really important that girls now at school should be able to reach their full potential.”

Hannah Manzur said :

“We are delighted to announce the establishment of the CEDAW People’s Tribunal which will act as a powerful tool in both pushing for progress on gender equality and shining a light on the Government’s failure to uphold its binding promise to take proactive and comprehensive steps to eliminate gender discrimination.

” Forty years after this groundbreaking international convention was signed by the Government, women and girls still face overwhelming barriers to achieving their full potential due to persistent inequality and discrimination.

“This Tribunal will collect an authoritative body of evidence and expertise which will be reviewed and deliberated on by a panel of independent judges.

” We will be working to assess the gap between the Government’s commitment to CEDAW and its record on gender equality, including its failure to transpose CEDAW into domestic law and appoint a UK CEDAW representative. It’s time for us to hold the Government to account on its duty to eliminate discrimination against women and make gender equality a reality for women and girls across the UK.”

The only thing I have to add is that I shall be backing this campaign with the same vigour I have showed in reporting and investigating the BackTo60 campaign for full restitution for the 3.8m women who lost out on the raising of the pension age.

Government concede victory to unions over pension discrimination for over 4.1 million public sector workers

Stephen Barclay, chief secretary to the Treasury. Pic Credit: gov.uk

Judicial review forces ministers to open negotiations and defer major changes to pension schemes until 2022

Steve Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury,chose a heavy news day today to slip out an announcement that the Treasury had finally given way to the courts and dropped pension discrimination against 4.1 million workers in Whitehall, the NHS,teachers, prison officers and firefighters and ambulance staff .

This came after losing legal battles to the FBU firefighters union, the GMB, the PCS Whitehall union and the Prison Officers Association over what was seen as age discrimination over cuts to their workplace pensions.

The announcement means that terms offered to staff will revert back to the original position – and that includes a lower retirement age – until 2022 and everything is up to grabs during fresh consultations.

£2.4 billion in pension surpluses

It could also mean that some £2.4 billion at present held in pension surpluses, particularly in Whitehall, may have to be redistributed back to the workers in reduced pension contributions or better benefits.

The sting in the tail is that the government want the costs of the victory won by the FBU at the Court of Appeal – which scrapped a discriminatory system that put younger people employed at a disadvantage – should be taken out of the pension surpluses.

The story of the FBU victory appeared in an article in December on this blog.

Any such moves are to be fiercely resisted by the unions. As one GMB official put it: ” We are not going to accept we should pay when we won the argument and the government lost.”

“They knew they were wrong”

Rehana Azam, GMB National Secretary said: 

“It’s welcome that Ministers have in the face of sustained pressure finally U-turned on the pause they imposed on the drawing down of pension benefits. Their indefensible decision has left public sector workers facing financial hardship. 

“GMB has long campaigned for the lifting of the benefits pause the Government unilaterally imposed on our members without consultation. Hard-working public sector workers should now get what they’re owed. 

“The Government has had to make a U-turn because they knew they were in the wrong and were poised to lose the Judicial Review GMB and others had brought against them.  

“Any suggestion that it should now be public sector workers who now bear the costs of Ministers’ discriminatory errors will be fiercely resisted. GMB will not stand by if the Government intends to break its word and force public servants to pick up the bill for its own mistakes. “

The timing of the climb down is interesting as it comes a week before the court of appeal hears the case against raising the pension age from 60 to 66 without proper notice brought by BackTo60 on behalf of 3.8 million women demanding full restitutionb for the loswt money.

The GMB which led the charge over part of the fight is 100 per cent behind the 50swomen and their cause to get their money back.

My interview on Salford City Radio with Ian Rothwell on the latest injustices to 50swomen

My Interview with Ian

As it gets nearer to the appeal hearing brought by two members of BackTo60 on July 21 to recover their lost pensions from 60 to 66 I gave another interview tonight to Ian Rothwell, presenter for Salford City Radio, which has been covering the issue of the women’s lost pensions.

I make no apologies for raising again the extraordinary findings that the Department for Work and Pensions has admitted that 4.6 million men were able to get auto credits from the age of 60 for 35 years from 1983 to 2018.

The disclosure is all the more damaging because a central theme of the DWP at the court hearing was that the raising of the pension age from 60 to now 66 was an issue of equality to end discrimination against men – without disclosing the scale of auto credits given to men to cover their national insurance contributions.

Even now while many women born in the 1950s are suffering severe hardship by waiting for their pension, men have the opportunity, thanks to ex pensions minister, Steve Webb, raising the issue ,to claim back the money they lost if they had paid national insurance contributions while they were over 60 during this period.

The DWP may be able to claim that for some men they already had enough contributions so it was immaterial, or that some died or moved abroad before they could claim their pension, that misses the main point.

The main point is that there was much more of a level playing field between men and women than the DWP acknowledged at the hearing. Men needn’t have paid NI insurance even if they took a low paid job. And if they had an occupational pension and their wife had retired they needn’t have bothered to contribute any further to their state pension or even worked.

Anyway you can hear the interview at the top of the blog.

My piece in Union News: How grass root trade unionists are backing 1950s women to get back their pensions

Earlier Times: Unison delegation with Jackie Jones, BackTo60 campaigner and expert on the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women.

The success of the crowdfunding appeal by BackTo60 campaigning group to run a series of films exposing the plight of 1950s born women yet to get their pension has been partly due to campaigning trade unionists.

As well as getting a large number of small donations from many of the women themselves, two grassroots campaigners from the trade union movement managed to raise an astonishing £3400 towards the campaign.

The full story is in Union – News today.

Mac Hawkins from Unison and Louise Matthews from Unite – both women’s officers at their local branches – and strong supporters of BackTo60.

Mac Hawkins got support from the Wales region of Unison and Louise Matthews got support from Unite’s Equality Team and Unite Companions.

But the key thing is how much money they got from their local branches Mac Hawkins raised some £1400 from her Caerphilly branch while Louise Matthews got support from her Unite branch in Southampton.

Tireless campaigners

Both have been tirelessly campaigning to get money for the films which will form a key part of keeping the issue in the public eye before BackTo60 appeal the judicial review decision on July 21.

The one sad thing in this story is that at national level in both unions there appears to be a cooling off in financing the campaign. Before the general election, Unison and Unite contributed to the campaign, and Unison came alongside BackTo60 to deliver a petition to Downing Street.

This time the national unions are still supportive – but possibly because of the divisions within Waspi on what they want from the government, they may be holding back.

BackTo60 is sticking with full restitution and compensation for all the 3.8 million 50s women – while some other Waspi groups still have to spell out exactly how much compensation they want.

New Film: The triple whammy horror facing 1950s born women

Today Backto60 launched the first of two campaigning films in the run up to their appeal against the judicial review decision in the Court of Appeal on July 21.

They aim to overturn the judicial review which rejected their claim for compensation and full restitution of their pension back to 60 which was rejected on all grounds by judges. They have been given permission by the Court of Appeal to appeal on all grounds.

The film shows how 50swomen – already waiting up to six years for their pensions – are now hit by the Covid-19 pandemic- forced to work in unsafe situations in their 60s in hospitals or care homes or left isolated facing mental health problems.

We now know through a report from the National Audit Office,Parliament’s financial watchdog, that 25,000 people were moved from hospital to care homes at the beginning of the pandemic without any health checks for Covid-19. No wonder so many died and Dr Bharat Pankhania, Senior Clinical Lecturer at University of Exeter Medical School, in the film condemns this as a disgrace.

The film quotes experts who have backed the campaign to point out how just how damaging the situation. You can follow them on Twitter here – @2020Comms @JackieJonesWal1 @ManzurHannah @DrDavinaLloyd1 @doctorshaib @NexusChambers @AnnaCCampaigns @SOS_Initiatives.

The overall picture is bleak – the combination of the pensions delay, austerity and now the virus- have made difficult lives even worse.

But there is also hope. Professor Jackie Jones points out that the UN Convention on the Elimation of Discrimination against Women – may well launch an inquiry into how badly the UK treated 50s women – shaming the country internationally.

The court case is likely to have to hear additional evidence on whether it was a really equal playing field if at the same time 4.6 million men over 60 are estimated by the Department for Work and Pensions to have had all their national insurance contributions paid by the government so they could get higher pensions. A government promise in the 1990s to extend this scheme to women for eight years after the change was introduced in 2010 was reneged on by the last Labour government and the Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition.

The film directed by Jasper Warry at Hello Dear Productions is eminently watchable and the experts explain their points succinctly – my only apology is that you have to put up visually with me having a shaggy lockdown non hair cut!

Exclusive: The 4.6 million men who “retired” at 60 to get a pension top up paid by the taxpayer

DWP’s extraordinary disclosure

Successive governments extended a 1983 “men only national insurance subsidy” for 35 years and broke a promise to women born in the 1950s to offer them similar terms

More than 4.65 million men aged over 60 have had the last five years of their national insurance contributions paid by the state, the Department for Work and Pensions has disclosed.

The scale of the payments has been kept quiet by the Department for Work and Pensions for 37 years. It was only revealed last week when Myfanwy Opeldus, one of 3.8 million women facing now a six year delay to get her pension, got the admission from the ministry through a Freedom of Information request. She is a BackTo60 supporter and had been pursuing the government over this issue

The scheme was launched by the Thatcher government in 1983 when it was reeling from large scale unemployment even after its popularity had soared through victory in the Falklands War. Extraordinarily the scheme was only wound up in 2018 just two years ago and 35 years after it was launched.

Thatcher ‘s first government: Lord Carrington, foreign secretary, Margaret Thatcher and Sir Geoffrey Howe. Pic credit : BBC The Thatcher Archive

The scheme- called auto credits – was announced in the 1983 Budget by the late Sir Geoffrey Howe , then Chancellor of the Exchequer, as one of four measures to get down the unemployment count which was over three million.

In his March Budget he announced:

“Some 90,000 men between the ages of 60 and 65 now have to register at an unemployment benefit office if they wish to secure contribution credits to protect their pension rights when they reach 65. From April, they will no longer have to do this.

Even if those concerned subsequently take up part-time or low-paid work on earnings which fall below the lower earnings limit for contributions, their pension entitlement will be fully safeguarded. ( my emphasis)”

Unemployment did fall and was half that level by 2018 when the scheme was dropped.

Yet neither successive chancellors Nigel Lawson, John Major , Norman Lamont,Kenneth Clarke , Gordon Brown or Alistair Darling did anything to repeal it.

In fact under Kenneth Clarke in 1993 the opposite happened. He decided as 50s born women were going to face waiting longer for their pensions, they should get some help. This was adopted by Labour in a leaflet issued in 2002 on pensions which announced it would be extended to 50s women from 2010 when the pension age for women started to rise.

But the Brown government then reneged on this in 2009 after the financial crisis.

Promises to 50s women reneged

An explanatory memorandum to changes in pension legislation said :

“When the Government published its plans for state pension age equalisation in 1993, the intention then was that as women’s pension age increased gradually to 65, autocredits would become available to them on the same basis as for men. This was in part to compensate for the increase in the number of years women would otherwise have to pay National Insurance contributions for in order to qualify for a full basic pension.

” This approach has since been reviewed, for two reasons. Firstly, the qualifying age for Pension Credit (the income-related benefit currently payable to men and women at 60 without jobseeking conditions attached) is set to increase to 65 by 2020 in line with female state pension age. Without the proposed change, autocredits would increasingly apply mainly to people who could afford not to work or claim benefit….

“Secondly, the reduction in the number of qualifying years needed for a full basic pension to 30 and the improvements in the crediting arrangements for carers under the measures introduced by the Pensions Act 2007 will mean that the need for autocredits to protect state pension entitlement will be significantly reduced….

” This instrument amends the Credits Regulations to provide that autocredits will be available to men only for the tax years in which they have reached what would be pension age for a woman of the same age, up to and including the last tax year before the one in which they reach age 65. Men born on 6 October 1954 or later,…, will not qualify for the credits.”

This meant it was phased out in 2018.

Meanwhile the new Tory and Liberal coalition elected in 2010 decided to raise the pension age further to 66 and also planned a new pension raising the qualification period to 35 years. The main architect was the pensions minister , Steve Webb, who moved a top job at Royal London Insurance. In an article in the Telegraph in September 2017 he backed men who could have overpaid NI contributions to claim the money back. He is now a financial consultant with Lane Clark and Peacock.

Yet another scandal

Now this entire scandal is yet another example of unfair treatment to 50s women.

The woman who raised this with the DWP is one of a number who has not got enough national insurance contributions to get a full pension. She falls short by three years and will have to pay them £3000 to make up the years to get another £400 a year.

A man – one of the 4.65 million who was covered by auto credits- would have to pay nothing. That is hardly fair. And he could take a low paid job and still not pay NI contributions as they would be covered by the state.

More seriously it does knock a hole in the DWP case that the raising of the pension age was an equality measure to create a level playing field with men.

It is hardly a level playing field if men on this huge scale are getting their national insurance contributions for free. What started as a measure for 90,000 ended up helping 4.6 million. No wonder the DWP were not happy to have to disclose this.

Roll on the appeal to the judicial review brought by BackTo60. Michael Mansfield could have a field day with these new facts.

The damning FOI reply from the DWP that revealed the 4.6 million figure

Travelogue Bermuda: A country inspiring Shakespeare and Mark Twain but mired by a racist past

It is one of the more curious facts  revealed by Bermuda’s national museum. Bermuda may be the inspiration for Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Seafarers tales told in Southwark taverns at the turn of the seventeenth century are thought to have inspired the playwright to create a story about a magical island.

Bermuda is named after an Spanish sea captain Juan de Bermudez who sailed past them in 1503 but never claimed them. It was a British ship the Sea Venture en route to Virginia which hit a storm- just like the Queen Victoria on this trip – but in this case was wrecked off the island in 1609 that led to the country becoming a British colony. But unlike other islands it was uninhabited and the sailors believed that just like in the Tempest that it was haunted by spirits and couldn’t wait to build new ships to get off it. Only three years later was it settled.

The history of the island is outlined in an eclectic collection of artefacts housed in a former British Royal Navy commissioner’s nineteenth  century mansion overlooking the Dockyard abandoned by the British in 1951. The mansion remained derelict for 20 years until restored by the Bermuda government.It is worth a visit see picture above.

The museum tells a warts and all history of the island, its role in two world wars, the development of tourism, its racist and slave ridden past and the rush to recover sunken treasure  from the numerous ships wrecked on the rocks . It also houses in the old keep ponds a conservation project to save dolphins.It has an extraordinary mural t

Depicting the island’s history by a contemporary artist covering a whole stairwell.

The story of the island’s racist and slave past is graphic. At first there was little racism but the rise of the slave trade in the eighteenth century lead to the removal of rights and restrictions put on the Portuguese who settled there from the Azores . Slavery was abolished in 1834 but attitudes remained. As late as the 1960s the now closed Bermuda Railway had an apartheid system reserving the best seats for whites. The Portuguese settlers ,mainly farmers,were barred from taking some top professional jobs until as late as the 1980s.

Tourism attracts more Americans than Brits with the island being originally popularised by US author Mark Twain who raved about it. The development of air travel, low income taxes and the American connection fostered by new bases set up in the Second World War to fight the German U boat menace, made it a big destination for US tourists. Wealthy Hollywood film stars moved there. So although officially British it is far more American and celeb orientated.

Mind you if history repeats itself it could end up as a new home for Prince Harry and Meghan who have abdicated their Royal roles. Any vacancy coming up soon for the governship of Bermuda?